Azamara Quest May 2009
Having cruised before several times with Celebrity and being a "club member" It was the natural choice for my 60th birthday. Costa was fine, great food etc. but loud in every sense - RCI we found to be a fun ships but perhaps not the Quality of our previous experience with Celebrity - so why not push the boat out (pun) and go for their 5 star plus brand Azamara .
The Cruise I found was an easy choice as it included Istanbul and the Blue Palace, plus Bethlehem - Jerusalem - etc and on my Birthday we would be in Alexandria a chance to see El Alamein and the war museum. So back in July 2008 I booked our Cruise which included my Niece and Nephew whom we had previously cruised with. We decided to book the excursions as listed pertaining to the cruise which was must for us back in January this year. As we had previously had disappointment by missing out in Norway on a cruise in a fjord going from Stavanger to pass under Pulpit Rock as it was fully booked so we landed up taking a helicopter ride costing us £140 as we found little else of interest, a lesson learned we thought.
We were glad we did and wished we had taken out others as they were taken off the net and brought back later on with an increase of approx 40 percent.
The trip started with a problem as we flew out from the notorious terminal five at Heathrow so we landed at Athens but one of my nephews cases landed in J.F.K
Of course this made for confusion as our receiving rep tried to usher us towards the coaches regardless of this fact we stood our ground whilst the customer relations team took about 30 minutes to take down details and to issue them with an emergency travel pack .Eventually sitting on the coach we learned that we had to wait for another flight to turn up - so why the panic.
Just a note for anyone who doesn't usually do it always check your stubs that they stick to your boarding cards make sure they have the correct details on them, Colin had 2 different codes on his and almost left the boarding cards on the plane which would have meant no reference to where the case landed up.
The coach journey was pleasant enough and embarkation was easy and soon we had a glass of bubbly in our hands and wandered around enjoying the ambience of the ship.
I had read just about every report on cruise critic and review studied pictures from previous passengers and generally have an interest in ships bit of an anorak I am afraid and although the main staircase was not quite as grand as I had expected as it was immediate being in a smaller area than envisaged never the less the ship spoke of quality and refinement and was pleasing to the eye.
In our cabin we were not disappointed, although as reported you couldn't swing a cat in the shower but generally we were pleased. I was interested to find out this question about "Butler or not"?? and found this was the only ship I had been on where the attendant had not presented themselves and made themselves known. They usually ask you if you have any questions and if you need anything followed by
"my names is Al and I'm your Pal ".or other such friendly greetings It was 2 days before we were sure who our attendant was, but no probs as the room was always clean well organised and she would smile passing in the corridor so pleasant enough but don't ask me her name. We did try out cabin service on the morning of my birthday and breakfast was brought up on time and as ordered so we could take a little more time to get ready for our excursion that was good service.
The general feel of the ship was relaxed and unpressured .The pool side grille was magic and cooked food to your liking washed down with a nice fruit squash or an ice cream all readily available and good quality. One afternoon that had a special meal selection close by with lots of salads and meats served by the Captain and other crew members a nice touch. The food in general was of good quality and we tried all restaurants.
We would sit and listen to the Guitarist and enjoy a drink before going through for our evening meal in the Discovery Lounge. We found all the staff everywhere pleasant and helpful, so meals were always enjoyable even if there is a feeling in Discoveries of a busy, busy place and maybe not as relaxed as you may wish for. Food here was varied and though the meals didn't quite match the description some times as per my Thai green curry which was neither green nor a curry it was in fact squared pieces of turkey baked on top of some black rice with a green unknown vegetable - no spices at all that I could taste - but it got a laugh round the table. One tip don't sit at the aft starboard corner we had to be moved as there was a bad vibration that evening and my Niece was not one to complain but we were there to enjoy the evening so they moved us.
Chios was our first Port of call and having looked this up on the net I realised that it was the birth place of John Chandris .who was the founder of the Chandris line later to become Celebrity. So in a way his sons are supporting their Fathers birth place and heritage by taking their ships back there. The excursion as usual meant getting up early which has always been a bit of a contrast to most peoples idea of cruising where they think you get up late every day and just laze around and if you add on the 2 hour difference we were getting up 4'oclock in the morning sometimes and a quick breakfast and away out on a coach - the excursion was a treat the small Monastery Nea Moni quite picturesque and full of history- then onto Anavatos an uninhabited village with its own unique quality high on a hill built for protection and once breached deserted. Onto a small village where we enjoyed a walk round with a view over the sea a drink in the village square and then our trek back to the ship all in all delightful with perfect weather.
Colin and Karen had decided against the excursion and spent the morning discovering the Port of Chios for them selves but apart from the church unfortunately were not impressed.
