Overall We have cruised with Celebrity in the past and we endorse the quality and service of the line. We had three bookings to the Panama Canal (two on Summit) and decided to give Azamara a try based on the marketing information we reviewed. Azamara claimed to be a "deluxe cruise experience" with "service unparalleled on the high seas". We knew that this was not going to be Celebrity because of the size of the ship and the upscale yet casual approach. As the sailing date neared, we read the Cruise Critic threads and began to worry about our decision to go with Azamara. This review mentions a number of concerns but we want the readers to know that we say these things to help Azamara improve. We believe that Azamara has the potential to fulfill the expectations they promise to "discerning travelers". This cruise was incredibly relaxing. The Quest is lovely, intimate, and friendly. We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, the dining, the staff, and the experience. It was a good value and we would cruise Azamara again for the right price, level of service, and itinerary. Being back in Philly (we're teased that we're just a suburb of New York) is just a temporary exile! The people we met, the friends we made, and the laughs we shared will long be remembered. We send our warmest wishes to Howard & Cheryl, Pete (Pierre) & Carol, Isabelle & Mike, Ron, Sang, & Richard, Steve & Kate, Ken & Kathy, Denny & Cheryl.
Embarkation Smooth overall. At the pier, we had to pick a seating time for the first night in the dining room, which surprised us since open seating was the only option for all other nights. When we arrived on the ship, we were greeted with champagne but no one offered to escort us to our cabin or carry our carry-on bags. When we went to the Windows Cafe for the lunch buffet, it was ungodly hot inside the restaurant. No air conditioning for some unknown reason? Guest Relations said it was a repetitive problem in Miami. Why does the location matter?
Butler We liked our butler (Vazio) but he's really a cabin steward in disguise. He offered no special services although he did deliver raspberries every day upon our initial request. He had 18 cabins to take care of with an assistant on hand. We suggest that Azamara lose the butler title and assign him less cabins. Split the responsibility between him and his assistant. Vazio was very kind to offer us his own personal DVD player and movies when we found out we had none in our cabin. Guest Relations said that suites have DVD's but none were available for any other cabins.
Cabin Our room was clean. The towels were large and soft. The mini-fridge did not keep items cold enough and there was no room to add our own items inside it.
The TV had a blurry picture and the screen was scratched up due to cleaning chemicals (so said the butler). We thought the programming was limited and repetitive. Free movie and TV show selections were redundant day after day. We actually watched a 3:00 PM movie that was cut off (before it actually ended) at 5:00 PM for another movie to begin as scheduled. The TV audio and video were frequently out-of-sync. We called Guest Relations multiple times a day to fix it. Kudos to one of the tech guys who stayed past his nighttime shift to try to help us out. The tech support has been aware of this problem on Deck 7 & 8 for a while but they don't know how to fix it. We would have liked to see more of the ship's entertainment, lectures, and port information sessions broadcasted on TV. Viewing our account online only happened after we made it known to the Cruise Director that it was not working.
Guest Relations They were not professional or experienced. They were not prepared for the first day crush. There was not enough staffing at the desk and they handed off issues between them due to a lack of knowledge. They didn't always answer the phone when you called from the cabin. The tipping policy onboard differed from what the Azamara Guest Vacation Specialist and Azamara Customer Service Reps told us prior to sailing. They said we could adjust the automatic charge up, down, or remove it to allow us to pay with cash (the traditional way). Once onboard we were told that this was not the case. We had to elevate the issue to get it resolved. Take note - Who is the mystery Assistant Housekeeping Manager that is tipped at $1/day per person? We never met him/her.
Excursions We were very disappointed in the ship's excursions. We noticed that the online excursion offerings, prior to sailing, changed without explanation. We inquired with Azamara customer service and they were not aware of the online changes. The value for the money is not there. If Azamara advertises the excitement of travel to exotic locations, then they need to research and offer exciting excursions to match. We really could have used a map at each port like other cruise ships provide. We were fortunate to save money by touring with other Cruise Critic passengers who hired private tour guides. We went with Oscar Brown in Costa Rica based on postings but he provided mediocre services. Some passengers took a hit or miss approach by hiring taxi drivers right at the port. Remember that you take a risk getting back to the ship on time (for example, friends onboard experienced a sudden weather change in Costa Rica that caused difficult driving conditions on dirt roads).
