The code words “Safe Haven, Safe Haven” from the voice of Captain Carl Smith Master of the Quest over the loudspeakers alerted the ship placed under lockdown. The passengers and the crew moved towards the center of the vessel. We were now in the Gulf of Aden, notorious for pirate activity.
Captain Smith sounded the all clear signal after a few minutes ending the exercise. He further explained that safeguards were already in place should problems arise. The ship had posted extra lookouts and an armed speedboat followed in her wake. He also added that the Quest had more than enough speed to outrun any pirate vessel.
The ship followed a convoy of ships through the IRTC (International Recommended Transit Corridor). Military ships and aircraft of other nations heavily patrol this area leading to the entrance of the Red Sea. Captain Carl Smith’s expertise and skill sailing his vessel out of harms way is truly admirable and a unique experience for the passengers
We had 16 sea days, an overnight stay in Mumbai and Dubai, and a day each in Cochin, Phuket and Alexandria. Mumbai still holds a great intrigue for us specially “ The Tower of Silence” where Zoroastrians leave their dead to be depleted by birds of prey; the birds are slowly declining for ingesting harmful chemicals. A visit to a well kept WW2 museum in El Alamein sixty miles north of Alexandria is worth the trip. Dubai gives one the idea of toys in a child’s sandbox. An elephant ride in Phuket’s mini jungles is exciting. Thai silk is also a great buy.
We found life aboard ship intimate, unhurried and leisurely. We had calm sailing on “mirror-like seas” throughout the voyage. They deleted formal nights. The main dining room seats about 400 persons and is open seating for dinner. Choice tables and prompt service were always at hand for early diners. Latecomers will find the dining room busy and noisy. George our maitre’d from Bulgaria gladly served us special food not found on the menu. Our waiter Marco from Colombia and his assistant Nurwandi from Indonesia quickly learned to anticipate our dinner needs.
The food is well prepared and beautifully presented. The dinner menu included venison, osso bucco, steaks, Chilean sea bass and lobster tails. Salmon is always available. Wines are free of charge during lunch or dinner. Freshly squeezed orange juice made to order smoothies and fruit power drinks be always at hand during breakfast. Specialty coffee, bottled water and soft drinks are available at no charge. Ice cream in 12 flavors, some exotic as durian, ube, ginger is supplied daily at the Windows cafe. The Australians welcomed the sight of their familiar “Vegemite”.
The Windows cafe is a Lido type buffet that offered hot and cold dishes. There are the usual egg, waffle stations and hot dog/hamburger grill. Occasional outdoors buffets and barbecues featured Asian, East Indian and Middle Eastern food. The ship’s staff served the food in the cafe. Vital places held sanitation stations. Passenger awareness and staff’s diligence kept the vessel healthy.
The Prime C and Aqualina are alternate restaurants that require reservations and a cover charge. The Prime C steakhouse served superior “filet mignon”, The “seafood platter on ice” and the Chilean bass is a favorite among diners at the Aqualina.
Hotel director Philip Herbert stood by the shuttle bus helping debarking passenger’s load their hand luggage. The hotel director had the overall responsibility and the final authority for hotel operations aboard ship. A ship’s officer handling luggage is an unusual sight. Philip was a doer and goes for the “extra mile”. He is totally unpretentious and easily accessible. He kept a low profile and is constantly cruising the deck unobtrusively to observe and advise. The hotel staff showed a great respect for him. They were dedicated to and mirrored his aims. They were friendly and eagerly provided excellent service, much to the delight of the passengers.
There were at least four hundred hotel staff members. Many came from the Philippines, South America, Turkey, Eastern Europe and the UK. The passengers mostly middle-aged and seniors came from Australia, Canada and the UK.
Our cabin located near amidships on deck 6 had easy access to the main dining room and the elevator. It had a safe, fridge and a well placed LCD TV set, a closet with ample storage and an enclosed dresser with deep drawers. It had a bed placed away from the air vents. The covered balcony provided us with privacy and superb portside view of the ocean. Irwin our room steward from the Philippines kept the cabin immaculate. He supplied the room with fresh fruit, water, ice in elegant containers and the bathroom with huge luxurious bath towels daily.
We kept up with the ship’s present location, checking our bills, or ordering room service on interactive TV. The ship got their world news by satellite TV and gave a hard copy of the Times Digest (The New York Times) to passengers daily. Internet charged 55 cents per minute. The ship also provided a laundromat at no cost.
This is our third trip on a small vessel (under 40,000 tons). A small ship could easily fit in little ports, load and debark quickly. The 30,277 gross ton, 694 capacity ship Quest started life in 2000 as the Renaissance Cruises R7. Previous owners called her Dolphin and Blue Moon. She is rated a 5 (top scale 6) among cruise ships and a CDC score of 94 in 2008. She is a sleek and beautiful ship. Azamara did a great job refurbishing the Quest. They retained her elegant paneling and the beveled mirrors of the R7.They replaced the existing TV sets with flat screen LCD units. The library had at least a thousand volumes in English, German and other languages. It used the honor system and opened 24 hours a day. Passengers usually leave their own read books augmenting the library. The library is very quiet, spacious, well lighted fitted with wing chairs and cozy furniture.
Father Pinto a Catholic priest from Brooklyn, New York conducted mass and interfaith service for the passengers and the crew on sea-days. He also assisted during the ship’s Anzac day festivity. They also held Sabbath service. Katherine, a harpist from Canada played classical and contemporary music at the Mosaic cafe. The cafe served specialty coffees and freshly baked pastries for free. The Cabaret lounge served as an auditorium and filled up early during performances. An Indian troupe showed folk dances in Mumbai and a belly dancer performed in Dubai. An Egyptian academic narrated the highlights and history of the Suez Canal during the ship’s passage.