I am back from my Azamara Quest 24 day; Singapore to Athens! THIS WAS THE BEST CRUISE I HAVE EVER TAKEN! ;)
And, that sentiment was echoed throughout the ship! We had a lot of sea days but everyone seemed to be a seasoned cruiser and really appreciated the time to relax, get to know each other and enjoy the events that the crew had planned.
WE HAD 66 CRUISECRITIC.COM PEOPLE ON THE SHIP WHICH WAS AN AZAMARA RECORD!
THE SHIP -
The crew held our Meet and Mingle on our first sea day and with just a few days to go, had another get together with coffee and desserts. Unlike what I heard from the crew on the Oceania Regatta, the Azamara crew told us that they read all of our cruisecritic.com blogs. I loved hearing that they cared enough to do that and that they wanted all the feedback they could get.
The crew on the Quest was absolutely the best, from Captain Carl Smith to the Cruise Director, John Howell, to Peter and Richard in hotel and restaurant, on down. In 2011, I am doing this same cruise again, plus the one before, Hong Kong to Singapore, and am hoping that we get the same crew.
The Captain is a hoot; young with spunk and personality, available to anyone and totally present when you speak with him. John is outgoing, giving and very talented. He has the smallest ego of any Cruise Director I have met. Peter and Richard were always in service and seemed to be everywhere on the ship. They, with John, even donned chef hats and served ice cream at our socials and dished up food at our barbecues! They were very cute!
I was on the Azamara Journey last summer in the Med and loved it but loved the Quest and this cruise even more.
The food was absolutely fantastic. We had every kind of International cuisine imaginable and because the Indian food was so amazing, I asked Richard if they would prepare a special Indian dinner for a large group of cruisecritic.com people. He immediately set it up and we enjoyed the meal the very next evening in the main dining room.
The large selection of salads in the buffet changed daily and unlike other ships where mixed vegetable and meat salads are all either vinegar or mayonnaise based and taste bland and similar, the salads on the Quest all had their own special consistency and seasonings. It was a treat each day to go to the buffet and see what delights the chef had created.
The hot dishes at the buffet were equally as interesting. Everything was unique and spiced in a special way. They did a great job presenting a variety from all over the world and keeping each true to their traditional recipe but with a bit of zip.
I live in Hawaii so am a huge sushi fan and the Quest buffet did not disappoint there either.
The main dining room offerings were satisfying and the presentations impeccable. I only ate in Prime "C" twice and Aqualina once in the 24 days. The food in both specialty restaurants is great. I just didn't feel the need to pay the additional $15. as was so happy with the main dining room and the buffet.
There were over 100 people from Australia on the ship and apparently some of them asked for something called Vegimite, which they put on their bread in the morning. At first chance, the staff was off the ship buying jars of the stuff and at the next stop, buying cases! Now, that for me is customer care!
The new "Azamara Club Cruises" featuring complimentary wine at lunch and dinner was a very welcome addition and something I had asked for on previous cruisecritic.com blogs. People who said they rarely drank were enjoying wine both at lunch and at dinner so needless to say, we were a very happy and lively group! The pre-paid gratuities and complimentary laundry were appreciated as well as the complimentary soft drinks, water and specialty coffees and teas.
I am a poker player so quickly found a group of 7 or 8 of us to meet daily at 2:00 p.m. and play 3-5 poker tournaments using the electronic poker table. I love that Azamara has that table! It is great entertainment and I am sure they are making money from it.
Shows are not my cup of tea but I did go to two. They were small presentations and good but again, I am not that into shows.
The ship offered the usual bingo and art auctions but so much more. They had barbecues on deck and a dress up "We Escaped the Pirates" party. They put together an amateur choir and had karaoke. They had bridge and duplicate bridge instruction and games. They had remote controlled sports car racing on the jogging track, which I think was inspired by the Captain having his wife and son onboard! They had port lectures and computer classes, yoga, Pilates, and other exercise classes. Even though we had 16 sea days, there was always something to do.
Azamara Club Cruises new loyalty program is fantastic. They hosted 7 or 8 complimentary cocktail parties for us throughout the 24 days and had several 50% off happy hours. They also gave us a lot of free internet minutes, free mini spa events and free laundry service in addition to being able to do our own laundry at no cost.
