I had to pinch myself, it felt like such a dream. I had always sworn I was too scared to travel too far overseas on my own, yet here I was, getting off a flight in Tokyo, Japan to spend the next two weeks as a solo traveller on a luxurious cruise ship — the Azamara Quest. It is here also, I must say that the highly detailed ‘step by step’ itinerary provided by the wonderful travel agents at Royal Caribbean also contributed in making my journey flow. Being met at the busy Tokyo airport when my eyes were tired from a night of poor sleep on the plane, made my day so much easier. A refreshing night in a classy Tokyo hotel set amidst an ancient and tranquil Japanese garden set me up ready to meet my driver the next morning to go to Yokohama to meet the mid-sized cruise ship.
From the moment I left the shuttle, I never lifted a finger. Smiling Azamara staff relieved me of my suitcases and ushered me to the desks where I handed over my travel documents. Trays of champagne and smiling attendants greeted me as I embarked on my first solo sea voyage.
My stateroom was just wonderful. It had a large beautifully appointed king size bed and plenty of storage with a small couch and table. The bathroom was cosy but quite effective. Fluffy white robes, fresh flowers and my own little balcony with floor to ceiling windows completed my home for the next fortnight. It even had USB ports to plug in your iPhone or iPad.
What a fortnight it was. Initially a bit hesitant as I realised I would be in the minority, I was quickly put at ease as I perused the numerous activities that would fill our ‘sea’ days between our on-shore excursion days. Everything from lectures on the culture of the places where we would visit to quizzes, catch ups, shopping, health and fitness options, and so much more. Being reasonably happy with my own company, I attended a couple of the solo travellers cocktail parties just to introduce myself and say hello. The benefit of this was that I would meet a group most mornings to do a group quiz together, then we would all do our own thing. I’d catch them later in the day for a pre-dinner cocktail in the Den and sometimes join them for dinner. We would then attend one of the great shows on offer. These ranged from musical revues, classical soloists, comedy, and more.
Many other solo travellers, like myself, were happy enough just finding a sunny spot on the deck to read or gaze out at the wonderful seascapes as they drifted by. However, now knowing a few people meant there was always somebody to chat to if you felt like company.
In particular, the ship’s crew were also very friendly and helpful. The guest relations officer on the Azamara Quest took me under her wing as she was a kiwi woman, and we had a lot in common. I had a few dinners with her and others from the guest relations team and enjoyed their stories of shipboard life. Doing ship tours on the bridge, the engine room and in the kitchens also gave me a greater insight into the the well-ordered but complex ‘machine’ that keeps this small floating city running like clockwork.
Azamara Quest is a smaller luxury ‘boutique’ type ship. There are fewer passengers than on the larger party-type ships and as these passengers were mainly older couples and singles, the whole atmosphere was quietly luxurious. The decor is refined and invites you to take time just to sit and watch the world float by. The Mosaic cafe was a favourite spot to get a coffee or tea, and enjoy a chat or a quiet read.
The Windows restaurant offered sumptuous buffet style food, which most nights reflected the cuisine of the port we visited that day. Other nights we sampled wonderful foods from different cultures. The a la carte dining room Discoveries offered a more formal atmosphere with a wide range of wonderful entrees, mains and desserts. The service was excellent and I felt like royalty. I dined at the specialty restaurant Prime C and that was my culinary highlight. Lobster, steak and the most wonderful sea views made this an unforgettable experience.
What I loved most about cruising is that I had the opportunity to visit so many exotic locations on the shore tours, which the ship organised. As a nervous first time traveller, I had the confidence of knowing I was in a group, on a bus with a guide. But I still had the luxury and security of knowing I had my lovely comfortable stateroom to return to at night. The shore excursions were unforgettable, and as the Azamara line have a focus of ‘cultural immersion’, the choices offered to us as passengers provided an authentic view of how people live in different places on our planet.
From having my butler bring afternoon tea to my stateroom to enjoy on my balcony as I watched a snow capped volcano, to the hot rock massage in the Sanctum spa, to afternoons under a rug on a deck chair reading a novel from the library, to laughing over cocktails with people who a week ago would have been strangers, to seeing exotic new places and meeting local people from different cultures, the list of highlights could go on and on.
Cruising is in a league of its own. You unpack once. You do as much or as little as you want. I felt refreshed and energised, but most of all I felt empowered as I sadly said goodbye to the Azamara Quest in Seward, Alaska to make my three-day journey home. I had broken the back of the fear of ‘doing it alone’ and felt quietly confident that my homeward journey would be just as much fun. And it was. As I write this, quietly reflecting on this ‘life changing’ journey, I can see that my confidence has grown, and in the future I’m going to be happy to tackle another solo journey. I wonder what it will be next time?