"Panoramic Istanbul" the itinerary was advertised on their web site relating to this trip for 2009 which included:-
A trip across the Bosphorus to the Asian side for a photo shoot of the old town then onto the shore of Orkatoy will be your second stop where you will have a photo shoot of the Asian side and enjoy a cup of coffee with the locals and a Bosphorus view. The tour will continue to a visit of the Blue Mosque .and the last stop will be the Grand Bazaar.
On the ship two days before the trip we were notified that due to heavy traffic the trip will not include the Asian side but will have another itinerary in place of .So we decided to get a cab the day before and go over and have a look for ourselves he drove us around and we landed up back outside the port the cost 30 tl .The following day up early and keen the first strange thing that happened that we went across to the Asian side - then we stopped all got out and took pictures in the rain of what ?? the Bridge?? there was nothing else there -so back on and back across the Bridge and straight to the Saint Sophia museum?? where we were escorted around for 40 minutes so now to the Blue Mosque? no um not quite, straight to another shop where we were told we would spend a short time before the Bazaar - wrong we were taken upstairs by lift to an enclosed room where the doors were shut and we were made to watch a Turkish carpet salesman go through his paces who offered us drinks to pacify us and told us to smile and be happy 30 minutes of this and I had enough we made straight for the now open door and met another couple of which the lady was disabled and rather anxious to get out getting panicky so I asked the salesman to let us out and was shown the lift which he pressed the buttons and we landed up in the Jewellery department - more salesmen again I insisted they let us out and we got in the lift and went to the Leather dept where we found the exit - I found the representative our tour guide "Tuly" and told her I was not happy as it was not on the itinerary and where was the Bazaar? "Turn left down that road she said and its quite a walk and we have to be back at the ship by 1'oclock and we need you back here by 12.30" trouble was it was now 12.O'clock. We started walking helping the lady with walking disabilities but she gave up after 10 minutes and headed back, we made it to the Bazaar in time to turn back it was a good 500 metres each way - so when I got back I asked the rep why we hadn't parked closer as there is a coach park outside and she said "we didn't have time - too much traffic" so no Bazaar just the shop.
At the excursion desk we were told we had the details of last years trip not this one even if its on the web site, even if that's what you purchased, did you see my trip explanation on the TV I explained I didn't have too as I had already purchased so why would I, surely that's a sales advert for people who have not booked to see what's on offer and where does it mention being taken into a carpet shop and what happened to the Bazaar ?even your new itinerary does not include the shop but does state a visit to the Bazaar .
The manager would not come and see us - so I put my complaint in writing and then had go back to the desk twice for a photo copy -still no manager although he was in his office - but he did phone me later and said he would send our complaint to Miami head office and we would be notified of the outcome before the end of the cruise.
BUT we did receive the promised letter ..... when? ...on our last night as we walked back from having our last evening in the Aqualina restaurant at 11.30 pm stuck in our door which stated
"After careful reviewing "The Panoramic Istanbul tour" was well executed and per tour description and unfortunately no refund will be issued onboard"
Sincerely Luke A Bergado shore excursions manager -
Nice touch - last night - well done Azamara -
What a sad state of affairs when a company like Azamara sold as a top brand with the best customer service is found to be a bit like a second hand car dealer with an expensive
Ancient glories was our next trip from Kusadasi.It was 22 years since I last set foot at Kusudasi where I had stayed at a friends Hotel along the front and was looking forward to going back .Like most things memories are always best kept as memories as this was now a town with noise and Commercial interest. Burger king as you walked off the ship and the feeling that the innocence and character of this once busy but Turkish port has been westernised. The coach awaited and soon we were travelling West along the coast road and up into the hill's surrounding , I had vague memories of Epheos but again arriving finding coach loads pouring through the ancient buildings and people standing on ancient monuments posing to there loved ones climbing up on statues etc. seemed Bizarre and a light year away from my memories -there was a show given for us we were told especially for the Guests from the Quest -rather strange statement as everyone was watching next to us and around us anyway the enactment of a fight between gladiators and a fire breathing specialist was entertaining given the surroundings and its history
Then onto the other less populated sites and a rather splendid lunch made for a special trip. We refused the offer of another shop at the end and went our own way.
The excursion to Alamein was listed as a trip to the Museum - the war graves - and the institute of Papyrus. This trip again brought about an annoying situation where after 1.5 hours in a coach we reached the museum where we were asked to watch a show on a board of a brief overview of the battles for ten minutes and she then told us we had free time and to be back in the coach in 20 minutes. Now considering there are hundreds of items to view and study not to mention the outside hardware of Tanks etc. what could one
Possibly see in that time .So we landed up running around taking pictures we tried to buy a booklet from an attendant but he didn't speak English and kept shrugging his shoulders. Time went like a rocket and too soon we were back on the coach The three war graves we visited we were allowed about 20 minutes for the allied cemetery - approx 15 minutes for the German and then the long walk in 34 degrees heat to the Italian which most of the people didn't do because of the time restraint all for about 10 actual minutes when you
This was aggravated by the next stop which is a compulsory visit to a SHOP never mind institute where they again pester you trying to sell you products you don't want, but, at that point amazingly there is no time issue and we and others just hung around the coach wasting time for about 45 minutes waiting for the return to the ship - everyone we spoke
Too felt the same .Why when time is of the essence do we always land up in a shop being pressurised by some smiling salesman who thinks he knows a friend who may live in your country and he will make you the best offer with a massive discount because you are Azamara people. It's the second hand car dealer syndrome again - it's a trade off we will take you to what you want to see as long as we have time to get more money from you in one of our recommended shops -recommendation get a private recommended excursion from the web and do it yourself if you want to really see the Museum.
