Azamara Quest - the warmth of the West Indies
I have to admit that I'd never heard of Azamara until ROL Cruise put me in touch a couple of years ago. The name immediately appealed. It has something of the exotic about it.
And now, on our second Azamara voyage, it seems exotic indeed to be breakfasting on our balcony in scorching November sunshine, anchored just off the exclusive Caribbean island of St Bart's.
We are on Azamara Quest - one of the company's two ships. Both have recently been totally refurbished and the decor is elegant and stylish. But the big attraction for most guests is that there are only about 650 people on board.
We have a Continental Suite. It's spacious and comfortable with a decent sized balcony and the added benefit of complimentary dining in the two speciality restaurants. There you can eat quietly at a table for two, looking out over the ocean and enjoying some exceptional cuisine.
Scallops, lobster, Chateaubriand or pheasant are always on offer and the choice of wine that's included in the price changes each day and is highly palatable. Often, as we've discovered, a bit too palatable!
The voyage from Miami starts with two sea days. I enjoy long, lazy days at sea - especially at the beginning when you're tired and stressed from all the preparations. Although it's a relatively small ship, the swimming pool is adequate, fringed by two jacuzzis, and the sun loungers seem plentiful. There are also some big, squashy settees and a couple of hanging basket chairs on the top deck, with superb views of the ship and the ocean.
At first, I surprised myself by managing to get up to the gym by 8am to do yoga and Pilates. By day three, though, my early morning mojo had left... I switched to the early evening stretch class!
As well as St. Bart's this voyage is taking us to St John's, Nevis, St Maarten and somewhere I've never even heard of: Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands. I always think it's special to visit a part of this planet that you didn't know existed.
For me, part of Azamara's particular appeal is that, more often than not, we are anchored off the islands. Ports can be busy, noisy places, but on this ship we wake gently in the peace of the ocean and then take tenders ashore as and when we feel like it.
Another attraction is that you tend to get much longer ashore: often the Azamara ships don't set sail until late into the evening. And that takes the pressure off if you decide to do your own thing on shore.... you don't have that nagging fear that you might get left behind if you get lost or delayed.
There's also one special evening on every cruise when the whole ship is invited to a cultural evening on shore: in Turkey we were taken to a private tour of Ephesus and a classical concert in the small amphitheatre. This time, we were treated to a very unusual open air show by an electric string quartet in St Maarten.
And right now, I've moved from our balcony to a comfy spot in the sunshine by the pool. I've been chatting with my neighbour about the joys of getting away from the British winter.
He's on his own for the moment: his wife has just popped downstairs to book another Azamara cruise!