Delving deeper into destinations with Azamara

Mike Pawlus explains how longer port stays help the brand deliver immersive itineraries

Delving deeper into destinations with Azamara
Azamara’s Mediterranean itineraries take guests to destinations like Ajaccio in Corsica

By Rebecca Gibson |

Travellers embarking on Azamara Onward’s world voyage from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in January 2024 will be able to visit more than 75 destinations in over 40 countries on six continents and explore “more than the Seven Wonders of the World” over 155 nights.  

Some of the highlights of the itinerary will include 27 late nights in port, 22 overnight stays, 13 exclusive cultural events, 10 AzAmazing Celebrations experiences, and visits to iconic sites such as the Galápagos Islands, Petra in Jordan, and Machu Picchu in Peru.  

According to Azamara’s head of itinerary planning Mike Pawlus, the world voyage epitomises the type of authentic, immersive and unique travel experiences the brand aims to offer to every guest sailing on its four boutique-style ships.  

“Azamara continues to lead the industry in destination immersion and small-ship cruising,” he says. “We prioritise giving our guests more time to explore on land – for example, our Extended Destination Days give guests 10 or more hours in port. With the time to travel further and feel relaxed rather than rushed, guests can discover hidden local hotspots and connect with different communities.”  

Country-intensive sailings are central to Azamara’s destination immersion offering. They provide an in-depth cultural exploration of one country by taking guests to both popular marquee ports and smaller, lesser-known places. In Greece, for instance, Azamara visits Rhodes, Mykonos and Santorini but also the smaller ports of Argostoli, Patmos and Amorgos.  

“This mix allows travellers to fully immerse themselves in the different cultures, traditions and flavours of one country, which offers a more meaningful and authentic travel experience,” explains Pawlus, adding that Azamara visits more unique ports in Greece than any other cruise line. “Our shore excursions encourage guests to connect with the local people, culture and heritage in each destination. For example, guests can learn the secrets of mosaic design from islanders in Amorgos or enter the cave of Saint John the hermit in Patmos.”  

Azamara operates country-intensive voyages to destinations worldwide, including Australia, Greece, Croatia, Iceland, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Italy, Ireland and many others. These sailings were particularly successful in Japan in 2023.  

“The back-to-back itineraries in Japan performed fantastically,” says Pawlus. “Guests discovered Japan’s local culture and history through multiple new experiences, such as wine tastings in a local miso and soy sauce factory in Akita, mangrove kayaking in Ishigaki, and exploring the Seiben Garden in Aomori. We also made a maiden visit to the port of Niigata, known for its scenic mountains and expansive rice fields. We look forward to returning in March and April 2024 when the cherry blossoms are blooming.”  

Pawlus attributes much of Azamara’s success to the relatively small size of its cruise ships.  

“We can access lesser-known ports, such as Sihanoukville in Cambodia, and dock in the heart of destinations, allowing guests to walk straight off the ship and into the town or city without the hassle of additional shuttle services,” says Pawlus. “In Porto Venere in Italy, our guests can disembark and be walking along the town’s charming, cobbled streets within minutes, whereas passengers on larger ships dock at sea and tender to shore. Meanwhile in Montreal, only smaller ships like ours can fit under the overhead power lines to take guests right into the city.”  

Smaller ships also make it easier to overcome the perennial challenge of every itinerary planner: port congestion. 

“We have greater flexibility to adapt itineraries on the go, which allows us to deliver the best land experience for our guests and minimise the impact on the communities we visit,” says Pawlus. “This summer, we switched the schedule of our ‘Greek Islands’ itinerary when we realised we would be in Santorini on the same day as several large ships. Instead, we called alone on a different day, offering our guests a much more relaxed and enjoyable shoreside experience.” 

Having smaller ships with fewer guests also enables Azamara to curate intimate shore excursions to hidden local gems that tourists typically do not visit. “Our small group experiences offer the opportunity for guests to make authentic connections with locals and immerse in their culture,” says Pawlus. 

To expand its capacity for destination immersion in 2024, Azamara will debut double-night stays in select European cities, including Bordeaux in France and Seville in Spain.  

“Guests will stay two nights and three days in one place, giving them time to go beyond the port and travel deeper into the destination at their own pace,” says Pawlus. “We encourage them to do multiple shore excursions, and see how the cities come to life at night. 

“Docking in the centre of Bordeaux will enable guests to explore the surrounding world-famous wine region, which boasts nearly 300,000 acres of vineyards. They can also sail seven hours down the Guadalquivir River to enjoy an extended stay in the heart of Seville, where they can fully immerse themselves in Andalusian local culture by indulging in tapas, watching authentic flamenco dancers and admiring historic palaces.” 

Azamara also plans to continue expanding its range of itineraries, visiting both old and new destinations. In 2025, for example, it will return to Canada for the first time in five years, operating two new sailings with stops in Saguenay, Quebec City and St. John’s in Newfoundland, as well as maiden calls to Cap-aux-Meules, L’Anse Aux Meadows and Harve Saint Pierre.  

“Canada is proving to be a really popular destination, especially amongst UK travellers, and we’re already seeing great demand for the voyages,” says Pawlus. “We are always looking at new destinations and itineraries to give our guests more of what they love about Azamara, and to encourage them to have new, immersive travel experiences that change how they view the world.”   

This article was first published in the 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.   

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