Belfast Telegraph

TRAVEL GUIDE: Azamara Club Cruises

Relaxing in the opulent surroundings of a luxurious cocktail bar sipping champagne while listening to a harpist gently playing must be the perfect start to any holiday. And that’s exactly how our stay on board the luxury boutique cruise liner Azamara Journey began.

It was our first wedding anniversary and to celebrate we were taking a three-day cruise from Barcelona, where we had spent the weekend, to Lisbon in Portugal via Gibraltar.

The Catalan capital is one of our favourite cities so we knew exactly what to expect: people watching on the bustling Las Ramblas, sharing massive paella dishes and checking progress on Gaudi’s ‘Unfinished Cathedral’ — La Sagrada Familia.

But once we said ‘adios’ to Barcelona we were venturing into the unknown as neither of us had been on a cruise before. To be honest, I was sceptical about the joys of cruising, fearing I’d feel trapped on the ocean when I could be exploring on land.

But it took less than a minute to become a convert. Our bags were whisked away as soon as we arrived at the dock and would later appear outside our room.

Check in was so relaxed — no queues, no rising stress levels, just smiling staff on hand to give directions. As we stepped on to the ship a staff member greeted us with a flute of pink champagne — a perfect way to toast our special day.

We sat in the luxurious Cova Cafe to sip our champagne and already we were impressed. Afterwards we zipped up to the ninth deck for a delicious lunch in the ship’s Windows Cafe which, like the name suggests, offers magnificent ocean views.

Then it was time to check out our cabin (or stateroom in cruise speak). There are 335 staterooms and suites on board the Azamara Journey, all with 24-hour butler service. We had a big, comfortable bed, good storage space and a sofa. Even the bathroom, although compact, had everything we needed and was stocked with Elemis products.

There were still three hours until we set sail so with the sun blazing there was only one place to go: the pool. We grabbed one of the wooden sunbeds and basked in the sun before slipping into one of the jacuzzis. By 6pm we were drinking sangria on the top deck watching as Journey set sail.

The Captain sounded the ship’s horn and guests on other cruise liners waved — finally, we were on the open seas! That night we dined in the Discoveries dining room where the service and food was second to none.

The Azamara Journey has room for around 700 guests and more than 400 staff, so there is always someone on hand to help. We finished off our night in the martini bar, stopping off to hear a live band before walking along the outside deck to admire the ship’s illuminations.

After a relaxing next day we dressed for another fabulous dinner, served at a romantic candlelit table for two by the window. Azamara Club Cruises ask guests to wear ‘resort casual’ rather than black tie — definitely a plus for this relaxed pair. Early the next morning we docked at Gibraltar where we took the cable car to the top of the rock to see the ‘apes’.

But we were happy to return to our floating home where there was a red carpet welcome. After all the fine food and sunbathing we decided to check out the gym and later took part in a pub quiz.

There were a host of other activities we could have tried, from ballroom dancing to spa treatments. On our final night we had a gourmet dinner on one of the ship’s speciality restaurants where the view, service and food was incredible (The lobster bisque stands out as one of the best dishes I’ve ever experienced).

The next morning we docked in the fascinating Portuguese capital, leaving the magic of the Azamara Journey behind.

Belfast Telegraph

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