Who we are
This was our seventh cruise and our second on Quest. Our first cruise was in 2006 and we have been hooked on cruising since then. In 2009, we had two outstanding cruises: the first on Quest from Singapore to Athens via the Suez Canal and the second on Infinity from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego via the Panama Canal. We have never been able to choose which of these two was the better. Both were incredible experiences.
We first became aware of Quest and Journey as newly acquired Celebrity ships and decided we wanted to book the 2009 repositioning cruise on Quest as soon as it became available. We love sea days and enjoy repositioning cruises as they are less port intensive and often visit less developed ports. By the time we booked our first Quest cruise, Azamara Cruises had been born. On our return, we wanted to sail on Quest again as well as sail into Ha Long Bay so booked our latest cruise shortly after returning from Athens despite the port intensive itinerary. Subsequently, the line had been reborn as Azamara Club Cruises.
It is impossible for each new cruise to be an improvement on the previous one and being on a cruise is always a wonderful experience so it is better not to make comparisons. However, when a cruise line rebrands so often in a just a few years while making a unique selling point of responsiveness to customer feedback, it is difficult to resist making comparisons in this review both with the previous Quest experience and with Celebrity.
Our flights were booked through Azamara. Booking direct with the cruise line is more expensive than the cheapest fares available elsewhere even allowing for the transfers and hotels which may be included but we feel it is worthwhile for the additional protection a package provides. We had initially been allocated outward flights to Singapore via Hong Kong because Azamara had not, at that stage, signed contracts with BA. We refused these as unacceptable and were eventually assigned direct flights with BA, our preferred airline. Unlike the recent experiences of other who have booked BA through Azamara we did not have a group booking and were able to manage our own reservations and check-in online 24 hours before our flights.
We had Premium Economy flights because Business Class to the Far East is just to expensive but for me, personally, this was a bad choice. My husband, who finds Economy seats too small, was perfectly happy but I found the Premium Economy seats excruciatingly uncomfortable on both the outward and return flights. The seats were so hard, and their shape and size put too much pressure on the base of my spine. Had an economy aisle seat been available, I would have happily moved.
When we booked out outward flights arriving in Singapore on Friday 18 February, Quest was scheduled to depart Singapore at 1pm on Sunday 20 February. Subsequently, due to a berthing conflict, our departure was brought forward to 4am. We were a little concerned that this gave us very little contingency if there were any delays but, in the event, everything went smoothly.
Our flight included an overnight stay in Singapore at the Conrad Centennial Hotel. As Azamara did not offer an extended pre-cruise stay at this hotel and the hotel's own website was very bland, we had low expectations but we only needed a place to eat and sleep. What a wonderful surprise we had! Leaving my husband to supervise the luggage, I stepped through the door being held open for me to be greeted by a hostess who took my hand luggage from me and escorted me to reception. As we walked across the foyer, I was handed a welcome Bucks Fizz [Mimosa]. As I checked-in, my husband joined me also with Bucks Fizz and hostess carrying his hand luggage. He asked another member of the hotel staff where the restaurant was and, immediately, the staff member wnet off and made our dinner reservation for us. Check-in completed, the receptionist I was dealing with left the desk and escorted us to our room which was spacious with quality furniture and extremely well equipped. Waiting in the room was a small teddy bear and yellow rubber duck which were ours to keep as souvenirs of our stay. Within minutes, not only had our luggage arrived but also a bowl of fresh fruit. This outstanding level of service continued throughout our regrettably too short stay. We had time only for an excellent meal, sleep and breakfast from an extensive buffet before it was time to meet our Azamara transport at 11am the next morning.
Our luggage was loaded into a van before we boarded a coach for the short journey to the cruise port.
We were dropped off at Singapore cruise port at the entrance where luggage is received which cause a little confusing as our luggage had gone ahead of us. [Last time, when we had our luggage with us, we were dropped off at the other entrance causing confusion about where to check our luggage.] However, it took little time to find our way to the escalators up to cruise check in. We were the first to arrive and were quickly checked-in. We then had to double back on ourselves [and other passengers still arriving] to find passport control. I am sure that this arrangement could cause difficulties when a large cruise ship is embarking. On the walk to the ship, there was a desk for the Spa and another where suite passengers were offered a reservation on the first evening in one of the speciality restaurants. Domingo, the Head Waiter of Aqualina, was aware that we wanted reservations on alternate nights in Prime C and Aqualina so we only needed to confirm the times and we were ready to board just before midday.
