Having read other reviews we booked the cruise on Azamara Quest from Athens to Singapore and some aspects of the cruise did not live up to our expectations, based on previous reviews. I will cover both the positive and negative points below, in order to provide a more balanced review, which I hope will be of assistance to those considering an Azamara cruise.
EMBARKATION. If, like us, you arrived in a coach from Athens airport, the small number of check in staff were completely overwhelmed and we waited about half an hour to board the ship. Not a good start to the cruise.
CABIN. We had a balcony cabin which although starting to show its age, was generally in good condition and was kept clean by our "Butler" and his assistant. We found both of them to be friendly and efficient. We heard another passenger comment that his butler had introduced himself and said "if you look after me, I will look after you". I would like to think it was a misunderstanding, since their command of English is very limited. The bed was not too soft, not too hard and we found it very comfortable. Soap, shampoo and conditioner were provided, but no shower gel. Fresh drinking water and ice were provided twice a day and a bowl of fruit was replenished as it was eaten. We and other passengers found the cabin air conditioning cold and the temperature could only be lowered, not increased, or turned off. I understand from the crew that the last cruises in the Med at the end of the season provided many more complaints about the cabins and other areas of the ship being too cold.
TELEVISION. The quality of the picture on the flat screen TVs in the cabins was better than on many other cruise ships. The variety of programs was limited and there was no real choice of music channels. One particularly annoying feature was the film channel. We were provided with a TV guide, but after a few days, whoever was responsible for the timing of the films decided to change the timing and sequence of the films, so you never knew what was on, or at what time. After several complaints to Guest Relations, a new guide was provided - which was exactly the same as the previous one!! Towards the end of the cruise the timing of the films was shown each day on one of spare channels, but even this was wrong. On some of the films the sound was not loud enough, even with the volume turned to maximum. After about a week at sea a very poor quality chart (map) showed the moving position of the ship. Its accuracy was so poor that when approaching and leaving Dubai, it showed the ship to be on the Iranian coast. Not reassuring for anyone with a nervous disposition! It is small points such as these where you expect a cruise line which is part of Royal Caribbean, to be able to get it right.
CREW. Azamara claim to employ 60 different nationalities. Unfortunately, most speak their own limited version of English and communication could be difficult if you asked a question which was outside the vocabulary they had learnt. The more experienced and senior members of the crew, had a much better command of English, as did the officers. We did, nevertheless, find all the crew to be extremely friendly and helpful, more so than those we have encountered on other cruise lines.
DINING. We found the concept of open dining to be so much more relaxed. We never had any difficulty in being shown immediately to a table (for two if we so wished). We found the quality of the food in the main restaurant (Discoveries) to be very variable, but with care it was possible to choose the better options from the menu, often with help from the waiter. The self service food in Windows Cafe was generally good and varied for Breakfast and Lunch. It was advisable to avoid the busiest periods, as the area around the two food counters became congested and it was often difficult to find a free table. Various burgers, hot dogs, kebabs, chips and salads were available from the Pool Grill from 11am - 6pm. The quality of the kebabs and stir fried vegetables varied, depending on the chef, but could be very good. Adjacent to this was a self serve ice cream machine - even more calories! Our favourite restaurant and that of many other passengers we spoke to, was Aqualina. It served an excellent quality European/American varied, but fixed menu. We were able to dine there on about 10 nights, paying the $5 gratuity, which was a bargain, as the quality, service and relaxed atmosphere was worth well in excess of $5. We were not impressed with the other Speciality Restaurant, Prime C. We found the steaks and most other dishes to be lacking in flavour and finesse, but perhaps it just did not suit our tastes. A very good room service breakfast menu is provided with a number of cooked choices, which always arrived hot.
DRINKS. As has been said by others, the mark up on the drinks is excessive, even before they add another 18% service charge! As a result many other passengers did not order any drinks with their meals. We also noted that fewer people were drinking in the bars, lounges and around the pool. If Azamara reduced the prices they would almost certainly sell more drinks and therefore make a greater overall profit. We know many passengers "smuggled" bottles onboard to keep in their cabins. We see that from April this year Azamara will be including house wine with lunch and dinner, but they seem to have missed the point. If they lowered the prices they would sell more drinks. Entertainment. There have been many comments about the poor quality of the entertainers. During our cruise, other passengers described some of the acts as "childish" or "amateur". In this life, you generally get what you pay for. Azamara ships are small and offer reasonably priced cruises. That means they do not have the budget to employ a first class cruise director or entertainers. Having said that, the individual musical entertainers were generally very good. Punctuality. The Captain, or whoever calculated the time necessary to travel the distances required appears to have miscalculated, or more likely, could not afford the fuel costs to steam at full speed. As a result we were 6 hours late arriving in Dubai and 3 hours late in Penang. To be fair, we did have to make an unscheduled stop in Oman for a sick passenger to be taken to hospital, but in our experience when this has happened on other ships, the Captain has increased speed to compensate for the delay.
SHORE EXCURSIONS. As on many cruise lines, we found the shore excursions to be grossly overpriced and in this case we received misleading information from the excursions manager. As a result we always used local taxis and transport and enjoyed our trips ashore. We heard many complaints about the poor quality of the excursions, so I would recommend some time spent on research before the cruise, to find out what is available at each port. For instance, we found we could often obtain a taxi for half the price by walking a few hundred metres from the port entrance.
OTHER PASSENGERS. On this cruise there was a broad mix of nationalities. The largest proportion were American, plus a mix of British, German, Italian, French, Australian and others.
DISEMBARKATION. The disembarkation process was faultless with us leaving the ship exactly at the prearranged time. The Captain was at the gangway to say goodbye !
OVERALL IMPRESSION. Overall we thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and found it to offer exceptional value for money. If only Azamara could tighten up on some aspects of management on board, Azamara cruises could be close to perfect.