By Erica Silverstein
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

The Discoveries Dining Room on Deck 5 is the main dining room, which serves breakfast and dinner every day and lunch and afternoon tea on sea days. 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, meaning you have very little privacy from the diners on either side. Don't forget to check out the ceiling frescoes -- you'll either think they're a nice decorative touch or a bit too much kitsch, depending on your taste.

Breakfast hours change, depending on arrival time in each port, but are roughly from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Menu items include eggs made to order, Scottish kippers, pancakes and French toast, fruit, cereal and pastries. Lunch is served on sea days only. You can make lunch a four-course affair or keep it simple by ordering the burger of the day. Afternoon tea on sea days (on port days, tea snacks can be found upstairs in the Windows Cafe) is not quite as elegant as it is on some other lines, but each table offers a three-tiered tray of cookies, petit fours and finger sandwiches, and waiters come around to serve tea and scones with jam and clotted cream.

Discoveries is most popular at dinner, served between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Dinner service tends to be leisurely and takes longer if you're sitting at a mixed table, rather than with just your party. The menu is quite extensive, offering appetizers, salads, soups, pasta, special dinner salad, healthy choice entrees and vegetarian options. In addition, 10 to 15 items are always on offer, including Caesar salad, grilled chicken breast, New York strip steak and sauteed filet of salmon. A separate dessert menu also contains a wide selection of items, including ice cream, sugar-free options and after-dinner drinks.

The best dishes are the meats (a flank steak dinner salad received two thumbs up) and pastas (including 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). It's best to steer clear of the chilled fruit soups.

For casual dining, Windows Cafe on Deck 9 is one of the best buffets at sea. It's open nearly all day long for early-riser breakfast, regular breakfast and late continental breakfast, running from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.; lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m.; afternoon delights (on port days) from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Coffee, tea and juice are available around the clock. Although the buffet is technically self-service, 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.

In the morning, Windows offers a selection of hot breakfast items, cold and hot cereals, pastries, decadent cinnamon rolls, fruit and yogurt. In addition, you can get made-to-order omelets, waffles, pancakes or French toast. The "Health Nut Bar" serves up freshly squeezed orange juice or fruit smoothies to order. Lunchtime features a salad bar, as well as innovative premade salads (like butternut red beet, pork and lychee or seafood salads), sandwich meats and cheeses, fresh-baked bread (Azamara Quest's bakery selections are absolutely fantastic at every meal and in every dining venue), hot entrees like grilled mahi mahi and veal Milanese, a carving station, sushi bar and several kinds of pizza. Dinner highlights include a carving station, freshly made sushi and made-to-order Asian-style stir-fry. Every night is a theme night -- on our cruise, we had French, Indian, Mediterranean, Italian and Greek theme dinners -- but the standard options are always available for those less interested in ethnic cuisine.

Lunch and dinner always seemed to have an inordinate number of desserts on offer, like multiple flavors of ice cream (including sorbets and sugar-free ice cream). On sea days, afternoon tea is set out buffet-style, but you can still choose from finger sandwiches, cookies and scones -- just without the fancy presentation of tea in Discoveries.

Just outside Windows is the Pool Grill, open noon to 6 p.m., which offers the typical burgers and dogs, as well as veggie burgers, chili dogs, brochettes of meat and veggies, ribs, seared tuna spinach wraps, Cuban-style pork sandwiches and salmon. French fries, onion rings, grilled veggies, chicken fingers and tortilla chips are also available. If you're not ordering a cheeseburger, wait times can be long, as your meal is grilled to order. Easy to miss is the soft-serve ice cream machine hidden in the corner by the beverage station. We didn't notice it until a few days into the cruise.

For nearly round-the-clock dining, the Mosaic Cafe on Deck 5 is open daily from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. It's the extra-fee specialty coffee and tea kiosk, but munchies like finger sandwiches, cookies and small desserts are always free. Grab a snack to go, or take one of the seats in the open atrium area by the shops.

Azamara Quest has two specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, located side-by-side on Deck 10. Reservations are required (though you can walk in on a slow night) for these dinner-only venues, open from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Suite passengers can eat in these restaurants as often as they like, at no charge, while everybody else pays $30 a head. Reservations are first-come, first-served.

Prime C is the classic steakhouse and likely the better of the two restaurants. It's 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, the enormous bone-in rib eye steak and the juicy salmon -- were fabulous. All the desserts got high marks, but the best choices, by far, were the chocolate fondue and the cinnamon donuts; dip the donuts into the caramel sauce and then into the chocolate fondue, and savor the fact that you're on vacation.

Service at Prime C is absolutely outstanding. We've never felt so well taken care of at a restaurant. Our waiter, Ahmet, was solicitous and polite, answering our questions with thorough and accurate explanations, applauding our menu selections and always returning promptly, never leaving us to scan the restaurant looking for him, but he never hovered over us in an overbearing way.

Aqualina serves up American cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. 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.

The menu has the same four-part structure as Prime C: soups/salads (endive salad with caramelized apples and berries, seafood bouillabaisse, lobster bisque), appetizers (including a perfectly melty brie in phyllo dough and beautifully presented scallops on corn pancakes), entrees (osso bucco, rack of lamb, pan-seared Chilean sea bass, and "duo of duck," a combination of roasted breast and duck confit) and desserts (grand marnier or chocolate souffles). My dinner companion and I were in the mood for fish -- usually a smart move in a Mediterranean restaurant -- but our waiter warned us not to make those selections. We ended up with three fish dishes (one of each) for the two of us, and we were disappointed in all three of them, but the delicious appetizers and salads made up for the mediocre mains.

Aqualina also offers a caviar and Champagne bar from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fees apply (although passengers do not pay the $30 admission fee if they partake in the caviar bar only).

Notably, sodas, house wines and beers (Budweiser, Bud Lite and Beck's draft) are free with meals and in the bars. The complimentary spirits menu includes Smirnoff and Findlandia vodkas, Jim Beam bourbon, Cutty Sark scotch and cocktails like Bloody Marys, gimlets and Manhattans. Passengers who consume their own wine, beer or spirits in a shipboard restaurant, bar or dining venue are charged a $10 corkage fee per bottle.

Finally, room service is available is 24/7. The breakfast menu is more extensive than on other ships, which offer only a simple continental repast. Aside from fruit, bagels, cereal and breakfast meats, you can also order omelets, pancakes, waffles, steak and eggs, and a "Healthy Choice" breakfast (egg white omelet, wheat toast, fruit, cottage cheese with granola and orange juice), among other hot items.

During a restaurant's open hours, passengers may order room service from its menu. Finally, a selection of options available 24 hours a day includes chicken noodle soup, Caesar salad, steak, grilled chicken sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and assorted alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. The all-day room service menu actually has quite a number of vegetarian items: a "Healthy Salad," veggie burger, vegetable lasagna, avocado-tomato quesadillas and cheese pizza.

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