Dining is a highlight on Azamara Quest. Menus are varied, with lots of choices, and the buffet is one of the best we've experienced at sea. We never felt like we were missing out when eating in the complimentary versus extra-fee venues -- though travelers used to luxury cruise lines might grumble at having to pay for specialty venues, Aqualina and Prime C. (They're free for suite guests.) Keep an eye out for local dishes and ingredients in Discoveries and Windows Cafe, as well as one-off special meals, such as an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) or dim sum on itineraries with more plentiful sea days. Dining packages are available at reduced rates for passengers who want to visit specialty restaurants more than once or attend the Chef's Table, possibly more than once. Rates range from $70 for three meals in Aqualina and Prime C to $250 to attend the Chef's Table three times.
Discoveries Restaurant (Deck 5): Discoveries is the main dining room, which serves breakfast and dinner every day and lunch on sea days. (On cruises with a higher-than-usual number of sea days, the ship will swap out breakfast and lunch in the dining room for a late-morning brunch buffet, or turn lunch into a dim sum feast.) It's always open seating, and passengers can choose to dine alone or join others at larger tables. There are plenty of two-tops; however, there's hardly any space between adjacent tables. Some people consider this a bad thing because you have little privacy from the adjacent tables; others view this as a positive and strike up conversations with their neighbors at dinner. Discoveries is decorated in multiple hues of brown with a striking circular carpet pattern. Wall sconces are interspersed with the large windows, and a modern chandelier, set in a pewter-colored recess, sits above the central round table. Red flowers on the table add pops of color in the otherwise neutral space. Most cruise ship main dining rooms feature a standard breakfast menu -- pancakes, eggs Benedict, a variety of omelets. Azamara Quest offers all the classics, but takes the breakfast menu one step further with more unusual international options, such as a Japanese zucchini noodle breakfast bowl, Asian chicken and rice congee and Arabic shakshuka (eggs pouched in tomatoes, chili peppers and onions). The expanded menu gives passengers a reason to give Discoveries a second look for the morning meal, rather than sticking to the buffet and room service.
Discoveries is most popular at dinner, and window tables are hard to come by if you don't show up right at 6 p.m. The menu features a choice of appetizers, soups and salads to start. There's an extensive selection of main courses each evening, including meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. Each night, there's a Chef's Favorite Dish (either something new, local or a favorite no longer in the main menu rotation) and a World Cuisine Selection (inspired by a destination Azamara visits).
Always-available dishes include escargot, shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, Caesar salad, salmon, grilled chicken breast and New York strip steak. The menu is marked for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and healthy choice items.
Waiters offer a selection of two red and two white wines each evening, but seem to have a limited knowledge of the wines. Ask for the sommelier if you have questions. If you don't like the day's house wines, you can order a different wine from the complimentary list, if available -- or choose an extra-fee vintage. Selections are an international mix with options from California, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Europe.
The dessert menu features four options that change daily (including a sugar-free treat), gelato/sorbet/frozen yogurt and always-available favorites, such as creme brulee and cheesecake.
One nice touch is that each night the bread basket it present along with hummus and a pesto sauce, as well as butter.
Depending on your table, Discoveries can feel crowded at dinner, with tables set close to each other. Service was generally good but not outstanding, and seemed to improve as the cruise went on. On our first night, the waiters were too attentive, constantly asking us how we were doing and if we needed anything; other cruisers reported the opposite, with dinner lasting hours with slow service.
Windows Cafe (Deck 9): For casual dining, Windows Cafe is one of the best buffets at sea. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner but not in between. Coffee, tea and juice are available around the clock. Although the buffet is technically self-service (except for the first 24 hours of each cruise, for health reasons), dining staff are always around to help serve you, and waiter service is available for juice, tea, water and other beverages. Most of the seating is indoors, but you can also choose to dine alfresco on the aft deck by the Sunset Bar. Items are marked as vegetarian or gluten-free.
