Passengers who’ve sailed with Azamara know what they’re getting: a boutique small-ship experience focusing on destination immersion rather than flashy onboard amenities. In that respect, Azamara Onward, the fourth vessel in the fleet after her official christening on May 2, 2022, is instantly familiar. Like her sisters Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, and Azamara Pursuit, she is a refurbished R-Class ship accommodating under 700 guests (684 in this case) and was initially built for Renaissance Cruises more than two decades ago. Onward, which had sailed as Pacific Princess for the past 20 years, has undergone a $50 million renovation to Azamara fleet standards, with most public spaces now sporting neutral classic-meets-contemporary décor, although a few cosmetic fixes were still ongoing in some cabins and suites, the outdoor pool deck area, and the spa when she launched. What doesn’t need a touch-up is the cruise line’s signature celebrations: Its White Night deck party, a festive buffet with live entertainment and white-themed dress code, and AzAmazing Evenings (or sometimes, Days), which feature complimentary local cuisine and entertainment ashore in a signature setting; on a pre-inaugural voyage in late April for media and travel agents, it was stunning Portovenere near Italy’s Cinque Terre region, where guests were treated to opera, classical music, small bites, espresso, and prosecco as they wandered the town for several hours. Will shiny new megaship aficionados love Onward? Probably not, but those craving a more down-to-earth cruise experience offering quality dining, a destination focus, and an enthusiastic onboard crew will enjoy the intimate public spaces, ample port time, and unique itineraries Azamara offers.
The Value: Small-ship cruising can be pricy, but Azamara’s cruise fares offer terrific value with crew gratuities and house wines, beers, and select cocktails included. Shore excursions are extra and vary in price according to the itinerary, with a primary focus on local experiences — and Onward’s compact size means it often gets a berth closer to the central sights in some ports, making independent exploration easier.
The Menus in Discoveries Restaurant: As on all Azamara ships, the dinner menu in Discoveries Restaurant features a wide selection of excellent choices — seafood, chicken, duck, lamb, beef, and pasta — which vary each evening. Appetizers are especially appealing (flavorful salads featuring smoked trout or duck confit as well as scallops and crispy pancetta with creamy risotto), and ordering three appetizers can create a small-plate tasting menu. There are also two specialty restaurants, Prime C for a steakhouse menu and Aqualina for Mediterranean-inspired seafood, both of which require a $30 surcharge (unless you book a suite). Other dining options include Windows Café for buffet-style breakfast and lunch with indoor and outdoor seating and a good array of options (at dinner, a la carte themed menus are featured) and The Patio, located poolside and offering casual grilled options at lunchtime.
The Atlas Bar: Joining the Living Room, The Den, and Discoveries Bar as the ship’s indoor lounge areas, the new Atlas Bar on Deck 10 replaces the under-utilized Library (only on Onward for now) and features a cool, clubby ambiance with both bar and chair/sofa seating ideal for enjoying conversation and craft cocktails — some delivered under a smoke-filled dome, others made with unique liquors, syrups, and fresh juices. These intoxicating theatrics will set passengers back about $18 per drink, and small-plate pairings (also at an additional cost) are available. If you intend to imbibe here on more than one or two occasions, Azamara’s Ultimate Beverage Package includes the Atlas Bar craft cocktails.
Destination Immersion: Giving passengers extra hours in port with later departure times and typically one overnight stay per itinerary is an Azamara hallmark. It’s freeing not to have to rush back aboard for a 6:00 p.m. sail away if you’re in a place where evening activities are a highlight or if you want to savor the local dining scene in a more relaxed way. Azamara is also known for its Country-Intensive itineraries, which visit ports in primarily one nation, including Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, British Isles, and Japan. Lasting 7-to-13 nights, these sailings take guests to many smaller ports that larger ships don’t visit.
Friendly Crew: Many of Azamara’s hard-working and congenial crew have been with the cruise line for years, and they go out of their way to create a warm ambiance, greeting everyone with “Welcome home” when they board and return after a day in port. Their enthusiasm is the perfect antidote for full-day excursion fatigue.
Couples Seeking Cultural Immersion: While there is nightly music and entertainment onboard, the vibe isn’t well-suited to families or multi-generational groups. Azamara’s core customer base is generally age 60 and older, mostly Americans, Canadians, and Brits, plus a mix of international travelers. Their common goal? Having time ashore to experience destinations at their own pace with their personal interests in mind.
Staterooms Are Snug: As a vessel built in 1999, before ship designers began recognizing the luxury of space when it comes to accommodations, Onward features Club Veranda staterooms that, at 175 square feet (plus a 40-square-foot veranda), are snug by current industry standards — and the bathroom is especially tight. Club Interiors are 158 square feet, and Club Oceanviews are just 143 square feet, but both offer great value for the non-claustrophobic who only want to sleep there. Club Continent Suites (there are 52 on Onward) are noticeably roomier at 266 square feet, with a more spacious bathroom and 60-square-foot balcony. This category can be quite reasonably priced, depending on the itinerary.
It’s an Older Ship: While refurbished, Azamara Onward’s age is obvious in the wear-and-tear to some of its most-used spaces (elevator interiors, for instance, were in need of touch-ups at the time of the inaugural). Wifi, which guests in Club Veranda, Club Oceanview, and Club Inside staterooms must pay extra for, was also quite spotty — okay for perusing the news but persnickety for uploading social media images. As the crew continues its fine-tuning, Onward should provide the same upscale yet understated cruise experience as its sister ships. It’s a formula upon which Azamara—a division of Royal Caribbean until it was sold to Sycamore Partners in March 2021 — has built a loyal customer base.