December 16 - January 3rd SE Asia Cruise on Azamara Quest Singapore to Hong Kong
We had booked this cruise while on the Journey to Bermuda in 2007 so had a long, long time to anticipate this trip.
We flew to Singapore and got in around midnight the first day of the cruise. The ship was staying overnight in Singapore so we really only missed the mass check-in and getting acquainted with the ship but since we had already been on Journey, we knew the ship well already.
Check-in in the middle of the night was somewhat confusing. There was some hassle in the security area of the port but we were finally escorted to the ship by a crew member who was coming back on board from being out on the town. We had no problem getting on the ship (they didn't even screen our luggage) and we were shown to the reception desk. A not very friendly night-shift desk clerk checked us in and we were shown to our cabin, 7090, and unpacked.
Since we had been traveling for 24 hours (from Washington, DC), we were tired and soon went to bed. After only about 3 hours of sleep, I was awake and ready to start my day. We had a nice tour of Singapore and soon it was ready for the actual sail away. Not really much of a to-do on sail away, the band was very low-key.
The ship is in great shape and looked much better to us than the Journey the year before. Either the Quest is in better shape or Azamara has had time to get things in good shape since then. I though that the Looking Glass lounge in particular looked a lot better than what I remembered on Journey, also the Cabaret Lounge.
The ship is a good size for such a long cruise and it was never any problem getting around. Being a smoker, it was a short walk to the smoking area where I immediately met many new friends. Since the make-up of this cruise was definitely mostly not Americans, there were plenty of smokers to keep me company although I never heard any complaints about the smoking policy.
I would say that the majority of the passengers were from the UK, probably at least 30%. There were about 20% Americans, maybe 10% Australians and the rest Europeans. There were almost no Asians aboard which surprised us because of the itinerary. I mean no disrespect to other Americans, but it was refreshing to us not to be in the majority, as the passengers were generally well behaved and dressed appropriately. That said, the make-up of the passengers did seem to cause some grumbling about tipping policies since almost all countries other than the US have tips included for most services.
The itinerary was fantastic and I felt that even though it was the first time in all the ports we went to, everything was handled well and went smoothly (I won't get into the ports since that is very subjective, but we enjoyed them all). We only went on 4 ship-sponsored tours and they were typically not very good. We have finally learned our lesson and will take care of our own tours in the future.
One huge complaint from us, and almost everyone on board ,was that the ship was docked in container ports for the most part and you either weren't allowed to walk out on your own or there was absolutely nothing near the ship that you would want to walk to. We certainly understood that most of these ports are not used to a lot of cruises but we, and everyone we talked to, seemed to feel that a complementary shuttle would have been nice and, indeed appropriate, for these out of the way ports. As it was, you needed to purchase shuttle tickets almost everywhere at $8.00 per guest per day. We ended up not using several of these pre-purchased tickets (you don't need to pre-purchase) and they were non-refundable. This was a small annoyance however and at least the shuttles were there, even if they weren't complementary.
One complaint worth mentioning about this though is when we were docked in Ha Long Bay, we had arranged our own overnight trip into Hanoi (at least 3 hours away) and had a car and driver from our hotel pick us up at the port. The car was not allowed into the port area (although plenty of non-ship sponsored tours were) and while that in itself was no big deal, we didn't like having to walk about ½ mile to the port entrance to our waiting car. There was no shuttle even to the port entrance and many, many people had made their own arrangements. We also had to walk the ½ mile trek back to the ship upon our return from Hanoi. While this wasn't a big deal for us as we are relatively mobile, it would have been a huge problem for anyone with mobility issues.
The restaurants and the food were incredible! The Discoveries dining room (the main dining room) was always excellent and had terrific service. We never had a problem getting a table right away and we dined between 7 and 8:30 pm. We had a table for 2 every night except for one when we dined with some friends and we were usually in and out within an hour (which we appreciated). Of course, when dining with our friends, it took over 2 hours but that is to be expected. We did hear many complaints from others who sat at large tables that it took too long though.