In the morning, Windows offers a selection of hot breakfast items, cold and hot cereals (including a mueslis bar), pastries, fruit and yogurt. Orange juice is freshly squeezed, and you can order smoothies at the smoothie bar by the port-side entrance. Request eggs made to order at the omelet station, and they'll be delivered to your table so you don't have to wait. Oddly enough, at peak times, the station that backed up was the bread toaster.
Lunchtime features a salad bar, as well as premade salads, sandwich meats and cheeses, hot entrees, soup, a carving station, Indian food station (often vegetarian), sushi bar and several kinds of pizza and calzones. There's often a regional specialty tied in with the day's port of call.
Every night is a themed dinner -- French, Asian, Indian/British, Spanish, Greek, seafood -- with plenty of options for all palates. An early dinner buffet is put on for the AzAmazing Evening.
Lunch and dinner always seemed to have an inordinate number of desserts on offer, like multiple flavors of gelato (including sorbets and sugar-free flavors), mini cheesecakes and tarts, cookies and a hot dessert (such as bread pudding). A rotating selection of cheese and crackers is always on offer, as well.
Look for special stations with locally sourced foods. For example, on seafood night in Monaco, one station comprised fresh local mussels and clams. Another day, there was a selection of French cheeses, picked up in that day's port.
The Patio (Deck 9): Just outside Windows is the poolside grill dubbed The Patio. It's open from lunch through dinner, so it's a great option when your tour returns after Windows has closed or you need a midafternoon nacho fix. The menu features an array of burgers (hamburger, cheeseburger, salmon, turkey, veggie or lamb) with a selection of toppings, as well as brochettes of meat and sandwiches (like seared tuna spinach wraps or grilled pork loin).
Sides and snacks include nachos, Buffalo wings and vegetarian spring rolls, chili con carne, French fries and onion rings. You order everything from your waiter (rather than queuing at the grill) but there is a self-serve salad bar with lots of toppings, so you can add something healthy to your greasy lunch.
Once or twice per cruise, Azamara Quest hosts an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) at The Patio (or at the covered resting area just opposite) for $25 per person. The event needs a minimum of 12 people and can take up to 25 people. The 2.5-hour dining event starts at 7 p.m. and involves lots of Indonesian food, served family style (some a bit spicy), served by waiters decked out in traditional Indonesian dress. It's a casual event and like many of Azamara's dining experiences, it's fun and social with couples getting to know each over the course of the meal. Reservations are required.
Swirl and Top (Deck 9): Adjacent to The Patio's grill are two self-serve frozen yogurt stations with four flavors (banana, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry) and a toppings bar with fruit, candy and sauces.
White Night (Deck 9): Once per cruise, Azamara Quest throws a massive White Night event that takes over the entire pool deck, with extra seating on Deck 10 above. The ship's officers don aprons and serve barbecue (everything from grilled steak to turkey skewers and lobster tails) plus an enormous buffet with whole fish, made-to-order stir-fry, a caprese salad station, huge salad area and more. Everyone will find something -- possibly too many somethings -- to enjoy. An array of sweets rounds out the night, with the hotel director and other officers dishing out crepes suzette. It's probably the only time you'll wait in a long line all cruise.
After dinner, there's live musical entertainment and passengers while away the hours dancing or enjoying a chat and the evening air. Our only complaint was that the bar staff was too busy hawking after-dinner liquors for a fee, and it was hard to get a complimentary glass of wine or water.
Prime C (Deck 10); $30 per person: Prime C is the ship's classic steakhouse and is decorated, like so many onboard steakhouses, with dark woods, sedate colors and black-and-white photos of old-time celebrities like Elvis, Judy Garland and Humphrey Bogart. Tables are spaced well enough apart, and nearly everyone has a sea view.
The four-part menu is divided into soups/salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts. The entrees -- including the tender filet mignon and the 14-ounce chateaubriand for two -- were fabulous. Desserts include mini doughnuts and a molten chocolate cake. Be sure to ask about the daily specials.
Service at Prime C is absolutely outstanding. Our waiter was sociable, knowledgeable about menu items and confident with suggestions as to which dishes were better to order on that particular day, due to available specials or meat sourcing. He had the uncanny availability of appearing just when we needed him without hovering uncomfortably.
