The Quest is a beautifully maintained ship with many luxurious notes and finishes. It's quite easy to learn your way around given the compact size. However, it was the constant contact with the ship's officers and the incredible stateroom service that made this cruise stand out...along with the ability to get into smaller ports with very difficult navigational challenges that preclude larger ships with less adventuresome bridge crews.
The passengers on this journey included a majority of non-US residents, with a heavy representation from the UK and Australia. We also met folks from Russia, Greece, and Chile.
The Cruise Critic social was a nice mid-morning coffee/champagne social with the ship's officers and department heads (including Captain Smith) on the first sea day.
We were in a forward facing Royal Suite (being rebranded as Club Ocean Suites in April 2010), with a double-sized verandah where we could look up and say hi to the crew on the starboard wing bridge. As Royal Suite guests we received many extras, including 1L complimentary bottles of Absolut and Dewar's with mixers, and a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rough Champagne on sailing. Our suite was extremly spacious with enough closet space for the ridiculous 6 suitcases we brought along. The marble baths were ample-sized (the master has a whirlpool tub), and equipped with an array of Elemis bath products.
Our Head Butler was responsible for all room service, including breakfast and afternoon tea or savories, and handled all restuarant reservations and other special requests. Our Butler saw to the overall housekeeping and handled garment pressing and shoe shines, and offered to pack and/or unpack our bags. Finally, a stateroom attendant saw to cleaning the baths and refreshing towels, etc. Many in-stateroom special services (such as romantic turn down) are offered upon request, some for a small fee. A huge surprise was that our Head Butler decorated our suite with hand-cut hearts and balloons while we were at dinner on our 16th anniversary, and two days later, put roses on our pillows at turn-down for Valentine's day. Wow!
Aqualina and Prime C were both excellent specialty venues. The lobster duo (prepared one of four ways, plus a pot pie) in Aqualina is superb. The Cellar Master, Stephanie, held several wine tastings during the cruise for a small fee, and capped off the cruise with a fantastic 8 course wine dinner. If you're into wine appreciation, these are not to be missed.
Captain Smith is a young, 38 year old from Isle of Man. His daily noon briefings were a highlight of the cruise. As suite guests, we got a small group tour of the bridge, led by Officer Cadet Carlos. It was a very detailed briefing, with the opportunity to step out on the wing bridge while making 17 kts. A real treat!
Also, as suite guests, we were invited to a special dinner in the drawing room with the ship's senior officers. This was a very elegant dinner prepared by the executive chef, with each course designed to highlight an aspect of the journey. Of course, Cellar Master Stephanie was there to match wines to each course, and our own Head Butler was lead server. What a treat! At dinner we asked Hotel Director Winkler if it would be possible to take a galley tour or engine control room tour - the next day we received private invitations for these remarkable behind the scenes opportunities.
I'd also like to highlight the bar staff...we quickly got to know these fun, service-oriented folks and they made us feel like the only guests on the ship. Pool Bartender Wayan, and the staff including Maria, Jimson, Ernesto, and Angkana were particular stand-outs!
We did have one complaint during the cruise regarding some ad lib humor between CD John Howell and cabaret performer Jim Badger that went awry. Our concerns, as one of about 6 same-sex couples on board, had to do with some fairly stereotypical and offensive "banter" that caused us to walk out of the show. In response to our concerns, CD Howell sat down with us over drinks and more than made amends, taking our feedback to heart. Again, this was in keeping with the exemplary response we received to the slightest request from the crew.
Overall, we found Azamara to be an exhilarating experience given the luxury, the ability of the ship to get into smaller ports, and the high level of customer service. We will look for future itineraries from Azamara. The crew hinted that 2011 will hold more 7-10 day journies and more small, lesser visited ports.
The Royal Suite/Club Ocean Suite (RS)7005 was comparable to a 1 BR suite in a traditional Ritz-Carlton class of property. Rooms were spacious, the balcony was fantastic, and concerns about wind across the balcony while at sea are completely dependent on wind direction across the bow. Several days the prevailing winds cancelled out the ship's motion, making these wrap-around forward-facing balconies the best at sea.
We came in a few days early to see Hong Kong and were thrilled with our accomodations at the Conrad Hotel at Pacific Place. Ship check-in was a snap, with dedicated lines for Captain's Club and/or Suite guests. Immediately upon check-in, a special table was available for making specialty dining reservations before boarding the ship. A champagne greeting was on hand as soon as we boarded, and luggage storage was arranged for carry-ons until the rooms were ready. The berth was ideal in Kowloon at the cruise ship terminal - a luxury shopping mall in and of itself - an near to the Peninsula Hotel and Star Ferry terminal. We had unobstructed views of the Hong Kong skyline from the starboard side of the ship. We chose to arrive early and do sight-seeing on our own, using a private guide, Jim Kushner, from "Private Hong Kong Walking Tours."
Docking was at a small container port, with easy access to local taxis and "door-to-door" service for shore excursions. We chose the cruise line's offering of an all day trip to Hoi An which included an approximately 6 mile bicycle excursion, followed by an historic walking tour and a fantastic 8 course lunch at Ms. Ly's Morning Glory restuarant, which was rated as three stars (highest rating) in Frommer's. A visit to a 150 year old Chinese home, and the Japanese bridge were highlights. There was a stop at one of the many marble quarries on the way back, as well as a photo op at the fishing village near China Beach. Our tour guide was charming and considerate of bathroom breaks (much appreciated!). This was one of the best shore excursions I've experienced.
The ship sailed all the way to Klong Toey (not Laem Chabang) which meant we were right in Bangkok City - about a 15 minute cab ride from downtown. We chose to spend two nights off the ship since we'd been to Bangkok before and were very familiar with the city and it's incredible people. I can't do Bangkok justice here - it's my favorite place in the world. Suffice it to say, we shopped, ate, and partied ourselves silly in this super-friendly and affordable cultural capitol.
Our first time in Singapore, again, we were in the best berth in town. We did the ship's excursion to the Night Safari to orient ourselves to this jewel of city (neat, safe, clean, and completely English-speaking).
Disembarkation was a snap the next day...the usual color coded bag kind of thing. Taxi's were readily available to hotels. We stayed a few extra days at the Hilton Singapore on Orchard Road and were very pleased with the hotel as our base of exploration (Merlion Park, Singapore Flyer, Raffles Hotel and Shopping Arcade). This is another shopper's and foodie paradise. Singaporeans are very proud of their city - just ask anyone on the street for recommendations or directions.