Destinations

Sailing the Canary Islands with Azamara

Rebecca Barnes spends a week sun and culture-seeking in the Canary Islands

The suspended glass platform reveals the 580-metre drop beneath my feet. If I’d had a sip of the zingy local tipple poncha before arriving at the lofty Cabo Girão viewpoint in the south of Madeira – the highest cape in Europe – I might have been brave enough to look down to the ground. Nevertheless, the rum and citrus drink – originally rumoured to be popular with fishermen to keep themselves warm at sea – seems a fitting reward after our skywalk and four-mile Levada Do Norte hike, 1,850 metres above sea level.

A couple of days later, I’m wandering the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on a town and tapas excursion – it’s a warm, sunny December day, the kind that’s extremely seductive to sun-starved Brits like myself.

And despite recent extended periods of ‘staying home’, I find it easy to acclimatise to the slower pace and laid-back atmosphere and enjoy a spot of people watching, accompanied by a chilled glass or two and like-minded company.

Grand voyage tenerife

Excursions

Of course, this is exactly what Azamara wants guests to be doing on its informative town excursions, which tick all the history and culture boxes, as well as the culinary highlights of each destination. With hunger pangs building, we stop to sample a local snack. Gofio, with its intense, sugary flavour, provides an instant energy buzz.

Made with palm honey and almonds, its sticky sweetness makes it very popular in the local bodegas, as we discover. Our eight-strong group then reroutes to the shady terrace of a tapas bar in a hip part of town where we sample some more traditional plates, washed down with excellent Canarian wine.

The previous day, as my bare feet sunk into the soft, inky black sands of Playa San Sebastian in San Sebastian de la Gomera, I had reflected on travelling in the current climate. Yes there’s more paperwork, extra health checks and the associated costs to factor into a trip, but the payback once you arrive at your destination is almost certainly worth it.

The chilled, home-from-home atmosphere is still evident

In my opinion, cruising offers even more bang for your buck in a post-Covid world, and getting your travel fix is easy once you’re in the ship ‘bubble’ – simply relax and let your floating home transport you.

Having sailed on sister ship Azamara Quest just two months before the first lockdown in March 2020, I was keen to get back on board with the line to see if things had changed in any way, especially in the wake of Azamara being sold to private equity firm Sycamore Partners in March 2021.

Rumours had circulated that the much-loved ships had been at risk of losing their appeal. But the moment I step on board, I feel a wave of familiarity. The chilled, home-from-home atmosphere is still evident, along with those zingy ginger breakfast shots and infectious smiles courtesy of crew focused on providing excellent service from dawn till dusk.

Safety

Our seven-night cruise on Azamara Journey visits five islands, and the majority of passengers are Brits, lured by the promise of mild, sun-filled days and a relatively short flight time of around four hours.

Starting our voyage in Gran Canaria, we sail to Santa Cruz de la Palma, San Sebastian de la Gomera and Tenerife, with an overnight stop in Funchal, Madeira. Of course, cruising these days is a little different, and there are protocols in place to ensure that everyone stays safe and healthy on board.

The mandatory safety briefing now takes place shortly after embarkation in very small groups

This includes the now-obligatory antigen test pre-boarding, and an antigen test provided by Azamara two days before disembarking and returning home. Face coverings are required when moving around the ship, except for when eating, drinking and on the pool deck.

There are hand sanitiser stations outside all dining venues, and branded masks are provided in staterooms. Staff also knock on your stateroom door to take your temperature once a day. Guest count is capped at around 350, or 50%, and the mandatory safety briefing now takes place shortly after embarkation in very small groups – large muster drill gatherings are no more.

Grand voyage shutterstock

Entertainment

On our sailing, the popular ‘White Night’ party has been tweaked to ‘Bright Night’ with a slightly adjusted format. “We had to be aware of restrictions,” hotel director Tony Markey tells me. “We could still do a deck event but it had to be Covid secure, which meant no deck buffet or dancing.

We knew that guests’ expectations of White Night as it was pre-Covid would not be met, so we decided to keep the theme but change the name slightly to suggest it would be similar but not identical.” AzaMazing evenings are also currently taking place on board instead of ashore.

“We’re now bringing the culture to the guest,” says Markey. The Pagannini show we watch, with four talented yet comedic classical musicians, is certainly well received by the audience. While each port and country has its own restrictions, on this particular sailing there are no additional rules for the various destinations.

We’re now bringing the culture to the guest

All fully vaccinated guests are allowed ashore to explore independently – a real treat as Azamara ships often stay longer in port than others. One bonus of late departures at this time of year is a frontline view of the Funchal Christmas lights in all their glory: a real sight to behold from my balcony, I get to admire (and photograph) them till the ship departs the following day.

Over a final breakfast before disembarkation, I ponder why it’s taken me so long to venture to this part of the world. But thanks to this delightful deep dive, I know I will return, pandemic or no pandemic.


Ask the expert

Tony Markey, hotel director, Azamara Journey

Tony Markey

“I haven’t heard anything from guests that our new ownership has impacted their experience – if anything, I think it’s changed things for the better. Sycamore Partners’ purchase of a fourth ship also means new itineraries – the 2024 world cruise will visit places that we as a company have never been to before, such as Easter Island.”


Book it:

A seven-night Canary Islands Intensive Voyage on Azamara Onward costs from £1,082, excluding flights, departing Gran Canaria on March 11, 2023.
azamara.co.uk

Azamara grand voyage
PICTURES: Jenna Lyn Photography; Shutterstock/FMB; Kanstantsin Karatysheuski.


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