Azamara Quest Cruise Review by little britain: The little ship with the big heart!
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The little ship with the big heart!
We cruised on the Quest from March 29 for 14 nights, travelling from Hong Kong via Vietnam, Thailand to Singapore. This was our first Quest cruise but we have cruised several times before on Celebrity and RCI, making us Discoverer members in LCV. This cruise was booked since the day it went on sale in April 2009!
We flew BA club class into HK - smooth, efficient as always and then caught the rail link into Kowloon (HK$70pp). If you keep your train ticket you are entitled to use the complimentary hotel shuttle service (take the lift up one floor and you will see the desks) We weren't actually going to a hotel but had calculated that the Marco Polo hotel was right at Ocean Terminal so we caught the #K2 bus. The trip took around 20 mins and dropped us at the door. Check in is strange in HK as it is in a shopping centre, so you walk past several children's designer shops (baby Dior and junior Burberry...etc), then you have to take your luggage outside to the luggage drop off More area which is at the far end of the terminal. I felt that someone should have been on hand to take your bags from you. Then upstairs to check in, which was a smooth process. We arrived around 5.30p so we were the only ones there.
On board the ship we were greeted by the Hotel Director, Ryszard, and a drink. As we arrived late our room was already ready. We had a quick tour of the ship to locate our bearings, and our suitcases arrived shortly afterwards. Washed and refreshed we headed to the Windows Cafes for a quick snack. I have to say now that on all our previous cruises (around 20 I think) we would never be seen dead eating in the buffet area in the evening - we nickname it the 'smash & grab' on the larger ships and buffets usually have the atmosphere of a motorway service station; but the ambiance and selection on Azamara gave it a totally different feel and I think we ate there around 5 times in the evening! They had a good selection and DH was particularly taken with the stirfry station that was there every day. We also loved the ability to sit outside. Jeremy the barman was very attentive (and cute!) and always kept our glasses filled!
After our first taste of the daily free flow wine we had an appointment at the Felix bar at the top of the Peninsula Hotel. The ship was so centrally docked, right between Ocean Terminal and the Star Ferry terminal that this meant the Pen and the shops of Nathan Road were a very short walk away.
The next day we caught the Star Ferry over to HK island and then the #6 bus to Stanley market. If you take the #6 it goes a scenic route and you get to see the beautiful countryside, and beaches that HK has to offer. It is not just a landscape of skyscrapers. After some retail therapy in Stanley, lunch and a beer we caught the #6X bus (this goes a quicker route via the tunnel) back to the ferry and the ship. Sailaway was at 8pm which is when the nightly light show takes place: it was fantastic to be in the middle of Victoria Harbour with the buildings 'flashing' all around us. And then it got rough! Some of the worst seas I have ever experienced, so feeling a little fragile, I retired to bed.
The next day we found we had missed the muster which was held at 5p on the first day, and the catch up muster! We also found we had been offered a bridge tour, a galley tour and an engine room tour....as the weather was terrible it was good to have these options! We did all 3. There was also the first of two Cruise Critic meetings. Azamara seems to take Cruise Critic feedback and comments very seriously and all the senior officers were there for the meeting. On the last day they had a follow up meeting to get feedback of the cruise experience too.
That night we had the CC dinner in Prime C. There was a very active roll call for this cruise and I think we had over 70 signed up.
Our room was a SV aft balcony. It was a fair size, with ample storage with 2 ½ wardrobes, and plenty of drawer space. The balcony was larger than those along the side of the ship, but only had 2 chairs and a table. No loungers. Because the balcony is metal when you sat down it meant you could only just see over the edge. We would book this room again though. The bathroom was small, as we were to expect, but I felt that this was in need of upgrading. It had a shower curtain that liked to cling to you, I'm sure they could change this to the sliding doors like they have on s-class ships. The sink unit also looked dated. The toiletries were Elemis in 100ml size bottles. They had Aromazing shampoo, Sharp shower and bath gel, Provitamin conditioner and Vitamin rich body lotion. The bath towels were a good size, the bath robes were Frette. There were slippers in the wardrobe. There was one of those tube hairdryers on the bathroom wall (again looking very dated) and a proper plug in hairdryer in the dresser drawer. There were 4 plug sockets-2 European and 2 USA. Previous reports have said the mattresses need replacing. I certainly had no problems sleeping every night. Perhaps this was due to the wine...
There were bedtime treats every night - in no particular order we had chocolate covered strawberries, mini chocolate brownies, pink mini macaroons, truffles and rice crispy crunchies. The daily newspaper (the 4-page version) was delivered nightly along with the Pursuits sheet for the next day.
Despite reading Cruise Critic and devouring the information were were a few things I did not know about.......you can have canapEs in your room every afternoon if you wish - there is a little card to request this in the back of the blue folder; in addition to the usual room service menu there is also a selection of Asian food in the blue folder in the room; if you don't like the daily wine selection you can always ask for one of the wines from a previous day; you can see all the dining room menus for the cruise via the TV in the room if you click on General Info; there are approx 43 pay per view movies and these start from $9.98 per movie; and there is a free steamroom in the ladies washroom in the spa area.
