We were on both the 10/24/07 2 day and the 10/26/07 5 day of the Azamara Quest. My past cruising experience has been several Celebrity cruises, a couple Royal Caribbean (both mid size and mega ships) Princess and Disney. In addition to that I stay in hotels about 75 nights per year for work. My accommodations when traveling for business range anywhere from LaQuintas to Ritz Carltons. Additionally my husband and I take 3-4 major vacations per year, typically Caribbean resorts or European land vacations. We cruise when we are looking for a change of pace from our normal vacation experiences. I booked this cruise knowing it was an "inaugural" cruise and went into the experience expecting things to be somewhat rocky but still expecting to get a little bit of what has been promised by Azamara in regards to service level, food and overall vacation experience. I hope you find this review helpful and objective.
Embarkation - This is one area where the Quest did an excellent job. We arrived at the pier in Miami around 1:00 p.m. There were no lines and we were on the ship within about 4 minutes. The only problem we had was I had checked in online and provided 2 different credit card numbers for 2 different passengers in our cabin, and was informed that they were unable to process 2 credit cards for one cabin and we would need to go to Guest Relations. Not a big deal…I'm on vacation! When we got onto the ship we were given a glass of champagne and escorted to our cabin. The cabin was ready and we received our luggage shortly before the lifeboat drill at 4:15pm.
Ship Layout/Look and Feel - The ship layout is very easy to navigate and makes sense. The maps provided are easy to read and there is a digital display in the elevator that when the elevator arrives at a floor informs you if people are getting on or if they are getting off and also lists the different venues on that particular floor. The ship is gorgeous. Dark woods, tasteful colors, beautiful furniture pieces, nice decorating touches and I loved the artwork, particularly the large black and white photos. This ship, however, is not very wheelchair friendly. I know this not because I was with someone in wheelchair, rather I was wheeling a stroller around. The transfers across doorways are brutal. The "ramp" to go over a door threshold requires you to first go over a rather large lift from the floor to the ramp. With a stroller you at least have the ability to physically lift the stroller up, or do a "wheely", I can't imagine how difficult it would be with an adult in a wheelchair…and an electric wheelchair due to the weight of it would be exceptionally difficult. Another area that is not very wheelchair friendly is when you are getting off the elevator the "landing" area between the elevator door and the stairs is quite small (a byproduct of a smaller ship and everything being just a little bit more condensed). Under normal circumstances getting off elevators with a stroller or wheelchair can be difficult since for some reason people can't grasp the concept to let the people OFF the elevator before trying to get ON the elevator, and with less room in front of the elevator it made the "elevator doorway dance" that much more difficult. I didn't know if I would like a smaller ship however I didn't find myself missing any amenities of the larger ships. The Quest pretty much had everything you could possibly want. I can see how on a longer 14 day cruise the smaller number of venues might get a little bit monotonous.
