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Azamara vs. Viking Ocean Cruises (Photo: Azamara & Viking Ocean)

Azamara vs. Viking Ocean Cruises

Both Azamara Club Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises started their ventures with small fleets of intimate ships. While Azamara has stayed small with three ships, Viking has rapidly expanded in recent years and now has five ships, with a sixth making its debut in 2019 and many more optioned for the future. Regardless of fleet size, both lines promise cruisers destination-intensive journeys including late nights and overnights in more ports of call than offered other cruise companies.

So how are the two lines different and how should a cruiser interested in a smaller-ship cruise decide between the two? Read on for our look at Azamara vs. Viking.

Updated December 6, 2018

Fleet

Azamara Club Cruises has a fleet of three ships: the 690-passenger Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, and the 702-passenger Azamara Pursuit, which joined the fleet in 2018. All three R-class ships formerly sailed under Renaissance Cruises.

Viking's fleet encompasses Viking Star, Viking Sea, Viking Sky, Viking Sun and Viking Orion. Viking Jupiter debuts in 2019. All ships are new by cruise ship standards and can accommodate 930 cruisers.

Price

Azamara and Viking are semi-inclusive cruise lines; both include DIY laundry and port shuttles (where possible) in the fare. Other inclusions vary by line.

As with all cruises, but especially with cruises that are similar in size and itinerary choices, comparing Azamara vs. Viking on price is difficult. Fares can vary by itinerary, sailing length, sailing date and cabin category. When looking at seven-night, Barcelona-to-Rome voyages during summer 2020, pricing for balcony cabins on both lines were basically the same, though roughly $100 less per person on Azamara.

Choose Viking if you want free internet, thermal suite access and shore excursions.

Viking Ocean Ship Spa (Photo: Viking)

If you can't wait to post photos to Facebook, like email your kids daily and want to do a walking tour (at the very least) in every port without paying extra, Viking is the best choice for you. Also, if you love the spa, you can't do better than Viking, which includes access to its amazing LivNordic facilities in the cruise fare. (The thermal suite, thalassotherapy pool and snow grotto are all complimentary; spa treatments cost extra.) Lastly, one guided outing -- usually a basic walking or bus tour -- is offered for free in every port on a Viking cruise. Azamara, on the other hand, only includes the once-per-cruise AzAmazing Evening in its cruise fares.

Choose Azamara if you want a lower entry price for your cruise.

The Club Interior Cabin on Azamara Journey (Photo: Cruise Critic)

If you want the premium, smaller-ship cruise experience but have a tight budget, you can find your way onboard by booking an inside or outside cabin on Azamara. Just remember that Azamara's entry-level staterooms are pretty snug at 158 square feet for an interior and 143 square feet for an ocean view. Viking's entry-level cabins are veranda staterooms, which are more spacious at 270 square feet (including the balcony) but more costly than a windowless or veranda-less room on Azamara.

Or if you want included gratuities and drinks.

While both lines include soda, beer and wine, on Azamara these beverages -- and select spirits -- are poured freely all day. On Viking, they're only free with meals at lunch and dinner (though coffee, tea and bottled water are available for free 24/7). Azamara's fares also include gratuities, while Viking charges $15 per passenger, per day, for crew tips.

Itineraries

Both Azamara and Viking offer similar itineraries, often blending tried-and-true port stops with smaller, off-the-beaten path destinations that larger ships can't visit, such as the Panama Canal on Azamara. Both cruise lines sail to the Americas, Northern Europe, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Asia, Australia and Africa. Later stays in port are par for the course, and at least one overnight is scheduled on almost every sailing.

Choose Viking for much more choice in itineraries.

Beijing

Viking has five ships, with several others on the way. Azamara has just three ships -- and no published plans for more -- so your itinerary choices on that line will be more limited. Viking has more voyages available in such regions as Alaska, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the Baltic, British Isles, Caribbean and Greece.

Viking especially excels when it comes to Norway, Baltic and Northern Europe sailings. For example, Viking offers 42 Norway cruises in 2019 while Azamara lists just one. Viking also sails Canada and New England itineraries as well as world cruises. However, Azamara is a better choice if you have your heart set on Bermuda (Viking doesn't sail there) or Mexico (Viking only has two itineraries calling in that country in 2019).

Choose Azamara for country-intensive voyages.

Venice, Italy (Photo: Gurgen Bakhshetyan/Shutterstock)

If you prefer to have the whole picture of a specific location, rather than just a snapshot, Azamara offers 2019 and 2020 itineraries that focus heavily on just one location, including Spain, Japan, Greece, Italy, France, Norway and Croatia. These country-intensive cruises feature most, if not all, stops in just one nation for a more extensive exploration and deeper understanding of the history, culture and traditions unique to that country.