The complimentary wine was actually very good. I was told they load 6,000 bottles for each 14night cruise! They do not appear to be served in a strict rotation order but are selected to go with the menu of the day. The first day we had a Chilean Riesling which was a bit sweet for my liking; we then had Pinot Grigio and Chianti, Bulletin Shiraz from Australia, and SA Stellenzicht Sauv Blanc which was my favourite; Gerard Bertrand Chardonnay and Cab Sauv from France; NZ Kono Sauv Blanc; Australian Footprint Shiraz and Chardonnay...there were a few others which I did not catch. Having the complimentary wine certainly helped our on board account to be the lowest it has ever been! We did not order a single bottle from the wine list. There were 4 bottles of wine each day from the wine list offered at a reduced price - around $17 up. There were also daily cocktail specials for $5 (non alcoholic for $4), they had 2 half price beers every day for around $2.50, and they also did a beer in a bucket deal where you buy 4 and get one free. I never thought I would say this about a cruise but their drinks prices were very very reasonable! Of course there is no service charge added either. I wish other lines would follow suit. There was also a drinks package but to be honest I cannot think of a reason why you would want to buy this IMO.
The demographic on board was around 370 USA/Canadian; 130 UK and 66 Australian. The LCV presentation for those who had cruised the most went to a Romanian couple on their 11th Azamara cruise. There were just 4 children on board and I would say that DW and I were certainly in the youngest group on the ship! There was also a film crew on board from The Travel Channel in the UK. The presenter was Cheryl Baker (Bucks Fizz) and one night was the 30th anniversary of their Eurovision win so Cheryl did the dance for us (without the skirt bit!) USA readers probably won't understand this reference!
Food is subjective but I would say the food was very good. We dined in the Windows buffet every breakfast and lunch we were on board. The smoothies and waffles were very good. We never went to the main dining room for breakfast or lunch so cannot comment. We also didn't go to the formal teas in the afternoon. We had a lovely brunch one day. We dined twice in each of the speciality restaurants. Service was spotty when we had the large CC group dine in Prime C but was fine when just the 2 of us. Aqualina was superb both times we went there. I would recommend booking as soon as you board as on several occasions we were told they could only seat us at 9p which was far too late for us. The Windows buffet also had a different selection each evening...from Russian to Mexican to Greek. This made for a variety to the choice.
Entertainment - I'm afraid that we rarely go to the shows or the lectures or the quizzes....there just isn't time! We went to just one show with an Australian impressionist and singer named Grant Galea and he was very good. However, the outstanding entertainer of the ship award must go to Jim Badger in the Mosaic lounge. He plays the piano and sings, and we all sing along. He also has a wicked tongue and has fun abusing members of the audience. We tried to catch his act every night.
The launderette opposite #7076 was the social hub of the ship. Always busy and full of people chatting! The washers and dryers were good but the irons and ironing boards needed replacing as they sometimes scorched the material.
Before I describe the ports I do want to mention a few little niggles that I found. I have already mentioned the bathroom in our cabin, but in each public washroom when you locked the door there was no indication that the cubicle was occupied so you always had someone trying the handle when you were 'busy'; one bed sheet had a stain on it like bleach that was clearly visible when the bed was made; when we ordered canapEs in our room they did not come with napkins; the swimming pool really is in need of retiling; and the laminated sign you put out to request the steward services your room looks a bit cheap. Little things like this could detract from a 5* cruise experience and I'm sure could be easily rectified.
Le Club Voyage benefits - as Discover members we had plenty of social events. There was a senior officers party, a champagne brunch, 2 cocktail hours; we also had 237 minutes each of complimentary internet; and 2 vouchers for complimentary laundry. The laundry voucher said it was just for a wash but all items came back ironed.
There were 2 shops on board-these were opened by the Captain so I think they were new franchises. However the selection in the jewellery shop was not that great. All cruises I have ever been on sell Tags or Gucci watches, and whilst I'm not expecting Rolex or IWC there was nothing better than a Fossil or a Guess. The clothes shop had some nice items included ACC logoware. There was also a 'jeweller in residence' who had some fabulous gold and silver items. There was no sale of duty free alcohol or cigarettes
Now onto the ports.... we chose this itinerary specifically for the ports - Vietnam was one of the few SE Asian countries we had not visited. We docked first in Danang - a rather unattractive industrial area. We did the ships tour - Hoi An on your own - this cost around £28pp. We were first taken to a marble carving factory where we spent far too long but then we finally got to Hoi An. We had several hours in which to wander the streets of this very pretty little town. Retail opportunities were everywhere and I got lots of sets of lacquer wear drinks mats, bowls, a photo album, silk scarves, watercolour paintings. Hoi An is also known for many tailor shops and several people got items made in a day. The ship ran a complimentary shuttle to Danang.
