We booked the February 18 Los Angeles to Caldera and March 4 Caldera to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal while on two 2013 Azamara cruises (Norwegian Fjords and Hamburg to Southhapmpton). Normally, we book a future cruise or cruises while on board to take advantage of the booking on board discount. While these two Quest cruises generally met our expectations, for the first time in almost 5 years that we did not book a future cruise while on board.
Pre-Cruise Experience. Poor. Enough has already been said about the website functionality issues, Le Club Voyage changes and unilaterally changing the 25% shore excursion program.
Boarding & Back to Back Procedures. Excellent. Quick and seamless. We arrived at the ship around 11:30AM and were in our room by 1:30PM. The change over to the second cruise couldn’t have been handled better. We left the ship shortly before 8AM and had our pictures taken and received our cards for the next cruise as we left the ship. A short bus ride took us to the terminal where we met our guide for the day.
Senior Staff. Excellent. One of Azamara’s big pluses. Both cruises had Philip Herbert, Hotel Director, and Russ Grieve, Cruise Director, as senior officers. Philip & Russ seemed omnipresent on both cruises. Both knew our names from the 2013 cruises, which to my wife is a big plus. They were both friendly, helpful and outgoing in a low key way, i.e., not in your face happy all the time. For the first cruise, we had Captain Jose and for the second, Captain Carl. Both were excellent especially in their communications.
Presenters. Very Good. A little background to explain why the presenters are important to us. We don’t participate in trivia, bridge, bingo, casinos, etc. Our main reason for traveling is our interest in history, culture and scenic viewing. Therefore, we choose our cruises and travel in general based on itinerary. So, the presenters are an important aspect of our cruise experience. Jim Howard was good, but did rely on reading too many power point slides. Hal Tinberg was excellent. In addition, Nigel Marven, a naturalist and BBC presenter (think the BBC’s version of the late Steve Irwin) joined the second cruise in Costa Rica and provided entertaining highlights from his career using film clips. In New Orleans, Nigel even brought an alligator, a turtle and another reptile to his presentation.
Cabin Steward. Excellent.
Staterooms. This is one of Azamara’s negatives. We love the R Ships for their coziness, but the staterooms just don’t measure up to the luxury lines or the newer mass market lines. We did think the staterooms themselves made good use of the space available, leaving aside the shower which would make a small child feel claustrophobic. We thought the bedding was fine.
Food - Good, not excellent. We thought the food started out excellent, but the quality declined by the second cruise. Being on the ship for 28 days made us realize the menus are very repetitive. Surprisingly, the ship ran out of certain fresh fruit items and the quality of the fruit selection in all restaurants was poor. The were issues with the ice cream refrigeration. We found the steak quality unacceptably poor.
The service was surprisingly good. We tried to sit whenever possible in the same section and our waiter Armando and his assistants did an outstanding job. I am very fussy about food being served hot (not luke warm), but I never sent anything back. We are somewhat fussy -my wife doesn’t eat pork and there are a few random items I don’t eat - but the waitstaff always accommodated us. Similarly, if I didn’t particularly like the day’s wine selection, they found a prior day’s wine for me. Also, we preferred club soda to water at meals and virtually the entire waitstaff knew that by the second or third day.
We thought the food quality of the Prime C food was mediocre.
Mosaic Cafe - A gem - we loved the specialty coffees, treats, and seating arrangements. A small thing but a big plus. Additionally, the Mosaics staff did a great job preparing and delivering drinks.
Room service - Not surprisingly, my wife loves room service, while I don’t like room service. However, I admit Azamara did a great job serving breakfast on time. Selections were extensive and included hot items which actually arrived hot.
Maitre d’s - Another plus. They mingled well, unobtrusive, helping out and seemingly interested.
Shore Excursions - Good. We did several and except for pricing they exceeded our expectations.
Azamazing Evenings. Poor - Major disappointments. The Cabo (First Cruise) involved spending a lot of time tendering, riding buses, etc. for a very short performance. The second (Panama) was held on the ship. The only thing we found amazing about that was its promotion as something special.
Le Club Voyage - Excellent - Perks - No free cruises like some, but Azamara offers excellent perks. When you get to the Discover level, you get 235 internet minutes each and a free laundry bag. Azamara did an outstanding Discover member brunch. On our cruises, we seemed to have conflicts with some scheduled Le Club Voyage events.
Entertainment - Good. Russ’s performance is great, but we have now seen it 4 times. The Considering the venue (it is a cabaret facility not a Broadway stage), we thought Azamara did a surprisingly good job. As far as the ship’s cast,Azamara has 4 talented dancers as part of the ship’s cast. This enhanced the singers and dancers performances. However, the shows are the same as last year. Max DiFaz was excellent. Sadly, we missed the harpist. Symbolically, tone deaf, Azamara displays a permanently affixed harp in the seating area on Deck 5 adjacent to the Mosaic Cafe and the shops. The guest entertainers were generally excellent especially the very talented Bruce Parker.
Park West’s Presence - Poor. Having Park West auctions means that the Cabaret Lounge cannot be used for other activities such as movies, cooking demonstrations, etc. Given the limited facilities on the ship, this is a big negative.
Art Instructor - Excellent. Both cruises had a water color instructor on board who offered courses on each cruise. Sonja Griess did an excellent job.
We considered several Azamara winter 2015 cruises. While we know that prices vary from cruise to cruise, we were surprised by the amount of the increase for the specific 2015 cruises we had interest in. Given the stateroom size issues, the food quality decline and the pre-cruise issues outlined above, we decided that although we love the staff, Azamara is no longer a great value proposition for us.