The Azamara Quest Cruise was, in total, an enjoyable experience. We booked it specifically because we wanted sea time rather than port-a-day activity. We enjoyed the leisure and the generally good service on board. In more detail, we found mostly positives and a few less pleasing experiences.
The American Airlines problems with its planes worked very much to our advantage. Getting to Miami to board ship, we were able to cancel our reservations on a 6:10 AM flight out of Tampa, 55 miles from our home, and book on a 7:45 AM flight out of Sarasota/Bradenton airport, 6 miles from our home. The downside of that was that we had a $150 cab ride home at the end of the trip as the return flight had to come into the same airport it left. The trip should have been booked to and from the latter airport. Next time, we will know.
My wife cannot walk far without using oxygen so we were ticketed as "special needs" throughout. All we had to do was get to the airline ticket counter at Tampa going out and Rome returning and the airlines furnished a wheelchair with attendant to get us from counter to plane. We were whisked through security and customs in no time in addition to not having to find our way through Rome and Washington, DC airports. This was quite a perk.
Azamara did a good job on the transfers. Their representative with sign met us at baggage claim in Miami and loaded us on their shuttle. Arriving at the ship, we went on board almost immediately with no long lines or waiting. The ubiquitous photographer was there taking pictures of boarding passengers, but - unlike many cruises - you could just walk around them. We did. We were on board exactly at noon. Our luggage was delivered to our room before 5 PM. Better than some cruises we have taken.
We had one of the ever-popular cabins with a balcony. It was very well laid out with a small sitting area between the bed and the sliding door to the balcony so we could sit inside and look out when we wished. Storage was great. We tend to pack half the house when we travel. Three huge bags and two carry ons. There was plenty of closet and sliding drawer space for everything. The balcony is small. Just big enough for two straight chairs and a small table. Good enough, but room for a lounging chair would have been nice. The bathroom really needed another foot of length to make the shower more comfortable. A very obese person (we saw several on the ship) would have to shower with one foot outside the sill. This would work out OK as there is a drain in the bathroom floor as well as in the shower, but still, the shower is too cramped. Another foot of width would have made a huge difference in our ability to move around the cabin. Only one person at a time could pass between the bed and the wall. We have run into this before, but many cruise lines do a bit better. The amenities were nice, including fresh fruit delivered daily, a set of binoculars in the room, slippers, and terry bathrobes.
Azamara advertises their service as a butler servicing every room. I'm still a bit fuzzy as to the difference between what they are talking about and getting service from a cabin attendant and room service. The bottom line was that we had a really nice little (about 4' 8") lady from the Philippines who did an absolutely spectacular job of taking care of everything we wanted. At one point, when we had a problem with another department of the ship, she got the department manager on a line to us in a couple of minutes to resolve it. We probably over-tipped her, but I would guess most of her guests would as well.
Azamara brags about the flat screen TVs in the rooms. It would be just great if they would put something on them. We are political junkies and were going through withdrawal agonies not being able to get CNN or anything but dull movies and ship generated stuff most of the time. They said they were working on it, but sure didn't get it fixed while we were on board.
Food service was somewhat spotty, but fairly good overall. The buffet restaurant distinguished itself by having the best scrambled eggs I have had in such a place ashore or at sea in many years. They looked as if they had been made from fresh eggs and were cooked a bit moist and perfect. The obligatory cheese platters were better than average as well. Lots of brie and other good cheeses. I liked the sushi. They were always carving a roast of some kind. The wait staff was topnotch. They would were attentive and friendly (a hallmark of most of the ship staff), and were anxious to get you coffee, water, or anything else you wanted.
In contrast, the main dining room wait staff was spotty. At some tables, the service was excellent, at others fair to poor. An example of poor was an instance where a server balked a bit at replacing a dish rejected by a diner. As a note, the ship has open seating. We loved it. We asked for large tables every time. The advantage is that everyone who asks for a large table wants to talk. We met some great people from Canada, Germany, England, and a couple of more countries as Americans seemed to be no more than about half the passenger complement. We had some great conversations and learned a lot.
The ship has two specialty restaurants, one more or less standard upscale fare and the other a steakhouse. We didn't try the steakhouse, but dined at the other twice. The quality of the food, its presentation, and the service, were all absolutely outstanding as was the view from huge windows on the tenth deck. We had one minor glitch on our second visit. I ordered diver's scallops for an appetizer as my wife's had been glorious big scallops beautifully served on our first visit. I got tiny bay scallops without being told that the change had been made. When informed of this, the maitre de apologized with amazing frankness, telling us he was having a problem with a temperamental chef. He couldn't offer a refund as the meal was part of our Captain's Club perks. I wasn't about to ask for another appetizer as they were properly cooked, delicious, and I had already eaten them.
We each had a hot dog at the pool grill. Forget it. They reminded me of British "bangers" which I don't like either.
The casino staff was just great. Both of us love to play blackjack. Most of the time we were the only ones playing. This shipful of rather elderly people were not gamblers. We got to be friends with the dealers, even getting a big hug from one of them as we left.
I can't comment about the shows as my wife and I don't attend them (see previous paragraph), but can report that those who did said they enjoyed them very much for the most part.
My wife and I both exercise. The ship has a good fitness center with plenty of good treadmills, bicycles, and a few weight machines. We were up there on our regular every other day schedule. The spa, exercise classes, and other stuff were there too, but we didn't use any of the latter services.
Shopping on board could be classified as a disaster. Two shops offering overpriced watches, jewelry, cruise type clothing, a small selection of booze and one little wall space of four 2-foot shelves with things like tiny packages of 4 aspirin for $1.10. I couldn't buy mouthwash or a pair of black socks. They had neither. This is a relatively small (700 passenger) ship, but I don't see that as an excuse for not having the usual "general store" type shop offering routine items.
Our only real problem on the ship was with guest relations. After five visits over two days trying to confirm our special needs status for the return flights and get boarding passes, during which five different clerks gave us five different responses - all wrong - our little butler - as mentioned before - got the manager to us. He did get us taken care of. I told him his crew needed some serious training. I had received more friendly and competent service at the registry of motor vehicles.
The passenger group was elderly, I saw one young couple. I felt as if I should take a picture of them as a rare sighting. I would guess that two weeks in April is a bit much for young working people and families with children.
As a lot of walking is a problem for us, we took only one shore excursion. This was a boat ride in Corsica. We just loved it. Took half of our pictures there.
Azamara advertises itself as a cut above normal cruise experiences as practiced by the parent Celebrity. They are still a new group. Although this was a good experience overall, they need to work on a few weaknesses if they are to live up to their claims.