Azamara’s new cruise concept lets you stay a little bit longer – and discover more, says Liz Jarvis

Ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, St Petersburg

It’s early evening in the pretty seaside town of Sète, France, and we’re watching a traditional display of water jousting performed by two teams of men – including the captain of our ship, the Azamara Quest. Their goal is to knock each other into the water with a lance, which, to the delight of the crowd, happens fairly regularly.

The winners declared, we make our way to specially erected marquees where there are a range of local delicacies ready and waiting to tempt us, ranging from fresh oysters to moreish smoked haddock crostini and freshly baked champignon pies, all served with local wines and champagnes.

for-web-iStock_000001918707MediumBeing given the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of the place you’re visiting is something Azamara Club Cruises have been doing for a while, with their ‘destination immersion’ concept. The advantage of their two luxury ships – Quest and Journey – is that they’re small enough to get into hard to reach ports and places, which adds to the authentic experience. And they frequently dock overnight or for longer, giving you time to explore without feeling as though you have to hurry back or miss the ship.

Which is why we were watching water jousting in France just before dusk. Azamara’s latest experience, the catchily-titled AzAmazing Evening, gives guests the chance to really enjoy the advantages of those longer stays in port. There is one of these complimentary cultural events on every voyage, designed to reflect local customs and traditions. So for example, in Seville, you can experience a spectacular midnight fireworks show, or in St Tropez, you can go to a polo match. In Belfast, you can have a private viewing of the Titanic Belfast museum, while in St Petersburg, you can attend a ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. And in the Italian village of Ravello, you can enjoy a classical concert followed by sparkling wines and delicious sweets, with stunning views of the sea.

for-web-42-29181792Of course, you do have to spend some time on board to get to these places, but that’s certainly not a hardship. With only 694 guests, Azamara offers a luxurious, country club style cruise – laidback, with lots of friendly staff (gratuities are included).

Staterooms are comfortable and the pool area is particularly lovely, with blankets ready for colder days on deck so that you can sit and enjoy the scenery, whatever the weather. The food in the Aqualina restaurant is good, and there’s also a champagne and caviar bar, as well as a Chef’s Table featuring three wine menus – Italian, French and Californian. Some spirits and beers are included as part of your package, as are red and white boutique wines at lunch and dinner. And the entertainment is excellent – we enjoyed a performance by Alex Mac, ‘the English Michael Bublé’, enormously.

As our ship left Sète for Marseille, we were treated to a firework display from the beach, and served hot chocolate spiced with rum. This kind of cruise is definitely an experience to savour.

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