Itinerary First stop was scheduled to be Port Antonio, Jamaica. The ship's captain alerted us that a sub-tropical storm was preventing us from docking. He tried to enter at Ocho Rios instead but there was no room at the pier and tendering was not possible due to the rough seas. We weren't disappointed that he opted to keep us safe but we would have liked earlier communication about the conditions and potential problem.
Next stops were Santa Marta and Cartagena, Columbia. It was very difficult to enjoy the local scene in both places due to street selling. The relentless swarm of vendors selling junk distracted from touring.
On to Limon, Costa Rica. We enjoyed the beautiful countryside. We went ziplining with our new-found friends. It was exhilarating. We highly recommend it at any age. Leave your camera behind since your hands are busy. If you go to the Tortuga Canal ride, go early in the morning to potentially see wildlife (sloths, monkeys) rather than just birds and iguanas like we saw in the mid-afternoon.
The highlight was the Panama Canal. The public address system was used for the narration of the crossing but it wasn't working in the Looking Glass and it was not broadcast into the cabins since it began at 6:30 AM. We thought we could be on our verandah but without the narration we moved up on deck. Technical testing of the public announcement system should have been done ahead of time. It would have been convenient to have the narration broadcast through the TV so passengers can opt to listen or not in their cabin or verandah. The Looking Glass lounge had coffee and Danish (nice touch) but the band equipment blocked the view. People got territorial for seating with a view. As expected in a tropical environment, the weather varies hour by hour. Passengers standing outside in the spa's Thalassotherapy Pool blocked the view from the Looking Glass with their umbrellas when it began to rain.
On the Pacific side, we stopped at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. We booked another tour with Oscar Brown to the Villa Lapas Sky Walk (suspension bridges). He really served as overpriced transportation. The walk was overpriced ($30 pp) as well. We merely hiked downhill on uneven, slippery, unstable terrain. We had no guide and we had to look down at our feet more often to secure our footing rather than enjoy the scenery. We were disappointed that we didn't see any wildlife on the walk.
Next stop was San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. The small town was better than we expected. It seems poor but they're trying to build up for future tourism. There are little bars on the shoreline to enjoy the view. We walked up and down the streets to take in the local culture. The people were not intrusive. We did not encounter many vendors but their goods were worth taking a look at.
On to Huatulco, Mexico. It is a clean and friendly port. It is more developed for tourism and will certainly grow more popular. There are shops at the dock but take a taxi ride into town to find the best buys in silver. Bring along a savvy negotiator from the ship to strike a deal (Thanks to my friend Carol and my partner Pete). This visit was too short since the ship left port at 3:00 PM.
Dining We used the Discoveries dining room whenever it was open. The food was generally very good. There were minor problems with tough meat and overcooked potatoes and fish. For example, we had to ask Cem, the Asst. Maitre d', to taste the fourth plate of hash browns to recognize that they needed to be fixed. Thanks to Cem and George (Asst. Maitre d's) for remedying the recipe. The food presentation was appealing except for the tin cups used for shrimp cocktails and ice cream. It was a little surprising to see the pastry server using tongs instead of the traditional fork and spoon. The coffee was better than most ships we've experienced but consistency varied from day to day. We also had to ask every day if the pitcher on the table contained half and half or milk. The answers we got varied and sometimes differed from the results we noticed once we poured it into our coffee.
