The Azamara H.R. department must have stumbled on the failsafe personality test. The staff and crew aren't just nice to the customers, they're even nice to each other! I have heard the Quest referred to as "the happiest ship at sea" and that might not be hyperbole. On this cruise from Puerto Caldera Costa Rica to L.A., the majority of the passengers have sailed with Azamara before. It isn't uncommon to find folks who have sailed with Az five, ten, fifteen times and more. . . and the company hasn't been around all that long. It might not be Cheers where everybody knows your name, but with 600 passengers you aren't the anonymous digit you are on one of the mega ships.
If you're looking for rock climbing walls, or ice skating rinks or big name entertainment, you're in the wrong boat. But there's still plenty to keep you entertained. Every cruise features a "White Night." The cruisers dress in white for a gorgeous banquet on the pool deck. This White Night was in Huatulco Mexico and the entertainment was a folkloric dance troupe--highly preferable to one more second string comedian, one more hokey magician. The officers make crepe suzettes and then everyone dances to old time rock n roll under the stars--invariably a fun evening. You'll see the Hotel Manager serving gelato and the matre d' bussing a table--a factor, I think, in the happy ship equation. The egalitarian attitude is refreshing. The nightly entertainment in the Caberet Lounge is sometimes mediocre and sometimes quite good. And there's always the little casino. I'm partial to the penny slots. You can't win much but you can't lose much and it's a fun way to while away an hour or two on a sea day.
The last cruise we were on featured an "Azamazing Evening" on the Yorktown in Charleston Harbor. I thought it was okay, but my military buff husband was ecstatic. I was the ecstatic one on this cruise. A caravan made its way into the foothills of the Sierra Madres from Puerta Vallarta. The show included indigenous people performing in fantastic costumes--feathers to rival any Las Vegas showgirl, a mariachi band, a dancing horse and fireworks in a wonderful setting unusual and exotic. It was exceptional. I'm 67 years, I've been there, done that and I'm not easily impressed. I was impressed. Events like this take tremendous coordination and planning and they brought it off without a hitch.
And now we come to the ever important food and drink category. Except for the small luxury ships, you're likely to get charged about eight bucks plus an 18% tip for a thimbleful of wine. Azamara decided to include Wine, beer and well liquor; no need to smuggle your booze aboard. Even so, the crowd is older and sedate and you're unlikely to be bothered by drunken revelers. To me, it's a welcome extra. The food is like the entertainment: sometimes mediocre and sometimes quite good. The dining room is lovely and service is excellent. The Windows Cafe is a glorified cafeteria with steam table food, the atmosphere frenetic. Take your food to the back deck and eat in the open air, though, and it's delightful. The two specialty restaurants charge $25 per person and while the menus are limited, the food -- no, scratch that-- the cuisine is to die for. Filet and lobster are the staples with the occasional chateau briand or beef wellington. The grill on the pool deck was quite nice for a made-to-order hamburger and fries. But recently they have been serving more steam table food and the pre-cooked burgers are hard to distinguish from hockey pucks. At times the food is so overly salted that I found it inedible.
The cabins are clean and well maintained, wood and mirrors and as much space as you can hope for on a ship. The teeny bathroom and shower are nothing to write home about but hey! it's a ship. Go to the spa where there is a roomy tropical shower with seven shower heads. The Azamara Quest and the Journey are from the original Renaissance line that went bankrupt. The library is unchanged--A truly beautiful room with a mural of birds and botanicals on the ceiling that is so charming it will make you smile.
We have sailed on Azamara six times and have worked our way up to a couple of nice little perks: a generous allotment of internet time and some free laundry. The self-operated coin laundry is free for everyone. There's a lovely champagne brunch for the repeat customers and a couple of cocktail parties. The staff and crew want to keep you coming back and they do a good job of it: solicitous, pleasant, and always smiling. The back office is that infamous horse of a different color. On our last cruise we put a deposit down for a future cruise. In return we would get an onboard credit. Many of the itineraries include a promotion whereupon if you book your airfare with their agency, Choice Air, you get a rebate on your cruise. We found a great price for this cruise on-line and my husband called to ask if it qualified for the Choice Air credit. "Yes," he was told. "Absolutely." Being the cynic that I am I said, "Sounds too good to be true." So I called. "Yes," I was told, the cruise definitely qualified. But when we actually booked the cruise we were told, NO, the promotion would not apply. Okay, it was still a good deal. . . not the end of the world. Then we were told we could not use our deposit nor would we get the shipboard credit. Seeing as how we have spent something in the neighborhood of $30,000 with Azamara, you might say I was a little disappointed with how we were treated: no explanations, no apologies. Azamara is owned by Royal Carribean (which also owns Celebrity). Their policies and philosophies about how to run a cruise line are apparently quite different from Azamara's. Unfortunate.