We boarded on deck 5 and, as we had already decided that we would lunch on the lovely little rolls they serve, we only had to side-step into the Mosaic Cafe and make ourselves at home.
During lunch, we met Philip Herbert, the Hotel Director, and Ryszard Gusmann, the Food & Beverage Manager. Philip said that he we see if our suite could be made available earlier than the planned 1:30pm. At about 12:30, Ryszard escorted us to our suite where we were greated by Housekeepig and were pleased to be reacquainted with our butler from our previous stay on Quest, Eyup Ayolin. It was not long before we met our Stateroom Attendant, Kusairi, and his assistant, Jocy. Our luggage followed shortly afterwards enabling us to be unpacked long before lifeboat drill at 5pm.
Our overwhelming first impression of Quest this time round was how small everything seemed. This ship also seemed very dark. When we went to the Discoveries Restaurant for lifeboat drill, the ceiling seemed low and the tables crowded together. This feeling that the ship was very small lasted the whole cruise.
Other than feeling smaller and darker than before, nothing else appeared to have changed not even the "temporary" repair made to one of the wall light fittings in our suite during our previous cruise in 2009!
"No change" is not always negative and it was clear the welcome aboard from officers and crew was also unchanged. Within a couple of hours, we had received a phone from both Philip and Guest Relations checking that everything was OK and that we did not need anything.
Having enjoyed exactly the same suite on our first Quest cruise, we still think of it as a "Penthouse Suite". As nobody onboard referred to the suite as a "Club World Owners Suite", we will continue to use the old name throughout this review.
Our biggest problem with the rebranding to Azamara Club Cruises has been the quality of the Penthouse Suites. We had booked prior to the rebranding price increase and, consequently, the total cost of our cruise was reduced because we no longer had to pay the gratuities. However, for our cruise, the percentage price increase following the rebranding was similar for an Inside Stateroom and a Penthouse Suite resulting in guests in these suites booking after the rebranding paying considerably more for the items now included than other guests. Price is a factor in overall satisfaction and, in our opinion, the quality of accommodation provided by a Penthouse Suite does not justify the current prices. We have been in both Celebrity and Royal Suites on Celebrity M-Class ships and these provide a much higher quality of accommodation.
I have made a number of posts on this subject so I will not repeat these here. However, I did have the opportunity to discuss this subject with Philip and he indicated that there was awareness that the Penthouse and Royal Suites fall short of many guests expectations and that there are outline plans to improve them in the future.
We have long since stopped eating in the main dining room so are unable to comment directly. Reports from other guest seem to suggest that there were mixed experiences but generally more positive than negative.
Talking to staff, we were told that the mix of passengers was unusual and the buffet was underused. There were an unusually large number of groups [ranging from a tour group of 61 people to 11 friends travelling together] on this cruise and this may have been the reason. I am not certain if there being no charge for suite guests resulted in more people eating in the speciality restaurants but certainly, the number of groups impacted on the experience of dining there. On our previous cruise, most tables in Prime C and Aqualina were for two or four people. On this cruise, except for a few very quiet nights when there were deck parties, the two restaurants were very full with tables of two and four being very much in the minority. On at least one evening, there was a party of 19 in Prime C [almost the largest number covers the restaurant can accommodate at one time] and the large table near the entrance was used on a number of occasions. On our previous cruise, it was used only once in 24 nights, for a connoisseur dinner. The consequence of this was that service levels were stretched and the restaurants were extremely noisy. When there were deck parties, speciality restaurant staff were redeployed on deck. We were assured by Roman Georgiev, the Restaurant Manager on both our Quest cruises, that staffing levels have not been changed. However, our perception, because of these factors, was that there was far fewer staff serving us. Having said that, we had no complaints about the quality food or service. Lyudmyla, the Head Waiter with responsibility for both restaurants, did a marvellous job but others, it seemed from conversations we had, were not so lucky. A number of guests did seem to have valid reasons for returning food. However, we also identified in advance guests who were clearly going to return food and we were always correct. This is something we have never seen in the speciality restaurants on Celebrity ships and it is difficult to understand why it happened on Quest.