Cabin - We were in a different cabin for the two day cruise (6020) than we were for the 5 day cruise (6048). Both of them standard verandah cabins. The cabin didn't seem much smaller to me than most we have had and the space is very well utilized. There are nooks and cranny's everywhere for storage. There is a decent sized closet for "long hang" clothes and another for "short hang" clothes. That closet has 4 midsized drawers underneath it. In addition there is a place for folded clothes in the corner cabinet where the refrigerator is (small fridge…holds about 8 cans of soda) The top of the corner cabinet also has a large storage space. The middle shelf of our corner cabinet in both cabins housed the TV. My impression from other reviews on the Journey is that the TV is typically wall mounted, so I don't know if this is the TV's permanent location or not. If not….this will provide another large storage space. The desk has 4 drawers on one side and the other side has two shelves. Each nightstand has 2 shelves as well. The verandah had 2 upright chairs and a good sized table. (the largest table we've had on a ship's balcony) Our second cabin (6048) is the cabin right next to the life boats. The balcony in this cabin due to its location had about 18 extra inches to its length which doesn't sound like much but it made all the difference in regards to being able to have 2 chairs with people actually in them comfortably sitting at the table. I loved the linens and the loveseat was actually one of the more comfortable cruise ship couches I've experienced. One issue that arose with the cabins, my stepchildren had 3 people booked in their cabin. When the "butler" went to do turn down service on the first night he discovered that the loveseat in that cabin was not a convertible loveseat. He told us we needed to go down to Guest Relations ourselves (more later on the lack of "butler" service). Guest relations pulled out a deck map of the ship and showed me that the cabin was not designated as one that could accommodate 3 people. My logical argument that whatever the deck map states is irrelevant since the reservations people booked 3 people in that particular cabin. Finally she came around to the logic of the situation (for awhile I was wondering if she was expecting one of them to sleep on a massage table in the spa) and they arranged to move the loveseat out and exchange it with one that converts to a bed. This is one example where I expected there to be problems due to the newness of the ship, but I judge a cruiseline or a hotel or any other service venue for that matter by how they actually handle the problems when the occur not whether there actually are any problems. In this case the problem was resolved and the end result was satisfactory, but I shouldn't have had to spend 45 minutes of my vacation dealing with something that I should never have even been made aware was a problem in the first place. A "deluxe" line would have had the loveseats swapped by the time we even got back to the cabin for the evening; not waited until we got back to the cabin to tell us we needed to go down to Guest Relations and take care of it ourselves. A "deluxe" cruiseline would have apologized to me when I brought it to their attention, told me I didn't need to worry about it and would have taken care of it; not argued with me about deck plans. The other problem we had was when we booked the cruise (directly with Azamara) they took our request for a crib, so I didn't bring our portable crib. When we inquired with our stateroom attendant, we were informed the ship had no cribs. Had I known I would have brought the portable and as a result our 1 year old slept between us on the bed each night. Neither my husband nor I slept very soundly as we were paranoid about rolling over on top of him.
Dining - We ate breakfast and lunch each day in Windows Buffet and dinner each night in Discoveries. The buffet was standard cruise fare; no better or worse than any other cruise we have been on. The layout of the buffet area is a little bit unorganized and confusing. A simple change of having separate stations for each different type of food (salads, desserts,etc) would take care of the problem of long slow lines moving through the entire buffet with other people bopping in and out to grab something quickly. The waffles were excellent. The fresh fruit was amazing, I have never seen raspberries as large as these, but the ice cream was disappointing. It was icy….like it had melted and then was refrozen. We tried it several times before giving up. Three days into the cruise we discovered the soft serve machine by the pool grill. The hamburgers at the pool grill were excellent and the nachos were pretty good as well. What is it about freakishly bright orange processed cheese that is so delicious? Discoveries dining room on the first night was a nightmare. We arrived early; 6:30 and were seated immediately. It was here that we discovered that there was not a single highchair on the ship, and only one booster seat which those of us with children were all vying for...my son spent the whole cruise eating out of his stroller which meant he had to be hand fed instead of able to feed himself. Dinner on the first night took 3 hours and the waiter kept mixing up the orders, water was never refilled even after begging for more. I didn't personally experience this because after being there for an hour and not even having our first course, I took my son back to the room, ordered room service and left the 4 other people in our party to deal with the dining room. This story does have a happy ending however. The second night by fortuitous chance we were seated at table 33, in the back corner of the dining room. Our waiter (I'm sorry I can't remember his name) and our assistant waiter Harry were excellent. The service was professional, prompt, friendly and considerate. After dinner we approached the Maitre D, complimented the waitstaff and asked to be seated at that table each evening. (since it was in the corner there was more space between the tables and we could easily get the stroller in, plus the very prevalent vibration that you can feel in this part of the dining room worked to our advantage as it often times lulled my son to sleep). We were told this was the Staff Captains table but he very rarely used it and as long as we got down to the dining room early he would reserve it for us. He kept his word and we sat at the table every night thereafter except one (a port day where we didn't get down to the dining room until 8:30) We continued to have excellent service. My sons glass of milk was brought to us within seconds of sitting down, they accommodated special requests for him (he was going through a fruit and tomato phase while we were on the cruise), and the one night we were not able to sit at table 33 they both sought us out in the dining room to say hi, and the waiter (oh I wish I could remember his name!) told me that he told his boss not to give that table away anymore because he wanted to see the "little guy" every night.