Next was HCMC (Saigon). The sail up the river was not as exciting as I had read. We had a group booked through Zoom. This man is infectious in his enthusiasm and we had all been sent many reports on Vietnamese customs, cusine and history to read before we arrived. Zoom was waiting on the pier for us. We visited the Post Office, Reunification Palace, a Chinese market and temple; then we had coffee at the top of the famous Rex hotel, we had lunch at Pho 2000 which is where President Clinton ate when he visted; then we visited a lacquer ware factory (another purchase), the war museum and the Ben Thanh market. Visas were handled by the ship and cost $40pp. We had a small landing card which we had to keep on us at all times. Traffic was chaotic with motor cycles everywhere. As we were docked overnight Zoom had recommended that we went out for dinner at the Royal Court restaurant in the Rex hotel. They served local cusine and had dancers and musicians. We had his driver, and the evening cost $40pp total including transport, meal, drinks and tip for a group of 15 of us. I'm confident that all of us would happily recommend Zoom - his real name is Tri Dung Nguyen firstname.lastname@example.org. The ship ran a complimentary shuttle from the port to the Rex hotel.
In Bangkok we had a tour booked with Tong from www.tourwithtong.com. She was amazing! We were docked right in town at Klong Toey. The ship ran a complimentary shuttle from the port to the Central World Plaza shopping centre on Ploenchit which is just by the Siam skytrain station. Depending on traffic this could take anything from 30 mins to 1 ½ hrs. On the first day we docked around 11am and Tong took us straight to the Grand Palace. This was shutting at 1p due to it being a public holiday and the royal family were visiting. We also saw the huge reclining Buddha in Wat Pho. After a fantastic lunch we had a river and canal tour and then visited the flower market. The official name for Bangkok is actually the longest capital city name in the world and she had us all singing a song to remember it on the journey home.....altogether now...." Krung Thep Manakhon Bovorn Ratanskosin Magin thara Ayutthaya Mahadilokpop Noparat ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchanivetmahasathan Avatartsathit Sakkathattiya Visnukarmrasit".....
On the second day we had a 7am start and Tong took us straight to the train market. This is an amazing experience where the locals sell their wares along the train track. Then the 3 minute whistle goes and they clear their goods, pull back their awnings and let the train go through....they do this 8 times a day. Then we went to the floating market which was amazing. Make sure you go in a boat where they paddle you instead of in one with an engine so you can see how peaceful the pace is. After a quick visit to a wood carving factory we were on the way to a fishing village when the van broke down! Tong quickly flagged down a passing open backed bus (rather like a Turkish dolmus) and we all climbed in! This is where most tour guides would have abandoned the day and taken us back to the ship, but not Tong! We arrived in the fishing village in the bus and although we don't speak Thai we knew that everyone was saying "what are you doing in that"?. We set off in another boat to see the oyster beds, and then we had bought bags and bags of bananas to feed the wild monkeys. And there were a lot of wild monkeys along the banks and swimming along side us, and one even climbed onto the side of the boat! Lunch followed and this was held in a fishing platform built on stilts high above the water. A ladder up to the platform was not for the feint hearted but lunch was superb. The van had been repaired and was waiting for us on our return. Back at the ship we freshened up and then caught the shuttle into town. We headed straight for Jim Thompson's shop which sells the most beautiful silk products in Thailand. After this we walked down Patpong which is famous for fake copies of designer products (and other things....) but I felt that the copies were not as good as those on sale at the floating market (and were not as cheap ). We caught a cab back to the port and this only cost 100THB including the tip - that is around $3. The ship actually left at 2 the following day but we took advantage of the sunshine and the empty pool and sunbeds and did not go ashore again.
Next was Koh Samui. The island had been hit by severe flooding the week before so it was touch and go as to whether we would visit there. But as with everything Thai they had got the island cleared and up and running again. This was our only tender port and the experience was smooth and efficient. There were several cab drivers offering tours at the port but we had arranged to meet friends who were coincidentally holidaying on the island at the same time. Cab fares are fixed and it only cost 600THB (around $20) for the 45min ride to their hotel .
Finally we pulled into Singapore. We had an overnight here before we had to disembark. Singapore is spotlessly clean and very westernised. Starbucks on every corner. We met with friends for dinner and again for lunch the next day. Disembarking was a smooth process with most senior officers on hand to say good bye as you left the ship.
Overall conclusion is that this is a very good cruise line- the officers were evident daily, the crew were always helpful and smiling, not having to pay tips is a bonus, the included water and sodas make everything easy, there was no continual hard sell, no announcements except for the daily address by the Captain. I had even been slightly worried about the standard of dress code on board but everyone seemed to scrub up well in the evenings. Apart from the few niggles which can be easily ironed out I'm sure this line will go from strength to strength and carve a niche market for itself. Less
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