(Kotor, Montenegro) Prior to sailing with Azamara Club Cruises on this 12-night itinerary that features a number of stops in Croatia, Italy and Greece, I knew nothing of Montenegro. As we do before every cruise, some homework was in order to get the most out of each destination along the way. I came prepared with facts and figures that were verified on a walking tour of Kotor, a place Azamara aptly promotes as a ‘true gem nestled on the sparkling Adriatic.’ Still, no amount of advance study could have prepared us for this stunningly beautiful part of the world. It was a full day of cultural immersion enjoyed by passengers that also serves as a good place and time to begin talking about the Azamara Journey onboard experience as well.
It would be very easy to focus the lion’s share of our coverage on this sailing ashore. After all, connecting travelers with interesting places around the world is a differentiating factor promised and delivered by Azamara on every sailing.
Today’s port of call is a perfect example. Kotor’s imposing city walls date back to the 12th century, interesting architecture surrounds visitors in all directions and the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
White Night Party
Encouraging passengers to wear white, the evening begins showcasing the culinary department’s best creations at a buffet dinner featuring everything from char grilled meats to salads, bakery items, desserts and more.
This is dinner tonight every guest on board is in attendance. Typically well staffed, waiters keep glasses full and passengers happy throughout the event that includes a nicely-done crew parade, dance party and continues with a late night after-party.
Let’s stop right here for a minute to think about those last few thoughts as they highlight some of the best parts of what Azamara does.
That it is even possible for all guests on the entire ship to be together for dinner, in and of itself, speaks to the allure of small-ship cruising. This simply cannot be done on a larger ship. Yes, other cruise lines have on deck culinary events.
During that table service, waiters keep glasses full easily because that’s included in the price and there is none of this going to ring up each drink on some machine. Premium offerings were available for a modest fee, some guests had taken up Azamara on upgraded beverage packages too. Still, the more inclusive nature of what they do here goes a long way toward enabling Azamara to focus our attention on having a memorable experience.
Of particular interest to me was the Crew Parade. Held not even halfway through the sailing, the timing gives passengers a chance to show their appreciation for the extraordinarily good job crewmembers do. And they really do.
This is not the night before the last night thing on a big ship where all of the sudden we see the Maitre’d and the customarily sour-faced crew all of the sudden found their smile.
This is really appropriate and consistent with a genuine desire to do well that seems shared by the entire staff. Really. A good example of that commitment is found in a flyer mixed in with the day’s shipboard newsletter.
“I would like to invite you to participate in an invaluable and important guest feedback letter,” begins Hotel Director Heike Berdos, a 25-year veteran of the hotel business. Not waiting until there is no time to fix something that might be wrong, Berdos continues; “I encourage you to use the space provided to specify any details you would like us to focus on during the remainder of the cruise rather than wait for the customary guest questionnaire at the end of the voyage.”
It’s not the first time we have seen efforts of this nature, but the first time we have seen that door opened by a Hotel Director as highly visible as this one. She is all over the place, including leading a group of passengers on a hike in Kotor. Hotel Director Heike is not alone though; we see ship management frequently including something I have never seen before when coming back to the ship from my time in Montenegro.
The Focused Onboard Experience
After a nice lunch at a hotel café in Kotor, I did some shopping and got a good idea of what the port had to offer in advance of returning here later this year with Lisa. I did not want to spend too much time ashore but get a general overview, saving the shared experience element of it all for when we came back.
At the dock, a tender was waiting for guests to return and go back to the ship but no one else had arrived making me the first one. My first thought was ‘I wonder how long it will be until this fills up and they take me back?’ which made sense to bring an efficient tendering process…but then we left right away. No complaints there but I was a bit puzzled until I realized it was Captain Sindre Borsheim piloting the tender boat.
Asking if I would like to take a little spin around the ship for photos, I had no hesitation taking Captain Borsheim up on the offer and was treated to some wonderful views of Azamara Journey in the process.
This is typical of what we are experiencing as we sail with Azamara Club Cruises, every step of the way. The uber-important end result is a relaxed onboard atmosphere that lends itself to some wonderful moments, like these images captured at the White Party.
Check Back Every Day, A Couple Ways
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