One side note on that. I know that not everyone on the ship was probably thrilled to see the 3 kids that were on our sailing, since Azamara does not exactly encourage families to cruise with them (as evidenced by the lack of highchairs and cribs) however we were well received by the majority of the passengers and ALL of the crew. It was hard for us to travel around the ship because crew members kept stopping us, wanting to play with or hold our son. Knowing that many of them probably had children of their own at home whom they haven't seen for many months we always obliged. It was particularly heartbreaking when one of the crew would be holding him, with their eyes closed and you knew that they were imagining for just a moment they were holding their own child.
Because we were on the 2 day and then the 5 day, the menu in Discoveries was the same for the first two days of the 5 day cruise as it was for the 2 day cruise, which was a little repetitive. I was surprised with the number of back to back travelers that they wouldn't have thought ahead and run the menus like a 7 day cruise so that there wouldn't be repetition, but again not a big deal, just more of a minor annoyance. The quality of the food I would say was not as good as we have had on Celebrity. I was a little disappointed in this. It wasn't so much the preparation as the actual quality. The first two sailings were priced rather inexpensively, and I hope for the sake of the future cruisers who are paying normal Azamara fares that this improves. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, there just wasn't anything that made me go "WOW" (except of course the raspberries but I'm not going to give the chef credit for that one!) My disappointment may be a result of expectation vs reality based on marketing. I expected at least as good as Celebrity (which I love) and when it fell short of that (food quality was more in line with what we had on Royal Caribbean Grandeur) I was disappointed. There were shining spots here and there (loved the soups, coffee and blue cheese dressing) but overall I would say they have a little ground to make up to earn the deluxe distinction. My husband and I and mother-in law went to tea 2 of the afternoons. Tea was in Aqualina which is a beautiful dining room. The sandwiches and desserts were different each time we went and were very tasty. The emphasis seemed to be more on the food than the tea, since getting an additional pot of hot water proved to be rather difficult. The staff needs more training on the art of French serving, as it was rather painful to watch them try to pick up small pieces of cake using one hand and two utensils, but this of course will come with practice. It was an experience we thoroughly enjoyed and on the second day dragged my 21 year old step son along to give him some "culture". We told him it would come in handy some day when he is looking for a wife.
Room Service - A little known fact but it is in the fine print of the room service menu is that during the hours that the dining room is open you can order off the Discoveries menu for room service. The Discoveries menu on the left hand side lists some things that are available each evening as staples. One of these is shrimp cocktail. So when the dining room opened we would order a couple shrimp cocktail to go along with our wine while we were getting ready for dinner. It is one of those wonderful luxuries of cruising that makes me feel pampered. The first day my step kids filled out the breakfast request form but never did get their food. We always ordered directly on the phone in the morning (since we were never given an order form) and it never took more than 20 minutes to arrive. A call when it was on its way would have been nice as is the practice on Celebrity and a nice touch. We utilized room service in many different capacities; breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack…you get the point, and it was always delivered very quickly, hot food was hot, cold food was cold and I LOVED the room service coffee, even better than the coffee from the espresso/cappuccino machine in Windows Café….hhhhmmmm maybe because the latte/cappuccino setting was not working during our cruise. The room service coffee is strong which is just the way I like it. If you don't like strong coffee you may want to order it with cream even if you normally drink it black. That Coffee Place - I KNEW I waited too long to write this review, I can't remember the name of the coffee place, I keep wanting to call it Cova Café but I know that's the Celebrity ships name for it. Anyway, we utilized this space many times and enjoyed it as a nice relaxing place to just sit and talk. Service was a little slow here, but I'm sure once the waitress and the barrista get some mo jo going it will improve. They have a great coffee and tea menu and the little cakes and sandwiches are a nice touch. A side note on the display case with the food. Later at night (I think after 9:00) they replace the sandwiches with tapas…wonderful tapas. It was fun to just point at the different "savories" and say "that one and that one and that one". The chicken curry and the sun dried tomato tart were particularly good. The harp player was very nice to listen to. We avoided this area when the piano player was there as he had the volume on his amp turned up too high to have a comfortable level of conversation.
