Azamara Quest Review January 05-19, 2008
Introduction: Well, after being home for a week and having some time to think and get a little more caught up with life in the Real World, here goes my review of this cruise.
Basics: We were 7065, a 1A Verandah Stateroom. Most of our cruising has been on Celebrity Ships and we are Elite Level in the Captain's Club. This time, we elected to have Azamara do the complete travel arrangements since we wanted to arrive and depart from Ft. Lauderdale and wanted a non-stop flight from Charlotte. I think that it actually cost me less than $20US to have Azamara do it all including the transfers to and from the ship. All of the arrangements worked well and were essentially hassle free. I had printed our boarding passes for the Quest prior to leaving Charlotte and we were on-board in time to drop our luggage, have a leisurely lunch, and get acquainted with the ship prior to sailing. Our role call group did have a sail-away get together and it was great to meet everyone.
The Ship: We found the Quest to be a pleasure. Everything that we saw worked properly with the possible exception of one of the whirlpools on the pool deck. Crew were working on this early in the cruise and it seemed to be fine for most of the trip. I personally liked the decor and the smaller size of the ship, which made essentially everything easily accessible. We rarely used the elevators, preferring to walk the stairs where possible. It appears that many of our fellow passengers took this option as the few times that we did use the elevators they did not seem crowded and there was very little wait. I would describe our cabin as compact, but very well laid-out and nicely furnished. The bedding was very comfortable; we did ask for a foam-contour pillow and that appeared promptly. One annoying detail in the cabin was that there was a blue light on the flat screen Samsung TV that could not be turned off (I suspect that the Samsung remote would have provided that option but Azamara uses a remote that only works on the ship and does not have a "Settings" feature). We took the easiest option and covered the set with a beach towel at night. The tiny bath and shower worked fine (I particularly like the Grohe shower that was installed); sitting sideways on the toilet was different, but I got used to it..... Overall, a nice comfortable cabin.
Crew: The Quest's Captain, Emmanouil Alevropulos, has done an outstanding job of leading his management team. His officers and crew reflect his commitment to making the Azamara Experience most pleasant and memorable. The crew is clearly committed to trying to give the very best service that they possibly can and go out of their way to try and meet any request. The Quest feels like a happy, well-administered ship and everyone on the team reflected this attitude. Five stars in this area in my opinion.
Food Services: I certainly didn't lose any weight, despite my efforts on the steps. We ate in all of the available venues except Prime C (we ate in Aqualina twice). Breakfast and lunch were usually done in the Windows Cafe; the eggs, waffles and accompaniments were very well prepared and tasty for breakfast. Pizza, salads (particularly the seafood salads), and the fare at the Pool Grill were all excellent at lunch. We did not eat lunch in Discoveries, there is a limit to what one can hold. In fact, we ate in Breeza several nights in an attempt to be more in control; the stir-frys were wonderful as was the sushi and salads. There are some advantages to not eating four course meals every night for two weeks. It was also very pleasant to sit on the open deck and watch the stars roll-bye overhead. Overall: I thought the food and the service was excellent, well up to Celebrity's Standards, and possibly superior.
Smoking Policy: I have to comment on how much more pleasant the cruise was without the ever-present odor and cloud of tobacco smoke throughout the ship. Smoking was restricted to two areas: the Forward Starboard side of the Pool Deck and the After Port Side of the Looking Glass Lounge on the same deck. The rest of the ship was smoke-free, including all of the cabins and verandahs. What a difference! My wife and I were actually able to go into the Casino and indulge a little, something that we pretty much could not do on our other trips because of the smoke. Early in the cruise, someone was smoking a cigar on the pool deck which tended to wipe out the entire Starboard Side. Someone must have said something because it didn't happen again, cigarettes only after that to the best of my knowledge. Azamara is to be commended for making and apparently enforcing this change. A strong thumbs up from me here!
Things that Need Work/Improvement
Itinerary: I was initially very excited about this particular itinerary. Of the nine ports that the ship visited, only one was a port, which we had visited before, St; Johns, USVI. After having complete the cruise, I have to say that tweaking is needed. My specific port comments:
Mayaguez, PR: Lovely little town, very little to see or do.
Ponce, PR: Lovely city, has an excellent smaller art museum, did not see much else.
