My husband Ken and I, ages 63 and 52, were on the March 1-15, 2008 Panama Canal cruise from Miami to Acapulco on Azamara Quest. This was our 3rd cruise, having cruised on the non-smoking Carnival Paradise and HAL Zuiderdam previously. The Panama Canal itinerary and the restricted smoking policy played a large part of deciding on this particular cruise. We are very self-sufficient, and had no idea what to even ask a butler to do. The few negative things I may point out are not WHINING, I will merely mention them order to inform. I mentioned several of these in both our mid-cruise questionnaire and our final guest survey.
ARRIVAL AND EMBARKATION: Now, we know Azamara is a new cruise line, but despite our pointing to the ship, docked in the harbor, our non-English speaking cab driver, missed our terminal, then cussed in both English and something else as he had to circle around. But, we finally saw the flashing sign directing Azamara to Terminal C, so our cabbie dropped us off within a quarter of mile of it. Out comes our 4 suitcases, even though we are pointing to Terminal C in the distance. But, we were able to schlep our luggage to the proper gold-toothed porter who asked if we had our passports on our persons (good question), and stated that he and his 2 co-workers would take GOOD care of our bags, which, of course, meant TIP ME! So, of course, we did. By the time we got to Terminal C, the waiting line was completely out the terminal door and down the stairs. This was due, in part, to 2 busloads of people just getting off their bus ahead of us, and an ambulance parked there, with the paramedics trying to find out who had summoned them.
We finally got through security, without even a glance at our 4 bottles of wine, then into the Suites line. A very cordial clerk checked us in, and then directed us to the line to make our specialty dinner reservation for that night. That took forever, it seemed. Several parties ahead of us had to look at both menus, and then discuss it in detail amongst themselves before making a commitment. Us - we took Aqualina at 7 pm. Boom, done. This entire ordeal had taken over an hour.
We were welcomed onto the ship, our picture taken for security, told to use the Purel Hand Sanitizer, and then immediately handed a glass of champagne before the sanitizer could dry. Can you say slippery??
We were invited to Windows Cafe for lunch, and were told there would be an all-ship announcement stating when our staterooms would be ready. We had a very nice lunch, beautiful salads and a carving station with beef and the most delicious jus. Yum!
We got the announcement that we could go to our beautiful Sky Suite 8045 at 1:00 pm, ditched our carry-on and started exploring our new home. Our luggage arrived by 3 pm, so we took some time to unpack. We were pleasantly surprised at the storage space available all through our stateroom. Our suitcases fit nicely under the bed. We took the spa tour, getting coupons for discounts on acupuncture, etc., and then it was time for muster drill. This took place at 4:15, and afterwards, we ditched our life jackets in the room, and it was up to the Pool Bar for an informal Cruise Critic Meet & Greet. All nine couples who posted on the roll call attended, and though it was loud from the band, we enjoyed putting faces with the names.
THE SHIP What a beautiful ship! Dark woods everywhere, and happy faces working hard on making us feel at home. A lot of thought has gone into making our experience a positive one. Though I personally wasn't fond of the artwork, I certainly realize it's in the eye of the beholder. There were some interesting pieces, and we enjoyed the eclectic mix. There were people cleaning all the time, from polishing the banisters to vacuuming the plush carpets. We saw this throughout the cruise, not just at embarkation. The size of the ship is perfect, intimate and easy to negotiate.
Note to new travelers: The ship MOVES! Not in a bad way, there was always a small vibration or sway, more of both when we were going faster, and more noticeable in the aft part of the ship. A couple of nights had even more movement due to higher seas, but we still never had to use any of the patches or pills we brought, so we thought that was great.
We enjoyed having the use of the laundry room on Deck 7, portside. It held 4 washers and 4 dryers ($2.00 each in quarters), and we made use of it several times. It got crowded on sea days, though.
OUR STATEROOM Sky Suite 8045, midship on the starboard side, was a pleasant surprise at its size and appointments. At 206 sf plus 60 sf veranda, it was actually larger than our hotel room in Miami! We had plenty of room to move around, and enjoyed the large flat screen TV, which had several ship's channels, as well as CNN and a few movie channels. We could check our position and ship speed at any time. Apparently, the air temp, water temp and wind speed sensors weren't working properly, as they rarely changed, and were blatantly wrong. Also on the interactive TV, we could view our account or order PPV movies, if we wanted. We had a few problems with the sound out of sync with the picture. Sometimes, turning the TV off and on again helped with that.
