This Gorgeous New 100-passenger Cruise Ship Is Like a Superyacht — but Affordable

In the eastern Mediterranean, one frequent cruiser discovers that, sometimes, the superyacht life can be surprisingly accessible.

The coast of Parga, Greece, with a boat in the harbor
Azzurra visits smaller ports, such as Parga, on Greece’s Ionian coast. Photo:

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Lounging on a daybed beside the dreamy infinity pool on the new Emerald Azzurra, avowed non-cruiser Mel Jennings was having a pinch-me moment. Not only was she at sea, on a sleek ship, off the coast of Egypt, but she was loving the low-key vibe.

“You hear ‘superyacht’ and you think wealthy people flaunting designer clothes,” she told me as we both soaked in the scene. “Most people here are down to earth — and have a sense of humor.”

That’s exactly the point. The 100-passenger Emerald Azzurra might best be described as a superyacht for the rest of us. The 361-foot vessel is built for warm-weather sailings in the Mediterranean, as well as the Adriatic and the Red Sea. But what really sets it apart are inclusive fares that start at less than $600 per person per day. It’s one of a kind in the world of luxury cruising, where prices are typically double or even triple that — at least until the planned summer launch of a nearly identical yacht, Emerald Sakara, which will sail in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.

I got a firsthand look at the Azzurra in March 2022, on one of its very first sailings, from Aqaba, Jordan, to Athens: every inch of the vessel, it seemed, gleamed, with glass, mirrors, polished stainless steel, and Italian marble. The retro-chic pool, where I met Jennings, is surrounded by furnishings from Italian designer Paola Lenti, and the ship’s colorful zigzag-patterned towels and bathrobes are supplied by Missoni Home Collection. Swivel chairs and rounded Love sofas from the Dutch company Moooi gave me flashbacks to James Bond movies from the 1970s.

A cruise ship in the water off of Parga, Greece
The 50-suite Emerald Azzurra, at anchor near Parga, Greece, on the Ionian Sea.

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I felt a bit like a secret agent myself, what with all the water toys buzzing around the ship. When Azzurra is at anchor, passengers can take out kayaks, paddleboards, and Seabobs, handheld motorized watercraft for snorkeling or diving. Three hydro-jet speedboats, which get pushed out of the hull by a giant claw, serve as tenders for transport to shore. As on larger ships, passengers can choose from a variety of excursions: on my trip in the eastern Mediterranean, the choices included a tour of the ancient city of Petra and an e-bike ride around Kuşadasi, Turkey.

The onboard experience rivals that of more luxurious lines, such as Scenic, which, like Emerald, is owned by the Australian entrepreneurs Glen and Karen Moroney. They recruited experienced staff from other high-end cruise brands, and the result is a personable crew — they remember your name and are happy to share their own stories. (I met one acoustic guitarist, Pablo Briceño, who’s trying to make it big on Spotify.) Most of Azzurra’s cabins have balconies, and top staterooms, including the Owner’s and Yacht suites, have spacious terraces.

Pair of photos, one showing people floating in a lake, and one showing a dining table and artwork on a cruise ship
From left: A dip in the “Dead Sea,” a small lake on Lokrum Island, not far from Dubrovnik, Croatia; the yacht’s main restaurant, La Cucina, has both indoor and outdoor seating.

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Pair of photos from a cruise ship, one showing a woman on the deck wearing a hat and shawl, and one showing the ship's observation lounge
From left: A sailaway cocktail on the Azzurra’s Sky Deck while leaving Kotor, Montenegro; the yacht’s Observation Lounge affords spectacular sunset views.

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The food, which incorporates plenty of local ingredients, is excellent. I loved the healthy shots — blueberry smoothies one morning; a blend of watermelon, lime, chile, and cinnamon another — and fresh figs at the breakfast buffet; a chef carved portions of a giant line-caught tuna at lunch. At night, the buffet area of the restaurant La Cucina becomes an open kitchen, and passengers sit, indoors or out, at big tables that encourage conversation with new friends. (There are also some smaller tables for date nights.)

Pair of photos, one showing guests at a cruise deck bar, and one showing a couple walking in Greece
From left: The top-deck Sky Bar is one of many social hubs on board the 50-suite yacht; Azzurra spends much of the year in the Mediterranean, visiting ports such as Corfu, Greece.

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On my trip, most passengers preferred to be out of their cabins and socializing. Trivia contests — made more fun by the mix of American, Australian, and British passengers — were particularly popular. Emerald had scheduled a DJ’d dance party around the big whirlpool and Sky Bar on the top deck, but unseasonably chilly weather nixed that plan. If Olivia Newton John comes over the speakers, I imagine the Aussies go wild.

A version of this story first appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "All Decked Out."

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