We only ate once in Aqualina and found it to be not as good as we remembered from our Journey cruise. We did have one excellent dinner in Prime C though but the general consensus was that the optional dining was really no better than Discoveries (really just a complement to Discoveries since the food was excellent everywhere). We ate several dinners at Breeza just to get away from the formality and enjoyed dining outside on these occasions. The breakfast and lunch buffets were uniformly good and all we can say on reflection is that 18 nights is too long to eat so well. We managed not to gain any weight but we felt we were eating at least twice as much as we do at home. What else are vacations for anyway!
The entertainment was a constant source of complaint from many passengers not familiar with the Celebrity style of entertainment. We found it to be OK and better than we had on Journey. The singers and dancers were all very good but lacked innovative material. They had a special Italian singer on board for part of the cruise and he was pretty good. They also had a pretty famous Pianist (his name escapes me at the moment) who was the highlight of the entertainment for us. The obligatory harpist was also present. We really didn't like the cruise director (Tony) at all though; he seemed unbelievably fake and full of himself.
The service in the dining rooms was excellent, we never felt like they were treating us the least bit differently because of the open seating. Our cabin attendant and butler were fine, although I didn't meet the butler until something like the 5th day and even then, he didn't really introduce himself. The ships officers were always around and very friendly, most of them came to the Cruise Critic party on the second night of the cruise. This was a very nice affair with champagne and canapEs. I have to say that the general staff that you would run into around the ship were not as friendly as I have experienced on other Celebrity cruises though.
I was disappointed in the Christmas decorations. The main staircase was a bit over-the-top, while the rest of the ship was somewhat pitiful. There wasn't much made of Christmas itself other than a tired Christmas show and a free Azamara tote handed out to every cabin by the butlers. New Year's eve was much more fun and since the ship was in the middle of a pretty bad Winter Monsoon, the ship was really rocking and rolling which only helped make it more fun. It was a riot watching people try to dance with this rough weather and you couldn't tell who was drunk or not since everyone was weaving when they walked.
Unfortunately, almost the entire second half of the cruise was either cloudy, rainy or rough (or a combination of all three!). While this was certainly not Azamara's fault, I wished that I had not put off lying in the sun more when I had the chance. Many people were sea-sick and we were very grateful that this is not something that affects us. There were also a few isolated incidences of Noro-virus on board but that seems to be the case on almost every cruise. It certainly was not out of hand.
We did use the ship's self-serve laundry for one load during the cruise (it was right down the hall from our cabin) but some people seemed to spend a lot of time in there as it was always busy and the source of some unpleasantness between some passengers. We used the ship's laundry service most of the time and although expensive, it was worth it not to have to fight for a washer and dryer.
Our balcony cabin was fine for the 18 nights and although the storage was a tad tight, we managed. We of course knew what the cabins were like from our previous Journey cruise but still feel that the cabins on the other Celebrity ships are much nicer, particularly the bathrooms.
I have to say that I prefer a larger ship and although we never felt cramped or particularly bored on this cruise, it would have been nice to have more options available on the ship. The size of the ship was a big plus in the ports we were able to access though. Sailing all the way up the river to Bangkok, and Saigon was great and we only had to tender at two ports.
The disembarkation was handled beautifully and I don't think I have ever had a smoother one.
This cruise was all that we had hoped for with very few exceptions. Azamara has a fine product and we would happily sail with them anytime. I do think that the food is the only major difference between Azamara and Celebrity though with Azamara being a notch above. The ships themselves are not nearly as nice as any other Celebrity ship and although the size is nice, it certainly doesn't feel more up-scale to me.
Although we were worried that 18 nights might be too long to be on a cruise, we were sad to leave once docked in Hong Kong. We met many wonderful new friends from around the world and will cherish the memory of this cruise the rest of our lives.