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Exotic Mediterranean on Azamara Quest
Day 1: Trip Planning, Arrival in Istanbul
Day 2: Kusadasi/Ephesus
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Cairo, Egypt
Day 5: Jerusalem
Day 6: Haifa
Day 7: Limassol, Cyprus
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: Sorrento
Day 10: Debarkation in Rome
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Day 10: Friday, Debarkation in Rome
Debarkation in RomeThe disembarkation announcements began before 7 a.m. on the last day of our cruise, so no leisurely sleep-in was allowed. At 7:30 or so, the Windows Cafe was packed with guests eating their last meals onboard and saying their final farewells to newly made friends and crewmembers. It's pretty easy to debark 634 people (seven of whom were staying on for the next cruise), and by the time we left the ship, disembarkation was running about a half-hour ahead of schedule.

I chose a rather unfortunate flight routing that had me flying out of Rome at 5 p.m., spending the night in London and continuing my journey to San Francisco Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. The schedule presented a problem because I could not go straight from the ship to the airport (otherwise, I'd have spent way too many hours there), but I didn't really have a full day to explore Rome. I was originally planning to stow my luggage at Rome's Termini Station's left-luggage desk, but as Rachel was staying two nights in Rome, I lucked out and left them in her hotel room.

So, what did we do with four or so hours in Rome? We hopped on the metro to the Barberini stop to see an attraction neither of us had visited in our multiple trips to Rome -- the Capuchin Crypt on the Via Veneto. Located beneath a church, the six rooms of the crypt contain the remains of more than 4,000 Capuchin friars, dating from the 16th to 19th centuries. However, instead of burying the remains, the friars used the bones to decorate the walls and chapels of the crypt. They propped some mummified monks up in penitent positions, and used vertebrae and ribs to make elaborate designs and patterns on the walls. It was seriously creepy -- much more so than the ancient tombs in which we had joked around in Egypt and Cyprus.

We hurried into the daylight and cheered ourselves up with quick visits to some of Rome's most famous attractions: the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain (yes, the coin toss works -- we had indeed returned to Rome) and the Pantheon. We dined at one of the many cafes that line the streets near the Pantheon, but the pizza wasn't nearly as good as in Sorrento. And then, it was time for me to pick up my luggage, bid farewell to my partner in cruising and catch a cab to Rome's Fiumicino Airport.

Overall, the trip was a great success. The itinerary was a fabulous draw, and Azamara Quest made for a comfortable home for two weeks. Looking back, here are my final thoughts on the cruise:

Itinerary: The itinerary featured a fabulous combination of exotic ports that truly lived up to expectations. It was great to have an overnight in Istanbul and two days each in Egypt and Israel. However, the beginning of the trip was so busy with long days in ports that most passengers were exhausted by the time we got to Cyprus, and the short day in port was awkward. I think most people would have preferred having a sea day after Haifa, stopping at a Greek island or another port along the way, followed by a second sea day before reaching Sorrento.

Cuisine: For the most part, food on the ship met -- but did not exceed -- expectations, with the exception of the wonderful Prime C and the well-above-average Windows Cafe. The main dining room is to be commended for its variety of dishes, but quality was usually pretty average. Prime C was generally agreed to be the better of the two specialty restaurants, whether you're eating steak, fish or veggies. The Windows Cafe was the surprise dining highlight, featuring plenty of made-to-order options, such as omelets and stir-fries; a fabulous bakery selection, complimented with a wide selection of cheeses; and always something for everyone, including a carving station, fresh sushi at dinner, a salad bar and a range of desserts and ice cream. Typically not a buffet fan, I found I preferred to dine at Windows more than at Discoveries, the main dining room -- especially when, after long days in port, I was less than enthusiastic about dressing up for a leisurely, multi-course dinner.

Service: Service was excellent on Azamara Quest. The ship's staff seemed genuinely happy and always greeted us with a smile and a hello. The dining staff in Discoveries, Windows and Prime C all made special vegetarian meals for me with no problem, and the shore excursions staff answered all of our questions -- even about independently touring in port. Mostly, the staff just created a pleasant atmosphere onboard by being positive and helpful all the time. The only service downfall I noticed was the butler service. The butlers are really just cabin stewards, which is fine with me -- but if you're expecting very personal service from your butler, you may have to request it specially.

Onboard Activities: Shipboard activities were solidly mediocre on our cruise and included all of the typical offerings -- trivia, bingo, line-dancing -- but it may be because, on sea days, guests were too exhausted from sightseeing to do more than lie in the sun and read. Nightlife was also geared to the senior set, though we learned on our last night that the Looking Glass DJ played modern dance music after midnight. (If only we were ever up that late during the trip!) Azamara did the best with its guest acts in Cabaret show lounge -- our cruise had a great lineup of singers, musicians and a magician. Although we only caught a few acts, the performers were quite talented, and we heard rave reviews of many we'd missed.

Accommodations: Cabins on Azamara Quest are on the small side -- remember, it's a refurbished ship -- but our balcony cabin was spacious enough for our needs (though it did tend to get messy). Beds are comfy, and there's just enough storage space, but the tiny bathrooms and cramped showers are the weakest links. If you can swing the cost, the Sky Suites are the ideal-size cabins, in my opinion. They're expanded balcony cabins, still one room, but with larger verandahs and much more space than the standard balcony cabins (including spacious bathrooms with tubs). However, they aren't enormous, New York-apartment-sized staterooms like the Penthouse and Royal Suites.

If you want to visit some of the more unusual cruise destinations, while being well taken care of on an intimate ship with outstanding service, Azamara is a great option. Once I recover from traipsing through three continents in two weeks, I know I'll be tempted to return -- there are still more exotic cruise destinations to see!

Image of Capuchin Crypt appears courtesy of cappucciniviaveneto.it.
Day 9: Sorrento red arrow  

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