Indonesian Immersion on Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises is charting new waters with its exclusive itineraries throughout Asia, Indonesia, and Australia, offering expanded culinary programs and cutting-edge excursions, consistently pushing the bounds of this boutique cruise line.
Many of the ports visited along my most recent journey from Singapore to Bali on the Azamara Quest are new to the company. Most of the destinations have never even allowed cruise ships into the ports before, paving the way for new innovations in the industry.
Michael Pawlus, Director of Strategic Itinerary and Destination Planning for Azamara, is intimately familiar with the company’s due diligence process, where the team decides how to add new itineraries and routes to pre-existing ones, such as the popular European and Caribbean trips. “On a macro level, we take a look at a variety of deployment alternatives and determine the overall profitability of a given period of time,” Pawlus said. “On a micro level, we are constantly looking for new ports of call that we can add to future itineraries. We strive to continually be fresh and innovative with our itineraries.”
In addition to the updated refurbishments and new itineraries for Azamara, the company has also launched a “Cruise Global, Eat Local” campaign where the cruise line works with local restaurateurs and those in the culinary world to create one-of-a-kind on-land dining experiences, a great addition to its destination immersion strategy which has already launched in European ports and will soon do so globally.
“Because we stay longer in ports and often stay overnight, we continue to expand this program,” Pawlus explained. “We ask our agents to give us their recommendations of which restaurants to use and we try to find restaurants within easy walking distance of the ship. They must be uniquely local and have standards that match those of Azamara ships. Our chefs have even gone to the restaurants and checked out their kitchens and sampled meals.”
Azamara is also widely known for its innovative AzAmazing evenings that spotlight local culture, food, and fashion in specific ports of call. While on my trip, I attended an evening at Lawang Sewu, “the house of a thousand doors,” in Semarang, Indonesia, where guests were treated to an evening of local talent and the fine art of Indonesian dancing. In order to plan such events, Pawlus explained that a group of tour personnel spends time thinking outside of the box to find new ways to thrill the guests. “When we develop our itineraries, we are sure to include a port in which we will have an AzAmazing evening, and we try to challenge our operators in the ports to come up with some unique alternatives,” Pawlus added.
While the food onboard is the reason we all travel, it’s an added bonus that the service and culinary options are exceptional. Led by Captain José Vilarinho, whose wonderful leadership and charismatic personality was quite evident in every department aboard the Quest, the uniqueness of the food and beverage department was definitely the main draw — especially since the ship's menus are specifically designed to cater to the tastes of every passenger on any cruise, with all special requests honored.
The specialty restaurants offer terrific service with the warm and inviting steakhouse, Prime C, as well as the exquisite Italian/Mediterranean venue, Aqualina. The Chateaubriand for two, prepared tableside, was a popular dish at Prime C, and the luscious pasta offerings — namely the delicious gnocchi and the creamy risotto — were mouth-watering at Aqualina. Not to be outdone, the desserts supposedly had no calories (as proclaimed by the servers) and included mini sugar doughnuts with three decadent sauces at Prime C, and delectable gelato at Aqualina. Passengers were mesmerized by the warm ambiance, spectacular views, unbelievable food and drinks, and the friendly service provided by all.
Solo travelers or couples have the ability to join other cruise guests for dinner in the main dining room any night of the week, as well as enjoying the casual dinner buffet that changes nightly. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting a number of British, Canadian, and Australian guests, who felt compelled to see the world while enjoying each other’s company in the relaxing environment of the Azamara Quest just like us. The connections and bonds made on board the Quest were something that can’t be quantified, but somehow become just as important as the food being served or the sights seen.
Throughout my itinerary, the ship also showcased the cuisines of Asia with Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Chinese buffet themes in addition to New Orleans-themed jazz brunches and dim sum afternoon treats during our days at sea.
Unique to Azamara were the varied land excursions in the beautiful and mysterious land of Bali. The lush area is best known for its rice paddies that grow four different kinds of rice that produce many of the foods that the indigenous people eat on a daily basis. Most of the dishes we tried were rice-based, both savory and sweet. In many sweet items, local cooks mix black rice with other types, adding sugar, milk, and additional enhancers.
Towards the end of our trip, we booked an excursion through the cruise line that took us to the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, Indonesia. We, along with roughly 30 other travelers, spent a majestic afternoon feeding beautiful elephants, watching them play, and riding them throughout the safari. The elephant my mother and I faithfully climbed aboard was named “Lady Gaga,” and was ridden by a thoughtful young Indonesian man. He shared with us that after his two years of training to ride and care for the elephants, he now solely looks after Lady Gaga and lovingly refers to her as his second wife. After what can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, diving into a lake bath on top of Lady Gaga at the end of our ride was the grand finale photo op that Instagrammers can usually only dream of.
Next, we headed to the restaurant on property where we were treated to a traditional Indonesian buffet filled with dishes like chicken satay, a medley of vegetable dishes, and spicy tomato vegetable soup. Then, we moved on to the entrées: stir-fried savory pork and chicken or fish with rice and vegetables, capped off by creamy, sweet, sticky rice desserts and a variety of fresh fruits, including passion fruit and mango.
When it came time to bid adieu to the Azamara Quest and fly home from Bali, we chose to do so the only way we know how: with cocktails in hand. Two Long Island iced teas were our drinks of choice to end our journey lounging by the deck pool on a sunny Balinese day.