It’s business as usual on board Azamara as the line resumes service with a new owner. Jane Archer joins them for a cruise around Greece and Cyprus
I feel like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz as my husband and I walk into Heraklion from the cruise port. Except where she followed a yellow brick road, we’re following a yellow thread.
As with most things Greek, it’s all to do with a legend. In this case the yarn that Princess Ariadne gave her lover Theseus so he could find his way out of the Labyrinth home of the half-man, half-bull Minotaur after he had killed the beast.
The thread – well, OK, a yellow line painted on the pavement – is not just a great help for cruisers with a penchant for getting lost, but fitting as the Labyrinth is in the Palace of Knossos, home of the mythical King Minos, and just up the road from Heraklion.
It’s day five of a cruise around Greece and Cyprus on Azamara Quest that’s significant, not just because it’s the line’s first sailing after the long Covid-enforced hiatus, but its first since it was acquired by New York-based Sycamore Partners.
“Are we ready to have a party?” Azamara president Carol Cabezas beams as we all gather on the sun deck to toast the start of the cruise – a seven-night jaunt that will take us to Limassol in Cyprus, before circling back to the islands of Rhodes, Crete, Santorini and Mykonos in Greece.
There are slightly more than 200 of us on a ship that holds 700 – the number is deliberately low to help the crew bed in after the long time away from work – but that doesn’t stop the rousing cheers in response.
That evening, it seems only fitting to go Greek for dinner in Windows Café (there is a themed meal there each evening and we return a few days later for German night). Usually the venue is self-service but due to Covid you now point at what you want and the crew serve you, except in the evening when it reverts to waiter service.
There are plenty of other places to eat, from tapas in the observation lounge and snacks in the coffee-centric Mosaic Café to multi-course meals in the main (open seating) dining room and two speciality restaurants – Prime C for steaks and Aqualina for Mediterranean-style cuisine.
Several couples we buddy up with love Prime C so much they eat there most nights (as there are so few of us on board, Aqualina is shut, and both menus are being served in the one outlet) but then they are in suites so there’s no charge. For the rest of us, it’s $30 per person. We bag a table in Prime C twice and agree with our new friends. The food is excellent.
The suite perks (they also have a butler and lots of free internet minutes) are unchanged from the days when Azamara was owned by Royal Caribbean, as are the included tips, soft drinks and a selection of cocktails, beers and wines everyone enjoys.
In fact, apart from a couple of (hopefully temporary) Covid-induced changes (Quest Fest nibbles replace the much-loved White Night BBQ extravaganza and instead of an AzAmazing Evening ashore we get a local electric violin duo on board), everything about Azamara is much the same as ever it was, both on board and ashore.
That means late nights in several ports. Thank goodness. Because there is lots to discover this week, from volcanoes in Santorini and beaches in Mykonos to Roman mosaics and Crusader castles in Cyprus.
Rhodes is quite the head-turner, The medieval walled city is just across the road from the cruise port, which is handy. We find our way through the maze of streets to the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, which dominates the skyline. The walls were thought impregnable until the Ottomans came along in the early 1500s, breached them and booted the knights out. To be fair, it was an uneven fight, with 7,000 knights versus 100,000 Turks.
Thanks to Ariadne, we easily find our way into Heraklion, the capital of Crete, where Minoans, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans and even the British left their mark before the island become part of Greece in 1913. It has a real buzz, with people everywhere and restaurants doing a roaring trade under the brilliant blue sky. A sight that was truly a welcome antidote to lockdown.