My husband and I decided to take our 4th cruise since August of 2009 after viewing the itinerary of the Quest. 14 days Rome to Rome with overnight stays in Sorrento, Venice and Loverno. We had previously been delighted with Celebrity cruises in the Caribbean and were willing to give Azamara a try.
Upon quick and efficient boarding in Civitavecchia, we were greeted with champagne and set off immediately for the complementary laundry facilities (soap included) as we had already been in Tuscany for over a week. We were impressed with the elegant dark wood and wrought iron interior decorating which was immediately relaxing. The lunch buffet was a little better than Celebrity's with higher quality cheeses, breads and meats.
Even though the buffets were all fairly standard, the dining room far exceeded our expectations. We loved the casual dining (no-formal nights) and open seating. There were never more than about three couples ahead of us in line and we usually received immediate attention. The food could not have been better; we felt as though we were dining in a 5 star restaurant every meal. Ingredients were top of the line: huge scallops and lobster offered frequently, venison and game birds. I had thought that the menu might be limited due to the size of the ship but a good variety of all courses were offered each time. Different complementary wines -one white/one red- were offered every lunch and dinner in unlimited quantities. As I avoid alcohol I appreciated the also-complementary sparkling water, teas and specialty coffees. The staff was more than well trained, they obviously were happy to have been hired onto the Quest.
The pool grill offered salmon fillets, turkey and vegetarian burgers as well as the standard hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, fries, onion rings and a small salad bar. A self serve frozen yogurt machine (strawberry/vanilla) operated until 6 pm. Draft beer was always half price around the pool with the staff being highly efficient. Never take these people for granted: our young server was a speech therapist, her boss and husband was a professor of geology. They were both from Croatia, seeking adventure and travel. This was one of the better parts of this small ship - there was ample opportunity to get to talk with the staff on a personal level. And talk was easy; they actually turned off the music at the pool to enable conversation without shouting and a quiet environment in which to read. We loved this!!
Public announcements were kept to a minimum and yet the captain provided great detail about technical matters regarding the management and sailing of the ship. This amount of detail would have been appreciated from the enrichment speaker hired from the Smithsonian list of lecturers. I don't know why cruise ship passengers are assumed to be ignorant. I have never heard an onboard lecture that did not seemed geared to an elementary school classroom. Neither was the general entertainment extraordinary. However, we had suspected it would be limited due to the size of the ship.
We were staying in an oceanview cabin, deck 4 forward starboard, and were delighted with the spacious feeling of the room. This did come from the rather limited storage and bathroom areas but both were adequate. The hallways were quiet but the anchor being lowered and raised did wake us. The bed and linens were superb, and there were fresh flowers and a fresh fruit plate every day in addition to different chocolate petits fours or chocolate covered fruit delivered each evening. I did run out of shampoo on the trip and tried using the Elemis amenities provided. They turned my hair to straw. I wish a higher quality line was selected which could be provided in smaller quantities; 100 ml bottles of a substandard product is worthless. The room attendants were efficient and unobtrusive. Room service was quick; the one meal I had delivered came within 15 minutes and piping hot. Excellent! We also ordered two pots of herbal tea one night which was delivered within minutes.
A few of the people onboard did come down with a fast passing cold and I was one of the lucky few. Although I try to limit my intake of medications I did not want my cruise experience diminished so I bought a cold medication from the ship store. Big mistake - rather than having a quality product available from a health store, the liquid I purchased appeared radioactively coloured and was full of artificial sweeteners. Some improvement is needed here.
Tenders and shuttle buses were provided wherever necessary, usually running every half hour. We never encountered a lineup and appreciated the included service even more after talking with Princess passengers who had to search for their purchased tickets. Azamara's all-inclusive cruising is designed to take the stress and hassle out of traveling; one never feels rushed, nickle-and-dimed, or unappreciated. My husband and I have been spoiled and I can't imagine going back to any other line.
Two ports not included on the list below:
1 Ravenna - delightful non-touristy city on the coastal plain of east Italy. Plan to visit all the medieval churches for their mosaics and your walking will take you though the best parts of old Ravenna.
2 Trieste - Like Ravenna it is non-touristy. When visiting the castle ask for an audioguide (free) when purchasing your admission ticket.