Heather Visser is the longtime Shore Excursions Manager for Cruise Specialists. She has been in the travel industry 22 years, including working on board cruise ships for six years. She has visited more than 90 countries and is our agency’s in-house expert on planning curated group overland tours, private multi-day overland tours during a cruise, and pre- or post-cruise tours for clients who wish to experience a destination more in-depth.
With this background, it is only natural for Heather to have a curiosity about Azamara—known for its Destination Immersion philosophy. Azamara stays later in port than many other cruise lines and strives to include more overnights in port as well. Its Country Intensive voyages are another way to get to know a specific country better.
We caught up with Heather after she returned from a 7-night Mexico cruise onboard Azamara Quest in early 2022, featuring Costa Maya, Cozumel and Key West.
I have always been intrigued by Azamara, but because their voyages tend to be at least a week or more, it doesn’t always fit neatly into my work schedule. I was excited to try this weeklong cruise out of Miami to get the feel of Azamara on board and to see how the port experiences with Azamara might be different than other cruise lines.
Since I am all about the destination, it is fitting that the three most memorable moments for me on this voyage were ashore. I’ll share more about the onboard experience later but I am excited to share some of the unique things we did in port.
Top Moment: Visiting Chichen Itza
My favorite port of this cruise was Cozumel, Mexico, because it allowed for the opportunity to visit Chichen Itza, which has been on my bucket list for a long time. This massive complex of Mayan ruins is famous for good reason. It is easy to walk around and there is so much history to take in. I did a shore tour booked through Azamara and highly recommend a guided tour so you can better understand the fascinating story of this historic site. I especially enjoyed the guide’s explanation about the many carvings on the buildings which he brought to life easily.
It is a 45-minute ferry between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Chichen Itza but well worth the trip.
2nd Favorite Moment: Riding in the Presidential Limo in Key West
Key West is known for its picture-perfect sunsets, festive crowds and of course, Key lime pie. Did you also know it is home to President Harry S. Truman’s presidential museum? It is affectionately known as the Harry S. Truman Little White House, where President Truman often vacationed and worked from due to his health and physical exhaustion. Visitors can take a ride around the island city in the presidential limousine used by Truman as part of a private White Glove tour, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at Truman’s life in Key West.
We also went on the ship’s Key Lime Bike Tour, which is a wonderful way to see the island and very easy riding on the cruisers they provide. The guide was fantastic, and we even got a delicious piece of Key lime pie at the end!
3rd Favorite Moment: Segway riding in Costa Maya
Costa Maya, Mexico, is a more undeveloped port with a more authentic feel than some of the other ports in Mexico, and we loved dining at a restaurant on the beach there.
I had already been to the impressive Mayan ruins of Kohunlich and Chacchoben during past visits to this port so this time I decided to check out a Segway tour.
The guide who led our Segway tour was very interesting and shared many details about how the port developed. The actual name of the beach village associated with Costa Maya is Mahahual. Although it is still relatively undeveloped, it has grown quite a bit since I was last there about 15 years ago. My sense is that more and more of these smaller ports are becoming popular as cruising becomes more mainstream, and new destinations are always an attraction. Tourism in Costa Maya is also focused on being more sustainable, which is an attraction for many people.
More about Costa Maya
Ultimately, Costa Maya is a terrific location and serves as a gateway to many more places in the Yucatan Peninsula, such as the remains of the Maya world, and the Mesoamerican reef. The reef itself stretches about 600 miles along the coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, making it the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. This is a great opportunity for those who love to explore nature and want to experience its coastal wetlands, lagoons, coral reefs and more.
Our days at sea with Azamara were very relaxing. Although a relatively small ship, carrying under 700 guests when at full capacity, there are plenty of activity options and the spa was, in a word, amazing. I was glad I waited until the second day to book my appointments since they had some irresistible specials on massages and facials which I took full advantage of!
We had a balcony stateroom, aft by the elevators on Deck 6, which was nice since dining options were nearby. Self-service guest laundry (soap provided!) is also available on Deck 7, just a few doors down.
The staff was very relaxed and friendly. They made us feel at home and were very willing to fulfill any request we had. They even brought down some Indian food from the special theme night so we could try some in the dining room!
We ate most of our meals in the main restaurant—Discoveries Restaurant, which always had great options. We were not able to get into one of the specialty restaurants the final night of the cruise since we waited too long into the voyage to book it. Be sure to make your dining requests early in the voyage to avoid disappointment—and this goes for most cruise lines.
We found the entertainment to be plentiful. The Cruise Director, Amanda, was very talented. We learned that Cruise Directors on Azamara perform at least once on a cruise.
An AzAmazing Evening
One of the highlights onboard was the AzAmazing Evening® while we were in Cozumel. A band dressed in Day of the Dead theme clothing and makeup came on and performed the music of late great artists to celebrate them. Their enthusiastic performance included Elvis and Prince and had everyone clapping and dancing by the end. AzAmazing Evenings and Destination CelebrationsSM are special events the cruise line organizes for its guests on almost every single voyage that is at least one week long. It is a true value add.
Inclusions with Azamara
In addition to the AzAmazing Evenings, Azamara provides the following inclusive amenities for all guests:
- Select standard spirits, international beers and wines
- Bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas
- Self-service laundry
- Concierge services for personal guidance and reservations
Additional amenities for Veranda Plus* guests are:
- Complimentary Internet (120 minutes or 25% off the unlimited internet package) per guest*
- One free bag of laundry service per stateroom, every seven days*
- One night of complimentary specialty dining for two, each seven days
- Priority embarkation and debarkation
- Complimentary in-room spirits
…and even more for Suite guests:
- English butler service
- 240 complimentary Internet minutes per guest
- One free bag of laundry service per suite, each seven days
- Complimentary seating in the specialty restaurants dining
- Priority embarkation and debarkation
- Complimentary in-room spirits
- In-suite afternoon tea service
- $300 in Onboard Credit per person (Club World Owner’s Suites, Club Ocean Suites, Club Spa Suites categories only)
Overall, it felt great to be cruising again. Now is an ideal time to cruise if you want to experience the additional comforts of a reduced capacity sailing. It really does make a difference in terms of having even greater space plus the even more focused attention of staff and crew.
*Amenities current as of April 2022 and subject to change without notice.
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