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Shore Excursions

With a focus on immersive experiences, both cruise lines offer passengers longer or overnight stays in port -- averaging about 11 hours in port per day for Northern European itineraries -- allowing more time for discovery and exploration. Azamara offers one free excursion (AzAmazing Evenings) on nearly all its itineraries, while Viking provides either a complimentary walking or coach tour in every port, which is usually an introduction to the destination.

Choose Azamara for more varied and intimate shore excursions.

St. Petersburg Capella Symphony Orchestra in Russia (Photo: StockphotoVideo/Shutterstock)

Azamara's shore excursions cater to different activity levels (mild, medium, strenuous) and interests, including biking, nightlife, food, adventure and leisure. Tours provide passengers with more opportunities to interact with the destination as well as with their guide and locals alike. On many tours, a snack stop -- featuring a typical food from the region -- is also included.

Its AzAmazing Evening is a private event providing cruisers with an atmospheric way to view a region's cultural highlights, such as a Les Farfadais acrobatic show in Monaco or a St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra performance in Russia.

Choose Viking for exclusive access to places and experiences other tourists would find difficult to obtain.

Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia (Photo: Mistervlad/Shutterstock)

Viking's Privileged Access series of shore excursions provides exclusive entry to cultural treasures, allowing passengers to get an insider's view of a destination. For example, cruisers get the chance to tour a winery with a princess, or enjoy a personalized, after-hours tour of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with expert curators to provide insights. (These tours are not included in Viking's complimentary options and do cost extra.)

Cabins

With fewer than 500 cabins onboard in both the Azamara and Viking Ocean fleets, neither line offers a large variety of cabin categories.

Choose Azamara if you don't need a balcony.

The Club Oceanview Cabin (Obstructed View) on Azamara Journey (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Viking Ocean ships do not have inside and ocean-view cabins, so if you want to spend a little less and don't need a balcony, Azamara is the right choice for you. Entry-level inside cabins on Azamara can start at about $2,700 for a typical seven-night Mediterranean sailing in 2020. On Viking, most entry-level cabins start around $3,500 per person for a comparable seven-night Mediterranean sailing, but they are balcony cabins. This means you can access this upper-premium level of cruising at a lower price point.

Both inside and ocean-view rooms on Azamara are roomy enough for a couple (143 to 170 square feet) without being too claustrophobic. In general, Azamara has more cabin categories to choose from than Viking, with eight categories vs. six on Viking.

Or if you want butler service.

Suite passengers who like the extra level of service butlers provide will want to go with Azamara as Viking does not provide butlers on any of its ships. On Azamara, the four suite categories include English butler service.

Choose Viking if you want a large room with a nice-sized bathroom and balcony.

Viking Sea Cabins

The smallest cabin on Viking Ocean ships is 224 square feet, including the balcony. You have to go four categories up on Azamara to get a 215-square-foot stateroom, including balcony. Balconies are also larger on Viking --- 46 to 490 square feet vs. 40 to 233 square feet on Azamara.

But perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two is in the size and comfort of the bathrooms. Except in suites, bathrooms on Azamara ships are tiny with cramped showers and plastic curtains. On Viking, bathrooms are roomy and showers have glass doors.

Or you want a king-sized bed.

Prefer a roomier bed to cuddle in with your significant other? All Viking cabins feature two beds that convert into a king. Only beds in Azamara suites convert into a king; all others convert into a queen-size bed.

Dining

Azamara and Viking receive high marks from passengers for dining, with gourmet meals served daily in the main dining room and specialty restaurants. Both lines emphasize culinary adventures with "shopping with the chef" tours and chef's table/cooking class experiences.

Here's how Viking vs. Azamara dining stacks up.

Choose Azamara if you love steak and other cuts of meat.

Fine Dining on Azamara Club Cruises (Photo: Azamara)

If you prefer a good steak for dinner, Azamara's classic steakhouse, Prime C, is the place to dine. A "paradise for meat lovers," you can choose from five cuts of steak, including T-bone, ribeye and filet mignon. Other entrees include lamb, pheasant and fish.

But even vegans and vegetarians can have an enjoyable evening here, sampling stuffed zucchinis and a large selection of vegetarian sides, including a delicious creamed spinach and zucchini pancakes, as well as starters such as soups and salads. Outstanding service and knowledgeable waiters round out your dining experience here.

Or if you like salad.

A complaint often heard on Viking is the lack of DIY salad fixings in the buffet. At lunch, the only salad items are found at the poolside grill and are more for doing up your burger in style than creating an actual salad. On Azamara, a full salad bar is available in the buffet at lunch and dinner every night.