The space in the dining room was a little cramped. The waiters had to awkwardly maneuver around chairs to serve. Our wait staff, Aldwin and Jorge, worked hard to accommodate our table's special requests (e.g. raspberries and coffee ice cream every day, multiple entrees, no sauces). They do need some fine-tuning on team coordination. Aldwin was very busy doing it all when Jorge was sent on other tasks out of site in the kitchen. Aldwin was clearing dishes, setting tables, and taking care of beverages, dressings, fresh pepper, etc. Traditionally, the assistant waiter does these tasks allowing the waiter to focus on orders and serving courses. We established a good relationship with Jan and Cem (Asst. Maitre d's) to ask them for services when needed. Lorenzo, the dining room manager, was charming and warm but he needs to incorporate the suggestions we made while chatting with him onboard. We worked around the open seating policy and the long lines by getting our favorite table, favorite waiter, and favorite time each night for dinner. The dining room appears to be understaffed for each waiter and assistant to serve 18 people at a time at various stages of their meal. Maybe they need to perfect the efficiencies of the service as well. Meals were long (2 ½ to 3 hours) based on service and passenger interaction. The duration could have been trimmed by 20 to 30 minutes if the service was more efficient (e.g. promptly serving courses, clearing dishes, serving condiments, refilling beverages). It was disappointing that the dress code was not enforced as with many of the ships we have been on. Examples of violations include baseball hats, men's shirts without collars, jeans, men's sandals and sneakers at dinner. Azamara does not include these items in their description of the "sophisticated casual" dress code. On the last day, the Discoveries breakfast service was the worst of the trip. It seemed that the attention to detail waned since we were on our way out and new passengers were about to arrive.
We did not use the Windows Cafe/Breezes for dinner but we used it for two breakfasts and a few lunches when the dining room was closed. We also enjoyed sushi as an appetizer before late dinners. The sushi preparer, Jo-El, created special items for us per our request. Improvements for Windows Cafe/Breezes are to offer to serve food and drinks more frequently, remedy the slippery floors (passengers and crew fell right in front of us), and fix the ventilation system on the starboard side (ceiling was sweating in the morning). When we saw Discoveries waiters we personally knew working in Windows Cafe/Breezes, we received better service (e.g. Jorge and Jujur). It was pleasing to see the cafe use full-size glasses (not small plastic tumblers) for drinks. The fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning was great. It was so good that we asked the Discoveries waiters to bring the fresh squeezed orange juice to the dining room as well.
We went to Prime C once. We had booked a reservation via Captains Club customer service before the sailing. They told us that a table for two was limited to before 6:30 PM or after 9:00 PM. So, we went with 9:00. When we were seated at Prime C we found out that we could have reserved any time slot. There were only two other couples in the mostly empty restaurant on Day 3 of the trip. We enjoyed the meal but could not justify paying $20 per person for an additional visit since Discoveries was quite satisfactory. We're disappointed that Azamara did not initially implement two complimentary meals in the specialty restaurants on a 14-day voyage. This issue was brought up at the Cruise Critics meeting onboard with management. Since we've returned home, we noticed that Jancruz1 posted an announcement on 12/21 that starting with the Quest 12/23 sailing, stateroom categories, other than suites, will receive two evenings of complimentary specialty dining reservations. Someone on the Quest staff mostly likely knew that this announcement was about to be made while we were on our 12/8 to 12/22 sailing. Quest management never communicated this decision to the Cruise Critic members as a follow-up to the inquiry made at our meeting.
Pool Grill The pool grill food was average. The burgers they used there were frozen even though fresh burgers were available for lunch in the dining room. One day, Jan (Asst. Maitre 'd) from Discoveries, accommodated our request to get fresh patties since the dining room was closed. They could have used the better cheeses, like provolone and cheddar, from the kitchen as well. The nachos were bland and the french fries were inconsistent and sometimes they were actually re-fried. You had to ask for special toppings or condiments like Tabasco and bacon, which required a wait. The grill cooks were generally not efficient since they only prepared one order at a time.
Ship The ship is a nice size for meeting many of the passengers and crew. The public areas were clean. We really enjoyed the pool area. It was nice and quiet. Unlike other ships, there were no group activities, no pushing the "drink of the day", and no loud music. The deck chairs were very comfortable and we grabbed the double-wide chairs whenever they were available to share as couple. The only suggestion we want to make is to have more pool attendants on deck to serve non-bar drinks (e.g. ice tea), pick up used glasses, and change wet towels. There were a few times that the attendants did come around offering a cool treat like sorbet or champagne with water ice. The hot tubs were refreshing and not too crowded. The temperature was perfect but the jets did not seem to run regularly and the manual controls did not seem to work.