The bathroom was a really nice size, with a bath/shower combination (tall side to step over, though), plus plenty of counter, shelf and cabinet space. And the towels!!! What luxury - thick, absorbent and HUGE! We teased the staff that the towels were TOO BIG to steal! The wonderful Elemis products - shampoo, conditioner, lotion and shower gel came in 3.4 oz bottles, and one was enough for the entire cruise for us. Our butler Albert, worked very hard to keep our room clean and our refrigerator filled with Diet Coke for me. We didn't see him much except in the hallway, so if I needed something, I'd just leave him a note. We even asked for potato chips one afternoon, and got a plate of them! The teacart and a plate of 4 room-temperature canapEs came every afternoon, but I didn't care for the canapEs at all. They seemed to be pureed something (I thought leftovers from the buffet) on small toast rounds.
RESTAURANTS: Windows/Breeza: We ate almost all of our breakfasts and all of our lunches here. The buffet was an easy alternative to the more formal Discoveries Dining Room. Made-to-order omelets were available, as well as fresh waffles, pancakes and sometimes a thick, batter covered French toast. Cold and hot cereal, brined and smoked fish, cold cuts and cheese, bacon, sausage, crepes or blintzes, yogurt, Museli, an assortment of fresh fruit, all tempted us in the morning. Lunch brought a carving station, with lamb, beef or pork, along with an extensive salad bar with exotic dressings, a sandwich bar, plus pizza and garlic toast. Dinner was a delight with a pasta station and a stir-fry station, along with various steam table dishes.
The only issue I had with Windows was that the steam table items were not nearly hot enough. It seemed some were just lukewarm at best. Several of us noted that in our comment cards, and I hope something can be done, not only for the flavor, but for food safety as well.
Discoveries: We ate most of our dinners here, with two other Cruise Critic couples (you know who YOU are!). Since we were in the short dining room line when they opened at 6:00 pm, we were almost always able to get table 43, next to the aft windows, and our waiter Doyobi and his assistants took very good care of us, from bringing our wine to recommending dishes. The food, I thought, was very good to excellent, and the menu was nicely varied. From ossu bucco to a salmon filet, there was something for everyone. Dinners were two hours long, as expected.
We didn't have a very good experience for breakfast here, though. While the servers tripped over each other to serve us, our food was cold and either overcooked or undercooked badly (snotty poached eggs swimming in butter), and ham that looked and tasted more like Spam. We tried it again on another morning, and it was just marginally better. No problem, since Windows was so good, much faster, and more casual.
Aqualina: We felt the food here was excellent, and presented beautifully. The ossu bucco, even without the bone, had an excellent flavor, and the tuna and lamb chops were all wonderful. I had the brie appetizer and the beet salad several times. The grand marnier soufflE was to die for! Save lots of room, though, because you get both dessert AND a large plate of petit fours at the end. Personally, I thought that was overkill, as even we just couldn't eat it all. Dinners here took the expected 2 hours at least.
Prime C: We enjoyed Prime C, but not quite as much as Aqualina. The filet was good, as was the lobster, but, frankly, nothing spectacular, except the service, which was excellent.
Pool Grill: We ate a couple of lunches here, and were a little disappointed. The hamburgers, while they looked good, contained mostly filler, and the nacho chips were positively soggy. I suggested possibly a heat lamp to keep them dry in my comment card. Ken said the hot dogs were OK. The tacos were only OK also, with kidney beans mixed in the taco meat, and again, soggy shells.
Room Service: As we explored our stateroom when we first embarked in Miami, I noticed several television options for ordering room service: breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus 24-hour dining. The menus were varied, and it looked like a great option, rather than worrying about language barriers over the telephone. And, that was the LAST day I saw the television option for anything except 24-hour dining! We received the old-fashioned paper on the bed each night, with the breakfast menu available, and nothing about lunch or dinner.
I tried to order coffee at 7 am one morning over the television, and it didn't turn out very well. We waited over 30 minutes, and then called room service to inquire. Apparently, they just sent more coffee, which arrived 10 minutes later. PLUS, we got ANOTHER tray of coffee 30 minutes after that from our butler from the TV order! It was much easier for me to grab the tray from under our ice bucket, trot up one flight of stairs to Windows, and bring back coffee and juice for our balcony. No problem.
One thing about the coffee: Apparently, this is a new coffee recipe from Elizabeth Blau, and it was MUCH better in all the restaurants than any coffee we have ever tasted on a cruise ship! We were told this coffee would be going out to the rest of the Celebrity fleet soon.
