We were on the 26-October Greek Islands and Holyland cruise with many other new friends we made from the cruise critic board. These friends are folks we care about now, and look forward to continued friendship long after the cruise.
To say it was the best cruise we had been on is an understatement. While others have done a great job describing the ports and tours. I'm describing our total experience. This was a cruise to celebrate a milestone birthday, so it was special for my wife, our son and me. The crew made it so.
I'll start by saying this was the best cruise of my life. Not everything was perfect, but the way that the captain and crew of the Azamara Quest made us feel was just so much better than any cruise experience.
When we boarded in Athens, we were welcomed by key staff members and then the captain came by soon after. We were greeted with champagne and warm welcomes. We had some troubles dockside, with the check-in team having lost our boarding cards, so it was a little stressful getting on the ship...that stress disappeared in 2 minutes once we got to the top of the gangway, and the on-board crew was there with our cards in hand and a personal welcome and apology.
We had booked a suite on deck 8, and our butler, Eyup, was there to meet us as we got to the cabin. He was there all the time, quiet and efficient. Our breakfast came hot every morning, just as we asked for...and when we returned from tours, he brought tea and lovely snacks that met our dietary needs (see below). Both he and our cabin stewards made sure the room was always in perfect shape. The room was large, great bathroom, and super view.
The crew learned our names so quickly, I only wish I could learn and remember names the way they did. We felt like family on board.
Dining was really interesting. We ate in the main dining room all but 3 nights. There were 3 of us: 1 a vegetarian, 1 on low sodium diet. The vegetarian choices were great all but 2 nights. Each night they would give my wife a menu for the next day to make her choices, and Nikolas would check to be sure they could be made without salt, and her food was always ready when we ate the next night as ordered, and with any substitutes they needed to do to eliminate salt. Prime C and Acqualina were very good and had both excellent food (definitely order the Grand Marnier Souffle), as we went there for the night of my birthday.
The main dining room attendant, Anna, knew our stateroom number after the first night. We decided most nights to join in larger tables, and we just found the conversation to be very diversified and interesting. This became the evening entertainment. Dinner was leisurely, as the great service was such that they would not bring a new course until all finished their conversations and previous course. Having the wine with dinner made it a very relaxed affair. So, a couple of nights we spent 3 hours with no one rushing us to move. This was super. Other nights, we wanted a faster dinner, so we sat a table for the 3 of us, and were out much quicker. We found the Windows Cafe to be difficult to deal with, especially with the food having to be served. It was not the crew that was a problem, but passengers who felt that lines were for others and not them. Given that I don't like being pushed, we chose to stay far away from Windows.
Captain Johannes is so special! He has a dry sense of humor, and is so down to earth. He was visible everywhere. His crew followed that example. Ryszard, the hotel captain, was always out and around and visible....saw him playing ping pong one day with the passengers, serving food at the buffet, and being there at the white night party
Tony was the cruise director, and we enjoyed his sense of humor and he has a terrific singing voice. The band and singers were good. Some of the other acts were not so great...sometimes it was because the audience itself was very 'dead'. The piano man - Jim Badger- was the best entertainment on the ship. There was not much happening after 11. Going to the Looking Glass lounge found only a small number of people for late night events, such as dancing or karaoke. Few people in the Casino too. So it became an opportunity to walk around the decks. Every morning I took advantage of the gym and walking on the jogging track. I even used the Thalassotherapy pool a couple times, and it was always a place to find quiet and get a relaxing whirlpool.
The ship itself is a reminder of the "earlier" times of cruising. Lots of dark woods and teak on the rails. You just don't see this in the newer mega ships we have been on. Having the library and game room was also great, a nice place to find peace and quiet. Also, because all of the interior is non-smoking, you didn't get all of the smoke smell we find on most other ships. This was most appreciated (although there was still cigar smoking by 1 person in the place on deck that allows smoking).
We had to divert ports when there was military activity at Ashdod. At about 11 PM Captain Johannes used the PA system to alert everyone that we were going to go to Haifa and fully explained the reasons. The crew was then available at customer relations to answer questions and helped me get in touch with our private guide to re-arrange our pickup for the next morning. The Captain didn't create any panic, he was so matter-of-fact. The funny story is that the was another ship that had to divert, and their passengers found out when they woke up in Haifa and had a note under their door that they had changed ports. On our ship, a new daily Pursuits newsletter was immediately created, and tours were rearranged and a sense of normalcy was there. When we returned to the ship, the captain and officers and band were on the dock with champagne, hot towels and a warm welcome. Whenever we got to the security check-in, to put in our key-cards the staff would always say "Welcome HOME" and they meant it. It did feel like home for those 11 days.
After the Israel trips, some folks came down with stomach illnesses. Instead of waiting for problems, the Captain and crew immediately initiated procedures to minimize the spread, and kept us informed of how many people were impacted and the measures they were taking. The communication was just terrific. All transparent and factual.
The tours were generally good. A couple of the tour operators were not up to the Azamara standards and the Excursions manager immediately took actions. In one case, they refunded part of a tour price because of the fact that the tour took us to a place solely to sell things, and that was not part of their agreement.
If I tried to name the names of everyone who was helpful, I would forget someone...suffice it to say that EVERYONE on board is customer service oriented. People smiled and were genuinely happy to have passengers on board.
We were lucky enough to win the Bingo game that had the hand-drawn map of our itinerary. The Captain and the navigation officer both signed it and personalized it for us. This is a terrific keepsake.
The best recommendation anyone can give is to look at return business. We've booked our next cruise on the Quest while we were on-board. It will be in early 2013, so we have something to look forward to.
We are Diamond level cruisers on RCCL, and having the transfer of status to Azamara was also nice. RCCL is good, but the differences in the 2 lines comes down to the size and focus of Azamara. Small ship, friendly crew, great service! It's a winning combination that Azamara needs to continue. In my opinion, we got a great return on the investment we made to take this cruise. It was a memorable birthday...a super experience. We recommend it highly.
Thank you to Captain Johannes and the entire staff.