Despite this, we found the food uninspiring. The menus were virtually unchanged since our previous cruise when we enjoyed eating in Prime C and Aqualina on 20 evenings out of 24. There were a few "tweeks" to the menu but these made little difference and we found it difficult to look forward to our evening meals. Our waistlines benefited from us rarely having a full meal. On one occasion, we had just soup and a single scope of ice-cream.
Frequently in 2009, special meals were prepared for us. The chefs obviously enjoyed cooking something different and we certainly appreciated the variety. Clearly, this time, the kitchens were under more pressure and we only ate off the menu once when the Mauritian sous chef attempted to prove to us that Mauritian curries were superior to those from Indian! We are sure that the chefs find the unchanging menus as boring to prepare as guests can find eating from them. In 2009, it was proved to us that a greater variety of meals can be prepared from the same basic ingredients available on board and that advantage can be taken of the skills of the kitchen staff on board.
Before moving on from the speciality restaurants, I would like to make a comment about the dress code. It was disturbing on arriving on board to see that the dinning dress code had to be announced on the TV and in signs outside each restaurant. Despite this we saw many people ignoring the dress code at dinner with one "gentleman" wearing a t-shirt so scruffy that it was more suitable for cleaning the car. A number of people told us that they thought that the standard of dress was far too casual.
On this cruise we ate in the speciality restaurants on 12 nights out of 14. On one of the other evenings we were lucky enough to experience the Best of the Best dinner. Yet again, this was a wonderful experience as enjoyable as in 2009 although I am not sure if Philip enjoyed me bending his ear all evening about what we would like to see on Azamara in the future.
We prefer not to eat in buffets especially for dinner but were pressed to try one of the deck parties or other special meals and decided that we would try the Curry Evening in the buffet. There was a small but very tasty selection of pre-made curries, condiments, breads and deserts as well as a "build your own curry" section. The food was very good and we were really pleased to be able to wash it down with an English cider.
Breakfast we ate in suite and at lunchtime, we usually ate chicken wings and fries at the Pool Grill or the tasty rolls or mini quiches at the Mosaic Cafe.
Overall, the food we were served was of good quality and we received good service but we really noticed the limitations on what was available compared to Celebrity ships. We much prefer the menus and style of service in the Celebrity speciality restaurants. In our opinion, the Tuscan Grille is superior to Prime C and Ocean Liners/SS United States/Olympic superior to Aqualina. The Celebrity M-Class ships [especially following their Solsticiation] provide a great choice of venues for breakfast and lunch.
In view of the changes following the rebranding to Azamara Club Cruises, I believe that "Beverages" deserve a section of their own in this review especially in view of the introduction of Beverage Packages starting on this cruise. When gratuities and free daily wines were included as part of the rebranding, we had not appreciated the difference this would make.
Prior to rebranding, 18% gratuity had been added to the price of all beverages purchase. I had assumed that, if this practice had not continued after the rebranding, the prices of drinks would have been increased to include the gratuity. I was mistaken. The basic prices of drinks appear to have remained unchanged and no gratuity is added. In addition, there were two beers daily at half price, offers on buckets of beer, two alcoholic cocktails at $5 and one non-alcoholic cocktail at $4. It is difficult to understand who would drink enough on a port intensive Azamara cruise to justify purchasing a Beverage Package.
These factors alone ensured that our drinks bill at the end of the cruise was a lot lower than previously. However, the combination of the free wine pours at lunchtime and the included gratuities resulted in it being more difficult to get a drink with our lunch. The bar staff was kept busy pouring wine by the glass and were not under pressure to sell drinks. I know many guests appreciated not feeling pressured to purchase drink but we found that it took much longer to obtain a cocktail, beer or cider with our lunch. Whereas, we would often have a second, on this cruise we considered ourselves lucky to receive a drink before we had finished eating.
