Oceania Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises are both under-the-radar cruise lines with a passionate following but not a ton of mass-market awareness. Both are upscale lines with small ships, and cater to the older traveler who's more interested in destination immersion on a comfortable, uncrowded ship than nonstop activity and varied evening entertainment. Not only do the two lines have a similar take on cruising, but they actually use sister ships, former Renaissance Cruises vessels (known to fans as "R ships").
Oceania cruises has a fleet of six: four 684-passenger R-class ships (Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena), which are all former Renaissance Cruises vessels, and two 1,250-passenger O-class ships (Marina and Riviera), which were custom-built for the line in 2011 and 2012.
Azamara Club Cruises has only two ships, the 686-passenger Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. They are also former Renaissance Cruises vessels, and nearly identical to Oceania's R-class ships in terms of layout. Both lines have, of course, refurbished and redesigned the ships to their own style. Azamara's ships underwent dramatic makeovers in 2016. Most of the Oceania ships were upgraded in 2014, with the exception of Sirena, which had a major refurbishment in 2016 before it joined the fleet from Princess Cruises.
Both lines fall squarely in the upper-premium/luxury-lite category of cruises. That means ships are not suite-only (offering both inside and ocean-view accommodations, as well as balconies and suites), and are on the larger end of the ship size spectrum for upscale vessels. Fares are more inclusive than the mainstream line, but not nearly as inclusive as lines like Regent Seven Seas or Seabourn.
Choose Azamara if you want more inclusive fares.
Azamara Club Cruises is not all-inclusive, but it does offer significant fare inclusions. Fares in all categories cover all nonalcoholic beverages (bottled water, soda, juice and specialty coffee and tea) and select alcoholic drinks (including wine, beer, spirits and cocktails). In addition, fares include all gratuities, self-service laundry, concierge service, shuttles to port towns (in select destinations) and an AzAmazing Evening shoreside event on nearly every sailing.
In contrast, Oceania's fares include specialty dining (which Azamara's do not) and nonalcoholic beverages, but you will have to pay for all alcoholic drinks, tips, laundry and all shore excursions.
Choose Oceania if you want cheaper fares.
Azamara's fares include more -- but they're also typically more expensive. Oceania is your line if you want a lower base fare and then pay for only the extras that are important to you. For example, when comparing July 2018 cruises to the Mediterranean on both lines' smaller ships, daily rates for an inside cabin ran $350 to $400 per night on Azamara and $230 to $240 per night on Oceania. Balcony cabins cost $470 to $525 on Azamara and $400 to $420 per night on Oceania.
In addition, Oceania has been running the OLife Choice extra perks promotion, which adds your choice of free amenities to the fare. With the current version of the offer, passengers receive free unlimited internet and economy-class airfare, plus a choice of complimentary shore excursions (number dependent on itinerary length), beverage package or onboard credit (amount varies by cruise length and cabin category). While this can be a great option for getting more from your cruise fare, note that Oceania lists two prices for every cabin -- cruise only (the fares we compared with Azamara above and which are not eligible for OLife or free airfare) and promotional fares (which are eligible, but are also significantly higher).
Both cruise lines focus on destination and explorations ashore, with plenty of overnights in port and a minimum of days at sea. They cruise the world, with options to book back-to-back cruises without repeating many or any ports of call.
Choose Azamara for immersive tours that focus on the local experience.
Azamara tries hard to be creative with its shore excursions to really immerse its passengers in various aspects of the ports of call visited. On nearly every cruise, it offers the complimentary AzAmazing Evening, in which all passengers are welcome at a private event that highlights the culture of the cruise region. You might see an acrobatic show by Les Farfadais at the waterfront Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, sip cocktails prior to a performance of the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in Russia or watch traditional dances in an outdoor canyon setting in Mexico.
Its "Nights Local" tours take advantage of evenings in port to take passengers to the theater, dinner or a signature spot for cocktails, or on a starlit city tour. "Meet Local" excursions focus on interactions between passengers and local residents, with visits to private homes, while "Taste Local" tours allow participants to sample local delicacies, tour food markets and try their hand at cooking regional dishes.
Or if you want to cruise to just one country at a time.
The whole "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" concept of cruising works for travelers looking for a regional overview, but feels rushed to those who want to truly explore one place. To serve the latter type of cruiser, Azamara has announced "country intensive" voyages for 2018 with itineraries that include ports in only one country. Look for these single-destination trips to Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Greece and Norway.
Choose Oceania to visit exotic destinations.
With six ships, compared to Azamara's two, Oceania can cover the globe more effectively than its competitor. While Azamara hits cruise favorites like the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Australia and Central America, Oceania visits those places and destinations like Africa, South America and the Amazon, Alaska, and Tahiti and the South Pacific. In addition, Oceania offers a 180-day around-the-world cruise every year that circumnavigates the globe, allowing passengers to book the entire half-year journey or just select segments.
Oceania and Azamara are egalitarian lines, with cabins ranging from squishy inside staterooms to over-the-top spacious suites. On the two lines' former Renaissance vessels, standard cabins do run small for upscale lines and standard bathrooms are particularly tight.
