Note: This is a special feature post by Carrie Finley-Bajak of CruiseBuzz.net.
I can say that I have achieved my goal to really discover what it means to travel deeper, a brand promise from Azamara®.
Like so many Americans who have immigrant roots, I set out on a mission to learn more about my heritage, which includes some DNA that can be traced to Scotland.
My mission was to learn more about my clan (the Finley’s come from Clan Farquharson from the Scottish Highlands). With seven days of cruising around Scotland, I was confident that at the completion of the cruise, I would have a greater understanding of the region thanks to the long stays in port offered by Azamara.
Under mostly cloudy skies, typical of the Scottish Summer, cruise passengers on the 14-night Golf Voyage had multiple opportunities to learn about the history, culture, politics, music, food, and pursuits that make the U.K.’s northernmost country so special.
With longer stays in port (including three overnights near Edinburgh) we have experienced life like locals without the hassle of having to pack and unpack while traveling from city to city. Besides convenience, there is also value to knowing that after a day of exploring, the ship’s staff and crew are standing by to welcome guests home.
My favorite part about returning to the ship after a day of exploring (either on my own or through a Azamara Shore Excursions tour offered by the ship) is reconnecting with fellow passengers: there is something infectious about the buzz on the ship when guests start trickling back onboard eager and ready to share stories about places they have been. Azamara guests are well traveled, educated and full of curiosity, which makes for wonderful conversations.
My conversations about Scotland include experiences from many treks off the ship to look for clues about my heritage. My favorite ways to discover were through talking with locals, listening to music, watching dances and tasting Scottish food and drink.
For those not as keen to set off on long days in port, Azamara Quest did an excellent job bringing Scotland onto the ship. Passengers could experience song and dance at the Cabaret Lounge through local folkloric shows. The culinary team also added to the experience: we had the option to try haggis, neeps and tatties. And for those guests wanting to roll up their sleeves in a real Scottish kitchen, they could sign up for an exclusive tour to Chef Jenny Thomson’s 18th century manse to learn some tricks-of-the-trade while she prepared a local seasonal meal.
Although each port and excursion on this itinerary was new to me, there was something oddly familiar about Scotland. I suppose, the common denominator were the Scottish people, who are fun loving and very welcoming to visitors. The hospitality and eagerness to help was much appreciated.
My introduction to Scotland began in Greenock, which is the closest port town to the bustling city of Glasgow. Then we headed north to Portree on the Isle of Skye and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis to discover what life is like in the Scottish Isles. I visited my first castle in Scotland and did an in-depth study of the landscape that was shaped by glaciers leaving behind glacial glens (valleys) and lochs (lakes).
The Azamara Quest headed to Invergordon located alongside Cromarty Firth, an inlet from the North Sea. I chose a Azamara Shore Excursions tour to Loch Ness (no, I did not see Nessie) and to the ruins of Urquhart Castle. The 4-hour tour to the castle ruins took us through the Scottish glens typical of the region. The guide talked non-stop, which was good for those seeking to learn about history, architecture, single malts, and events that have helped shape the country. We passed through Inverness for a brief scenic tour on the way to Loch Ness after crossing Kessock Bridge that spans the Beauly Firth and links the Northern and Southern Highlands.
After leaving Invergordon at 10:00 pm, we headed south to Leith. By 3:30 pm I was off the ship headed for a local bus destined for Edinburgh for the final chapter in my Azamara Quest 14-night Golf Cruise story.
Although each port along the way offered something unique to my story, Edinburgh would be the main character. The city on top of the hill includes amazing architecture, friendly people, great shopping, wonderful museums, a medieval Old Town, and enough pubs to keep visitors hydrated for days.
I had two objectives in mind when calling on Leith: one was a visit to Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the other was to get to the “home of golf” with a visit to the 16th-century Old Course at St Andrews.
Getting to the castle was easy. A quick public bus ride up the hill from the port, followed by an uphill walk to the castle, took no time at all. The views from the top offer a great panoramic of the city.
To get to St. Andrews, I elected to join the Azamara Shore Excursions tour to get to The 144th Open that was played out on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Since I was definitely itching to get out on a links course, I could not pass up the opportunity to take advantage of the tour option.
Opting to go with the ship was convenient. I had a ride, a ticket, and ten hours at The Open. Walking on the course with golf icons like Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, and Louis Oosthuizen was incredible. To see the rolling fairways and pot bunkers (the round and very deep bunkers with steep faces) up-close and first-hand was epic.
With my passion for golf reignited and my appreciation for golf’s rich history was the ultimate way to end an amazing cruise journey of discovery with Azamara.