ENRICHMENT: We had several enrichment lectures from Don Enright, our on-board naturalist. He did a splendid job of briefly explaining the history and building of the Panama Canal, plus he was very visible in the Looking Glass Lounge to answer questions the day we traversed. He presented a very nice lecture on dolphins, and one on Birds of the Caribbean. Sharks and stingrays rounded out his series. Using the large screens in the Cabaret Lounge and Powerpoint, I felt like I really learned something, and his speaking style was informative, casual, and humorous. The only suggestion I gave to him was to possibly develop a "birds of the cruise" and/or "fish of the cruise" reference hand-out with photos. He thought that was a good idea, and said he would look into it.
There were Microsoft Office and Windows classes in e-connections, the computer lab. Ken went to a couple of these, but found them to be a little dull, as the students were of such unequal starting knowledge. We brought our laptop, and the wireless network, while slow (about like dial-up), was very handy for checking e-mail. We purchased an $80 package, which brought down the price to 43¢ per minute. We used all but $3 of it throughout the cruise.
PORTS/ENTERTAINMENT: We didn't take any ships excursions, so I can't comment on them at all. We got off the ship at each port and had our own adventures, some of them quite fun. We seemed to be tired after dinner, so we didn't go to many shows, but we heard great comments about them. We did enjoy the very funny Patrick Murray, the ventriloquist, and his puppet, the Jamaican "Matilda".
BARS/LOUNGES: We felt the drink prices were very high, but we did get large pours and excellent service. Several times throughout the cruise, there were "tastings" advertised in the daily paper - for $10 per person (plus grat), we tasted margaritas one night, daiquiris one night and martinis one night (woo-hoo!). The tastings consisted of six flavors, each about a half-sized drink. They were great, and I'd recommend trying all of them! The wine prices were also high in the dining rooms. For instance, a $7 retail bottle of Beringer White Zin brought $32 (incl gratuity) in the dining rooms. A glass of the same was $7. However, if you purchase a bottle and don't drink it all, they'll store it for you for the next night, which was a nice touch.
DISEMBARKATION: There was NO line at at all for immigration in Acapulco - just hand your seapass card and passport to one desk, walk across the Cabaret Lounge to another desk, and get a stamped card. We finished packing, and waited in the Mosaic Lounge to have our Beige group called. Disembarkation was a breeze - literally! When we were called, we walked down the gangplank, into this warehouse-looking terminal, and located our luggage right away. We had to roll the luggage outside again, then into another terminal, as one person from each group pushed a button on a stoplight machine. If your color came up green, you didn't have to have your bags inspected. If red, you did. We all came up green, so out the door we went. There seemed to be plenty of large vans right outside the door available for transportation to the airport. We stayed a few days in Acapulco for some more adventures, and then it was back to home, to learn to cook and clean again!
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The dress code was listed in the paper each day as: "The following are the required guidelines for Discoveries Dining Room and Aqualina and Prime C Specialty Restaurants: Sophisticated Casual: Ladies: Dress, pant suit or sporty outfit. Gentlemen: Sports shirt and slacks (jacket and tie optional). No jeans, caps or tank tops are permitted in these areas. Shorts are not allowed during dinner. Windows Cafe/Breeza: No bare feet, Tank tops or caps are allowed during dinner". We saw a bit of everything in Windows, from cover-ups to shirts and ties.
The restricted smoking policy seemed to be adhered to very well. The only other place I slightly smelled smoke was from the starboard bow on Deck 8 - maybe crew cabins? The Smoking Policy was listed in the daily paper as: "Azamara Quest has two designated smoking areas. They are located in the aft section of the Looking Glass Lounge, port side, and on the starboard section of the Pool Deck. Smoking areas have signs indicating that smoking is permitted there. Cigar and pipe smoking are restricted to Pool Deck 9 Forward, Starboard Section. All other areas of the ship are non-smoking.".
Hand Sanitizers and wipes were virtually everywhere, and everyone was encouraged to use them. There were both machines and wipes posted at each door of each restaurant, wipes were in all public restrooms, in the internet cafe, and machines were posted at the bottom of the gangway at each port, along with ice water and fruit punch. We didn't hear of any outbreaks on our trip, and 99% of the people I saw were diligent about using the available sanitizer.
TO CLOSE - FINALLY: Overall, we felt like this was a great experience. The ship's cruise director, John Howell, did a wonderful job (you need a raise!), and his upbeat personality rubs off on anyone within earshot. Heike Cramer, the Hotel Director, always available with a smile to hear both the good and the bad, and was quick to act if something needed attention. All of the ship's officers were very visible and approachable. We would go on this ship again if another itinerary we like appears, and will recommend it without hesitation. Okay, I know I've rambled on and on, and I'll stop now, but I hope this review gives you some impartial information on what to expect on the Quest.