Pool area and Spa - LOVED the comfortable cushioned lounge chairs and was relieved to see that they were there for the first sailing and we didn't have to put up with the plastic slatted ones like the first passengers on the Journey did. I did not lay out at the pool as much as I usually do due to the one year old I had in tow. Normally I am camped out at the pool every minute of sunshine, but since the one year old couldn't go in the pool we didn't even attempt to sit out there with him, as just walking by with him in the stroller produced grunting and pointing (the kid is a fish). I brought a 3 food diameter blow up pool which we kept filled on our balcony and he was happy with that as long as we kept the "big pool" out of sight. So I was only able to lay out there a couple times but it was extremely comfortable and enjoyable and there didn't seem to be as much chair saving as on other cruise lines. Don't get me wrong; there were still people with their books and towels on the chairs 5 hours before they were ready to utilize them, but there were less people doing it. I never had a problem getting a chair on the pool deck even on the days I wouldn't get out there until 1 or 2p.m. The pool itself, while small as you would expect on a smaller ship, was never crowded and the temperature was perfect. The "secret…not so secret" hot tub T Pool or whatever it is at the front of the ship that you can only get to by going through the spa was under utilized for most of the cruise. Perhaps it is because it is uncomfortable to sit in. One third of it you are sitting on metal rods, one third doesn't have any seating at all and the other third had the standard tile shelf to sit on. I don't get it The water was a nice hot temperature, and the lounge chairs around there was very comfortable. Even though you go through the spa to get here it is NOT part of the spa and therefore is not a hush hush quiet area. At times it got a little rowdy there with several groups of partiers. And one night we stumbled upon two people doing something that should have been done in their cabin. Yes Azamara cruisers, I hate to disappoint you but even on a "deluxe" cruiseline these things can and will happen. On the last day of the cruise I had a massage in the morning. It wasn't anything spectacular and when you are paying cruise ship spa prices you at least want to feel all mushy when you're done. In all fairness my massage was during the period when we were experiencing some very rough seas due to the impending tropical storm Noel so I spent part of the massage concentrating on not getting sick, but my husband who doesn't get seasick said the same thing about his massage. It was just OK. Due to the "everything being more condensed on a smaller ship" there really are no treatment rooms that are out of the main traffic pattern since the spa is quite small so noise is also an issue. My treatment room was right off of where they cut/style hair so during my entire massage I could hear every word of a conversation between one of the male stylists and one of the women at the front desk. Apparently a fun time was had by all who partied down in the crew bar the previous night and they were all required to take the sea sickness pills the night before so that they wouldn't miss work. Seriously, at $150 for a 50 minute massage…I DON'T CARE, and had I been feeling better I probably would have asked my massage therapist to ask them to tone it down. However as the massage therapist she probably should have done that without my requesting it as she could clearly hear it as well.
