Going Cruising .. At 12.30 we arrived at the ship in Piraeus. We checked our bags in curbside and boarded straight away. There was a convenient hand luggage check-in, to avoid the need to drag bags everywhere, and lunch was being served in the buffet. So far so good !!
Cabins were ready by 2pm and we headed off to 7116 .. complete with Sunset Veranda where our view for 24 days was the wake .. and it was lovely.
Our next door neighbors were Sandy & George, who we had 'met' through the Cruise Critic boards prior to sailing. In fact there were 30+ members of CC on the ship at the get-together - a great way to start a cruise, knowing so many people !
The Ship .. The Azamara Quest comes from the famous Renaissance Cruises Fleet R1 - R8, the Quest sailed as the R7 Delphin Renaissance and later the Blue Moon, when she sailed for Pulmanter [Spanish Cruise Company that RCCL purchased].
Note: See where they all went .. http://www.allanfox.id.au/Slant%20on%20life/Where%20R%20You.pdf
We had previously cruised on the Pacific Princess [R3] [who was berthed in Alexandria with us, small world] so we had a good understanding of the layout. Of course this never stopped Robyn turning left instead of right - but hey, she was never going to get lost, so no problem !
• The Quest was in very good condition and you could routinely see crew keeping her that way. I like that in a ship .. • Cabins were about the same size as normal [at least for us], storage could be better .. • Bathroom was a little small but functional .. • The Sunset Veranda was about 3 x bigger than the standard veranda but unfortunately was a magnet for 'soot' whenever we were in port [we had a bath mat at our sliding door to stop the dirt tracking into the cabin] however it was still quite magnificent to go out and watch the wake .. • Sun loungers around the pool were teak not plastic. I like that in a ship too .. The 'smoking policy' on board provides 2 areas where a smoker can light up. One corner of the pool deck and one corner of the Looking Glass lounge. Staterooms are supposed to be non-smoking however I think this has mixed compliance, given the smell of smoke that can be encountered around the accommodation decks. Personally I have no idea why a smoker would want to cruise on Azamara.
The Staff .. The Staff were excellent and I routinely heard about them swapping between the Journey and the Quest - which I think is a terrific methodology for maintaining similar standards on the ships.
The Butler position was a bit of a 'furphy', I tested him out on a few things and overall it was handled well however he was pretty much the same as any room steward. I suspect that the suites and penthouses get more value from these roles than the regular state rooms.
The Service .. The Service was very good in every area !
I did question the 18% gratuity on the wine bill, I had no issues with the charge on the other bar and drinks services. My rational was that the sommelier took the order and served and then disappeared, never to return again. The table steward served for the remainder of the meal and similarly if you had [say] a half bottle and wanted another of the same you never saw a sommelier at all and still paid the 18%.
I saw this as smoke and mirrors because you already had a daily gratuity that covered the dining room service and I subsequently discussed it with the Director of Guest Services. No point going home without saying something.
Note: There was a mid cruise survey that I responded to and I was suitably impressed to see some immediate changes, in line with comments that I had made. Who knows this may also be addressed.
We spent $400 in the shops [on mostly perfumes] and received a $150 credit, what a deal !
The Food .. The Food in the restaurants was excellent and I never had a meal I thought was average !
The specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, were wonderful and we particularly enjoyed Prime C. The Director of Guest Services mentioned that Azamara like to see 80-120 persons per night dine in the specialty restaurants to ensure that the main restaurant can flow smoothly. Accordingly, Azamara do not charge an extra fee to dine in the specialty restaurants, but they do ask for an additional $5 tip, which from our perspective worked really well.
I think we dined in Prime C on 4 or 5 occasions and twice in Aqualina.
One of the features of Prime C is a marble high table that seats 12 persons. I thought that this was a great table and that to host a dinner there would be a lot of fun. So, on 8 December I booked the table and invited some folks to come and dine & wine with us. Needless to say it was a wonderful evening.
The buffet on this design of ship is a bow tie design [narrow in the middle] which causes some congestion and the hot food was invariably not quite as hot as you'd like [but is any buffet ?] however the pizza's were very good and the pool grill served excellent burgers and pea soup ! Ergo the upside significantly outweighed the downside.
The Entertainment .. The Entertainment is the only real area that we had any kind of issue with, and in saying this I know that others will not necessarily agree;
• They had all the normal stuff - heaps of trivia - line dancing - cooking demonstrations - bridge - gambling, etc • They had an orchestra that played predominantly in the Cabaret Lounge, when something was on, and in odd places and configurations from time to time .. • They had an excellent troupe [5 persons] - that performed on average once a week, I saw them on the deck and in the bar more than on the stage, which I couldn't comprehend .. • They had a Pianist and a Harpist that played mostly on Deck 5 [outside the shop] and who had their own followings .. • They had a 3 piece band that played around the place but mostly in the Looking Glass on Deck 10 and they were strong on jazz - which unfortunately we don't enjoy .. In my view they should have been more of a cover band playing to the mass market whereas I think they saw themselves as more of a feature act .. • They had about 6 Artists on board at various times - some were really good - some were not to our taste .. BUT they didn't meet the basic requirements as we see them, i.e.;
1. A bit of music to dance to before dinner .. 2. An evening show of some kind .. 3. And some music to take you into the night. Unfortunately, there were 'gaps' where you'd go for a drink and there would be nothing happening except canned music, or you'd seek out a show only to find that there wasn't one scheduled.
To conclude, unfortunately we don't feel that Azamara have this aspect worked out as well as they need to and cannot decide if they want to adopt small ship standards or big ship style entertainment.
Note: Here's a tip, take a look at WindStar, they do small ship really well and Celebrity certainly know how to do big ship well.
The Passengers .. The passengers on board were overwhelmingly a well travelled bunch, with lots of cruises under their belts. I sensed that most had picked the itinerary for the journey [as we had really] and loved the sea days.
They were from all over the world - we had announcements in English and German every day and when it was a special announcement we also had French and Spanish versions.
The Cruise Critic Boards gave us a head start on meeting people and we shared quality time with a number of them throughout the cruise.
It felt as if most passengers were teetotallers because the bars were invariably as quiet as the proverbial grave and we routinely found ourselves with a barman, a waiter and a DJ, and no one else. Whilst at dinner we were often the only ones drinking wine - except the night we ordered the same as a second couple and it took a while to decide which bottle belonged to whom ? Feast or famine ?
On the positive side there was never a problem getting served.
The Ports .. The Ports were largely interesting however not necessarily the places we would re-visit, then again we cruise primarily for the ships and the sea, and ports are secondary for us ..
• We managed to visit Athens before the riots .. we saw our hotel under siege on the CNN coverage .. • The Pyramids and Sphinx were incredible whilst the litter and rubbish was a disgrace. 80 million people live there, you'd think someone could tidy up. If you do visit Egypt, get used to having armed guards wherever you go .. • The Suez Canal was fascinating, so different from the Panama Canal process. Ships head North and South in convoy and pass each other in a lake in the middle .. • The Quest avoided the Somalian pirates in the Gulf of Aden by accelerating out of any problems. The Nautica was attacked and she was in convoy behind us. Interestingly, the hose pipe is the weapon of defense .. • Mumbai was in the news when terrorists took over the Taj Hotel, so in the interests of safety Azamara rescheduled the itinerary and went to Muscat and Goa. That was a pity because we had a great tour organized, a trip to the spice market followed by a cooking class.
In Conclusion .. We thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, Azamara do most things really well and what we weren't 100% happy with did not spoil anything for us.
I read a definition of 'luxury' that went along the lines of, Luxury is being treated the way you want to be treated and I think that this cruise meets this definition.