My partner and I have cruised several times before with P&O, Cunard, RCI and Celebrity. As it was a special birthday for me we thought we would step up the ladder a bit and try one of the perceived “more prestigious” cruise lines. ... Read More
My partner and I have cruised several times before with P&O, Cunard, RCI and Celebrity. As it was a special birthday for me we thought we would step up the ladder a bit and try one of the perceived “more prestigious” cruise lines. The timing, along with an interesting and agreeable itinerary, led us to the Azamara Quest sailing from Nice on April 22nd. On our previous Celebrity Eclipse transatlantic cruise last November we made very good friends who decided to join us on this one also which was lovely.
My partner has since told me that he called Azamara in advance of the cruise to ask if there was something he could arrange in order to make my birthday experience a bit special. He was curtly told “Everything on Azamara is special Sir” and therefore there was nothing they could suggest. So obviously expectations were high!
After a couple of days pre-cruise stay in Nice (booked independently) we made our way to Nice port and were quickly aboard the Quest with little fuss around 12.30pm. We cleared security before boarding but the check-in formalities were taken care of in the Cabaret Lounge where we received a nice glass(or three!) of bubbly before making our way to the Windows Café for our buffet lunch. On our way to the Windows Café we had to run the usual gauntlet of sales opportunities with drinks packages, speciality restaurants, spa treatments and photographers all being touted.
We had decided in advance that we would upgrade our drinks package as I am partial to a nice malt whisky after dinner and, as the whisky choice on the classic package was very limited and of inferior quality whisky, we decided to upgrade. My partner enjoys cocktails with premium quality gins and vodkas so this was also worthwhile for us. Our companions were happy with the included drinks package.
Our first impressions of the ship were somewhat mixed. A colleague who had recently sailed on the Quest’s previous sister ship, the Adonia, had told us it was reminiscent of a stately home and I guess this is an apt description. It certainly was very traditional in décor and perhaps a bit tired in places although pristinely clean.
Our buffet lunch was nice and appetising with plenty choice and was served nice and hot. Being the start of the cruise, the food was served to us by the staff rather than self-service. The included wines were free-flowing and of good quality, a feature which remained throughout our cruise. I wouldn’t say we had a disagreeable wine the whole cruise and in the main our glasses were kept well topped up. The lack of an included sparkling wine, even on any of the various packages on offer, was a talking point onboard.
Our cabins were announced to be ready at 1.30pm and we promptly made our way to our Veranda Stateroom 6006 which was located on the port side forward. Our luggage was awaiting us on arrival which was welcome. Our 2 cabin attendants Bengie and Jose warmly greeted us and explained certain features of the cabin and also made arrangements about daily deliveries of ice. They made a good initial impression and were excellent the entire cruise keeping our cabin clean and tidy and we never had cause to ask for anything.
The cabin was more spacious than we had expected and was smart and comfortable, the only criticism I would have is that the carpets were a bit tired and could do with replacing. We were aware of the small bathroom and shower but they were perfectly adequate and there were no issues. The balcony was a good size and had two chairs and a nice big table.
We undertook a tour of the ship on the first afternoon which is when we became really aware of just how compact the ship was - the tour taking around 20 minutes or so - and that was spinning it out. Anyhow everything was pretty much as we expected. The pool and deck areas particularly appealed as they were spacious and well kept.
As regards dining, our usual pattern was to have room service breakfast, if we were onboard for lunch (not often) we would have that in the Windows Café, and dinner in the evenings in the MDR. In general we found the food on the Quest to be of an average to good standard but, in all honesty, no better than we had previously experienced on our other cruises which was a bit of a disappointment given the premium pricing of Azamara. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I didn’t find the dining experience that special at all. On the evening of the White Night which was a buffet on the pool deck, we felt it was too cool to be outside so went to the MDR. We were promptly seated but told our waiter was manning the buffet at the White Night and would be with us shortly. After a wait of 20 minutes and not having been offered as much as a glass of water, one of our party was sent to the bar to get our own refreshments. Eventually our waiter arrived and told us that there was hardly anyone on deck at the White Night. Really poor planning and organisation.
On day 2 of our cruise was the included Azamazing evening which we had pre-booked online. This proved to be the highlight of our cruise and maybe the one thing that did make Azamara a bit more special than other cruise lines. After an early dinner we were taken by coach to the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco which provided us with a spectacular evening of entertainment, We were given a couple of hours to view the magnificent aquarium and exhibits in the museum. There were mime artists, live music and plenty of free wine and canapés to enjoy. All in all a very enjoyable evening and was very well received by everyone we spoke to about it afterwards.
The other plus for this cruise was the lovely ports visited and the fact that the Quest can dock at places not accessible to larger ships. We enjoy being able to walk off the ship straight into a quaint little town and just doing our own thing. We also liked the fact that there was no rush back to the ship as we usually sailed late in the evening.
Our main downside to this cruise though was that, other than the plus points above, that the overall cruise experience did not match our perception of the luxury and high quality service which are associated with Azamara. For example, too many times we were left waiting for prolonged periods of time to order drinks even though the bar was almost empty. Also, although we had upgraded to the top level Ultimate Drinks Package, the drinks were, in the main, poorly prepared and cocktails were unimaginative and bland. They could certainly learn a few tips from the bartenders on Celebrity and Cunard. On the last evening, one bartender who had been surly to us throughout the cruise, suddenly burst into life and revealed she did in fact have a personality and told us that we had been our favourite guests of the cruise. I wonder why?
Our other main disappointment was the entertainment. Yes it’s a small ship but the entertainment on this cruise was seriously low key. There was an excellent pianist who played in the Casino Lounge. A guitarist played and sang American folk songs from the 60s and 70s in the Looking Glass Lounge when he could be bothered. Although scheduled to play at certain times he seemed to please himself and came and went as he pleased. The Quest singers and dancers were below the standard experienced in other cruises. We did however enjoy Beverly Davidson, a violinist with a bit of a comic slant. We were glad we had our travelling companions as we made our own entertainment!
An aspect of cruising which we enjoy is afternoon tea but as this cruise was port intensive and there was a limited offer of afternoon tea in Windows Café we decided on our last day onboard to order afternoon tea to our room and invited our friends to join us. What a shock when we received two flasks of hot water, four tea bags and a small plate of plain cookies to our room, not quite what we were expecting and quite embarrassing to present to our guests. However we all found the funny side of it and instead we opened a nice bottle of bubbly we had been saving!
We self disembarked on our final morning at 9am as we had arranged our own independent transfer to Rome Fiumicino airport and this worked very well and much cheaper than the Azamara transfer offering.
To sum up our first Azamara cruise experience, we liked the itinerary, the Azamazing evening and the longer times in smaller ports. We were disappointed with the quality of the dining, the bar service and quality of drinks and the entertainment. As previously mentioned we felt we paid a premium price for a very standard cruise product and although we enjoyed our experience overall we are unlikely to sail Azamara again. Having said that, we are very aware by talking to other passengers who are very loyal to Azamara and are delighted to the offering. That is great. Maybe its just not the one for us.