THE PORTS -
Phuket - Deb, one of our CC members set up a private Phang Nga tour for 11 of us with Simbaseatrips.com. It was a great tour, which you can read about at their web site. I would highly recommend this company and this tour.
Cochin - I took the Backwater of Alappuzha tour that the ship offered. I am not a fan of India but based on the feedback of others, this was probably the best tour to take. The lunch at the backwater resort was the highlight. The tour itself could have been an hour shorter.
Mumbai Day 1 - On the first day, I put together a CC group of 9 people to do an 8 hour tour of Mumbai with Mumbaimagic.com. We visited the flower and vegetable market, bazaar, a dhobi laundry, a fishing village, had an Indian lunch, toured the Ghandi House, picked out Indian wine at the wine market for the next day's tour, and ended at the Taj Hotel for cocktails. I would highly recommend Mumbaimagic for a full day tour and let the guide set the pace for your day.
Mumbai Day 2 - I put together a cooking tour for 5 of our CC group with Mumbaimagic.com and this was the highlight of all of my shore excursions. We went to the fish, vegetable and spice markets so that we could see what we would be eating. I purchased a large variety of spices to bring home and the whole bag cost me less than $5. We then went to the private home of our guide Sancia, which was in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai. We all enjoyed meeting Sancia's family and drinking our Indian Chardonnay as we sang, shared and watched her staff person prepare our meal. Bandra is a lovely area and our guide's home was beautiful. It was a great way to get a peek inside family life in India. Our guide's mother, Sybil, is 82 and on the neighborhood committee that makes sure the streets are kept clean, garbage collected, and plants maintained. She was full of spirit and laughter, as was Sancia and the rest of the family. I would definitely recommend Mumbaimagic and this tour but please leave Sancia and her family for me on this cruise in April, 2011. I have reserved her for something special, which if you are on that cruise, you may be interested in joining. Just let me know. ;) Deepa, the owner of Mumbaimagic, also has other guides who do this tour so you can write to her as well.
Dubai - I saw the city with the Big Bus Company doing both their bus and walking tours. You can buy a two day pass online from them for a very good price. I especially enjoyed the gold and spice souks in Dubai and came away with several treasures. I had booked the "Dinner with Royalty" excursion through the ship but the tour operator cancelled it, which was very disappointing. I had also made reservations at the Burj Al Arab for lunch but my lunch mates bowed out so I cancelled it. I really wasn't into spending $300. for lunch anyway so their change of heart was appreciated. The ship has a high tea excursion at the Burj and the Burj also has a rep at the cruise port where you can make reservations for lunch, dinner or high tea at the top of the hotel. I would recommend doing that when you get there rather than taking the time to do it ahead of time online.
Alexandria - I put together a group of 12 CC people to do full day tour to Cairo with George at ramsestours.com. We tried to fit in too much so it was very hurried. It takes over 3 hours to get to Cairo. We left Alexandria at 7:30 a.m. and did not return until 9:00 p.m., 45 minutes before all aboard. We visited the Pyramids at Giza, Sphinx, some did a camel ride, went to a jewelry store to buy cartouches, had a buffet lunch at the Hard Rock located in the Grand Hyatt Cairo, took a felucca boat ride of the Nile, visited the Egyptian Antiquity Museum for a brief look at King Tut's treasures and made a quick stop at the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar. I would definitely recommend ramsestours.com but don't try to do all that we did. When I go back next year, I will focus on the Bazaars and life in Egypt today. I may try to find a cooking class to take in Alexandria and see that city instead of driving to Cairo.
Athens - I have been to Athens several times before and had planned on spending 3 days there after the cruise. Due to the strike on the 5th however, I flew out on the 4th to avoid the conflict so saw very little beyond my hotel in the Plaka. It was the Hera Hotel and my Junior Suite had a large patio with a wonderful view of the Parthenon. The rooftop restaurant had the same view and the atrium on the first floor was a beautiful place to enjoy breakfast. I would recommend the Hera Hotel.
To summarize this cruise experience; I had already booked 3 more cruises, including this one in 2011, with Azamara Club Cruises, but loved the Quest so much that I booked 3 more while aboard. I have definitely found my favorite cruise ship as well as my favorite cruise line.