Azamara Quest Entertainment
The main onboard entertainment venue is Deck 5. The Cabaret show lounge is an intimate performance space with a bar in the back. Instead of a Broadway-style theater with a big stage and stadium seating, it feels more like the secondary show lounge on larger ships with a small stage, dance floor and rows of free-standing chairs that are arranged in semi-circles around the dance floor. Sightlines aren't fabulous, so be sure to grab a seat early.
Continuing aft, the Casino Luxe features slot machines and gaming tables, as well as its own bar. Pretty quiet during the day, the casino is definitely hopping in the evenings. Past the shops, the Mosaic Cafe (formerly the Cova Cafe, a la Celebrity) is in an open, atrium-style space with scattered seating and a piano. This area is the hub of the ship; it's where you pause to grab a midday snack, hang out on a sea day with a deck of cards or a good book, play trivia or listen to musical performances. Outside Discoveries is the Discoveries Lounge (formerly the Martini Bar), which is the perfect spot to sip a before-dinner drink while listening to harp or guitar music. On Deck 10, the Looking Glass lounge has it all -- a dance floor, D.J. booth, bar, card tables and board games, and the Wii. Typically multiple activities are going on there at once.
Azamara Quest packs its sea days with plenty of daytime activities. (The spacing between event listings in the Pursuits daily newsletters is noticeably reduced to squeeze all the activities in.) But, for the most part, activities are limited to cliched onboard events. You'll find multiple trivia games each day in addition to line dancing classes, spa seminars on burning fat faster or eating more to weigh less, arts and crafts like origami or jewelry making, casino or sports (Ping-Pong, shuffleboard) tournaments, art auctions, bridge, bingo, culinary demonstrations and wine-tastings. Enrichment programming is limited to a handful of lectures about the history of some of the ports (on our sailing, these were a bit dry) and computer classes. Perhaps the activities are a tad lackluster because most Azamara passengers come onboard for the port-intensive itineraries and want to relax and take it easy on port days.
The best daytime event, by far, was the cook-off between the cruise director and the hotel director, which was more of a comedy sketch, even though one of the chefs did come out at the end to explain the right way to make crepes suzette. If harpist Mary Amanda is on your cruise, go to anything she leads (typically dance classes and a session on harp history and playing), as she's quite an engaging and humorous presenter.
In the evenings, you can find a variety of musical entertainment throughout the ship, including a guitarist or harpist at the Mosaic Cafe or Discoveries Lounge, the Azamara Trio playing soft rock in the Looking Glass, and a cabaret-style singer/pianist later in the evening at Mosaic. Pre-dinner in the Looking Glass is where the twinkle-toed ballroom dancers strut their stuff. (I'm talking passengers, not pros.) Passengers either loved or hated the musical stylings of Jim Badger, our cabaret entertainer. (Personally, I found him grating and overdone, but he always drew a big crowd.) The harpist and guitarist were top-notch.
Depending on how late we stayed in port, there would either be one or two performances in the Cabaret show lounge. The best acts were the solo passenger performers, including singers, pianists, fiddlers, magicians and other musicians who could command the intimate space without overwhelming it. A folkloric show in Turkey, complete with a belly dancer, was packed. The weakest acts were the song-and-dance shows put on by Azamara's own five-person ensemble; they were enjoyable but of lesser quality than the passenger acts.
Some nights featured additional evening entertainment, including a handful of well-attended karaoke nights in the Looking Glass, themed dance parties and an al fresco deck party, featuring a Dancing with the Stars competition that paired crewmembers with passengers for a dance-off. Dance music almost always consisted of bad 70's wedding classics like Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" and The Village People's "YMCA" -- old standards would have been better. We learned on the last night that if you want modern dance music, you can find it -- but only after midnight when a D.J. takes over the Looking Glass. In reality, the combination of Azamara's port-packed itineraries and jet lag meant that typical bedtimes ranged from 9 to 11 p.m., and often there wasn't enough going on in the earlier hours to convince people to stay up for the fun.
Azamara's shore excursions department offers the usual sightseeing opportunities. The offerings struck me as neither especially innovative nor active, but they did cover the basics (tours to Ephesus from Kusadasi, excursions to see the pyramids from both Egyptian ports). The tours got mixed reviews. It's hard to know if people had high expectations that weren't met because many of the tours were rushed, owing to long drives from the port to the attractions and the need to fit in everything in a short day. (The Israel tours suffered from this especially, but there's really no solution.) Our Cyprus tour had an excellent guide (well spoken and knowledgeable about many topics), but the five-hour tour left no room to grab lunch, creating a busload of somewhat grumpy, hungry cruisers.