"Butler" - EEEK I left this subject toward the end as it is probably the area that we had the most problems with. I won't go into every single issue we had but I will highlight a few to give you an idea of the service problems. First of all I had read enough of the Journey reviews that I went into this cruise not expecting Butler service, I was expecting cabin attendant type service. We had a different Butler on the 2 day cruise than we did on the 5 day due to the cabin change. Our butler on the 5 day cruise was much better than on the 2 day but still not up to the level that I would expect. At least the second Butler seemed to actually care and while he didn't necessarily do anything extra for us, he did at least keep our cabin clean (somewhat…..both cabins were very dusty). Our first Butler did not provide a way for us to contact him, so we had to keep peeking our head out of the cabin hoping to catch him in the vicinity. Our first request was the first evening of the cruise and we asked for ice. It took 3 hours to get the ice and when it was delivered he told us that he had 20 cabins to take care of which was why it took so long….3 hours? I was actually impressed that he remembered after 3 hours. The afternoon "savories" were pretty much nonexistent even though we requested them as the little card in our room stated we must. Since they weren't very good we didn't push the issue. We did receive the nightly sweets during turn down service, but they were never put on a plate…one night it was chocolate chip cookies that were just left on top of our dusty night stands. Again, not a big deal, we just didn't eat our dust coated cookies, but you would expect at least a plate from a "deluxe" cruiseline. The most amazing lack of service was when we were changing cabins on the changeover day from the 2 night cruise to the start of the 5 night cruise. We were dragging our various pieces of luggage down the hall making 3 trips in all, and on each trip we passed our cabin attendant who politely stepped out of our way so that we could get past him. When a polite inquiry was made for help it was met with a comment that he was too busy. Azamara needs to do more training in this area and stop marketing the cabin attendants as Butlers. Guest Services and Internet - Our cruise was affected by tropical storm Noel. As a result our port of debarkation was changed from Miami to Tampa. The cruiseline handled this beautifully by opening up the internet for free access and opened up the phone lines and provided 4 phones with which we could call our airline to make alternate arrangements. We had a laptop with us and were able to change 3 of our 5 airline tickets from our room using a pppaaaiiinnnfffuuullllyyyy slow internet connection. I had to use the phone for the other 2 tickets. The cruise staff were great in assisting guests with the phones and in some cases speaking to the airlines themselves when the guests weren't getting anywhere. I was told by other passengers of two disturbing incidences of conduct by other passengers. One couple used the phones to call their friends in Miami to let them know of the port change (the couple was from Miami). What should have been a 2 minute call to tell them not to pick them up at the pier turned into a 15 minute chat about how their vacation was going and what they did and what they ate. The other was in the computer room. When they opened up the internet access the line in the computer room was monstrous. One passenger took the free internet opportunity to check his myspace page, email his girlfriend and surf the internet. In both cases there were long lines of passengers all vying for limited airplane seats on flights out of Tampa. What also amazes me is that in either case staff or passengers just watched it happen and didn't do anything. Sometimes I think we are too polite as a society. The problems with the credit card on our account that originated from check in persisted, and after giving my credit card information to Guest Services 3 different times I was still pulled out of line while debarking and had to supply it one more time. The charges still haven't hit my credit card…with the track record on this, they may never get charged. The one horrendous lapse of service was our repeated requests for an infant life jacket. We never did receive it, which in my opinion is irresponsible and inexcusable. I had exhausted all avenues of different people I could request it from. Perhaps the infant life jackets were locked up in the same room with the cribs, highchairs and booster seats. A side comment on that. While Azamara may be gearing more towards adults with their longer itineraries and price point, the fact of the matter is that if they are going to take bookings for children, then it is their responsibility to ensure that those customers of theirs (and they are paying customers) have a place to sleep and a place to eat and don't drown if the ship goes down.
Sorry this is so long but I had an entire flight from East Coast to West Coast to kill. Overall despite the problems, we had a great cruise and didn't let the little things get to us. Azamara has a long way to go as far as service performance to earn their "deluxe" distinction. The ship is beautiful, the staff overall is friendly. From our experience, the "deluxe" distinction is in marketing only. The analogy that kept coming to mind is that a VW Passat is basically the same car as an Audi A6, yet people are willing to pay 15K more for the A6, because the perception is that the Audi is a more upscale product than a VW. I love the A6 but in good financial responsibility conscience can't bring myself to pay 15K for an image. And until the A6 adds some of the features available on the Mercedes, I'll either buy the Passat or pay more for and get the features of the Mercedes.