We did get plenty of notices and announcements about the existence of the Norovirus onboard. The staff was diligent in following disinfecting procedures (e.g. not shaking hands, wiping down public areas, handing out Purell wipes). The buffet needed more consistency in serving passengers directly to prevent guests from handling the serving utensils. These procedures should be standard routine as a preventative measure.
Entertainment The ship's singing troupe was talented. The entertainment was generally hokey (the troupe's TV goof had some cute satire). We felt that the entertainment was geared for older (60+ age) passengers. We would have liked to have an R-rated adult comedian perform. The late show needed to start at 10:00 PM (instead of 9:30 or 9:45) to accommodate late dining. The Cabaret temperature was cold. The guest lecturer onboard was Dr. Peel. We chose not to attend his lecture because he appeared arrogant in a TV appearance with Becky the Cruise Director. He proved us right when we encountered him on the ship. He often approached individuals and groups on the ship (e.g. at the pool or buffet), without invitation, to solicit attendees and disrupt conversations to merely talk about himself.
Spa/Gym The gym equipment was generally available for use. The gym had a nice variety of exercise machines (elliptical, bike, treadmill). The equipment was modern. We liked the TV display built right into the treadmill's control panel. There were gym towels available during workouts. Having experienced the Thalassotherapy Pool for free on Celebrity Constellation in the past, we were disappointed that the Azamara spa charges for the Thalassotherapy Pool and that it is not heated on the Quest. General After a long, hot day ashore, we liked the ice cold towels the crew offered at the gangway. We had fun playing games with friends such as trivia, Scattegories, and the Battle of Sexes. We really appreciated the low-key approach to selling onboard items. Other ships, including Celebrity, push photos, "gold by the foot", cruiseline merchandise, watches, and booze, especially over public announcements and fliers in the cabin. We did use the lesser-known laundry room, across from 7076, thanks to Cruise Critic posts. Azamara should disclose the location of the laundry room on their deck plans to manage expectations for nearby cabins.
People The passengers and crew were friendly. The staff made eye contact frequently and often said hello. We enjoyed our chats with the senior staff members who circulated onboard but where was Becky the Cruise Director during the day? We never saw her out and about onboard other than the events she hosted. She mentioned that she wanted to meet us for a drink but never followed up. The intimate ship allowed us to meet and get to know many people over the 14 days. We liked conversing with the experienced travelers onboard. Lively retirees were prevalent. They helped us realize that we need to focus on saving for retirement ($$$$) so we can cruise as often as they do. We are 37 and 44 years old but the age difference amongst the senior passengers was not a factor for us. We came on vacation looking forward to relaxation and went home with new friendships as a bonus.
Debarkation Winner of worst experience in an airport is ...Acapulco! There was a total lack of communication that the check-in counters don't open until 12:30 PM or later even though hundreds of Quest passengers arrived between 10:00 AM and 11:30 AM (city tour folks arrived later than us). We stood in line for hours to then wait for a physical security check of each piece of luggage to be checked-in (no scanners at all). Then, another wonderful Mexican tradition, a $20 per person fee, for the pleasure of visiting Mexico, was imposed at the counter. We were told "No payment, no airline ticket". By the way, the cash we gave went right into the agent's shirt pocket. The ship passengers were notified the night before in the Quest newsletter that there would be a "$25 USD departure tax". How many people read the sidebars in the newsletter the night they're typically enjoying a last meal and packing? Why did we owe an additional fee when we paid our air, cruise, taxes, and fees directly to Azamara? Note: Passenger stories about the fee varied in amount ($0 - $25 pp), method of payment (cash only vs. credit card, receipts sometimes given), and collection by airline (Delta & Continental - yes, American - didn't seem to collect it). We've contacted Azamara Post-Sales Customer Service. They were unaware of the fee even though the ship newsletter mentions it. We're awaiting reply on the matter. Here are some final warnings about the crummy Acapulco airport - airport is totally outdated, bathrooms are scummy, they gladly accept USD but shortchange you in Pesos at stores/food counters, and be ready for the physical security check of each piece of carry-on luggage at the gate after going though scanned security at the terminal entrance! Remember...no scanners at check-in but scanners at the terminal...IT WAS AWFUL...we pledge to never go through this airport again!
"Sir" Pete & Sue