St. Johns, USVI: St. Johns is timeless and remains wonderful with great snorkeling.
Falmouth, Antigua: Interesting new port. Did a private tour with Rodney here and enjoyed it very much. The ship's excursion was 3X the price.
Cabrits, Dominica: Lovely setting, very little to do in Cabrits that we say. Again, thought that the Excursion was pricey.
Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe: This was to have been one of the high points of the cruise for me as I speak French and am an avowed Francophile. Unfortunately, this was a Sunday and Guadeloupe ( as well as Metropolitan France of which it is a part) tends to close down on Sunday. The only things that I saw that were open beside the dockside vendors was a pharmacy, and the Church. I consider this bad planning on the part of whoever planned the itinerary. Needs to be fixed.
Gustavia, St. Barts: Also part of the French West Indies. Pretty little port, lots of BIG, BIG, yachts. A tee shirt reading "St. Barts" was 35 Euros ($51.39) Enough said.
Cayo Levantado, DR: listed as one of the premier snorkeling and whale watching sites in the Caribbean. Beautiful area. Had booked a Cat Snorkel, not realizing that Tropical Storm Olga had dumped a lot of fresh water run off into Samana Bay and that there was essentially no visibility. No one could have helped the morning clouds and showers, but there should have been an option to cancel the pre-booked excursion because of the known poor visibility in the water. The port itself is actually a private island, similar to those used by other cruise lines, with a great beach and nice amenities. No whale watching was offered.
Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos: Excellent snorkeling with the clearest water I have seen in a while. Nice amenities and beach thanks to CCL who, I was told, built them.
Captain's Club amenities/Perks: Non-existent. Except for the infamous Coupon Booklet, there are really no Captain's Club perks at all. No priority tendering, No Departure Lounge, NADA.
I really think, at a minimum, Azamara/Celebrity needs to do something like free, unlimited Internet Access or create some other means to recognize Captain's Club membership. Otherwise, why bother? And if there are in fact, not going to be any incentives, then at least don't advertise things that do not exist. ( Example, the non-existent Departure Lounge.)
Bar, Wine Charges: I thought that these were obscene. While cruising, I do enjoy a drink in the evening or a glass of wine with dinner, or both. I do not enjoy paying $12-15 for a $5 glass of wine and having 18.5% added to that as a "gratuity". Maker's Mark is a bourbon that I have always considered to be one of the Great Values in the Whisky market; but, not at $9.50 a shot, PLUS the 18.5%.......Net result, we essentially didn't drink on the cruise because I found the pricing and mark-up of the product to be insulting.
Gratuities: This, for me, turns out to be a fairly major problem. Not because of the amounts but because these are fixed and unchangeable. I have no problem with the giving of gratuities for good service (and the service on the ship was outstanding) and I have no problem with adding the gratuities to my shipboard account. Where I have a problem is when I have no options at all where the gratuities are concerned. This, in my opinion, ceases to meet the definition of a gratuity and becomes a service charge. Azamara's gratuities are already higher than Celebrity's; to make them as fixed charges is something that I find offensive. I would prefer to have Azamara raise the fare by that amount up front and simply state that gratuities are included. This would be a better solution as opposed to what is being done at present.
Butler: Like the Gratuity question, this is a title that implies something that it really isn't. We had excellent service from our Butler, Vasio, just as we have had from our Cabin Stewards/Attendants on all of our previous cruises. There is nothing wrong with being a Cabin Attendant. Why not call something what it is? I think that it is a bit pretentious to use the term "Butler" in these circumstances and I think that it does imply something that it really isn't.
Conclusion: An excellent two week cruise on a wonderful ship. There are areas where Azamara needs to improve and I almost question the wisdom of splitting Azamara away from Celebrity. I think that the areas where Azamara needs the most work ( Captain's Club Benefits, Shore Excursions, Port Scheduling, pricing etc) are the very areas where Celebrity might well have been able to offer some expertise to avoid some of the above issues. I am encouraged to think that Azamara will get sufficient feedback about some of these questions to make improvements ( none of the are really hard to address) and that the Azamara Experience is only going to improve.
Will we sail with them again? Well, we already have the Journey booked for this Fall. If there are specific questions or comments about our cruise, I will be happy to try and address them..