The free daily wine pours have also had a considerable impact on wine drinking onboard. We were advised that 85% of guests were drinking the free wine. Free wines are usually poured by waiters rather than sommeliers. One consequence is that there is no longer a Cellar Master on Azamara ships and just two sommeliers remain - one in the MDR and the other in the speciality restaurants. On deck party nights, the speciality restaurant sommelier was redeployed on deck and had to be called back to the restaurant when required. The result of these changes was that we had much better service from the sommelier in the evenings than we had previously experienced on Quest.
We tried the free wine on the first evening but quickly decided that it was not for us. [Was a Spanish white especially selected to have this effect?] This was not as an expensive decision as it may seem. Every evening there were two white wines and two red wines at 50%. Frequently, but not always, these were wines we were happy to select considerably reducing our wine bill for the cruise.
Le Club Voyage
As Elite Captains Club members of Celebrity who had previously sailed on Azamara, we were Discoverer level in Le Club Voyage. On arriving in our suite, we found two vouchers for a bag of laundry [one per stateroom [not per member] per week], two vouchers for 237 minutes Internet access and a list of Le Club Voyage events. There were 14 "events" but 3 of these were simply private versions of future cruise marketing events. After checking the list, the only event we planned to attend was the Champagne Brunch. Unfortunately, we were really tired after two days in Bangkok and missed the brunch and, consequently, we are unable to comment on any of the events.
Two Cruise Critic events were organised by Azamara: a social with sparkling wine and canapes on the first sea day and a coffee social on the final sea day. At the first social, the Cruise Director, Russ Thomas Grieve, asked us to introduce ourselves which was useful as our Roll Call had a high percentage of "lurkers". At each event, we were given the opportunity to ask any questions and make any comments we wished to.
Officers and Crew
As on our previous cruise, the senior officers on Quest were ever present around the ship and always willing to listen to whatever we had to say. Azamara present themselves as seaking feedback and responding to comments made. This was clear as soon as we entered our suite on Quest in 2009 when we immediately noticed that three things: new non-slip slippers, new alarm clocks and door mats in front of the balcony doors. This time, although senior officers listened to what we said, we saw no evidence of any action.
As a point of comparison, on Infinity in 2009 my husband mentioned in Michael's Club during Elite breakfast that it would be nice to have a toaster. The next day was a sea day but, as soon as Infinity next docked a domestic toaster was purchased and installed. Since then we noted that there was a toaster at the Elite breakfast on Constellation. This time on Quest, my husband made a number of suggestions to Philip for providing a drinks service at the T-Pool. I know that this is a subject that others have discussed in the past. Although Philip made a note of the suggestions, nothing had happened by the end of our cruise.
Entertainment and Activities
We never go to the shows on board so are unable to comment on them. I usually like to attend lectures when cruising even though these are often US centric. This time there was nothing of interest in the list of lectures but my husband did attend the lecture on the fall of Singapore in 1942 by David Jones. Mr Jones is an Australian and, apparently, warned the Brits in his audience that they would not like what he had to say. He was not wrong. My husband did not agree with what he said and we were told by others that his later lectures were also "ant-British".
After only seven cruises, we already find most cruise activities repetitive but still enjoy many of those that are food related. Unless I missed them, there were no food oriented activities on this cruise. Consequently, our sea days and some port days revolved round the T-Pool in the morning followed by reading on our balcony trying to resist afternoon tea and canapEs in the afternoon.
We were concerned before this cruise that opening free access to the T-Pool to all suite guests rather than just those in the Penthouse and Royal Suites was going to cause crowding problems. We usually arrived at the T-Pool at, or shortly after, 8am and had no difficulty finding somewhere to sit but, we understand from others who usually went to the pool later, it became very crowded after we left, usually after a couple of hours. As the cruise progressed, chair hogs became a real problem. One morning, we arrived at the pool as the attendant was still covering the loungers with towels so we just put our belongings down on a table between loungers and went into the pool. Not long after, we noticed someone around our belongings so got out of the pool. The "gentleman" had moved the loungers either side of our belongings into the corner with another lounger, covered them with his own belongings and left the area. As there was no one else in the pool area, we just moved to two other loungers but more than 90 minutes later when the pool area was crowded and the "gentleman" had still not returned, the spa manager was asked to remove his belongings and she did. On another morning, we arrived at the spa at 8am to find that someone had signed-in for the pool already. There was nobody around the pool or in the changing rooms but five loungers were covered with belongings. No one had returned to these loungers by the time we had left the pool for the day.
