Cruising with Azamara Club Cruises provides a haven of pampering, allowing you to be an intrepid adventurer in exotic destinations.
With youthful memories of backpacking around India, my husband was keen to share with me his experiences of the cricket-loving country of fabulous sights and colours, beautiful embroidered silks and delicious cuisine. And what better way to be introduced to this vast, sprawling sub-continent than by luxury cruise ship, where I could sample the delights of three famed cities for my first taste, before perhaps returning for more.
Azamara Journey promised to take us along part of the famous spice route, once plied by traders bringing precious and exotic cargo from the East to the Western world. While romantic images swirl around such tales, theirs was certainly a much more arduous adventure than ours.
Our daily forays into bustling city centres and busy market places were meticulously planned with comfortable coach rides and informative guides, ready to answer the questions buzzing in our heads. At the end of each day’s excitement, Azamara Club Cruises’ attentive and friendly staff greeted us like old friends. After a full day of sightseeing, nothing was more relaxing than returning to the familiarity of our ship and the comfort of our cabin.
The first destination on our itinerary was Mumbai, the fast-paced business capital of India. A lush, overgrown city with some magnificent Art Deco buildings, Mumbai is a mix of the old jostling up against the new. We went to the smartest address in town; the luxurious Taj Hotel, built by the local millionaire Tata, in an effort to oneup the colonial administration. We ate a lunch of spicy ‘street’ food in the Taj, looking through picture windows at the archway of the famed Gateway of India.
Later, in the hotel’s gallery of boutiques, I purchased some of the rich silk brocade with which my husband had tempted me in his stories of Indian treasures.
I was already determined to return to India, but this was confirmed on our next stop, Goa, with its strong Portuguese influence still evident in the UNESCO-protected churches and charming colonial houses in Panjim’s heritage village. And then Cochin, where we sought out two ancient synagogues with beautiful stained glass and ornate candelabra, both lovingly maintained through the centuries.
Between stops, down time on the ship offered a variety of activities including water-colour painting, lectures, deck games, craft classes, concerts and cabarets.
Just as India delivered on its promise, so too did our next stop - Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. It was new to both of us, and as we have long been tantalised by talk of tea plantations, nestled into green mountains, this was another taster for future travels. Once the hub of a busy transport route,
Colombo languished during a civil war and is only now reclaiming its former glory. Our city tour took in the open-air produce markets, the elaborate candy-striped Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, and the famous Ministry of Crab restaurant, where you don a bib and dine on crustaceans weighing up to 2kgs.
Between Colombo and our next port in Malaysia, we had three days at sea. Some of our fellow travellers chose to spend it relaxing poolside, as waiters wafted by with cocktails. Instead, I geared up to sample every experience on board. There was so much to do, from breakfast, where the waiter brought my espresso exactly as I liked it, until I fell into the crisp clean bedsheets at night. Somewhere in between I fitted in meeting my new friends at the cafe, the sauna and outdoor spa, evening tapas and wine in the lounge listening to mellow music, and a soft-serve ice-cream treat under the stars.
As a serious foodie, the choice at dinner was confounding. I don’t believe I’ve eaten better at any restaurant. As head chef Monica took us through the degustation menu at restaurant Prime C, I was in heaven. I was having so much fun, that I reluctantly left my luxurious new ‘home’ for a day trip to the religious shrines of Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves and the soaring Petronas Towers.
When we reached Singapore, there was a wistful sadness in knowing this was the end of the affair. Still, it was a gentle parting as we had a full day and evening in port before making our farewells. And Singapore is a revelation. It is wonderful to be a relaxed tourist here, where you can see the sensational national art gallery, have cocktails on the roof bar and take in evening fireworks at the marina, or stroll through the extraordinary Gardens by the Bay.
The exploration of this vibrant and eclectic part of the world, coupled with an onboard experience akin to a boutique hotel stay, made this voyage unforgettable.
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