A voyage along the glittering Amalfi coast with Azamara Club Cruises proves the perfect holiday for novelist and first-time cruiser Hazel Gaynor

Azamara-Italy

The brilliant lights of Monte Carlo shimmer and sparkle on the water as Azamara Journey slips gently out of port. From the open-air bar on Deck 9 at the back of the ship, we have the perfect view and I enjoy the novelty of feeling like a movie star. It is truly captivating – the first of many such magical moments we’ll experience during our week-long Italian cruise.

My husband Damien and I joined Azamara Journey from our home in Dublin, and our first impression was of a luxurious floating boutique hotel. From the decorative marble of the lobby, scented by freshly cut flowers, to the Art Deco design of the staircase that draws you toward the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the barista-style Mosaic Café, the ship offers an incredibly inviting welcome.

Prime C Restaurant on Azamara Journey
Prime C Restaurant on Azamara Journey

Our Ocean View stateroom had a mini bar, TV, hairdryer, fruit bowl, robe and slippers. With a guest: staff ratio of 2:1, our personal attendant, Luis (and his smile) were never far away. Azamara prides itself on the intimate atmosphere of its smaller ships, and while you will never want for anything, your privacy and relaxation are always top priority.

We soon relaxed into life on board and take the advice of the staff who frequently remind you that you are on holiday, so what harm is another glass of wine.
There are five restaurants on board Azamara Journey. The Discoveries Restaurant on Deck 5 offers an impressive À La Carte menu and waiter service in more formal surroundings, catering for breakfast, lunch and evening dinner. Eggs Benedict and fresh waffles soon became firm favourites. The Windows Café on Deck 9 offers a more informal buffet service for meals, with themed evenings such as Asian, Indian, Mediterranean and Greek buffets offering an enticing array of international cuisine. Alternatively, the Pool Bar Grill offers a relaxed barbeque-style lunch.

Mediterranean style shrimp salad
Mediterranean style shrimp salad

For a reasonable cover charge of $25 per person you can dine in one of two signature restaurants: Aqualina, which serves a Mediterranean-style menu and Prime C which is based on a New York steakhouse (they’re extremely popular – I’d advise making reservations at the start of the cruise). We dined in Prime C on the fifth night and were very impressed.

Yet while the dining and onboard facilities may tempt you to never leave the ship, Azamara is all about ‘Destination Immersion’ and guests are encouraged to explore. With anchor not raised until around 11pm most evenings, there is ample time for sight-seeing, either independently or through an organised tour.

From Monaco, we arrived at Porto Venere, where shore excursions included a tour of the UNESCO world heritage site of Cinque Terre. After another overnight sailing, the ship then docked in Livorno for two days from where guests could take a number of Land Discovery tours to the nearby towns of Pisa and Florence or into the Tuscan countryside for wine tasting and much more. We made our own way by bus and train to Pisa one day and Florence the next, and being able to explore these stunning cities at our own pace was really enjoyable.

The New Venice quarter, Livorno, Tuscany
The New Venice quarter, Livorno, Tuscany

Every Azamara cruise includes a complimentary ‘AzAmazing’ evening for guests and we were treated to a wonderful operatic performance by the Three Tenors of Florence at the 18th-century Teatro Goldoni in Livorno, the perfect excuse to dress up and experience Italian culture.

After another overnight sailing, we arrived at Portoferraio on the island of Elba, where guests had time for a quick tour of Napoleon’s home and fortress before a 2pm departure for the longest segment of the cruise to Sorrento. I really enjoyed our afternoon at sea, sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by as the sun began to set and the sky was dusted with shades of peach and rose.

What perhaps surprised me most about our first cruise was how peaceful it was on board. There was always a quiet corner to relax in with a good book. For anyone wanting a holiday to really get away from it all, relax and unwind and yet still have the option to explore stunning destinations, I can’t recommend cruising enough.

GETTING THERE: A 10-night Monaco, Italy & Adriatic voyage on board Azamara Journey costs from £2,840pp, based on two guests sharing a Club Interior cabin on a full board basis, including flights. Visit azamaraclubcruises.co.uk or call 0844 493 4016.

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor (published by Harper Collins, £7.19). In this moving tale Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she has harboured for a lifetime about RMS Titanic, giving Grace Butler a new direction and leading to unexpected reunions.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.