We boarded easily and very quickly (20mins) with no queues in Singapore on Feb 29th for our 14 night Trade Routes of the Orient. With our welcome champers in hand we stored our hand luggage with the crew (what a fabulous idea, take note other lines) so could wander unhindered to explore the ship. The cabins were not ready, but this time between boarding and lunch gave us time to explore and take pictures up on deck with many others who were on board. Apart from the Hurtigruten last year, this was our first small ship experience and at first it did seem a bit squishy for our taste, but oh, how that feeling disipated over the next few days. Our cruise was not full and took on another 150 passengers in Hong Kong, so it did not feel at all full and was easy to find space at dinner and lunch in Windows Cafe or the Discoveries dining room.
As we had a Club Continent suite we enjoyed the perks of 3 bottles of free liquor (gin, vodka, rum, whisky, brandy choices) with mixers and had a large and comfortable cabin and bathroom. Our butler Eyup was wonderful and couldnt do enough for us. We had breakfasts most days on our balcony or in our cabin, which he set up for us with tablecloth and napkins, but it was the afternoon canapes for our before dinner drinks that were really wonderful. We could let him know when we had returned from shore or they would be in our cabin waiting for us once he knew our tastes better. Really wonderful service and care, thank you Eyup. Our cabin attendants, Ramesh and Vilaria kept the room and bathroom spotless as well.
We can honestly say we have never met such a genuinely happy crew, whereever we went, nothing was too much trouble. From bringing out tea/coffee to your table at breakfast or lunch, organising dinner tables at the last moment for groups of 8 or more or finding tables when things got a bit hectic at peak meal times.
There were only 13 CC members on board (made some wonderful friends, thank you CC) but Azamara held a meet and mingle anyway with the Captain and Hotel Manager and several other officers present. We also had many activities organised from Cocktail parties to Captains Welcome for Captains Club members which were all very good.
I rang Guest Relations once on board and asked if there would be a bridge/galley/engine room tour offered and placed our names on a list and this provided us with very interesting experiences during some sea days.
Ports: We had overnights in Hong Kong (docked at Star Ferry, wonderful) and Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam with a fabulous sail up the river to dock close to downtown with a provided ships shuttle making access very easy. Did a self guided walking tour here (Opera House, Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Museum and Ben Thanh markets). Second day here we took a ships tour to the Mekong Delta, a fabulous tour and very well worth the cost.
Hong Kong we had visited many times so spent doing our own thing, ferry to Cheung Chau Island one day and to Aberdeen where we met some of our fellow travellers for lunch at Jumbo Seafood the next day.
Taiwan provided 2 ports, Hualien where we took a ship excursion to Taroko Gorge, very well worth while. Greeted by the ships crew and Russ with hot chocolate and rum on our return as it was very cold, heart warming!
We did a self guided tour in Taipei taking the train into Taipei with another guest we met at the Taiwan tourist Information desk on board and then taxis to get around this spread out city. Easy and cheap. Visited the fantastic National Palace Museum and had lunch across the road at a very cheap and tasty restaurant. Then to the Martyr's Shrine to see the Changing of the Guard, a sight not to be missed, as good as the one in Athens! Then to Taipei 101, their tallest building, but the queues to ascend and the weather once on top meant we left this and instead headed back to the port of Keelung by train again.
Nagasaki, Japan was our next port, but due to our arriving very late and the tardiness of Japanese customs and Immigration which took about 2 hours to process all the passengers, we got very little time to enjoy this city and as the weather was also very cool to cold once the sun set, we came back to the ship for the local drum and dancing performance instead of staying out. We had a lovely wander from where we docked up to the Glover Gardens, very beautiful, but lacking in flowers as too early in the season. Then took the tram to the Megan Bashi bridge and walked along the river here, and into some shopping malls, really covered streets and a Pashinka Arcade, where they play slot games and its so noisy you cant hear yourself speak!!
This trip had good ports and several days at sea, so well balanced for us.
Activities: Sea days we spent swimming or relaxing in the thalassotherapy pool, which was mostly unused, having coffee and chats in Mosaic cafe, enjoying Hugh Neighbours talks on our ports which gave us good background information on the countrys economics, history and politics. There were card games, dancing classes,(waltz, samba etc) internet classes (very good and only $20) board games, a fabulous library, and lots of trivia games. I would have liked more active activities but on this cruise didnt miss them. Activities staff were all wonderful.
Dining: We can honestly say we enjoyed all our meals on this ship and it never had an off day, we might have made the occasional wrong choice, but the food in Discoveries, Aqualina and Prime C were stunning and breakfasts/lunches in Windows were also wonderful. Great wait staff and sommeliers in all restaurants. The wine served was excellent and came from Chile, South Africa, California, France, Italy and Australia.
Entertainment: We though Jim Badger with his fast and furious repartee, piano and singing was brilliant in Mosaic, and Simon Blair, the wandering minstrel on his guitar was also fantastic entertainment. The evening DJ tended not to aim his music choice at the age group mostly on board, but that was rectified with a few requests. Dancing when we had 15 ft waves was great fun as was the Mamma Mia dance night.
The Crew show was wonderful, Azamara Quest has some very talented crew.
The Chinese Cultural show on board was fantastic, Mandy Muden, an English comedienne was very entertaining and the production Voices was spectacular.
Overall, this was a five star experience. The things that stand out for us are -
Water and towels on deck after doing our laps on walking track.
Senior officers from Captain down serving us lunch on pool deck one lunch time and always being visible, chatting and open to requests, comments, suggestions, and just to say hallo.
Bottles of iced water given to ship excursion guests.
Senior officers farewelling us on excursions and hot chocolate and rum on return on cold afternoons.
Very low corkage for your own wine if you take it into the dining rooms.
Happy, happy staff, always smiling, always helpful.
Azamara, you do us proud and we have booked another cruise with you because of this and it wont be our last. Thank you so much for our best cruise experience ever.