Tour pricing seems rather arbitrary, with some being quite reasonably priced ($49 for our five-hour Cyprus tour, $79 for a 4.5-hour Pompeii tour from Sorrento) and others seeming overpriced ($165 for a full-day tour to Capri that didn't include lunch, $475 for an overnight excursion to Cairo -- we paid $225 for an independent tour).
I will, however, commend the shore excursions onboard staff for being quite helpful in explaining tour components, offering honest advice about whether we would be just fine doing a port on our own and even giving information about independent touring, such as where to find buses and ferries.
Azamara Quest Public Rooms
Azamara Quest's reception area has a cozy feel with the purser's desk, shore excursions desk and future cruise sails desk all located in the main atrium area of Deck 4, surrounded by comfy chairs and couches. On Deck 5, the Photo Shop is located across from the casino; there you can browse and purchase photos taken by the ship's photography staff. In the atrium area by the Mosaic Cafe are two boutiques -- the Quest Shop sells everything from logo wear and stuffed animals to rather expensive clothing, bags and sundries, while Indulgences offers more upscale purchases, such as designer sunglasses, fancy watches and liquor. The art auction desk sits prominently at the intersection of the Mosaic Cafe, entrance to Discoveries and the stairs down to the Purser's Desk.
The beautiful library is up on Deck 10 by Prime C and Aqualina. It has an extensive collection of books and a beautiful ceiling fresco of birds, giving the impression of a greenhouse. Although the library is called the Drawing Room, it's the Looking Glass lounge that offers card tables, board games and a Wii gaming system (featuring virtual golf and bowling).
The eConnections computer center is just outside the spa; if you want to use the ship's wireless, you must go there first to set up an account. You can purchase Internet packages for $40 (75 minutes), $60 (125 minutes), $80 (185 minutes) or $100 (265 minutes). Without a package, Internet use costs 65 cents a minute. There's no charge to use the printer hooked up to the eConnections computers; it's great for printing out boarding passes. The Internet connection was surprisingly good on my trip; it disappeared entirely for a few hours from time to time, but when it was up, the connection was always quite good -- no waiting for minutes for pages to load.
Azamara Quest Spa & Fitness
Deck 9 is the lido deck with one pool and two whirlpools surrounded by teak loungers with cloth-covered padding. Wicker tables and chairs are set up for al fresco dining by the Pool Grill; on the opposite side of the pool bar, a covered area offers comfy couches and lounges for reading or hanging out in a shadier spot. On the forward end of the pool deck, a Ping-Pong table is available for game play. One deck up, an oval track circles the pool area for walking or jogging. A half-deck on Deck 11 provides additional space for sunbathing and is a great place to stargaze on the one night the ship turns the upstairs lights off. The pool area was definitely packed on sea days; for a quieter outdoor respite, try the loungers on Deck 5.
Given the size of the ship, the Astral Spa (featuring Elemis products) has to be small, but it does offer full service. A salon offers typical hairstyling, manicure and pedicure services, while treatment rooms are available for everything from massages to facials and Ionithermie Algae Detox. An acupuncturist is also onboard. Wait for the in-port spa specials for the best deals, such as three treatments in an hour for $99 or a pedicure with skin treatment and foot massage for $48 (regularly $61). Passes to the thalassotherapy pool and spa sun deck can be purchased by the day or the cruise. A one-day pass is $19, a cruise pass is $99, and a couple's cruise pass is $175; Penthouse and Royal Suite passengers receive complimentary access, as do passengers who book a spa treatments (free all day for port-day treatments and free for one hour before and one hour after treatments on sea days).
The small fitness center packs a lot into minimal space. Elliptical trainers, treadmills and stationary bikes all have high-tech displays with TV capabilities. Behind them, a selection of free weights and a few weight machines are available for pumping iron. An aerobics area is kitted out with spinning bikes, conditioning balls and yoga mats, as well as a complicated-looking Pilates machine. Fitness classes -- including yoga, Pilates, aerobics, body conditioning, spinning and stretching -- are all free of charge. They're well run, but you'll reap the most benefits (and risk hurting yourself less) if you've done these activities before, as the instructor won't adjust your positioning. Personal training and body composition analysis are available for additional fees.
The best-kept secrets on the ship are the spa locker rooms. Use of the steamrooms is free (just swap your cruise card for a locker key), and so are the spa showers, each with multiple jets for a massaging wash. When you're tired of fighting with the curtain or banging your elbows in the tiny cabin showers, head on up to the spa for a more enjoyable cleansing. The anteroom between spa reception and the locker rooms also serves up fruit-infused waters for free, which are quite refreshing whether you've been to the spa, worked out or have simply been lounging in the sun.