We sailed the Quest September 10 for a seven-day cruise to the Greek Islands, and Marmaris and Kusadasi in Turkey. The itinerary was very interesting, including islands we hadn't visited before. For us the big advantage of this cruise was docking very close to the town centre and walking off and enjoying the ports without having to shuttle in or take an excursion. There was a good mix of historical sites, shopping, great scenery and breathtaking sunsets.
Azamara has improved from its pre-Azamara Club days. From the moment we arrived at the port, the Azamara touch was evident. We were met by a cheerful agent who provided us with luggage tags, collected our bags, and directed us to the station where we filled out the medical forms. Then on to complete registration formalities, have the obligatory pre-boarding photo taken and we were on the ship. Very organized.
Taking lunch at Windows while our cabin was being readied seemed the sensible thing to do. When we sailed previously, Windows Breza was not as well known as it is now so while dining there is delightful, tables are more difficult to come by. The food, however, has improved dramatically, and I say that in full recognition that I noted in the review of our first cruise that Windows was a cut above other cruise line's at that time. My wife went as far as to observe it was the nicest lunch she had had in a long time. I had to agree. Also remarkable was the very efficient and friendly staff. It was an efficiency and friendliness that seldom waivered over seven days.
There were glitches however. On later days we saw staff flounder trying to get waffles from the waffle station to the guests who ordered them. A couple placed an order and then left to gather the rest of their breakfast and when they returned, it wasn't quite ready. The server said "I will bring it to you". The server was directed by the manager to take care of something else, and that was the end of that. Some discussion followed with other servers about who the order was for. No one had a clue so it sat there - cooling. One server took part of the order away and we left before the whole scene played itself out. At afternoon tea (which lasted an hour), we observed the whipped cream at the scone station disappear after 20 minutes. When the manager came along I thought he would order it replaced. Instead he ordered the empty bowl removed leaving only the preserves to accompany the scones. He seemed to have missed the point a bit. We also observed some mild barking directed towards staff by the manager.
Once our cabins were readied the announcement was made so we moved off to our home for the next seven days, where our bags had already been delivered. There were a few small changes. The furnishings, the bed, bedding and towels were all excellent, but now soft drinks, sodas and water were complementary. There is no doubt that the cabins are small and storage is limited, but adequate for our 7 day cruise (as indeed it had been for our 14 day cruise earlier), but you don't want to pack a lot if you are in an inside, outside or verandah cabin. Fortunately, there are no formal nights on Azamara, so you won't need a suit, tuxedo, dressing up, a selection of shoes - you can pack light. Bathroom amenities are of high quality and the towels, robes and slippers fluffy and cozy. I must say the light switches on the table lamps were difficult to figure. There is a hair dryer in the bathroom but also a more powerful one stored in the door in the desk. As well, you will find a pair of binoculars there for use during the cruise.
Overall, the cabin was in first-rate condition. In fact, the whole ship seems to be in first class condition. We saw no worn furniture or frayed carpets anywhere. Mechanical things all worked (coffee and beverage machines, automatic doors, toilets etc.) The Quest isn't old, but it isn't young either, so we considered it perhaps the best-maintained ship we have ever seen.
We dined the first night in Discoveries, the ship's main dining room. In my previous review, I noted that Discoveries restaurant was all right but nothing special. Well, that has changed. The now smooth, friendly efficiency of the dining room is a joy. It sets the ambience for the well-considered menu, masterfully prepared cuisine and clever presentation. I could scarcely believe it was the same dining room. I started to rethink the reservations I made in Prime C and Aqualina , as the food and service in Discoveries and Windows were excellent - and no surcharge!
Reservations for the Prime C and the Aqualina were easy. Both restaurants were delightful; staff was helpful in choosing meals, personable and attentive. We can't say enough about the meals - lobster done to perfection, steaks-wonderful, interesting vegetables and salads, rich, flavourful red wines and light, crisp whites that changed every day. These restaurants turned out to be well worth the 15 dollar surcharge - no small thing considering the new experience in Discoveries. If Discoveries is now a superior venue, excellence describes the Prime C and Aqualina experience. We booked an additional night.
Dinners in Windows were themed - Italian, Greek, French and Indian. We dined in other venues those nights but we did join the deck bar-b-que one evening.
The bar-be-que was hit and miss, though the staff really went all out for it. The food seems to have ticked all the boxes, but the timing was off. Salads and other food stations were opened before the grill was ready. The music was a curious sort of country and western meets calypso but the free flowing wine policy of Azamara is a good party starter. What did work well was the Turkish folk show with a belly dancer. It was followed by a dance where the cruise director earned his pay for the whole cruise in one night! All in all, it was a good evening.
The Mosiac Cafe served a good selection of coffees, iced coffee, cappuccinos, teas, and small bites and cookies. It is a great place to stop after a day on shore for refreshment. The staff was friendly and we enjoyed spending some time with them every day. You could also serve yourself in Windows 24/7.
The Brunch with senior officers for Discoverer level members misfired a bit. A sign as you entered indicated to advise someone of your Discoverer status. We saw the sign but there was no one to advise, so we just sat down, apparently in the wrong place. We got the redheaded stepchild treatment from staff and officers. It was our fault.
In our previous cruise, senior officers and the Captain were visible and to have the Captain introduce himself in the sushi line was a pleasant surprise. I can't say the same about this cruise. Perhaps it is personality, perhaps it is policy - I prefer not to comment on it other than to reference it, as it seemed a refreshing change from the "suite passengers only" policy of some other lines. Everyone likes to think they are important enough to rub shoulders with the Captain. I thought Azamara worked to break that mold. I suppose not. Too bad.
Disembarkation was extremely easy, organized as usual - colour coded baggage tags, announcements for the tags, etc. One very civilized feature of disembarkation was the opening of Mosaic cafe. Sometimes when ships want you off they really want you off and few measures are taken to make things comfortable. Relaxing in the Mosaic lounge to a premium coffee while waiting for your disembarkation number to be called seemed refined in contrast.
Talking with crewmembers, they were cheerful and all seemed to be happy and would be returning to Azamara (as a preference) after their contract ends. I think their job satisfaction is due to the relaxed atmosphere of the cruise and the happy passengers. Maybe a feedback loop - happy crew leads to happy passengers, which is reflected in a happy crew - repeated such that the net result is a remarkable cruise experience.
In brief, our cruise was pretty much what we had hoped for except that it was only seven days. I don't think it long enough and probably wouldn't sail anything less than 10 days next time.
Azamara Club has taken some pretty big leaps forward.
We recommend Azamara without reservation, and look forward to our next cruise with them.