Port Said unfortunately the trip we originally planned on their web sight was taken off where they had offered a trip up river by a five star boat with drinks a visit to the pyramids and return by coach which was about $100 each there were others too, each equal price and a double over night stay affair quite expensive. We waited to see if they would have the original on board but no, all they had was a trip to the Pyramids and a visit to a shop for $175 each - no thanks so we decided to do our own thing and visit the advertised war Museum um Not possible Cybil - because it was Saturday and everything was shut
And I mean everything - we were harassed around the town by begging kids instigated by their parents = taxis pulling up every few yards and asking for trade and although we had a nice stroll with some people from Hawaii along the sea front they left us early as they were all glad to get back on board safe and sound. Which was not the same for a couple who had rented a cab outside the port who had offered a sight seeing tour to them and they got that alright they were taken to a derelict waste ground miles out where the cabby stopped 2 men approached and offered them food but they had to come with them - they refused so the cabbie went on miles away from the Port into a place with ruined buildings and nothing else stopped and refused to communicate. Fearing for their lives, alone miles from civilization they offered Money which grew in amounts until after offering a lot of money the cabbie started up and dropped them back down the road from the ship. I asked if she had reported it "Forget reporting it we are here safe back in the ship" she said" that's all that matters".
Far away places with Interesting sounding names are not always as one expects.
Israel - what a difference hello civilization and what a great trip - Jerusalem the wailing wall - on and on and a real insight. This trip was a breath of fresh air
A busy port soon fell away behind the coach winding its way towards Jerusalem
What a fascination, a place I had been singing and learning about every xmas since birth
Where now it will be a reality and not in some book -too much too tell just go and do it
Walking in Jesus foot prints Via Dolorosa his long walk to his Crucifixion and the now famous gift shops was magical go and do - then onto a kibbutz for a fabulous meal and wine and onto Bethlehem where we had to change guides as our Jewish guide was not aloud to take us into a Palestinian city its then as you pass through the walled guarded gates you realize that you are witnessing the division which exists in this Foreign land and how different they seem to be from one another.
Bethlehem we parked and walked up to the church where Jesus was born and the songs ring out from childhood "oh little town of Bethlehem etc." well its not the little town I had envisaged it could have been any town anywhere I don't know what I was expecting but there was little romance about this place rather dreary streets with a guy trying to sell me a suit case - inside we had to queue up for ages to see the cave and the manger etc.and on kneeling following everyone else's actions I wondered what I was supposed to feel this is actually a slab of marble I think anyway seen it done it.
What? Not another shop oh yeh oh yeh this is where you can get anything from a donkey made of wood to real holly water? Amazing carved Stables and scenes from a nativity but hang on wasn't he born in a cave? So I managed to buy um nothing though we had a hell of a job getting the street salesman to stop leaning in the coach reducing the price of some garments and objects getting cheaper by the second. We then headed back and picked up our Jewish guide and back to the ship.
Nazareth and the Sea (lake) of Galilee great trip including the river Jordan a chance to be baptised (again) a nice lunch and plenty to see and do loved it.
We decided to do our own thing in Limassol a bit of shopping and a swim in the sea -visited the small museum/castle and enjoyed the walk along the front.
Went our own way again, the bus up to the top followed by a short walk brings you to the station. Reasonable cost on the train to Pompeii and you are there and what a treat if you have not been to Pompeii then it's a must. We wandered around at our leisure watching tours from our ship and others being hurried around and after a mad few hours the tours were gone and we could carry on and enjoy what they had missed after them paying four times the price we had.
Then sadly the last night spent in the lovely specialist restaurant Aqualina
Arriving back at the port of Civitavecchia we found our departure easy and efficient the only trouble is that we were on the same coach as the two idiots in the other cruise review who must have gone deaf blind and you know what so we had to wait for 35 minutes to find them -
We would have stayed on in Rome as the coach arrived in Rome just before midday but RCI refused to let us do our own thing and wanted £700 for a one night stay as it was booked as a package and they wouldn't budge.
All in all I would honestly say that it was a lovely holiday - expensive - with a few hiccups as stated - but the shame is RCI still have not got back to us although we sent a letter of our concerns so for the first time I have decided to show my discontent at their contempt of their customers in this review.