Choose Viking if you don't want to pay extra for specialty dining.

Manfredi's on Viking Star (Photo: Cruise Critic)

For cruisers who don't want to spend every night in either the main dining room or buffet, but also don't want to fork over extra dough for a meal, Viking's selection of three included specialty restaurants is a bonus. You'll find modern Italian at Manfredi's, Norwegian comfort food at Mamsen's, and a global culinary tour at the Chef's Table (which is an actual restaurant with rotating five-course menus, not just a single table at which you join the chef for a special meal).

On Azamara, the only passengers who dine for free at the specialty restaurants are those booked in suites. Otherwise, you'll need to pay an extra $30 per person each time you dine at one of its two specialty restaurants: Prime C, a steakhouse, and Aqualina, the line's Italian eatery.

Entertainment

Neither Azamara nor Viking is known for rollicking nighttime fun, but both ships do offer evening entertainment, including some light live music in one or more lounges. Perhaps more importantly, both offer late nights in many ports of call, giving passengers the chance to experience the local nightlife if they want. Oftentimes, the passengers themselves dictate the late-night vibe on a ship. You may find plenty of buzz on either Viking or Amazara, depending when and with whom you cruise.

Choose Azamara if you want a variety of entertainment types.

Azamara Ship Entertainment (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Azamara does have a small troupe of singers and dancers who perform three to four times per cruise, but the line also brings on several other acts to augment its lineup of song-and-dance revues. On a Central America sailing, additional acts included a ventriloquist, a pianist/magician who did two piano recitals and one magic show, and a cabaret singer.

Or if you love a good deck party.

Azamara hosts one of the most enjoyable "white night" parties of any cruise line. Its version includes an invitation to passengers to dress in white and join the crew on deck for a fabulous barbecue. The buffet includes all sorts of grilled meats, fresh seafood, salads and more. And, if you love dessert, you'll have trouble making a selection from the options presented. After everyone has eaten his or her fill, the evening segues into a dance party with plenty of music from all the onboard entertainers.

Choose Viking if you prefer an evening drink to a stage show.

The Star Theater on Viking Star (Photo: Cruise Critic)

While Viking offers some organized evening entertainment, it's not as varied as Azamara's lineup. The Star Theater is the main entertainment venue, where the ship's group of singers and dancers perform occasional production shows (usually two to three per weeklong sailing). The men in the group also do a fantastic Rat Pack show in the ship's intimate nightclub Torshavn, as well as a fun Beatles night on the pool deck. Occasionally, a local act will come onboard for a special show, but these are few and far between. Most people relax at night in one of the lounges -- or head into port for local fun on the line's many overnights.

Or you prefer a live band to DJ'd dance music.

For those looking to stay up past bedtime and kick up their heels for a few hours, both Azamara and Viking offer nightclub entertainment from 11 p.m. until about 1 a.m. On Azamara, the party is DJ'd, while on Viking, a dance band and lounge singer ¬¬¬keep the party going.

Or you want to learn more about a destination's culture.

Viking has a good onboard cultural enrichment program. Listen to Viking's resident historians and guest lecturers talk about your destination's history, art, politics and more. Or, if you prefer learning from a screen, watch TED Talks or Destination Insights, a series of short films about iconic places and little-known gems. There's also the Kitchen Table, the onboard cooking school, where world-class chefs teach you regional dishes using fresh ingredients from a local market.

Family

Azamara and Viking offer decidedly adult onboard experiences, with no kids' programming or clubs available, so neither is a good choice for families traveling with children. You won't find any video or arcade games on either line, just jigsaw puzzles and hotly contested bridge sessions.

Choose Azamara if you're OK with the possibility of having some kids onboard during your cruise.

Azamara Pursuit

Although Azamara doesn't market itself toward families with kids, the cruise line does allow children onboard. Children at least 6 months old (12 months on transatlantic itineraries) can sail, and you'll usually see a fair number of kiddos during holiday week or summer sailings. If you're a parent, remember that you'll be responsible for keeping your children entertained.

Choose Viking if you really don't want children on your cruise ship.

Viking US May-Aug Advertorial

On Viking, you won't have to worry about children being onboard since the minimum age to sail is 18. So, if you want an adult-only experience, Viking is the way to go.

Bottom Line

Choose Azamara for a more intimate voyage that can be geared toward a specific country only; enjoy various entertainment options onboard; and appreciate butler service and free drinks all day.

Choose Viking for an adult-only voyage that allows you to fully immerse in a destination through an onboard cultural enrichment program; want a large room with a balcony; and don't want to pay for specialty dining.

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