The Holy Land and the not so Holy shore excursions: Azamara Quest Cruise Review by Trouvailless
Overall Member Rating
The Holy Land and the not so Holy shore excursions
Destination: Middle East
Embarkation: Athens (Piraeus)
The Holy Land seemed to provide port visits which were a little different from those we had always experienced in the Med, and, despite some apprehension as an attack on the Gaza strip had occurred only a couple of weeks before our cruise, and we felt there might be too obvious a police presence in some areas, we need not have been concerned as ashore throughout Israel and Palestine we felt quite safe.
Azamara Quest was excellent in every respect. We believe that the total experience was in no small part due to the excellent sociability and attitude to his staff of the Swedish Captain, whose name I have now forgotten regrettably. The crew were not only courteous and affable towards the guests but towards each other. There seemed to be a family-like atmosphere amongst them. Because of More some little difficulty in getting a Dollar card to work in the ATM, essential for payment of our account onboard, I did make a bit of a nuisance of myself with over-frequent visits to the Customer Services desk, but they all treated me with politeness and patience.
The accommodation was very good, and the stateroom a little larger than we had felt it would be. As we had a veranda we were initially surprised to see that it had a sturdy wooden eating-height table and two wooden dining chairs, rather than the loungers we had expected; in the event we had several meals in-room and this configuration was of course much more sensible for that purpose. Certainly it would not have been in any way possible to eat a full meal on the very very small occasional table provided in the stateroom itself, and the seating there would have made balancing plates rather a problem! As we enjoyed excellent weather for the whole of the cruise we had no problem, but if the weather had been unpleasant it would have been a different story, as whenever there is a very early start for a shore excursion we order in breakfast and would not have had space even for that in the cabin.
The cleanliness and quality of the whole ship was outstanding, and, in particular, the public restrooms, this being only 2 weeks past the start of the Swine flu outbreak so all due care was being taken.
The dining room service and choices were first class, but not quite up to Millennium standard perhaps; however that is a personal observation, and depended on one's menu choice to some extent. The speciality restaurants were on a par with the dining room, but not really particularly outstanding, although the service and location made the venue very worthwhile. One of the most noteworthy culinary events was the remarkable breakfast in the Windows Cafe; excellent combinations, very fresh soft fruits and the service impeccable. A big plus was the lack of pushy bar waiters around the decks - something to be deplored on the larger ships.
As this was a port-intensive cruise the lack of entertainment onboard was not as noticeable as that we experienced in September on Journey. We would like to have had more boutiques to pass the time after dinner perhaps, or indeed some lectures as well as the really good enrichment lectures on the next day's location. The ethnic belly dancer and Turkish musicians were brilliant and a couple of the other shows were all right, but unfortunately the pianist in the Cova Lounge was offering music well beyond his somewhat limited range, and this made one less place to while away the between-times for us.
One further thing which should be mentioned is the brilliant disembarkation and shore excursion filtering. We never had to wait. Everything was clearly indicated and the wait for taxis controlled with precision, not what we had experienced with another cruise line at the same port only last year, where utter chaos reigned! OK it was a much larger ship, but the control was just not evident then.
The shore excursions: Loads of choices. We had an excellent time in Israel with Patra Travel, whose Jewish guide was so knowledgeable, not only on Judaism but in-depth information on Christian and Moslem sites. We visited the day before the Pope was to visit all the same sites, and although the Holy places were absolutely packed with tourists he and his Palestinian guide (they had to change at the Wall) never hassled or harried us and answered all questions fully. However sadly the same could not be said for our foray into Egypt, where we were to take a 10 hour tour to the Pyramids, Sphinx, Cairo market, and so on. We did all this at great speed (and the road from Alexandria is dreadfully bumpy and potholed), and although the young guide was very knowledgeable we were after all there to see the sights, as well as have the history lesson, and we arrived after 2 1/2 hours driving to be allowed only 10 minutes at the Pyramids, and this to include a rest stop! We had presumed that seeing the Pyramids would include at least a short look inside, but that wasn't possible in the time allowed. We then had to rejoin the coach whilst it stopped in a line of moving traffic! Onward to the market at Cairo (not the tour's fault it was a Friday and therefore many places were closed for religious reasons), but here again we were required to jump out of the coach and given 15 minutes to find our way through the little winding alleys and back, and certainly no real time to actually buy anything. Lunch on a Felucca on the Nile was included. Stupidly we had assumed that this would be moving a little way down the Nile, but it appeared to be moored on a long line and whilst the boat moved it didn't go anywhere. Still it was an experience and we got some good photos from it. On to a quite interesting Mosque and adjacent Museum, and the traditional visit to a Celebrity "safe shopping experience" where we saw Papyrus made - very very briefly - and were of course then exposed to the other items that outlet offered. All good quality probably, but we always feel a little trapped by these specially chosen outlets. (Incidentally felt the same way for the 2nd time in the same carpet manufactory in Istanbul we visited with Celebrity last year where the door was locked when we were inside!!). Back to Alexandria at breakneck speed (we touched 90km in the rush hour dash) and arrived 2 1/2 hrs early. Complained to Shore Excursions but of course heard nothing yet.
If asked immediately following our return from Quest if we would go on that ship again, the answer would have been a resounding yes, but unfortunately we followed this up with a September cruise on Journey, which was a considerable disappointment. I shall bore everyone with that review shortly.
Cheating here actually, as there isn't a slot for Paphos which is what we mainly went to see. Were sent on the wrong tour to Paphos and spent too long in a coach going around scrubland, with distant views of Paphosa. Did however visit a splendid small cathedral and the tombs of the Kings. Unfortunately the visit which we had expected to Paphos town never materialised, being given 30 minutes nearby at the harbour (too far to walk into the town and back in that time) whilst many of the rest of the coachload viewed the mosiacs. We regret not going to the mosiacs now having seen them on t.v. but had wrongly assumed we would have been able to go to the town when the choice had to be made. Less