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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 8: Wednesday, At Sea
At SeaAfter five straight port days, everyone onboard was more than ready for two sea days in a row, as Azamara Quest steamed across the Mediterranean to Italy. The weather was warm and sunny, the pool deck packed with passengers seeking much needed R&R. I bet many more were spending the day in bed or on their balconies, and the Looking Glass and Mosaic Cafe tables were occupied with plenty of card players.

On the whole, Azamara's daytime activities are nothing out of the ordinary, though the sea-day schedule was packed with rounds of trivia, "Eat More to Weigh Less" spa seminars, line-dancing classes, etc. However, a few activities were standouts for offering something a little different. Instead of doing the standard culinary demonstration, where the head chef prepares a meal onstage, we had a cookoff between Niyazi, the Hotel Director, and Sue, the Cruise Director. The competition was really a comedy routine, in which Niyazi cooked beautiful crepes suzette, while Sue took swigs of vodka in between slopping various ingredients around in a pan and flipping crepes onto the floor. It was silly, but was also a good laugh and put a unique spin on the typical cooking class. Another unusual and surprisingly interesting class was harpist Mary Amanda's presentation on the history of the harp, at the end of which passengers were allowed to try playing the melodious instrument.

A Q&A with the captain, hotel director and chief engineer was not the whining session I feared it might be. (We'd noticed that complaining was a favorite pastime of many cruisers, despite everyone generally having a great time on the cruise.) Instead, it was an informative and unexpectedly humorous hour. The Captain has a very dry sense of humor and peppered his explanations of how the ship runs with amusing comments. When asked why a cruise ship needs to take on a pilot when leaving port, he answered, "Because there are very few ports in this part of the world where they speak Swedish." And when discussing the recent pirate attack on MSC Melody, he deadpanned, "Shooting on pirates is not a good idea because the bastards shoot back."

Two days at sea were also ample time to reflect on how Azamara lives up to its claims of being a deluxe cruise line, somewhere between luxury and premium mainstream lines. I think that positioning is spot-on. The ship has elements of luxury -- it's an intimate ship with tasteful decor, we rarely had to queue up for anything, and passengers are not subjected to hairy chest competitions or poolside waiters hawking fruity drinks. On the other hand, there are obvious mass-market elements, such as the prominent positioning of the art auction desk, photos ops with staff members dressed in local costumes at practically every port (we swear that the guy in Israel was dressed as Yasar Arafat, though he claimed to be a shepherd), and charges for everything from bottled water to specialty dining. In that respect, the line is what is says it is -- somewhere in the middle.

The one luxury component that still needs work is the butler service. One of Azamara's key marketing points is that every cabin comes with a personal butler. In reality, the level of service and attention they provide is more like a cabin steward. When I've had a butler on luxury cruise ships, they have been very solicitous, taking it upon themselves to bring us afternoon snacks or make dinner reservations for us. Here, you rarely ever see your butler, except when you call up and specifically ask for something, like a bucket of ice or a sewing kit. Sure, the butlers will unpack and pack your suitcase if you prefer (not that I want a stranger touching my dirty clothes) or make dinner reservations for you (which seems easy enough to do on your own), which a cabin steward won't do, but as far as I can see, they don't go above and beyond in a way personal butlers should.

Azamar Quest Dining Room Discoveries Food was also a big part (perhaps too big a part!) of days at sea. The Discoveries main dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on sea days and is always open-seating. You can request to dine with just your party or with other passengers. Dining with others is a great way to meet people onboard; however, dinner usually takes longer because you have to wait to order until you fill the table, and if you want three courses -- but your companions order four -- you have to wait to receive your entrees until they've finished their appetizers. We never had a problem getting a table for two; however, the two-tops are situated quite close together, and it almost seemed rude not to make polite conversation with the diners on either side.

Food is, for the most part, quite good in Discoveries, but you have to order smartly. The best dishes are the meats (Rachel gave her flank steak two thumbs up) and the pastas (I had a fabulous ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes appetizer), and salads are usually good (with the exception of the iceberg salad, which consisted of bland iceberg lettuce dumped on a plate with a handful of veggies). The fish dishes are very hit or miss, as are the vegetarian entrees. The chilled fruit soups are, by far, the worst dishes on the menu every night, and not a one has been good; either the flavors are bad, or they just don't taste like soup. (My chilled strawberry soup should have been a sauce spooned lightly on a chocolate torte, rather than a stand-alone dish.) Eventually, the soups just became a joke, and we actually ordered a chilled chocolate-chayote soup with honey and yogurt just to see how bad it actually was.

One plus is that the menu is quite extensive. Every day, there were special healthy and vegetarian sections, an entree salad and a special pasta, as well as a selection of always-available items, such as Caesar salad, grilled chicken, salmon and New York cheesecake. Ask the waiters for recommendations -- they often know what the best dishes are each night. But, because the Windows Cafe has above-average buffet food, many passengers found it quicker, easier and often tastier to just dine casually at night, especially after intense days in port.

After-dinner hours can be slow, but on the consecutive sea days, we had a few nice treats. On the first evening, the ship's crew turned out the lights up on the Deck 11 sun deck, so passengers could stargaze at night. At the far aft of the ship, away from the lights of the pool deck, it was truly dark, and the stars were bright and clear. We couldn't quite see the Milky Way, but we did see two amazing shooting stars and watched a satellite cross the path of the Big Dipper. We also had an impromptu sing-along of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (sparked by a Galileo reference) -- much less embarrassing singing in the dark than was our rendition of the B-52's "Love Shack" at karaoke in the Looking Glass later on.

And in the early evening on our second day at sea, we cruised through the Straits of Messina, where Sicily comes very close to mainland Italy. We gathered with some friends from the ship for a scenic happy hour in the Looking Glass, as we gazed out at the beautiful, hilly Italian coastline. At one point, the ship veered sharply, which was odd because the narrow throughway was straight ahead. We raced to the side windows in time to see the pilot boat pull alongside the ship -- we watched the pilot climb onto the deck of his boat then hop over onto ours -- a pretty impressive feat.

It was clear, after we delayed dinner to continue watching the gorgeous Italian coast slide by, that the siren's call of food was not nearly as strong as the lure of impressive scenery. That fact was brought home when the captain announced during dinner that we were passing by the Stromboli volcano -- one of Italy's most active. I've never seen a dining room empty out so quickly on a cruise ship before. We piled onto the outside decks on Deck 5 to gaze up at a tiny, red glare high above the shore line. It wasn't much of a show, but it was exciting to know we were seeing an erupting volcano. Not a bad way to cap off an evening.
Day 7: Limassol, Cyprus red arrow Day 9: Sorrento

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