It may sound like a clichE but we really did not want to leave the Azamara Quest after 24 days onboard. We have never had such a wonderful, relaxing holiday and home seemed a world away.
Let me start with some information to put the cruise and this review into perspective. I am 54 and my husband 64. This was our fourth cruise and we have previously sailed on Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Constellation and Norwegian Sun. I understand that there were 650 passengers onboard with 130 British. We met a number of lone travellers but did not come across any groups of three or four in a stateroom. Obviously with a cruise of this length, the average age was probably fairly high but there were many people younger than me aboard. The range of nationalities was higher than we have met before on a cruise. There were a large number of North Americans, Australians and New Zealanders. Most western European nationalities seemed to be represented with a large number of Germans. There was a German film channel on the television and destination talks were given in French. There were also Japanese and South American passengers. A surprisingly large number of passengers were made up of couples of different nationalities or people otherwise living as expats.
We had prepared ourselves for the cruise by staying at Singapore Raffles for three nights, never moving out of the hotel. This was a treat we had promised ourselves since our first visit to Singapore 17 years before when Raffles was being renovated and, if you can afford it, we would highly recommend the experience. We took the hotel classic Daimler to the cruise terminal where embarkation was really smooth with absolutely no queues. After choosing to eat in Prime C that evening, we went straight to our suite.
Having studied as many photographs of the suites and ship on the Internet, there were few surprises. One pleasant surprise was noticing immediately that a number of minor problems noted on the Cruise Critic boards had been rectified: there was a new, analogue alarm clock; the slippers now had non-slip soles; and there were proper doormats in front of the balcony door to stop the soot being walked in onto the carpet. This was the first indication of how seriously the officers onboard received, and acted upon, any feedback.
Our luggage was delivered within a few hours, during the lifeboat drill after which we met up with everyone from our Roll Call. Despite having four large cases of luggage, there was no shortage of storage space in our suite and, unusually, we did not have to request more hangers. Whilst unpacking, we requested Eyup, our head butler to come to see us and we explained our preferences - especially that I need to eat a large amount of fruit and drink a great deal of water each day. From this point onward, Eyup worked hard to exceed all of our expectations [and we were astounded to learn, on our last day, that he was only a temporary, acting head butler].
We really enjoyed dinner in Prime C on our first evening. The food and service were excellent and we decided, there and then, to book two evenings a week at Prime C. After our meal, we popped next door and did the same at Aqualina.
No cruise ship can be perfect for everyone and one of the things we did not enjoy on Quest was the Discoveries main restaurant. We ate there on our second evening and really did not enjoy the experience. We requested a table for two and found the tables small and crowded. We may have had a better experience on a larger table. I, personally, found the menu not to my taste [and on the other the occasions that I checked, found the menu weird and I am an adventurous eater]. The service was rushed and imperfect. I request no Brussels sprouts with my main course but they were on the plate. When I request that they were removed, it took 15 minutes to return my meal to me. My husband ordered a coffee with his desert but it had still not arrived 10 minutes after we had finished eating and left. We truly believe that you should not judge a restaurant on one experience but decided that it was our holiday and we would rather not risk a similar experience on another evening. I know that many people enjoyed eating in Discoveries most evenings. We went immediately up to the 10th floor and booked a further evening a week each at Prime C and Aqualina. We left Wednesdays clear because we had long tours on two of those days.
We never regretted this decision and had some wonderful meals in both Prime C and Aqualina. Over 24 nights, the menus could have been limited but both restaurants are more than happy to serve anything for which they have the ingredients onboard. During the cruise we had a wonderful "British meal" [really good smoked salmon, roast beef and the lightest ever bread and butter pudding]; a great curry meal [chicken and beef curries with all the trimmings] and a fantastic beef and mushroom pie [there was no kidney onboard]. My husband and I unfortunately had to spend two days in quarantine because he was unwell and the two assistant maitres d' of Prime C and Aqualina, Marias and Cristof, really looked after us, telephoning me 6 times to ensure that there was nothing I needed and providing room service meals [despite not being geared up to provide room service].
We had breakfast each morning in our suite. The poached eggs were excellent and I really enjoyed them combined with the corned beef hash until I realised that I was eating far too much! Other than the breakfast menu, I thought that the ship's room service menu was extremely limited and uninspiring if you did not want the menu from Discoveries so for lunch we usually had filled-to-order mini baguettes from the buffet until we discovered the really tasty cheese and ham rolls in the Mosaic Cafe. The roast beef from the buffet was excellent. After three meals a day, we really did not need the afternoon tea and evening snacks delivered each day to our suite but did give into temptation on a number of occasions. The snacks were really tasty and a huge improvement to the canapEs served on Celebrity ships.
