Both Azamara Club Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises feature small fleets of intimate ships that promise cruisers destination-intensive journeys including late nights and overnights in more ports of call than other cruise lines.
The lines are more alike than different. Both have relatively small fleets: Azamara has two 686-passenger ships, while Viking has one 930-passenger ship, with an identical sister ship set to debut April 2016 and a third launching March 2017.
Itineraries are similar as well, often blending tried-and-true port stops with smaller off-the-beaten path destinations that larger ships can't visit. Later stays in port are par for the course, and at least one overnight is scheduled on almost every sailing.
Both Azamara and Viking offer decidedly adult onboard experiences, with no kids' programming or clubs available. You won't find any video or arcade games on either line, just jigsaw puzzles and hotly contested bridge sessions.
With less 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.
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 $1,400 (though the average is about $2,000) for a typical seven- to 12-night sailing. On Viking, most entry-level cabins start around $3,000, but are balcony cabins. 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.
The smallest cabin on Viking Ocean ships is 224 square feet (vs. 143 square feet on Azamara); the largest is 1,319 square feet (560 square feet on Azamara). 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.
Azamara and Viking receive high marks from passengers for dining, with gourmet meals served daily in the main dining room and specialty restaurants.
Here's how Viking vs. Azamara dining stacks up.
Choose Azamara if you have any special dietary needs.
Every menu on Azamara ships has items marked as vegetarian, vegan option available, gluten-free or healthy choice. This includes appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts, in all restaurants, including the buffet. On top of these options, cruisers can often ask for special versions of "regular" meals to be made, like gluten-free pancakes in the buffet. Viking does typically offer a vegetarian option in the main dining room, but does not mark vegetarian (or vegan dishes) on the menus or in the buffet. Gluten-free options are hard to come by, unless you've arranged with the line ahead of time and then your choices are limited.
Or if you like salad. A complaint often heard on Viking is the lack of DIY salad fixings in the ships' 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.
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. At the Chef's Table (which is an actual restaurant and not just a single table at which you join the chef for a special meal), diners sit down to a themed five-course dinner and wine menu; the themes rotate every three days, and cruisers are not limited to just one Chef's Table per cruise. Themes include Asian Panorama, Venice Carnival, La Routes des Indes, "sweet and salty" and a "gastronomic journey through time." On Azarama, you'll need to pay an extra $25 per person each time you dine at one of its two specialty restaurants: Prime C, a steakhouse, and Aqualina, the line's Italian eatery.
Or if you want to shop and cook with the chef. One of Viking's most unique offerings is the extra-fee Kitchen Table. Part shore excursion, part hands-on cooking class, the Kitchen Table is only available once or twice per cruise and is limited to just 12 people each time. The experience, which is divided into two pieces, starts in the morning of a port day and includes shopping with the chef at a local food market for the night's ingredients. At dinner time, participants head to the Kitchen Table venue, where they help to prepare the meal under the watchful eye of the chef. (In reality, the majority of the cooking is done in the kitchen next door, and you spend most of your time chowing down on the seemingly endless dishes.)
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. But don't expect to party it up on either line; most people are in bed by midnight.
Choose Azamara if you want a variety of entertainment types.
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 recent Central America sailing, additional acts included a ventriloquist, pianist/magician who did two piano recitals and one magic show, and a cabaret singer. On some nights the same show was performed twice; other nights each of the two nighttime shows was different, giving passengers even more options.
Or if you enjoy casino games. Cruisers who like to spend an evening or two with Lady Luck will want to sail Azamara. Though its casino is small with just a handful of table games and a smattering of slots, it's better than nothing, which is what you'll find on Viking.
Choose Viking if you prefer an evening drink to a stage show.
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.
Azamara and Viking are semi-inclusive cruise lines; both include gratuities, DIY laundry and port shuttles (where able to) in the fare.
Choose Viking if you want free Internet and shore excursions.
If you can't wait to post photos to Facebook, e-mail your kids about your day in port and want to do a walking tour (at the very least) in every port without paying extra, Viking is the best choice for you. Guided outings, usually basic walking tours, are offered complimentary in every port. Azamara, on the other hand, only includes the once-per-cruise AzAmazing Evening in its cruise fares.
Choose Azamara if you don't want to pay for things you won't use.
Viking's cruise prices are higher because they include a variety of amenities that Azamara doesn't. If you don't typically purchase a Wi-Fi package, don't book the cruise line's shore excursions and don't need four restaurants to choose from, you might not want to pay Viking's higher costs.
Or for free soda, beer and wine all day. While both lines include soda, beer and wine, on Azamara these beverages are poured freely all day. On Viking, they're only free with meals at lunch and dinner.
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. Generally speaking, the entry-level price for Azamara is about $1,000 lower than on Viking Ocean; remember that the lowest-tier cabins are windowless insides on Azamara but are balcony cabins on Viking. Entry-level suites on Azamara start (on average) at $4,500 but can go as high as $9,000. The average entry-level suite price on Viking is approximately $6,500.
Choose Azamara if you want to be upgraded.
Azamara, which does status matching with sister cruise lines Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, offers cabin upgrades through its Le Club Voyage loyalty program. Even better, past passengers can get calls before a trip with special double upgrade offers, as well.
Choose Viking if you want all of your dining included.
As part of its cruise fares, Viking Ocean includes all of its dining venues, including alternative restaurants. Cruisers can dine in the main dining room, World Cafe, Manfredi's Italian restaurant, at the Chef's Table and at Mamsen's, the line's Norwegian deli. On Azamara, alternative restaurants cost extra.