It’s a game of cat and mouse that Captain Johannes Tysse of the Azamara Quest has been playing more frequently of late. He patiently checks port manifests to ensure his passengers don’t have to face long queues in scorching temperatures around Europe this summer.
It’s how Azamara’s small ships are beating the big ships at popular ports.
On an itinerary that includes the stellar port of Santorini this week, the captain’s ability to change tack demonstrated why small-ship cruising is the best way to visit countries like Greece and Turkey at the height of the season.
The 20-year veteran made the last-minute decision to swap Patmos and Santorini to avoid five mega liners. Crowds of over 8000 passengers all queue for the funicular to the capital, Fira, and other local amenities.
He even switched the place where the line’s iconic White Night party was held.
“I’ve heard of people fainting after standing for two hours in 30+ degrees for the cable car,” he explained.
His careful watch of the port schedule showed the five big ships would be disembarking over passengers on the day he was due to drop anchor. For three days this week, Santorini had up to six ships in port, with over 9,000 passengers probably looking to see the sights.
He told Cruise Passenger Azamara allows him to make last-minute changes which ensure his vessel avoids overcrowding at ports where he can. Big ship captains cannot make such changes because they need to inform port authorities well in advance.
Small ship cruising
Cruise Passenger was on board Azamara Quest as ownership of the four-ship line once owned by Royal Caribbean officially passed to Sycamore Partners. The private equity group bought the line and its ships two years ago.
The Quest can take 710 passengers and has a crew of around 400, with 352 Staterooms, 46 Suites, 201 Veranda Staterooms, 79 Oceanview Staterooms and 26 Interior cabins.
On board this week are 570 passengers, a mix of Americans, British and 70 Australians as well as some Asians. Our itinerary from Istanbul, Turkey to Athens in Greece takes in iconic and historical sites like Gallipoli and Ephesus, Turkey. Guests got the chance to sample an “Azamazing” evening – an extraordinary concert in the Odeon Theatre, built in the 2nd Century AD.
It’s exclusive events like this, put on by Azamara in the late evening, which are the future of European travel. They have become a key way to taste the culture and avoid the queues and crowds.
In the end, Captain Tysse’s local knowledge and agility paid off. There were two other ships in town – the Norwegian Gem and Marella Explorer, together with some 4,500 passengers. But we were still able to see the sights of one of the best islands in the Aegean without queues.
Even the famed historic site of Akrotiri was relatively quiet – and the town’s famous and controversial donkey rides were quiet.
Fast Facts of Azamara Quest
Refurbished 2021, when new luxury spa suites are added
Two specialty restaurants at extra charge: Italian Aqualina and Prime C, an American steak house
Main restaurant: Destinations
Casual dining: Windows Café
Amenities: Spa, pool, large gym, library, games area, ping pong
Entertainment: Bars with pianists, singers, and a cabaret lounge with shows nightly as well as late-night DJs
This season, Azamara Journey will sail itineraries in Australia and New Zealand, and Azamara Onward will be in the region on her world tour.