So, other than eating, what did we do onboard? To be honest, very little! Believe me, I am the sort of person who is normally incapable of doing nothing but the great thing about this cruise was that I could fill my day doing nothing. It was just so relaxing. We have never been to a show onboard or taken part in bingo or quizzes so cannot comment on these. There were a reasonable number of free video programmes as well as a large selection of pay-per-view films on the TV. Otherwise, we were obviously at the mercy of satellite zones for television channels and there were complaints when CNN was not available but we found it sufficient despite the length of the cruise. I went to the gym most sea-days and found that there was a treadmill free whenever I arrived although I found it difficult to predict when the gym would be busy. I also attended a few of the destinations lectures. I found them quite lightweight but they passed a little time pleasantly. I understand that the two other lecturers were better but I did not attend any of their lectures. My husband really enjoyed the cooking demonstrations and I found the jewelry talks more informative than on Celebrity ships. However, most of the time was spent simply relaxing. We usually had a chocolate or coffee each morning in the Mosaic Cafe whilst listening to the quizzes with friend we met onboard. Before this, we may have been to the TPool and lounged for a while in the shade. After lunch, we would lay and read in the shade on our balcony. I burn easily but we could usually find shade in one of the other location and, therefore, never used the Pool Deck.
Our balcony had two loungers, two tables and four chairs with plenty of space to move around. Leaning on the rail and watching the wake was truly therapeutic. For a 24 night cruise with 15 seadays [including the Suez canal passage] we never once regretted splashing out on the Penthouse Suite. A proper dining table is important to us as we enjoy eating breakfast in our room. On such a long cruise, a separate bedroom [although a solid door would have been better], the extra space, the guest bathroom, the dressing area and the storage space were all worthwhile.
The shopping onboard was disappointing. There was very little other than high-end merchandise [a US$130 tote bag, for example]. I appreciate that stock is often a problem on repositioning cruises and this was compounded by the expected delivery in Singapore being cancelled. I do not expect stock relating to ports only visited twice a year but there was limited Azamara branded stock. There were no Christmas tree decorations or postcards of the ship for sale and my husband was disappointed that he could not buy an Azamara thermal mug. It is the first time he has ever complained that there was nothing to buy. Others were disappointed that there was no gifts for children. There was very limited stock of the ever popular Bijoux Terner items. I feel that Azamara are missing a huge opportunity to part people from their money!
Probably the best part of the overall experience was the officers and crew. It is they who can make or break a cruise, and the people on the Quest were excellent. You would never have known what a bad winter the ship had experienced: illness, bad weather, abnormal currents and obstructive authorities [all as reported extensively on cruise Critic]. We had anticipated a crew with poor morale but found everyone to be friendly, cheerful and happy. They smiled with their eyes and not only their mouths. Oliver and Melvin, our butler and room attendant, were wonderful as were everyone else we came into contact with. Officers and crew seemed intent on making our cruise the best. We have never spoken to so many officers nor spoken to any officer as often as on Quest. They all seemed genuinely interested in our opinions and we had numerous interesting discussions about plans for the future of both Azamara and Celebrity.
As well as the problems over the winter, in the lead up to this cruise there had been pirates in the Gulf of Aden, terrorism in Mumbai and riots in Athens. For much of the time we had wondered if the itinerary would remain intact. In the event, the cruise went without incident. In Cochin and Mumbai, there was high security with armed guards on the ship but it is a sign of the times that this was reassuring rather than threatening. We also had an armed security guard on our tour in Egypt. We were kept well informed about the precautions taken in "Pirate Alley" and clear instructions were given in case of attack.
This was not a port intensive cruise but many of those we did call at were highlights. We only took on ship's excursion, to the pyramids in Egypt. This was well planned and organized enabling us to cover a great deal of ground in just one day. Our guide briefed us well on how to avoid problems with the touts at the tourist sights. My husband was disappointed that our felucca did not actually cruise along the Nile over lunch but we still found it a pleasant interlude. There was the obligatory shopping stop at a high-end complex but there was little pressure to buy and, except for the silver and jewelry, the prices were reasonable. In India, we took private tours with Mumbai Magic and Kerala Voyages - both can be highly recommended. We found Malaysia disappointing and did not think that an overnight stay in Dubai was necessary. An extra day in Alexandria would have been more welcome.
Disembarkation was smoother than our arrival onboard. We were off the ship in minutes and our prearranged taxi was waiting [despite us being early]. As it was a public holiday in Athens, we were at our hotel by 08:30. The Electra Palace is also to be recommended especially if you can stretch to a suite with superb views of the Acropolis. Two nights here softened the blow of having to leave Quest.
At the end of the cruise we would have eagerly turned the ship around and made the return journey - and so would the others we spoke to in the last few days. We both had a tear in our eye as we shook hands with, and said goodbye to, Leif Karlsson, the captain, and Niyazi Korkmaz, the hotel director, as we left the ship. Our future cruises have a lot to live up to.