We decided to use the opportunity of the low cost of cruising in 2009 by booking 4 different cruises on 4 different cruise lines in the Mediterranea in November and December.It took a lot of research, but finally we booked consecutive cruises on the Costa Victoria,the MSC Splendida,the Azamara Quest and the NCL Gem. Even though at first sight these ships seem to fall in different categories,the daily price for a balcony cabin was very similar,so direct comparisons between the ships were realistic. The cruise on the Quest was the third one and we started it in Rome where the Splendida had previously left us. The embarkation process was the best we have experienced ! It was fast,efficient and it was the first example of the difference between Azamara and the other cruise lines : there was a red carpet on the stairs leading to the ship and we were greeted on board with a cup of sparkling wine.Even though we were early and our room was not ready, we were offered space to leave our carry-ons and options to spend the time while we waited! The public rooms were spacious and a one could sense a feeling of classical luxury : lots of dark wood,limited use of mirrors,few bright colors,old style furniture and a lot of paintings. Everything was shiny and also very clean. Our cabin was a balcony at the back ! It was not the biggest in size but the layout made it spacious and efficient. It was not noisy and even though this ship was the smallest one we have taken on this trip,it was the least vibrating and the most stable at sea ! The bathroom was the second smallest and the layout was not optimised.Again the cabin gave an expression of luxury that other ships did not provide.
The fitness and recreation areas were very well organised for a ship of this size. The Gym had plenty of equipment with a good choice, the stretching and yoga sessions were well attended by an excellent instructor. Entertainment was the weakest link; even though the cruise director did her best to boost the activities and the shows ,the Cabaret,where most presentations are given, does not offer a good seating layout and the Music Hall group of the Azamara is way below par compared to other cruise lines ! There was an Italian signer who was excellent in Italian but had a very bad choice of songs in English, a pianist (Brooks Aehron) who was a real virtuoso, an average magician, a Turkish folklore which could have been very interesting if not because of the layout of the Cabaret and other presentations of various levels of quality . We would have expected some enrichment programs of better quantity and quality; I was looking for a program on Digital Photography that friends had told me about and it had been cancelled. Food was by far the best we have had so far on all the cruises we have taken ! The chefs know how to use herbs and spices and how to make desserts.We tried all the restaurants and both the quality of the food and the service exceeded what the other cruise lines had to offer ! The Prime C Steakhouse was the sum-mum for an additional $5 Service was exceptional ! The staff is always smiling even when scrubbing the bridge ! Our butler,Edwin, was very attentive to our needs,bringing daily ice-packs to my wife when she strained her back,answering all our requests for service,information,food to the room and adjusting his schedule to fit our requirements. The staff at the dining room was also efficient,courteous and knowledgeable and the management was always available and open to change and improvement. We had the feeling that the staff was happy to work on this ship and that the management was proud of the team. We organised all shore visits by ourselves but we found that the excursion staff was quite willing to provide us information on the ports of call which was not the case for the 3 other cruise lines we took. People,that we spoke to and who took excursions from Azamara, were happy of the service provided. Overall it was by far the best value for the money and we will surely take other cruises with Azamara in the future.