Reservations are required for this dinner-only venue. Because suite passengers can eat for free and get early and priority reservations, Prime C (and Aqualina) can book up quickly. By embarkation day, when many passengers try to make in-person reservations, many of the best seatings are already filled for the cruise. Don't despair. There are often cancellations, so if you can't get a reservation, inquire the day before or on the day you wish to dine if any tables have opened up. Passengers on our cruise had good luck getting last-minute tables that way.
Aqualina (Deck 10); $30 per person: Aqualina is now an Italian restaurant (despite stints as a Mediterranean or French seafood venue in the past). Where Prime C is dark, Aqualina is light, airy and elegant with taupe-colored walls, blue chairs, white tablecloths and wispy, sheer curtains surrounding the maitre d' stand. Most tables have good views out the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The menu is divided into antipasti (beef carpaccio, buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes), soups and salad (minestrone, watermelon salad) and mains (mushroom risotto, lobster tail with pasta, veal scaloppini). The chef is happy to mix and match, within reason; we ordered our eggplant roulade with the pesto gnocchi from the appetizer list rather than its listed linguini pomodoro. For dessert, don't miss the limoncello souffle or the chocolate tart. Everything we ate was delicious.
Service was the right mix of attentive without being intrusive, and our waiter was friendly and funny. He heeded our request to finish dinner within an hour and a half so we could see the show, but we never felt rushed or that we were putting anyone out with our request.
Aqualina is open for dinner only. Reservations are required.
On sea days, Aqualina also hosts an elegant afternoon tea (complimentary). Waiters will bring out tiered stands with scones, finger sandwiches and pastries.
Chef's Table (Deck 10); $95 per person: The Chef's Table is an intimate dining experience, limited to 12 people, that's ideal for foodies and wine aficionados. The six-course set menus are themed (Cuban Fusion, French, Italian and "stateside"), feature fancier ingredients (suckling pig, lobster, squid) and are paired with premium wines. The event is held at the long high table by the entrance and wine display in Prime C.
Chef's Table is offered around four times per cruise, possibly more if there's interest. It's a long dinner, roughly three hours, and most people love the experience.
Mosaic Cafe (Deck 5): The Mosaic Cafe is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and wears many hats. In the mornings, you can grab a coffee and muffin or breakfast pastry; in the afternoon, you'll find finger sandwiches or tapas plus sweets; and at night, you can enjoy an after-dinner cappuccino or tea. Grab a snack to go, or take one of the seats in the open atrium area by the shops. It's one of the best places for people-watching as passengers pass by going from the restaurant to the show or casino.
Once per cruise, the entire area is pressed into service to host a decadent after-dinner chocolate buffet, complete with a chocolate fountain, multitiered cakes, doughnuts, truffles and an ice cream sundae station with no fewer than three flavors of chocolate-based ice cream. It's a fun event, but the space is too small to contain all the sweet-toothed passengers, and room to sit and eat is limited. Consider making a plate and then escaping to a seat in Spirits or the Cabaret Lounge.
Room Service: Room service is available is 24/7. The breakfast menu is more extensive than a simple continental repast. Aside from fruit, breads and pastries, cereal and breakfast meats, you can also order omelets, pancakes, waffles, steak and eggs, and a "Healthy Choice" breakfast (egg white omelet, fruit, cottage cheese and granola), among other hot items.
An afternoon tea service of delivered savories is not overly publicized; you'll find the order card in the information binder in your cabin. We tried the tea, and a room service attendant basically brought us a selection of Twinings tea, hot water, cookies and little cakes. It's nothing special -- or that you can't get on your own at Mosaic.
Beyond breakfast, in-room dining is available 24 hours a day and can be ordered by phone or through your TV. Options include soup, salad, platters (think chips and salsa or a Mediterranean platter with salami, prosciutto, cheese, olives and crostini), sandwiches (burger, club, curried chicken), mains (strip steak, salmon, chicken tenders), pizza and quesadillas. Desserts range from brownies and cookies to gelato and fruit crumble.
You can also order off the Discoveries Restaurant menu during the dining room's open hours.