For those of you seasoned travelers who are looking for culturally rich cruising experiences on elegant, intimate mid-sized ships for less than $500 per person per day, take a long look at Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises. Azamara Club Cruises owns two of the R-Ships from the former Renaissance Cruises fleet, Azamara Journey (formerly R.6) and Azamara Quest (formerly R.7) and Oceania Cruises owns three of them, Insignia (formerly R.1), Regatta (formerly R.2) and Nautica (formerly R.5). In addition, Oceania Cruises is building Marina, which debuts in January 2011 and with 1,250 passengers, is almost twice as large as its other three ships.
Oceania Nautica - Halong Bay
Both of these distinctive cruise lines offer a sophisticated yet relaxed way to travel, five-star cuisine, comfortable accommodations with top-of-the-line amenities, country club environment, superb service, and rich, port-intensive itineraries. In 2011, the Azamara Club Cruises fleet will overnight in 36 ports on four continents and the Oceania Cruises fleet will overnight in 36 ports on five continents. Azamara Journey will spend two nights in Rio de Janeiro and St. Petersburg while Azamara Quest will spend two nights in Bangkok. Insignia will spend two nights in St. Petersburg while Nautica will spend two nights in Rangoon (Yangon), Myanmar.
As far as price is concerned, there isn't much difference between the two. In November 2010, the cost per person per day in the lowest category Club Veranda Stateroom (V3) on a Mediterranean cruise in September 2011 on Azamara Journey or Azamara Quest is $397.52; the cost per person per day in the lowest category Veranda Stateroom (B2) on a Mediterranean cruise in September 2011 on Insignia or Nautica is $421.36 and on Marina is $433.17.
You might be wondering how you would choose one over the other. Itinerary would probably be the most important factor. However, Azamara Club Cruises includes boutique red and white wines with lunch and dinner; gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar wait staff; and complimentary shuttle bus service in many ports. Oceania Cruises includes complimentary seating in all specialty dining restaurants. Oceania Cruises is also launching Marina in January 2011, which will include more spacious accommodations (a veranda stateroom on Marina is a roomy 282 square feet and has a bathtub). Marina also offers the Bon Appétit Culinary Center and Artist Loft enrichment center.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Cruise Holidays convention at El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya, Mexico which is a very nice all-inclusive land-based resort south of Cancun. Although our convention is normally held on a cruise ship, this year it was held on land, which gave me the opportunity to experience an all-inclusive resort for the first time. Being an avid cruiser, I was initially disappointed that our convention would be held on land but started to get excited about it when I realized that staying at the El Dorado Royale would allow me to sample cruising's major competitior, the all-inclusive tropical land-based resort.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the expansive accommodations, beautiful grounds, extensive dining choices (the D'Italia Casitas Restaurant was especially good), and the friendly service of El Dorado Royale, I wouldn't trade it for a cruise. To me, there is something particularly magical about sailing away in the sunset while bidding farewell to the crowd left behind on the pier and musing about adventures to come on faraway islands.
On a cruise, you have the opportunity to visit different places and if you happen to be cruising in the Caribbean, each island has a distinct personality and charm all its own. It's easier to meet new and interesting people and swap stories with fellow travelers on a cruise because people who don't know each other are more likely to dine together. And, if the weather is not to your liking at a particular destination, it's good to know that the cruise ship will be moving on to another, perhaps fairer port, the next day.
However, if you're going to a tropical paradise where there is much to explore and you need more than a day or if you just want to plop down on a beach chair and decompress for a week, a land-based resort might be a better choice for you.