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Home > Virtual Cruises > Exotic Mediterranean on Azamara Quest
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 3: Wednesday, At Sea
At Sea
Today was our first sea day, as the ship crosses the Mediterranean from Turkey to Egypt. In my opinion, Azamara Quest is the perfect size for an action-packed itinerary like this one. The 694-passenger vessel has only 10 decks, and from our balcony cabin on Deck 7, we can get anywhere on the ship by going up and down only a few flights of stairs. The ship is small enough that you constantly run into other guests you've met previously and never get lost in a maze of public areas, but it's big enough to have most of the amenities you'd want, such as a spa and fitness center, two specialty restaurants, a casino, a disco, a show lounge and a handful of boutiques.

Our cabin is not huge, but it's tastefully decorated in blues and beiges. Even for a two-week cruise, we have ample closet space. There's a desk and a love seat that we essentially use as a storage facility for our stuff -- the couch's seating capacity improved dramatically once we asked for the four throw pillows to be removed. Actually, Azamara goes a little overboard with pillows -- there are four on each bed! Our balcony has two chairs and a table -- once it gets warmer, it will be perfect for alfresco dining.

The bathrooms, however, are quite small. The showers are not at all roomy, and they have those shower curtains that everyone loves to complain about. The toilets are oddly situated at an angle. My tip: if you're tired of whacking elbows against the shower walls or doing contortions to shave your legs, take your toiletries upstairs to the spa. Use of the locker rooms is free, and inside are a steam room and two huge showers -- each with an overhead jet and six side jets. Use it as incentive to factor a morning workout into your cruise.

And as a matter of fact, I started my first sea day at the gym, which has state-of-the-art machines with cool video interfaces. I attended the 8 a.m. yoga class, which was surprisingly authentic for a cruise ship; instead of a basic stretching class entitled "yoga," the session consisted of actual sun salutations and standing pose series. An additional nice touch was that each participant received a lavender-scented tissue to breathe into during the final resting pose, as lavender is a smell that is supposed to be calming. The fitness center also offers Pilates, spinning, aerobics and body-conditioning, and classes are free of charge, unlike on other cruise lines.

After breakfast in the Windows Cafe, I checked the Pursuits daily program to see what was on tap for the rest of the day. I was pleased to see that the program had noticeably more activities listed on it than on previous days, with one to two new offerings each half hour from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On the roster: six different versions of trivia, two dance classes, two wine tastings, various sports and casino game tournaments and several enrichment programs.

The Deck 10 Looking Glass lounge was a bustling place all day with a country line-dancing class, jewelry-making, Flags of Europe trivia and a bridge tournament -- all taking place at the same time. I skipped them all for a quick go at Nintendo Wii Golf. Yes, even deluxe cruise lines are getting into the video game craze, and Azamara guests can try their virtual golf or bowling skills onboard.

The onboard Wii is just one indication of Azamara's demographic. I was expecting mostly retirees but was surprised to find a sizeable number of younger guests (30's and 40's) onboard. There were also a handful of families with children, ranging from about six years old to teens -- certainly more kids than I had anticipated finding on a multi-week cruise to exotic destinations during the school year. Although Azamara offers no programming for children, the kids seemed well-behaved and happy, and the staff took pleasure in engaging the younger cruisers.

There was also a range of nationalities onboard. The ship was mostly American with a hefty number of Canadians and British. Spanish-, German- and French-speakers make up the remainder. The cruise line caters to non-English speakers by offering international hostesses, who can translate the daily program or answer questions for foreign travelers.

Another nice touch on sea days is tea time in the Discoveries main restaurant, accompanied by a harpist. Tables are outfitted with tiered trays of finger sandwiches, cookies and pastries, while waiters offer a selection of teas and scones with cream and jam. The tea is a mix of Twinings and Bigelow -- if you want a fancier brand, you can pay $3 for a cuppa at the open-all-day Mosaic Cafe, where pastries and sandwiches are free, but specialty coffees and teas cost extra. Afternoon tea is also served on port days, but it's served buffet-style in the Windows Cafe.

The one complaint I've heard about onboard activities is that the enrichment programs aren't up to snuff. On a cruise filled with culturally and historically rich ports, the offerings have been quite limited. I went to a presentation on stargazing -- since I love looking at the night sky (often from cruise ships in the middle of the sea) -- but left when, after 15 minutes, the speaker had only told us that he was not qualified as an astronomer and that, in order to stargaze, we needed a dark sky and a flashlight. A lecture on the history of Istanbul failed to impress those who told me they attended. But, more than the quality of the presentations, the general consensus among the passengers I've spoken with is that there aren't enough enrichment opportunities, given that many of the guests are quite interested in learning more about the ports they'll be visiting. Why not have a few lectures each sea day -- perhaps a presentation on Islamic culture, Egyptian art and artefacts or archaeology in Israel? Many cruisers -- myself included -- would gladly skip a round of trivia or bingo for some engaging presentations about the places they're about to visit.

The official Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle was held in the Looking Glass lounge later in the afternoon. About 40 members were in attendance, as well as most of the ship's senior officers, including the captains. We enjoyed wine and Champagne and chatted with fellow members. Not only did the crew put together a lovely party for us, but as we were mingling, a group of dolphins appeared in front of the ship, leaping out of the water and swimming to and fro. Perhaps they were hoping for a free cocktail, or maybe it was just a good omen for the rest of the cruise.

We finished up a pleasant day at sea with dinner at Prime C, one of the two specialty restaurants onboard. All Azamara Quest guests are entitled to eat at each restaurant at least once (suite guests are guaranteed three meals) and can make reservations later in the cruise for any remaining seatings. There's no surcharge, but a $5 gratuity is recommended.

Prime C is the steak-and-seafood restaurant, decorated like so many onboard steakhouses with dark woods and sedate colors. Black-and-white photos of old-time celebrities like Elvis, Judy Garland and Humphrey Bogart dot the walls. Practically every table is by a window, and we scored the perfect table -- right in the middle of the aft-facing windows, looking out over the ship's wake.

Given that I don't eat much meat, steakhouses are typically not my restaurant of choice. But the food at Prime C was out-of-this-world. We both started with soup (mushroom for me, French onion for Rachel), and both were a perfect balance of flavors -- neither too rich nor too bland. I would return to Prime C simply to have more soup. My salmon-with-BBQ-sauce entree was moist, firm and delicious on its own -- the BBQ sauce was an added perk and was not needed to keep the salmon from being dull. Rachel just raved about the filet mignon. For dessert, we ordered the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake (what cruise line doesn't offer it now?), which is almost never a bad choice, and the mini-donuts that came with three dipping sauces -- an unusual menu item I had never seen onboard before. We were not disappointed.

Cruise lines put a lot of emphasis on service, but it doesn't always live up to the hype. Not at Prime C. I have never felt so well-taken-care-of at a restaurant. Our waiter, Ahmet, was so solicitous and polite -- answering our questions with thorough and accurate explanations, applauding our menu selections and always returning promptly, never leaving us to scan the restaurant looking for him -- but he never hovered over us in an overbearing way. It almost felt rude to tip $5 a person for service that, in a normal restaurant, would be worth so much more.

Over the course of dinner, the ship picked up speed. A guest was sick, but as we were so far out to sea, an airlift wasn't possible. So, as the ship sped toward Alexandria (in order to arrive a few hours earlier), I too was speeding off to bed to prepare for our early-morning start in Egypt.

Day 2: Kusadasi/Ephesus red arrow Day 4: Cairo, Egypt

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