For example, on a recent 12-night voyage from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Southampton, England, the Azamara Journey spent two nights in Dublin and 2 1/2 days in Rouen, France, which it reached by a fascinating six-hour cruise up and down the Seine. On this voyage, the ship stopped at such unlikely, and untouristy, places as the Orkney Islands and Portree (I had never heard of it, either - it's on the Isle of Skye). Needless to say, we were the only ships in port most of the time, which added to the sense of being somewhere special, far from the crowds.
The advantage for you, the passenger, is that with these "longer stay" itineraries, you can spend a night (or two) pub-crawling in Dublin, or do an overnight to Paris even though you've docked in Rouen, just a short train ride away. What fun is visiting a favorite port on a Greek isle or on the Amalfi Coast and not sampling a meal in a buzzed-about local restaurant or hanging out at the town's hot new disco? Whereas the typical cruise ship steams out of town at 5 or 6 p.m., Azamara lingers. And lingers. You might not set sail until midnight. Or 2 a.m. Or you might spend the entire night.
All the other elements of luxury cruising are standard on Azamara.
There are two "specialty" restaurants, which cost an extra $25 to dine in but which are well worth it, plus free wine selections with lunch and dinner. Tips are included. The spa is lovely, and the fitness center equipment is new.
And the staff has been well-trained to engage guests with friendly "good mornings" and "good evenings" when you pass them in the hallways or on deck. I sometimes think a few guests might get tired of being cheerily greeted each time they encounter a member of the crew aboard ship, especially when they aren't in a cheery mood, but it's a sign of careful training that staff are instructed to greet passengers. Returning to the ship, the security officers seem sincere when they check your key card and say, "Welcome home."
Many of my friends avoid cruising because they think it's not "destination-immersive" enough or they don't want to be "trapped" on a ship. So Azamara might be just the thing for them. I love "days at sea," just looking at the ocean, but it's not for everyone.
Why, you might ask, don't all cruise lines spend more time in port? As Pimentel explains, it's pretty simple: when ships are in port, the law requires casinos and retail outlets on board to remain closed. And when guests are boozing it up on shore, they're not visiting the ship's bars or the spa, all of which are revenue centers (in fact, some cruise lines probably lose money on those $350 four-night cruise fares you sometimes see, but make all their profits on the "extras").
And the more nights in port, the more the ship pays in fees to the port.
But after running cruise lines for more than 20 years, Pimentel decided the industry needed to be rethought. And it seems to be working.
One final Azamara distinction: some sailings offer cabins for solo travelers at just a 25 percent premium over the double-occupancy fare (most cruise lines charge single passengers 100 percent, meaning double, so that's a huge saving when you're traveling alone).
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