Having just returned from a 12 day cruise aboard the Azamara Journey it comes as no surprise that Azamara Club Cruises are building a very loyal following in a very short space of time. It is not possible to describe everything in one article so I have kept to the main point of the cruise, The D-Day Landings.
The 6th June 2014 marked the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and In honour and remembrance of those who gave their lives as part of those landings and the ensuing battle Azamara Club Cruises announced a cruise, visiting those beaches and battle areas, appropriately named, “Past to Present: Normandy 70 Years Later”. To see the areas that featured in epic films such as ‘The Longest Day’ with its cast of global icons, to the documentaries that have been produced and translated into so many different languages sounded wonderful and indeed it was. To me it was very special. A celebration of my 70th Birthday and 70 years of freedom, an opportunity to visit the beaches where my uncle fought and so many young men willingly gave their lives in order to secure that freedom not just for me but also for you.
Boarding at Lisbon I am shown to my cabin, a very comfortable outside view on deck 4. So many things come as standard with Azamara. The bath robes, fruit basket, good selection of toiletries, extremely comfortable bed, thick fluffy towels, shoe shine, binoculars, umbrella, tote bag, shoe bag, the list is endless. Dining is open sitting between 6pm and 9pm in the main dining room as well as the buffet restaurant. First night I chose the main dining room, Discoveries, and was placed on a table for 6. The food was excellent with a choice of red or white wine as standard. Each day the wine region changes which adds variety. I decided on Fillet Mignon for my main course and it was a delight. My sweet was mixed iced cream of which the Mango was something special. There are 2 speciality restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C. The first serves Italian cuisine whilst Prime C features steaks.
First port of call was St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey. This pretty island was occupied by the Germans and there are several memorials to the islanders who suffered under their occupation. This was followed by Cherbourg on the anniversary. Many roads in the region were closed due to the numerous visiting heads of state including Her Majesty the Queen and President Obama. It was better watching the ceremonies from the flat screen television in my cabin. That evening the ‘Azamazing Evening’ as Azamara call it was just that, amazing. The 1st floor of the Cherbourg cruise terminal had been taken back to the 1940’s. The music came from a dance band dressed as G.I’s of that time, 3 female singers in uniform, a large group of dancers and actors from Paris wearing the costume of the era and the area decorated with American, French, Canadian and British flags. The party atmosphere was made even better when Henry Ochsner our on board veteran was presented with a medal from the Mayor of Cherbourg and a plaque from Larry Pimentel the CEO and President of Azamara Club Cruises. It was late to bed that night as we sailed.
Next day we are in the beautiful port of Honfleur. If you have never been then arrange a visit. Boarding the tour coach we head for the beaches where the landings took place. The sky is dark but brightens as we get nearer. On arrival the sun is shining unlike the day of the landings when the weather was atrocious. Gold, Juno, Omaha, Utah and Sword, those historic names, now with families relaxing on them in the sun paint a different picture to 70 years ago. Thousands of people throng the area celebrating amongst the brightly decorated shops and houses whilst the streets are alive with old army vehicles that have been renovated. The American Legion Band is playing in Arromanches to a delighted crowd as old aircraft fly overhead. Tanks and landing craft are now on the beaches reproducing history. There are veterans, some whom have travelled thousands of miles to be here sporting their baseball caps of the 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne Divisions who parachuted in on that day and suffered massive casualties. What were they thinking?
Next stop is the American War Cemetery set on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. Thousands of white crosses in perfect lines like soldiers at attention on parade, most with names on but many read ‘Known but to God’. I see our on board veteran Henry and ask him what he is feeling returning to this area, Emotional, very emotional is his reply. A floral tribute at the foot of one cross reads ‘Uncle, we wish we had known you’. At the foot of another sits a girl aged 9 or 10. She is sitting intently looking at the cross when her mother says ‘Say goodbye to great granddaddy’. I turn away as I feel my eyes getting wet. It’s a moving experience walking among the crosses with people looking for lost relatives and others like myself just there to say ‘Thank You’.
The last stop of the day is at Pointe du Hoc where the American Rangers landed and have their memorial. One plaque reads ‘They did it so the world could be free’. Says it all really. Its then back to the ship after what has been an emotional journey through history.
During the next few days we berth in Dover and Amsterdam. From Amsterdam I visit Arnhem and the war museums showing the story of the various Airborne Divisions and Operation Market Garden. Some of the stories bring tears to your eyes. Finally we arrive in Hamburg after what can only be described as a cruise I will remember for the rest of my life.
Azamara Journey is a beautiful ship in pristine condition. The staffs are wonderful and have that can do attitude to everything. The fact that most things are included in the fare does away with any unwanted shocks at the end of the cruise. The themed nights in the Buffet Restaurant, Indian, Asian and Italian were a delight. There are no formal nights just smart casual each evening which I found refreshing. Thank you to Captain Johannes for the dinner invitation and thank you to Eric de Gray, without doubt one of the most talented Cruise Directors I have ever met. But most of all, thank you Azamara for putting on this memorable journey.
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Alan Fairfax -
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions