When the ship overnighted there, we eschewed the 9½ -hour “D-Day Landing Tour” (too long) as well as the 10-hour Paris excursion to the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame. (Been there, done that). Instead we explored Honfleur on our own, pausing at the 15th-century Church of St. Catherine — the oldest wooden church in France — browsing in galleries and lingering over a late lunch. We weren’t in a hurry, since we had the next day to explore the museum.



The group explored Honfleur, France, a picturesque town that dates to the 14th century, on its own. The town’s Eugene Boudin Museum is a lesser-known gem. (Azamara Club Cruises).

The ship did not offer a Paris shuttle or information on how to reach the city on one’s own; this was frustrating for Wayne, who wanted to visit without paying hundreds of dollars to tour sites he already knew well. Instead, he followed directions gleaned from the Internet, then took a cab to Deauville and a train to Paris.


That evening, concert pianist and raconteur Brooks Aehron charmed us with his anecdotes and renditions of pieces by composers including Sergei Rachmaninoff and John Lennon. After his performance of new material the next night, De Gray and the ship’s singers and dancers staged a Broadway tribute whose high-energy finale featured the cruise director in drag circling the stage on roller skates.


The Journey arrived in Amsterdam the next afternoon. All of us had previously visited the cosmopolitan city known for its culture, canals and throngs of bicyclists. Among its many museums, two stand out: the Rijksmuseum for its works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and other Dutch masters, and the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist’s works.


Azamara offered a tour of the Van Gogh Museum, but it conflicted with our previously purchased tickets to the Rijksmuseum, so we admired Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” and other masterworks on our own. By now, we liked the concept of overnight stays because it gifted us with the ability to see more. On the second day in Amsterdam, David joined the bike ride through Waterland, a municipality north of the city. The bikers took a ferry there, then cycled through scenery out of a Dutch landscape painting.


The second night in Amsterdam, the ship’s passengers had been promised an “AzAmazing Evening.” We traveled by bus to the centuries-old Grote Kerk church in Monnickendam for a classical organ concert . For the its finale, 30 actors in period attire created a living version of “The Night Watch,” complete with a dog (real) and a little girl holding a chicken (rubber). Although we aren’t big fans of organ music, we appreciated the spectacle, as well as the lavish onboard dessert buffet that followed.



The Azamara Journey overnighted in Amsterdam, which allowed time for both a visit to the Rijksmuseum and a bike ride through scenic Waterland. (Azamara Club Cruises).


Our final destination, Hamburg, has served as a major German port for centuries. The Kunstmeile (art mile) showcases five art museums; the Reeperbahn buzzes with bars, clubs and brothels; and HafenCity, a large urban-renewal district, pops with a mix of harborside walkways, modern architecture and the repurposed redbrick, 19th-century warehouses of the Speicherstadt district.

Because we wanted to sample another Azamara offering and still have time to explore on our own, we opted to take the Sweet Hamburg tour. Twenty-three of us walked behind a guide whom we couldn’t hear most of the time as she had no microphone and we had no headphones. Fortunately, our destination, the Chocoversum, was well worth a visit. We customized our own chocolate bars with toppings and spices before taking the museum’s chocolate-making tour. Our gripe: The museum’s fee for these activities was only about $13, which meant we’d paid through the nose for our less-than-informative walk through town. This letdown aside, we enjoyed the city, walking on our own to the Hamburg Town Hall and square and browsing in the nearby shops.


By the end of the nine-day cruise, we had learned that immersive cruising is dependent on the quality of the tours, with longer and more expensive outings perhaps delivering more local flavor. We regretted, for instance, not busting our budget to take the big-ticket tour that might have brought St. Peter Port to life for us.

Nonetheless, David and I would gladly board the Journey again, if only for the long hours in port. We liked setting our own agenda simply by wandering, taking advantage of the overnights in Honfleur and Amsterdam to experience more in an unhurried way, a rarity on megaships that steam to different ports each day. But the lack of things to do on the ship bored Wayne and Mary Jane; they won’t sail Azamara again. Clearly, next year’s cousins’ cruise is going to be problematic.

Stapen is a writer based in the District. Her website is gfvac.com. Find her on Twitter: @familytrips.

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IF YOU GO

Azamara Club Cruises  /  Azamara Journey
877-999-9553

azamaraclubcruises.com

In 2018, Azamara Club Cruises will sail guests to more than 214 ports in 70 countries. Itineraries for the Azamara Journey include a 10-night Normandy and Amsterdam voyage in June that starts at $4,299; an 11-night Cities of Northern Europe voyage in August that starts at $4,399; and a 10-night Circle Cuba voyage in November that starts at $3,599. Azamara Quest itineraries include a 10-night Islands of the Western Mediterranean voyage in June that starts at $4,099 per and a 10-night Classic Grand Prix and Mediterranean voyage in May that starts at $3,399. (Prices are per person double.) Cost includes tips, meals, nonalcoholic beverages and select spirits, beers and wines; an array of optional outings are offered for a fee. For select bookings through Nov. 30, Azamara offers a complimentary upgrade from a Club Interior to a Club Veranda stateroom.

— C.S.

 

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