This was our second cruise on Azamara Quest. We had booked the cruise well over 12 months in advance through an on line agency (which had handled our first Azamara cruise) We thought our first cruise on the Quest was the best we had ever had...the size of the ship, the service from cabin attendant to captain, the great food. This cruise almost equaled it...but the operative word is "almost."
We flew into Rio a few days pre-cruise and stayed at the Mar Ipanema Hotel. We had planned to do the usual tourist things (Sugar Loaf, Corcovado, etc.) but the weather intervened. Heavy clouds and rain, rain, and more rain. We were fortunate to have a private guide who made adjustments and we ended up seeing more of Rio than we expected. The Botanical Garden was a long walk in the rain from our hotel, but well worth the trip. We met a friend (a native Carioca)one night at Porcao (a churrascaria) and ate so much meat that it actually put me off meat for the rest of the trip!
Embarkation at Rio was a bit confused. Porters wanted money to take our bags (since we had only carry-ons, we politely declined), lines were long, and it was warm. However, once the check in was accomplished we quickly boarded the Quest, were met with warm greetings and cold sparkling wine, and headed for our cabin, a veranda on the 7th floor.
Our cabin attendant, Trifon, introduced himself and, upon request, brought us extra hangers. He was wonderful throughout the cruise. Unobtrusive but efficient and always ready to respond to a request.
The new beds are comfortable and the new patio furniture nice (although rather large for the size of the veranda, and no way to put up one's feet.)
I had looked forward to seeing the "new" Quest post dry-dock. I hadn't liked the look, in photographs, of the new carpet in Mosaic and Discoveries, but when I saw it in person, I found it very attractive. Too bad the carpet in the rest of the ship clashed with it. On the other hand, I thought the new, dark blue, hull color was nice in photos. In reality, though, it shows every dent, scratch, and scrape and needs repainting already. I thought it made the ship look old. I found I much preferred the all white.
We were delighted to see some staff from our last cruise and surprised that they remembered us. A special nod to Tayfun and John (who were our waiters in Discoveries last cruise but who now are waiters in Aquilina...they are the best!) and to Louise in Guest Relations. And, of course, it was great to see Russ Grieves again. He is a fantastic cruise director.
But we met some new friends too...we had been a bit disappointed in Discoveries the first couple of nights. The wait staff was pleasant but we didn't get that special feeling from them. However, the nice woman at the desk (can't remember her name) suggested that we try Michael's station. He and his assistant Mischa were fantastic! We truly felt they exemplified Quest's standard of excellence.
Another special person was Russ's assistant cruise director, Helen. What a delightful lady and so much fun.
On our first cruise, Capt Carl Smith was the master. We were disappointed that he was not on board but looked forward to meeting Capt. Stig. He is a very nice gentleman, but not as visible around the ship as Capt. Carl. We missed Capt. Carl's noon-day comments and stories. Perhaps it will take Capt Stig some time to shed his RCI persona and become a true Azamara captain.
Our cruise critic meet and mingle was, unfortunately, set at 6:30 pm on sailaway. So many could not attend because of dining commitments and wanting to be part of the sailaway from Rio. Staff officers did attend and Russ said some kind words, but it seemed a very rushed affair. Fortunately, one of our group took it upon herself to organize us for the White Night deck party and so a lot of us were able to sit together and get to know each other better.
Now a few thoughts on a few topics:
Food: Very good in Discoveries. A nice selection each night and everything was well prepared. A bit disappointed in desserts, though. Not terribly interesting most nights and a couple were not very good. Nice wines, although the Rose is not offered...you have to know to ask for it. Coffee, as nasty as last time, but now we knew to ask for it to be brought from Mosaic, and Mischa and Michael were very happy to do so. (I even ran into Mischa later one night getting coffee and dessert from Mosaic to bring to the dining room for some other passengers who had figured it out too!) Mosaic...wonderful coffees and edibles. Aquilina was superb! Amazing goat cheese appetizer, delicious seafood, and the Grand Marnier souffle for dessert to die for! Windows always had a good selection and the sushi was fresh and made for a nice little snack.
Ports and Shore excursions:
Parati was hot, hot, hot. We took a ship excursion which was advertised as swim and snorkle. We spent one hour at a beach for swimming...pleasant but awkward to get off the schooner, which had anchored off shore. Snorkeling at the next stop was not very good...too much sediment in the water to see much and the equipment provided was less than good. A third stop for swimming (again off the side of the schooner) which we didn't do and then back to the Quest. After lunch on board we tendered back to Parati to walk around town on our own. But the cobblestones and the heat defeated us (and there's not much to see) so we headed back to Quest and the swimming pool on board.
Ilhabela was gorgeous. We had not booked an excursion so just walked around the pretty town and did some shopping before heading back to the Quest. Some friends took the Rainforest Hike excursion and were disappointed...slippery, difficult hike in the heat, lots of mosquitoes, and almost non-existent wildlife.
Two days at sea were delightful...did nothing but sit in the shade around the pool and read and watch the ocean and nap. Perfect!
Punta Del Este was our next stop and the one we enjoyed the most. We arrived in early afternoon for an overnight stay. A short tender ride to the harbor and a very walkable city. We spent all afternoon wandering around and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. That night was the White Night party. We ate in the dining room not on deck because there was lobster on the menu (can't pass that up!) but we had dessert (crepes Suzette) on deck...very good. The band played, we danced, the wine flowed, and everyone had an amazing time. The next day we took a ship excursion to the Ralli Museum, the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, and to Narbona Farm for lunch. A really good excursion. The museums were interesting and the lunch at the Farm exceptional.
Montevideo was our next stop and we had a private walking tour of Ciudad Vieja. Interesting place but the old city is in disrepair. However, our guide was good and it was a pleasant couple of hours.
Finally we arrived in Buenos Aires. The first day we had a private excursion..a 7 hour walking tour of the city (with lunch along the way) It was hot and a very long walk, but an excellent guide made the city come alive. The second day we took a ship excursion...a BBQ lunch and gaucho show. Very disappointing. The ranch was pretty enough, but the dancing exhibition went on too long, the food was (in my opinion) pretty bad and took forever for service, and the gaucho show consisted of just one activity which I found not terribly interesting.
Debarkation on the third morning was very very easy...we had a flight to Iguazu (independently arranged) and we just walked off the ship when we were ready to go. Iguazu was amazing...it alone was worth the long trip to South America, and we were able to arrange flights and accomodations on our own for half the price Azamara was charging.
Summary: We enjoyed being on the Quest again. No other cruise line can rival it for service and the warmth of the crew. The small size makes getting around so easy (it was helpful that the ship was only 3/4 full) Will we be back on Quest again? At this point I would have to say, sadly "no." We checked prices for a cruise to the Black Sea in 2014...more than $5000 per person for a veranda. Celebrity offers almost the same itinerary (this year) with overnights and longer stays than Azamara for under $3000 for a veranda. Even buying a wine package on Celebrity, the cost is still significantly less. I don't think the Azamazing evening or the cheap liquors makes the Azamara cruise appealing. So unless prices moderate, I can't see the value. I'll miss my friends on Quest and perhaps I've been spoiled forever for other cruise lines, but only time will tell.