First cruise, we are very familiar with the industry and wanted to choose the exact ship and itinerary to provide a quieter, elegant, non intrusive experience with port calls that were off the usual path. Not a party ship or a floating nursing facility, rather a mix of active, curious people and good shore information. The Quest was the perfect choice; about eight couples from our state went along on the Panama Canal and South/Central America/Mexico trip. Four of us originally booked last June, as individuals through Celebrity Cruises, but as more people heard about the trip we became a "group." Flew independently to Miami and stayed in South Beach at the Fountainbleu.
Embarkation: Simple and quick, the ship was on a smaller dock - easy to find. Restaurant staff set up a table by registration to take dinner reservations for the first night which worked well. We were in our stateroom immediately upon boarding. Sky Suite was lovely, comfortable bed and nice linens, good closet arrangements, veranda was fine with easy-drying table and chairs that fit the climate. Beautiful Hermes scarves framed in the staterooms for color splash. Lots of wood, befitting a well appointed vessel. The butler, Avalon, introduced himself and went about his quiet, efficient ways for the remainder of the voyage. After reading previous reviews of the Quest before our trip I wasn't sure what to expect regarding service personnel. Our group agreed that the four different butlers that worked with our various suites did a wonderful job - hors d'oeuvre, ice and lemons during cocktail hour without asking after first evening, always there if needed, etc. One evening after a shore ex I saw Avalon standing in the hall and asked if he was able to get some rest during the day (they seem to be active from 0600 to late at night.) He smiled and said he was "waiting for his guests."
Eating: Aqualina and Prime C restaurants, nice fine dining, veal Osso Buco and tiny donut holes dipped fondue style in chocolate were outstanding. Diverse wine list never failed. For breakfast, usually had coffee, muffin and berries on our veranda early with room service, picked up a fruit smoothie at the health bar around nine and headed for the pool chairs. Lunch at Windows buffet and ate on the aft Sunset deck outside. Good bar too, nice barkeepers from New Zealand and Croatia. For dinner we ate at the above specialty restaurants or Discoveries. We never had to wait for a seat, no matter how many in our party (two to fourteen people). The soups on the Quest are outstanding every time. Stir Fry bar near buffet is best kept secret on the ship - made fresh in front of you, anything you want in your dish.
Entertainment: Azamara singers (five people) and orchestra (six + one sax specialist) did several shows, knocked themselves out and were excellent. Good productions, perfect for the cabaret size of the theater. (If want cirque du soleil will go to Las Vegas, Broadway shows are in New York.) The singer from "Across the Water" was good, piano player too. Note to ship: please lose the comedian with the inappropriate pink balloon and penis gags - juvenile. Jacquie Dolan on the harp was lovely and accomplished, quite a following in the Mosaic coffee/wine bar. Mosaic needs to work on service, hard to get a glass of wine. Enrichment lecture: A highlight of the trip. Professor was an expert on building the Panama Canal and gave three standing room only talks. So interesting that she did a fourth lecture on the history of pirates in the Caribbean by special request. Made the canal passage come alive.
Reading in the Sun: Small suggestion to Azamara. Consider getting control of the pool chair hog situation. With only one pool you have guests saving chairs in the early morning by putting books on rows of seats and leaving for most of the day. Many people were commenting, negatively, and as no one wants to be confrontational with another guest it needs to be handled by the ship staff. An initial clear message in the daily paper at the outset of the voyage that unattended items will be picked up and put somewhere for safekeeping would do it. There are plenty of chairs if they are not preclaimed.
Shore Excursions: Since the Quest went to some undeveloped ports it was a potpourri, but this was expected. Port Antonio, Jamaica - the Reach Falls excursion was bad. Hot, humid bus, truly terrible food after starving for five hours, unattractive destination. Less said, better. Santa Marta, Columbia- did own exploring on foot. Nice Spanish Colonial town, interesting vendor booths along waterfront. Cartagena, Columbia - took taxi to walled city and saw Naval Museum, Inquisition museum, Gold Museum (all well curated and air cond.), ate lunch at beautiful Santa Clara hotel and taxied to the main fort. One of the shore excursions traced our steps and did the same route, if a person doesn't want to take their chances in a taxi or walk a lot. We loved this city. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica - took Azamara Golden Coffee Bean Tour. Worth every penny; saw banana plantations, monkey troupe in tree alongside the road and hill country, neat coffee plantation tour with terrific guide (Maria). Small, air cond. bus, comfortable and the driving went by quickly. Good lunch at small boutique hotel in lush valley near smoking volcano. Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica - Zip Line tour was full, so went on canopy tour, walking suspension bridges above the jungle. OK tour, the walk was a bit much for some and it went very slowly downhill on a slick trail. Bring bug dope. Interesting area, saw nice scenery and crocodiles on the river's sand bars. San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua - Great tour! Mombacho Volcano Cloud Forest and Colonial Grenada. Husband wants to go back. Previous posting on CC warned of bad roads. Not any worse than dirt roads in U.S. Comfortable small air cond. bus made the ride just fine. Fascinating trip in National Park, good lunch in Granada and our guide (Byron) could not have been better. The company (AMT?) that does the three tours that we took in Costa Rica and Nicaragua was very safety minded, knowledgeable and professional. All three guides spoke competent English and had studied at Universities. Guiding pays well in these areas. Huatulco, Mexico- Sun, white buildings, clear water - paradise. Four of us (women) took the Mexican Cooking Tour and enjoyed it, ate great lunch too. Four husbands went deep sea fishing, charter, arranged by the Shore Excursion people on the ship. Had time to walk around adjoining town, shop and explore the mercado. Acapulco,Mexico - very organized disembarkment, just sit back and wait until they call your color. Customs was a breeze. We had a private tour arranged as we needed to also drive to Zihuatenejo three hours to catch our plane.
Synopsis: We're looking at the Quest's itinerary in the Mediterranean for 2009, we liked our trip that well. Azamara and the Hotel Director did a terrific job putting this group together and, if you are flexible in your expectations for the different ports and somewhat a self-starter, this is a good cruise line to choose.