In early 2012 we booked the Norway cruise on the Azamara Quest after reading so much about the line and then viewing the itinerary, it wasn't long after this booking that we noticed the preceding cruise on the ship was of the British Isles focusing on the British Open, more about that later. Although we wanted to book a cabin on Deck 7, it was only available for one of the cruises and we would have to change cabins for the second leg. So we booked 6088 for the entire journey.
6088 is a suite located aft and you will experience some vibration when docking or in rougher seas, fortunately this was not an often occurrence although we will book a higher deck in the future. The suite in itself is very comfortable but the furniture is quite dated and needs to be replaced badly. I will say the bed is VERY comfortable and I believe the mattresses were recently upgraded which is quite evident thankfully. Having a guest bath will spoil you for sure and as spacious as the main bathroom is, it would be nice to have a walk-in shower in addition to the jetted tub as it is quite a step to enter the tub/shower.
Service in the suite was exceptional from butler Rafael (24 year cruise industry veteran), steward Mario, and assistant steward Edwin. Rafael always kept my boots shined (I am from Texas)and our dry cleaning and laundry were always promptly returned and hung in our closets (btw, the closet space is almost larger than the room). Mario and Edwin did an impeccable job keeping the cabin cleaned, fresh, and stocked and like many others, we believe they were sleeping under our bed. I cannot say enough good things about the three of them.
After a 4 day land trip in Ireland prior to the cruise, we arrived at the Dublin cruiseport around 15:30 only to discover we were the only ones there and we cleared security and boarded the ship where we were greeted for our photo and directed to the cabaret lounge to check in and receive our key cards. No lines, no hassle, and smiling faces all around...and of course, champagne (sparkling wine, whatever). We were escorted to our cabin where we learned of the cruise critic party in the looking glass lounge that would follow 17:00 muster drill.
The CC party was hosted by Russ (cruise director) and attended by several officers, management, entertainers, and of course the "cruise critics". It was a nice gathering and a nice preamble to sail-away.
The smallest ship we had ever sailed was the Celebrity Century in 2010 and we were concerned the Quest may be too small for our liking. We were also concerned that the age demographics may be a bit more reserved than us.
The Quest feels spacious mainly because there are fewer people on board. The night life is a bit light although this first leg of the cruise had an average age range 45-60 and was somewhat livelier than the second leg which was closer to 65-80 age range. Quite a few nights had us watching the lounges and casino close forcing us to retire...not necessarily a bad thing :)
Azamara proves its luxury lean in the little things like fully set tables in the buffet and fully attentive waitstaff at all venues. We enjoyed going to the buffet at breakfast and ordering our waffles or omelettes and immediately finding our table instead of standing at the buffet awaiting their completion, the staff would find us and bring our food orders to us, a nice touch we have never experienced on a cruise short of main dining venues.
We also enjoyed the frequent pool grill parties often served by the chefs and officers, I lost count how many times this occurred.
The food was excellent in my opinion and head and shoulders above any we have experienced on a cruise line. I am still missing the Prime C ribeyes of which I had several in our 24 day quest.
Entertainment was very good on the Quest and being close to the stage is an added bonus that larger ships/theatres cannot effectively duplicate. We would've enjoyed more live music by the band. Max did a FANTASTIC job on the piano and guitar in Luxe and the pool stage, we camped out next to Max most nights in Luxe. Simon was very entertaining on guitar, but his schedule often conflicted with ours and we did not see him playing much in the later hours, Azamara may want to re-visit that.
We missed music at dinner that Celebrity often provides in the form of string trios/quartets. We also would've enjoyed string or harp music in Mosaic, but understand that was eliminated as a cost-cutting measure, such a loss for the guests. The afternoon teas had nice music which were better than the food offerings in my opinion. Were not real impressed with the brunches either except for the music.
Speaking of music, on several occasions we were sitting by the pool spending money on libations and enjoying the atmosphere only to have the music volume decreased because an older guest complained...WE ARE AT THE POOL! If you want quiet go to the library, or your cabin or ANYWHERE else on the ship or just TURN DOWN your hearing aids. So we left and many others as well when the music all but vanished. I know it is a tough job for Azamara to please everyone, but I think they do a good job with a difficult task, but some areas should be a bit more liberal concerning music volume.
Azamara does a GREAT job of onboard activities.
I have no complaints about the ports on either cruise and we booked more private excursions as opposed to ship excursions. I will say most of the ship excursions were no different than any other cruise line excursions we have been on which explains why we booked private ones. EXCEPT the Azamazing evenings which in my opinion were FANTASTIC (especially the Titanic museum). There were a few hiccups but to no fault of Azamara like the cold food in Alesund, Norway venue...a great event, but the kitchen fell short.
The extended and overnight stays are EXACTLY what sets this cruise experience apart from any we have ever read about or experienced first-hand and it is what will help keep guests returning to Azamara in my opinion.
Philip Hebert is the BEST hotel director we have ever met from a guest's standpoint and we have met quite a few, both on land and sea. His wife is a gem and I believe Azamara's policy on allowing senior staff's family to "tag-along" is a positive one for both the employee and the guests. Happy staff, happy guests.
I will say as pleasant as all of the staff was on board, the only complaint I heard from various staff members in various positions was that they do not get enough time off and I believe that statement from what I witnessed. Many stated they would return to a bigger ship at the end of their contract for that reason alone. Azamara may want to take a hard look at that.
Meeting the chief engineer, Ole, and Capt. Stig was a treat in itself mainly due to them being very approachable and friendly. the special unplanned treats like stopping the ship in the fjord to pick up rasberries at a local farm, stopping at the arctic circle monument so Ole and his wife Jan could present a commemorative plaque marking our visit to the local residents (and Ole's extended family), enjoying Capt. Stig's bountiful catch of fish earlier in the day at a port at dinner one evening, the blue nose ceremony, and the white nights parties are something that one will not experience on other lines IMO and also something we will probably never duplicate.
When transitioning from one cruise to the next we were docked in Hamburg, Germany for 2 days and I must say that this experience was seamless compared to only one other B2B we did last year on Celebrity. We were not forced out of our cabin, but rather left that morning after breakfast and quickly received our new seapass cards as we were leaving the ship to explore Hamburg a bit more. It was no different than leaving for a port day...no lines, no waiting. We returned to the ship several hours later and once again no fuss and our cabin was ready once again. Azamara does B2Bs very nicely.
14 days later when we returned to Hamburg to disembark, we had breakfast in the room, gathered our carry-ons, said a tearful goodbye to many of the staff, and walked off the ship at our leisure (although they did have a tag system which happened to coincide with our planned departure time), no sitting around waiting and then battling the departing crowd. Philip was at the gangplank to wish all well and safe travels, another nice touch. Luggage assistance at the port and into the taxis was provided (by Azamara I believe).
What would make us return to Azamara? Itinerary mainly. We loved the guest count and the guest/staff ratio, but a newer and perhaps a bit bigger ship is needed to confirm our loyalty. If this does not occur, I still see us returning for the right itinerary(s).
Once again, the service on this line is impeccable and Azamazing. Enjoy cruising and safe travels to all.