Review from a first-timer!
To give some context, our cruise experiences have run the gamut – from mass market (RCL, NCL & Princess) to premium (Celebrity) to luxury (Seabourn and Silversea) and on ships of a wide variety of sizes from the 10K ton Seabourn Legend to the 140k ton Navigator of the Seas. We cruise on the larger ships with our children (now 19 and 23) and the smaller, more upscale lines as a couple. We have never met a cruise we didn’t like, although I have to say our Celebrity experience did not meet our expectations and we probably wouldn’t sail that line again as, among other issues, we did not like the obvious “class” system and just didn’t think it was worth the additional cost as compared to Princess. SB and SS is now mostly out of our price range, especially for longer cruises (we are working professionals with a child in college) so we were anxious to try the Azamara experience to see if it was a good fit for us as a couple. When we found the 11-night Irish Seas cruise with the Perry Golf package that coincided with our 30th Anniversary, we were very excited as it seemed tailor-made for us.
To cut to the chase, we enjoyed our experience enough that we have booked another Azamara cruise with the golf package for next year. We had read a lot about the benefits of the “R” class ships and in that regard the Quest did not disappoint. It had all the amenities we enjoy without the challenges of a large ship such as long lines (especially for embarkation, disembarkation and tendering) and crowds. Loved the fact that we could get anywhere on the ship in 1 – 2 minutes and Deck 7 was a good location as it is only 2-3 flights up or down from everything. I think we only took the elevator twice the entire cruise. Plenty of dining options for us and an upscale on-deck experience with couches, Bali beds, blankets if needed and no fighting for space. We were particularly lucky with the weather so spent more time on deck than we expected to. A favorite place were the couches on the forward sun deck.
I had obsessively watched the “reimagination” of the Journey and Quest online and really like the new décor, particularly the carpets and color schemes. Very relaxing and upscale although I do wonder how all that light carpet is going to hold up! Love the Living Room and the Tapas every evening from 5 – 8, a delicious snack to tide us over as we like to dine on the late side. Other food standouts included the extensive Dim Sum buffet offered one lunchtime in the Discoveries Restaurant, the delicious soups, and the Chef’s Table experience. We also tried Aqualina and Prime C. We were disappointed in our Aqualina experience. We were a table of 2 seated between two extremely rowdy tables of 8, the food was not great and our dessert soufflés were delivered underdone. They also did not have our wine selection and had to substitute a different bottle. Prime C was a much better experience. Note to Azamara: please, please regularly wash all the windows for the dining venues as the dirty windows in Aqualina and Prime C really obstructed the view. The window washing was the one area of maintenance of the ship that let us down.
The food and the included wines. Well, I really thought the food was on par with Celebrity; it was good but wouldn’t call it great. We were underwhelmed by the breakfast buffet and this is where a larger ship probably has the edge as you find more selections: for example, on the Quest we would have enjoyed more variety in the hot dishes such as Quiche, Eggs Benedict, breakfast tacos, Frittata etc. And certain items such as Oatmeal weren’t offered every day. But the fruit variety was outstanding which was a plus. Burgers at The Patio were particularly good and a nice option if you didn’t want the lunch buffet. We enjoyed being able to eat outside even though it wasn’t a warm weather cruise! Desserts were just okay but the Gelato selection was great. The included wines, particularly the whites, were not really to our liking although the addition of sparkling wine now being included is a big plus in our opinion. It’s nice that two whites and two reds are offered every day but we really missed a good Chardonnay being included. We priced some of the wines being served when we got home, and they are around $7 a bottle. That’s a lower quality than we usually drink. The list of included cocktails was extensive (really only lacks after dinner options such as Cognac and Grand Marnier) so we always found something to drink and would not purchase a beverage package even if we do think the quality of the included wines is lacking. We purchased some after dinner drinks and one bottle of wine and our entire beverage bill was less than $100. Just don’t think the package is worth it to us.
Where we feel lines like SB and SS have the edge is somewhat better food, better wines and especially, much larger cabins, especially in the lower categories. Anyone familiar with the R ships knows this is an issue. No getting around it, the veranda cabins are small and the bathrooms tiny. Our balcony cabins on Princess were larger and the layout better, with the “walk-in” closet area adjacent to the bathrooms which just makes it easier to navigate the space. And our basic balcony cabin on the Celebrity Silhouette was quite a bit larger with a full size couch. And it’s a lot more money for a Club Continent Suite which is 50% larger. Since we don’t spend that much time in our cabin, we don’t think it’s worth paying for, but that’s us. And apparently the Oceanview cabins’ interior space is even smaller (at least that’s what someone staying in one told us).
Only took two land discoveries tours with Azamara and they were pretty good but as others have mentioned they are pricey. We had some excellent independently booked all-day tours of Wales and Scotland with BusyBus – an overall exceptional value and exceptional experience. The aspect of port calls where I think Azamara shines is the included shuttles to the center of town (this made it very easy for me to get to town and tour on my own when my husband was playing golf) and the fact that at every port tourism representatives come on board in the morning to provide you with maps and information. This was so incredibly helpful.
Going to commit sacrilege here and admit we did not take part in two signature Azamara events – the Azamara evening and the White Night. The golf schedule was rigorous (often requiring 9 hours off the ship and also including four cocktail parties – oh woe!) so husband after returning late just did not want to venture off the ship for another 3 ½ hours in Liverpool and we actually enjoyed a quiet evening on the ship with the majority of guests gone. The reviews from friends was that the Azamazing Experience (focused on the Beatles) was just okay so didn’t feel we missed much, although we would have liked to have been informed that when everyone returned to the ship there was going to be a fireworks display, as we missed seeing it. The White Night was not the typical buffet and party on deck because of the weather, just ended up being an inside dance party so we weren’t sorry to miss it.
Passenger demographics – we are in our mid-50’s and were definitely on the younger side, I would say average age on this cruise was 70 although there were some young people (mostly with family groups) including several very small children. Did not see many children in the 5 – 17 range which is as it should be because there is little on this ship that would appeal to this range. Our young adult children would not be happy on this ship as they like to meet others their age and stay up late dancing and experiencing young adult games & activities. Enjoyed the casual atmosphere on the ships, the fact that a sportcoat was not needed, although we actually don’t mind dressing up on occasion. Our anniversary was also well marked with cabin decorations, a card, and a bottle of Taittinger champagne, and cake.
Apologies for the length of this, just one more thing to comment on – the service. Overall it was good, particularly in the main dining room (we had terrible service in this regard on Celebrity). Cabin service was superior. Two weaknesses we noted were The Patio and checkout. I realize The Patio is supposed to be casual, but several times at lunchtime our server did not return to check on us/ask if we wanted anything else. And checkout was a bit of a snafu because of an issue with our bill that we are still trying to resolve now that we are home. There is an unfamiliarity onboard with the dining packages and associated cost and that is what has caused the issue.
I hope this review does not seem too nitpicky because overall we had a wonderful time and as mentioned we are returning to Azamara. It was a good overall fit for us but obviously not for everyone. The golf partnership with Perry Golf is an advantage that is also encouraging us to return as well as a current sale and the onboard booking benefits. I can see why people who like larger ships would prefer spending their money on the higher-level Celebrity categories for the same cost or less, but we prefer the intimate, upscale experience of the smaller ships. We will see you again, Azamara!