Small enough to fit into the yacht-filled marina of Monte Carlo, yet big enough to offer a variety of venues on board, Azamara Onward is the latest mid-size ship at sea.

At a ceremony held in Monaco in May, Azamara unveiled the 684-passenger former Pacific Princess after a US$50 million upgrade, which added a cocktail bar, refreshed suites and cabins, and four new shows.

The ship was christened at the dockside event led by Azamara president Carol Cabezas, Captain Carl Smith, cruise director Eric De Gray, and godmother Beth Santos, founder of the Wanderful travel community. The new name represents the brand’s growth as an independent brand, since it was sold by parent company Royal Caribbean to a private equity firm, but it could also apply to the wider cruise industry’s effort to move forward from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following two years of pause, we look forward to pressing onward with new mindsets, new adventures and new opportunities to learn how we can be better travellers,” said Santos.

Exclusive to Azamara Onward is the stylish and intimate Atlas Bar, which features an enticing list of artisanal cocktails and snacks, with suggested pairings. A hit with the first guests to sample the new selection on the pre-inaugural cruise, the handcrafted beverages are prepared using freshly squeezed juices, in-house syrups and the latest techniques, such as smoking domes and nitro-infusions, which are almost as enjoyable to watch as to drink. Inspired by the ship’s travels, cocktails include a London Fog Martini (with earl gray-infused gin), Osaka Spice (with sake and wasabi), Scottish Sour (with two types of whisky) and Date of Cairo (with vodka and Egyptian date sauce). Among the small plates are lobster carpaccio, fois gras terrine, and beef tartare topped with caviar and shaved truffle.

Another new offering is a Chef’s Table degustation in the Aqualina specialty restaurant. The seven-course experience captures the flavours of the surrounding destinations of each itinerary.

Not new to Azamara but completely revamped areas include The Den, a multipurpose space that serves as a shore excursion desk and loyalty desk by day and a lounge with live piano music by night. The Living Room also has plenty of seating, a bar, dance floor, library and floor-to-ceiling windows providing the best vantage point on the ship.

Onward presents four new evening shows, performed by its team of singers, dancers and an expanded orchestra. Club Crooner covers the classics from Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble; Amped Up celebrates 70s rock; Wanderlust is an eclectic mix of music from around the world; and the psychedelic soundtrack of Groove Tonight encourages guests to hit the dance floor. Local entertainers will also be invited to board in select ports of call for a taste of the region’s culture.

Suites have been elegantly refurbished and offer butler service, while the standard cabins (and their bathrooms) are relatively small. Although there’s new carpet, bedding, curtains and USB ports, the built-in cabinets are old and dated.

In line with Azamara’s trademark of ‘destination immersion’, Onward will operate several ‘country intensive’ cruises exploring smaller ports within one country instead of covering the major ports of several countries. Among this year’s options are a nine-night ‘Greece Intensive’ in August and an 11-night ‘Italy Intensive’ in October. For those who prefer more variety, 2022 and 2023 itineraries include Islands of the Med; Central and South America; Bermuda and Canary Islands; Pacific Mysteries (Peru to Tahiti); and the Ancient Trade Routes (Singapore to Dubai).

Onward’s World Voyage is scheduled to sail to 40 countries from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, departing January 5, 2024. This epic five-month voyage includes Australian stops in the Great Barrier Reef, Mooloolaba and Sydney, plus the South Pacific, New Zealand, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Like its sister ships (Azamara Pursuit, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest), Onward’s small size allows it to visit world-class ports, such as Italy’s Amalfi and Croatia’s Rovinj, that bigger ships cannot access. Azamara also promises more overnight stays than other cruise lines, as well as late-night departures to allow passengers to enjoy dinner or other evening activities ashore. Fares include gratuities, select beverages, meals in non-specialty restaurants and some land-based events.

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