We experienced none of these problems on our cruise in 2009 despite the much higher number of sea days and it seems clear that extending free access to all suite guests is causing a problem.
Ports and Shore Excursions
As I mentioned at the start of this review, we prefer cruises that are less port intensive than this one. We choose this cruise primarily because I wanted to sail into Ha Long Bay. We had little interest in Bangkok and the other ports in Vietnam and, consequently, knew little about them. We prefer to absorb the atmosphere of a place on our own rather than visit every tourist site with crowds of others We like to plan early and, at the time we want to do this, Azamara had not yet published their shore excursions. In view of all of this, we organised private tours for all the ports on this cruise.
Following recommendations on Cruise Critic we used Tong [www.tourwithtong.com] in Bangkok and Ha [www.discovervietnam.com.vn] in Vietnam and were really pleased. I know that we caused both Tong and Ha concerns because of our laid-back attitude to tours not wanting to rush from site to sight, being happy to start late and return to the ship early but we got exactly what we wanted and were totally satisfied. If like us you want to divert from the norm, stand your ground and you will be pleased that you have done so.
Because of the early departure from Singapore, we arrived in Bangkok much earlier than originally scheduled. Despite this, we decided to limit our first tour to an afternoon's shopping as originally planned. We were taken to the wholesale market in China Town where the small souvenir items sold elsewhere in Bangkok were much cheaper than in the tourist areas. Our mission, to find items suitable for Christmas Tree decorations, was successful.
The next morning, we had booked a river and canal tour in a long tail boat. We started the day by a visit to the flower market which was wonderful. If we had vases on board we would have bought dozens of roses. They were so cheap. In the event, we limited ourselves to a small bunch of long-stemmed red roses for about 20p [30 US cents]. From there we drove to the river via some of the tourist sites to join our boat. Having read a review on Cruise Critic, we were pre-warned that getting on and off these boats is a little precarious and had agreed between ourselves how to handle our bags. In the event, we were looked after very well and managed the manoeuvres without incident. The boat ride was refreshing in the heat and humidity of Bangkok and enabled us to see both rich and poor areas. In addition to Christmas Tree decorations, we also like to collect masks from our travels and planned to visit a wood carving factory on our way back to the ship. However, it was clear that the traffic was really bad and our guide, Kung, suggested that it may be more sensible to return directly to the ship. We were greatly reassured that she made this decision.
Ho Chi Minh City
Our first stop in Vietnam was overnight in Ho Chi Minh City. Having been told that the entry via the "Saigon Slalom" was highlight of the cruise, we were somewhat disappointed. I am sure that it was more of a challenge for Captain Carl that it appeared to us. When we were told that the pool would be closed, I was concerned about what items we should secure in our suite. In the event, none of my cosmetic fell over or rolled off the dressing table.
For our first afternoon in Vietnam, we simply wanted to get a feel for the city and made a short visit to the wholesale market in China Town. We gained a rapid understanding of what a city of 10m people with 4m motor cycles was like. At times, it seemed like all 4m motor cycles were aiming at us!
The next morning we set off for one of our favourite tours of the cruise. Our driver picked us up at 8am and took us to the food market where we were met by a chef and interpreter. We accompanied the chef as she bought ingredients while the interpreter explained what she was buying and the other produce for sale in the market. After this, we travelled across town [us in our car and others by taxi] to a restaurant where we cooked three courses [spring rolls, caramelised pork in clay pot and hot and sour soup]. Lunch was the three course we had cooked plus coconut rice and a desert. Hygiene levels both in the market and at the restaurant were very high, the food was delicious and the whole morning extremely informative.