Choose Oceania if you want more spacious standard cabins.
If you don't want an older-style, somewhat small standard inside, outside or balcony cabin, you'll want to choose Oceania's O-class ships, Marina and Riviera. The outside and balcony rooms are generously sized, and bathrooms are much more spacious than on its and Azamara's smaller ships, with separate bathtubs and shower stalls.
Or if you want incredible beds.
Oceania has always focused on an amazing night's sleep. Its Prestige Tranquility mattresses, decked out with 1,000-thread-count, 100 percent Egyptian cotton linens, are so comfortable that you will find it difficult to get out of them -- whether it's at 7:30 a.m. after a great night's sleep or at 3:30 p.m. after you sat down for "just a minute." Suites come with extensive pillow menus, as well.
Choose Azamara if you want to sleep under the stars.
Azamara offers a unique overnight experience, called Nights in Private Places. One couple per night can book the aft spa deck for their own "glamping" (glamorous camping) adventure. A butler will serve you a lavish alfresco dinner with open bar, you have exclusive access of the terrace's thalassotherapy pool and a big double lounger is transformed into a fluffy bed. In the morning, the butler returns to serve you a private breakfast. It's a quite decadent experience -- and a far cry from a cramped inside cabin.
Or if you like cabins with USB chargers.
Modern-day cruisers suffer from a lack of outlets to charge all their electronics on all but the most newly built ships. When Azamara refurbished its two vessels in 2016, the line considered the realities of 21st-century cruising and added two USB chargers to every cabin. Add that to two European and two North American outlets in all standard cabins, and high-tech cruisers won't be fighting over charging stations quite so much. In contrast, Oceania's new-builds lack USB outlets, and the two 110V outlets are so close together that the second one is often unusable once you put a cellphone charger or other wide plug in the first. We recommend that electronics-laden travelers bring a converter to access the more plentiful 220V outlets.
Azamara and Oceania ships feature a main restaurant, buffet venue with indoor and outdoor seating, and several specialty restaurants (including a steakhouse and Italian venue for both lines).
Choose Oceania if you want more specialty restaurants with no extra charge.
Azamara charges $30 a head for its two specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C, but Oceania's multiple venues are all free of charge. (The exception is its wine-pairing dinners at La Reserve, where the cost is predominantly for the included wines.) Oceania's dining team do their best to get every passenger into each specialty venue once, if not multiple times (repeat visits depend on cabin category, length of cruise and your willingness to eat at 9:30 p.m.). Most of its R-class ships feature the Italian Toscana and steakhouse Polo Grill, and the O-class ships add two additional restaurants, the French Jacques and pan-Asian Red Ginger. Sirena offers the popular Red Ginger and Tuscan Steak (a hybrid restaurant inspired by Toscana and Polo Grill). It also offers Jacques Bistro, a French lunch served in the main dining room.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention Oceania's amazing afternoon tea, served from 4 to 5 p.m. every day and complete with white-glove service, pots of Twinings teas, finger sandwiches, cakes and pastries and scones with clotted cream and jam.
Or if you want onboard and onshore opportunities to learn about food.
Oceania has a passion for food, and that extends beyond the onboard dining venues. Its Culinary Discovery Tours are custom-designed for the line by its executive chef Kathryn Kelly and may include local dining experiences, cooking classes and tours of farms and food markets. In addition, Marina and Riviera feature an onboard cooking school with 12 prep stations and a main teaching station, complete with video so everyone can see what's cooking. The intimate classes will teach you techniques you can bring home and ply you with delicious food and wine.
Choose Azamara if you like afternoon tapas.
The Tapas Bar, found in a corner of the Living Room on both Azamara ships, is open from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and serves complimentary hot and cold tapas, such as Spanish tortilla with tomato-pepper salad and artichokes with clams. It's a welcome snack in those late afternoon hours when you need a pick-me-up post-tour or pre-dinner. (Passengers can also sign up for additional-fee tapas and wine pairing events every evening.) On Oceania, the grill closes at 4 p.m., and then there is no non-room-service food available until dinner (with the exception of the sweet treats at tea, which might not be exactly what you're looking for).
And if you like alfresco dining.
Both cruise lines have excellent poolside grills, complemented by ice cream or frozen yogurt bars. But whereas Oceania's closes at 4 p.m., Azamara's turns into the alfresco Patio dining venue every evening, with table service. The menu features more upscale grill fare, such as grilled curried chicken kebob, barbecue pork ribs and salmon steak, with potato sides and a simple dessert menu of pies, cookies and cake. Even better, unlike Azamara's indoor specialty restaurants, this one is free of charge.
Choose Oceania if you want a variety of fee-included, specialty dining; want to experience a slightly larger ship with more modern amenities and onboard activities; and want the choice that comes with a larger fleet with different classes of ships, able to cover more of the world each year.
Choose Azamara if you want more inclusive fares without having to look for special promotions; an emphasis on destination experiences by day and night and with a local flavor; and a fleet that makes choosing cabins and itineraries easy because the two ships are identical.