How AzAmazing! We’ve just woken up to find our ship has docked in La Joliette, right in the heart of Marseille. Across the road from the port is the historic Le Panier region and huge Cathedral La Major, out and to the right is the Vieux (Old) Port. We can’t wait to get out and start exploring.
In case the opening words didn’t give it away, I am cruising with Azamara. Specifically on a pre-inaugural sailing of the new Azamara Onward that started in Barcelona and is ending in Monaco, where the ship will be named.
“We have been waiting so long for this moment,” Captain Carl tells me. Well, actually not that long because Azamara’s been on something of a whirlwind journey lately. Part of Royal Caribbean Group when Covid struck, it was acquired in January 2021 by an American company called Sycamore Partners that bought the line one day and a new ship the next!
Just a few months on, work was underway to turn the vessel, a sister to Azamara’s other three ships that had been sailing as Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess, into Azamara Onward. And before you know it, here she is, looking fabulous in her new colours and sporting all of Azamara’s favourite venues.
My husband and I were on Azamara’s first cruise after the pandemic - a seven-night jaunt around the Greek Isles last August on Azamara Quest - and felt we had come home. There’s Window’s Cafe, The Den, The Sanctum, Discoveries Restaurant, Aqualina Speciality Dining and Prime C Speciality Dining. But hang on, this is different. Where her sisters have a large library, Azmara Onward has the Atlas Bar, a new watering hole serving exotic cocktails (Date of Cairo or St. Tropez, anyone?) and hot and cold light bites such as beef tartare and mushroom arancini.
There’s also a new Chef’s Table experience in Aqualina. Seven courses themed around the places you’ll be visiting, which is very much in keeping with Azamara’s destination focus, which will definitely not be changing, Carol Cabezas, the company’s president, assures me.
This brings me neatly back to Marseille, where we wander around to the Vieux Port and hop on a ‘petit train’ to Notre-Dame de la Garde, a spectacular church perched high above the city. The train takes us around the coast and up the impossibly steep hills to the top, from where there are stunning views over the harbour and over to Château d’if, a former prison and home of Alexandra Dumas’ fictional Count of Monte Cristo.
We loved Marseille’s buzz and blend of old and modern architecture, but it is not as beautiful as our next stop, Porto Venere. This is Portofino on speed, with coloured houses, narrow streets, cobbled alleyways and a picture at every corner. Azamara has organised an AzAmazing Day for us, with local nibbles at the harbour and opera singers and live bands playing in the castle battlements and town square. It’s a brilliant take on the AzAmazing Evenings that are restarting in the autumn.
Last stop is the land of the rich and famous, AKA Monaco, where Azamara ties up among the floating gin palaces in the harbour and we explore a network of lifts, escalators and tunnels that take you to the old town and pretty Fontvielle district to the west of the palace. Come evening, we take our seats quayside for the gala christening. There are singers, violinists, aerial acrobats and a big bottle of Champagne that, right on cue, smashes against the ship’s hull. It’s official, Azamara Onward has a name.