Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

If there is comfort food, why not a comfort cruise? You know, the cruise industry equivalent of meatloaf and mashed potatoes?

It is easy to find a cruise meant to excite, or to pamper or to pique the explorer in guests. And many people are paying a lot of money to go on vacation expressly to get away from home and out of their routines.

But I can't help thinking back to one of my favorite voyages, which was on Azamara Club Cruises. It was such a relaxed, unpretentious, comfortable environment on the Azamara Journey.

I think part of that comes from the ship itself, one of the eight R-class ships built between 18 and 20 years ago for Renaissance Cruises. At 694 passengers, the Journey and its R siblings are an unusual size that kind of feels Goldilocks-right when you're aboard.

I've cruised on another of the R-class ships, the Adonia, when it sailed for Carnival Corp.'s brief Fathom experiment. Despite the Fathom signage and livery, it had that same cozy-comfy feel as the Journey.

Recently, I had a chance to explore another R ship, the Insignia of Oceania Cruises, which now has four of the eight former Renaissance vessels in its fleet. The Insignia had been made over, modernizing much of the dark British country estate decor, but preserving some of it too, as in the Library and the Polo Club.

Although I can't testify to the comfort level of an Oceania Cruise, having only been on for lunch, I know that it won't be sold on the basis of being the newest or shiniest anything.

That's part of the charm of the R class. Expectations for a cruise on these ships aren't low, but they're tempered. It's kind of liberating not to have to check out the latest gewgaw, or simulator, or be wowed by some outlandish decor or entertainment.

If comfort were just a euphemism for old and tawdry, that would be another thing but all of the R vessels have been upgraded and maintained so they look smart even as they feel easy.

Azamara CEO Larry Pimentel recently told a group of British travel agents that he would happily take the Pacific Princess, the last of the R ships not owned by Azamara or Oceania.

"I happen to love the ship," he was quoted as saying "I hope that we can get it."

Call it a cult, call it deranged, call it what you will. I'm with Larry. I love those ships too.

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