Danang [Hoi An]
Our second port in Vietnam was Danang. We were persuaded by Ha to start early for Hoi An, a World Heritage site. Ha was correct, we really enjoyed our day there. We had asked to be taken to the silk factory and, perhaps, Marble Mountain. We passed Marble Mountain on our way to Hoi An and could see that it was of little interest to us. We agreed with our guide that we would skip that part of the tour. The silk factory was as good as the reviews on Cruise Critic had lead us to believe. We bought a silk embroidery of Ha Long Bay, a tie for my husband, some lanterns and a carved mask. My husband also had a cashmere sports jacket made [and delivered to the ship at 5pm]. We were pleased with the quality and price of all our purchase and did not feel pressured at all while at the factory. Others who had taken the ships tour to Hoi An, told us they were taken to a number shopping outlets, saw less of Hoi An and enjoyed their day much less. Hoi An was a pleasant village where we made a number of other small purchases, had a very pleasant lunch and then took a short trip on the river. The river boat ride was not included in the tour we had organised but we were more than happy to pay the additional US$5 for a boat to ourselves and could not understand our guide's reticence until, a short while into the ride, we realised that he could not swim and was afraid of the water. Had he said, we would have been more than happy to leave him on the river bank until our return!
On our return to the ship, we met Ha in Danang to pay for our tours. We took the opportunity to cancel our planned shopping trip in Ha Long City next morning. We had made all the purchases we wanted in Hoi An and were more than happy to take the opportunity to relax on board as we were finding the port intensive nature of this cruise very tiring.
Ha Long Bay
As I mentioned at the start of this review, sailing into Ha Long Bay was the whole purpose of this cruise for us. The sail in had an ethereal quality as there was a mist over the water. At times it seemed as if we could almost touch the islands and, unlike the entry into Ho Chi Minh City, the experience did not disappoint.
Towards the end of our entry, Captain Carl announced that due to some mishap during dredging work, our berth was not accessible and he was trying to negotiate some alternative. After rejecting the initial alternative offered [anchoring 10k out], he was offered a very difficult tender anchorage closer to Ha Long City which, we discovered the next evening, actually blocked passage to the dock to all other traffic. We moved during our first evening in Ha Long City to the berth vacated by the Seabourn Sojourn. Luckily, the captain had warned me early in the cruise that was docked in an industrial port because it was far from the romantic view of the Bay I had imagined! We had a "wonderful" and noisy view of the dredging work from our aft balcony.
None of this mattered on our second day when we had a day long boat tour of the Bay. When we booked a boat just for the two of us and our guide, we had expected it to be very small. What we actually had was a large double-decker boat with enough space to seat at least 20 for lunch. The next surprise was just how many tour boats there were out on the Bay and all were seemingly converging on the same spot. As the day progressed, it was clear that some boat trips were much shorter than others so the first part of the day was most crowded and there were fewer boats gathered at lunch time. As we returned home at the end of the day, we passed the larger boats on the way out for an overnight stay on the Bay. We had wonderfully sunny weather in contrast to the mist of the previous day and were, thus, able to experience the Bay in two different conditions.
Despite the number of boats on the Bay all visiting the same sites in the same order, everything proceeded in a very orderly fashion and all was orderly and uncrowded. We started by visiting various rocks which looked vaguely like a dog or kissing chickens before visiting a fishing village. We were able to disembark onto a floating platform and look at the fish in holding pens. Next we visited one of the caves. This involved climbing a large number for steps and so my husband stayed on board while I visited the cave with our guide. The cave was dimly lit and the many irregular steps inside were not clearly marked so care must be taken not to fall. I, stupidly, spent more time looking up at the rock formations that watching the steps and fell. Luckily, beyond a bruised knee, I was not hurt but it could have been more serious and anyone doing this tour should take greater care than I did. Lunch at anchor followed. All the boats anchored at this time and so it was very peaceful. W had a very nice Vietnamese seafood lunch served with fries. Lunch was included as part of te tour but we bought a bottle of passable wine to accompany it. After lunch we landed at a small beach to stretch our legs. We could have also climbed steps to a view point on the top of the island but I decided that I had climbed enough stops for one day. Then it was time for the long trip back to our starting point.
