Thomas Wolfe wrote "You Can't Go Home Again"
We were on the Azamara Quest from Hong Kong to Singapore back in February 2010 and was so impressed by the staff and crew, not to mention the ship itself, so that we booked this cruise of March 17th from Shanghai to Hong Kong.
Can you go home again? Not really, if one expects everything and everyone to stay in place. Change happens and quality can still be maintained, improved with the addition of many new faces and talents aboard. Captain Carl Smith was at the Isle of Man to await the birth of his second(?) child. Lecturer Jon Fleming was not on board as were other mainstays of the staff. The replacements , Captain Leif Karlsson, cruise director Russ Thomas Grieve and hotel director Ryszard Gusmann were more than up to the standards first observed on our first voyage. And Roxie Saunders was still with the ship, as capable and friendly as ever manning the front desk with Guest Relations Director Ana Maria Bora taking over Myia Lin. Captain Karlsson seems to be extremely PR-minded and very visible, moving about to greet passengers including at breakfast and lunch , sometimes was looking for a table where he might talk to passengers!
We had no complaints about the food (or coffee!) and the beds were comfortable enough. The crew still were extremely friendly and capable.. And when we disembarked, the Captain, Hotel Director, Cruise Director and others were at the gangplank to wish us a safe journey home.
Our room steward Dimitry and his assistant - "Call me Ishmael" were capable, friendly. An incident deserves mention and commendation. When we were on the fourth deck about to disembark, Dimitry came tearing down from our seventh deck cabin with a camera my wife had left in the room!
Complaints: Mosaic Room was much to small to accommodate the Trivia players and perhaps these games should be moved to the Looking Glass. Inadequate tables and chairs led to teams of ten, eight, seven etc. monopolizing the sofas and encouraging too much information being exchanged - when the claim was that they WERE teams of five sharing the table! And some of small tables were taken by people who were there to read, meet friends etc. And there were also crowds taking advantage of the sales in the shops. Because the room was packed with people, the Mosaic staff was overwhelmed by the various demands.
The other complaints have to do with problems over which Azamara has no control. It had to do with weather and ports. With the ports, Azamara could do a better job in informing the passengers of the travel problems involving the ports at Tianjin and Inchon
Logistically, Azamara wants its ships in the Mediterranean in the spring. It also wants to avoid the monsoon months and hot weather months in South East Asia which means that the China and Japan cruises usually have to be in February-March and then to Southeast Asia in March.
However the month of February means very cold weather in China and Korea. This does not translate into good sightseeing weather. (The low temperatures together with blustery winds meant seeking shelter and which to a great extent, the limits use of the top portion of the double decker buses.
The advantages of small ship such, as the Quest is that it can venture up closer to the city center. Of course this advantage is nullified if there are no rivers or berths. Normally in Shanghai, the Quest and other smaller ships can berth at the International Cruise Terminal which is fairly close to The Bund. In our case, the berth was occupied and we had to go to Baoshan, which was about $70.00 away in taxi fares.
While Tianjin is advertised as the gateway to Beijing, it cost approximately $70-100 and an hour plus from the dock to Tianjin center to catch the fast train to Beijing. Ironically, the train took only 28 minutes to get to Beijing and cost only 69 yuan ($10.50).
One had to go into long lines to buy a train ticket. One could have taken an taxi from the pier to a nearby train station but the light rail train necessitated a change at the Tianjin station which would mean catching a train that runs every two or three hours.
Perhaps Azamara could pre-purchase the train tickets for Beijing. We got our hotel to purchase our train tickets in Beijing - well worth the $9.00 service fee for two tickets.
The capital of South Korea is Seoul and to get there from the port at Inchon requires a taxi or bus ride which takes a minimum of one and a half hours, given the traffic in Seoul is heavy.
The last stop was on Jeju Island. I do not know this to be a certainty, but was informed that this was the Quest first visit to that island.. Azamara did provide a shuttle to the city center for passengers
Perhaps Azamara could make the stop in Inchon for two days allowing passengers to go to Seoul and stay there overnight rather than stopping at Jeju Island. It may make more sense as Seoul is the capita and major city in Asia.
The experience in Seoul and in Beijing were good except for the distances from the port.
If there was any local entertainment, I was totally unaware of it. There was a lion dance on the dock at Quindao and four Korean ladies folk-dancing at Inchon (both events were a few minutes late and by the time we had boarded our van.
The only the ports were you able to walk into town was Hong Kong
And yes (depending on the itinerary and costs) we would jump at a chance to journey on the Quest again!