It was 20 years since we were last in Hong Kong and we were priviledged to be invited to view the entry from the Bridge. We got an fantastic view and could easily recognise landmarks from two decades earlier in among the more recent buildings. This gave us such a false impression that little had changed. Once ashore, very little was recognisable from before. A total surprise was a second Kowloon underground - a world that was totally disorientating.
On our first afternoon in Hong Kong, we had arranged a boat charter through HKDolphinWatch.com from Lantau to go pink dolphin watching. These Chinese White Dolphins [or Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins] are believe to be blushing to regulate body temperature. We were joined on this trip by a number of people from our Cruise Critic Roll Call and were lucky enough to see dolphins at the start and towards the end of our trip. Yet again, we were blessed with glorious sunny weather - the best of our time in Hong Kong.
The disembarkation process was relatively painless. Early in the cruise we were asked when we wanted to leave the ship. There was the option available to remain on board until early afternoon with lunch included for a small fee but we had arranged to be met at 9am. Independent guests we free to leave at what ever time they choose once the luggage was available.
The cruise terminal in Hong Kong is part of a large, upmarket shopping mall. The disembarkation process requires you to walk for some distance through the mall before walking back to the rear of the mall outside along the dock to the baggage claim area and the coach and car parking bays. To ensure that no one goes astray, this requires a large number of people to be posted along the route. It was impossible to understand why guests could not take a more direct route to the baggage claim area but this is clearly a decision made by the cruise terminal authorities rather than Azamara.
Despite the long walk, there were no immigration or customs formalities to pass through and the total disembarkation process took only about 15 minutes.
The only hotel offered to us by Azamara for a post-cruise stay did not have a harbour view and so we decided to make our own arrangements and treat ourselves to two nights in a Superior Harbour View Suite in the tower at the Peninsula. Our stay included transfers in one of the hotel's iconic green Rolls Royces as well as use at other times of one of their custom-made Mini Coopers on a first come first served basis.
Our suite at "The Pen" made an interesting comparison to our suite on Quest. The Quest Penthouse Suite is 793 sq ft [73.7 sq m] including the balcony and I have already commented on the standard of accommodation provided. The post-rebranding daily rate for this cruise was £915 [approximately US$1410] including taxes. I fully accept that I am not comparing apples with apples but our suite at the Peninsula is 900 sq ft [82 sq m] and height of luxury with sophisticated electronic controls, mood lighting and hand-free telephone in the bathroom. Our daily rate of £930 [approximately US$1430 - including taxes and service charge] included free Internet access [wireless and wired], complimentary unlimited mini-bar, daily fruit basket and newspaper plus full breakfast and a credit of approximate £125 food and beverage credit.
For the rest of our stay in Hong Kong we used the HOHO bus [Big Bus Tours] to revisit Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Stanley. We bought our ticket at a discount voa the Internet prior to leaving home and for £107 [US$165] for two we received three days unlimited travel over all three routes including night tour of Kowloon plus Star Ferry, sampan and Peak Tram tickets. Hong Kong has a good public transport system and you can save a great deal of money by using it but we considered the HOHO bus to be good value. Unexpectedly for a tourist bus, we saw much more of "real" back street Hong Kong than we had ever seen previously using public transport which tends to stick to the main routes.
We enjoyed our cruise but found the port-intensive itinerary extremely tiring even taking private tours for which we controlled the pace. The overall cost of the cruise was lower than we had expected primarily because we spent much less on drink than on previous cruises despite not drinking the free pour wines. However, we still find the post-rebranding price for a Penthouse Suite difficult to justify with the present standard of accommodation provided. As things stand, it is unlikely that we will return to Azamara in the foreseeable future. If the suites on Quest and Journey are refurbished to an improved standard and if new ships bring with them a greater variety of itineraries, both of which Philip suggested may happen, and if menus with greater variety are introduced in the speciality restaurants then we would certainly reconsider as there is much about the product we enjoy. In the meantime, there is always Celebrity.