Azamara Quest's reception area has a cozy feel with the purser's desk, shore excursions desk and future cruise sails desk all located in the main atrium area of Deck 4, surrounded by comfy chairs and couches. On Deck 5, the Photo Shop is located across from the casino; there you can browse and purchase photos taken by the ship's photography staff. In the atrium area by the Mosaic Cafe are two boutiques; the Quest Shop sells everything from logowear and stuffed animals to rather expensive clothing, bags and sundries, while Indulgences offers more upscale purchases, such as designer sunglasses, fancy watches and liquor.
The beautiful library is up on Deck 10 by Prime C and Aqualina. It has an extensive collection of books and a ceiling fresco of birds, giving the impression of a greenhouse. Although the library is called the Drawing Room, it's the Looking Glass lounge that offers card tables, board games and a Wii gaming system (featuring virtual golf and bowling).
The eConnections computer center is just outside the spa; if you want to use the ship's wireless, you must go there first to set up an account. You can purchase Internet packages for $18.95 (30 minutes), $26.95 (45 minutes), $47.95 (85 minutes), $79.95 (150 minutes) or $99.95 (235 minutes). Without a package, Internet use costs 65 cents a minute. There's no charge to use the printer hooked up to the eConnections computers; it's great for printing out boarding passes. The Internet connection was okay on our trip, but it sometimes took a while for pages to load.
There's a complimentary self-service laundry with soap and ironing boards on Deck 7.
Azamara Quest will never be a true luxury product -- not with its small staterooms and aging real estate in an industry where "newer" and "bigger" often mean "better." But with its smart new focus on "destination immersion" and sharply expanded menu of complimentary amenities, Azamara Club Cruises has carved out an upmarket niche that should have staying power.
What Azamara Quest (and sister ship Journey) aims to deliver is, as CEO Larry Pimentel frames it, a "bucket list" of must-see destinations around the world. How? With longer stays in port, more overnights and nighttime touring. It's a strategic move that represents a distinct departure from traditional cruising, which typically features daytime port visits and no overnights or nighttime touring. The ship also plans itineraries around popular events, docking in Rio for Carnaval, Monaco for the Grand Prix and London for the Chelsea Garden Show.
On our seven-night cruise along the French Riviera, we overnighted in both Nice and Monte Carlo. And, in other ports, we sailed away as late as 10 p.m., so there was ample time to enjoy dinner or explore the nightlife on shore. (One downside: On shorter itineraries with no sea days, there is no real sense of the sail or the sea because the cruising itself occurs in the dark. If that's an important consideration, it's best to rethink your itinerary.)
In addition, every cruise now features one complimentary AzAmazing Evening -- a local performance, concert or sporting event staged exclusively for Azamara that showcases a region's culture and cuisine. On our AzAmazing Evening in Sete, France, we watched a colorful water-jousting competition, a local tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, followed by an outdoor reception (with sparkling wines, octopus pie, fresh oysters and mussels) and fireworks. It was a showstopper.
As for the ship, Azamara Quest considers itself a floating boutique hotel. When it launched in 2007 with nearly 700 passengers, the ship was considered mid-size. By today's mega-ship standards, it's a small vessel, and that's part of its charm. Also, what Quest lacks in stateroom and bathroom panache, it makes up for with its handsome public spaces. It doesn't hurt either that the ship underwent a $10 million refurbishment in late 2012 that included an interior design redo of the Windows buffet restaurant, new chaise lounges on the pool deck, all new equipment in the fitness center and an upgrade of carpeting and furniture fabrics in most of the public spaces.
The food and service overall are quite good by any standard. One of the game-changers, though, are new fare inclusions -- not only an AzAmazing Evening but the self-service laundry, complimentary shuttles in many ports, butlers for suite passengers, house wines, beer, selected spirits, bottled water and soft drinks. The onboard experience is far more luxurious than it was before. Both onboard and ashore, this is a ship that has reinvented itself.
Azamara Quest has seven categories of staterooms. Inside cabins (158 square feet), outside cabins (170 square feet), verandah cabins (175 square feet with 40-square-foot balconies) and sunset verandah cabins (same size cabin with larger 46- to 64-square-foot balconies) have more or less the same layout, each featuring a bed, desk, closet and sitting area with a loveseat and small table. All are decorated in soft tones of blue, beige and light green and feature dark wooden furnishings. They also have electric outlets that accommodate both 110 and 220 volts.
Beds are comfortable. In fact, every mattress was replaced in the 2012 refurbishment. However, between the two regular pillows and two decorative pillows on each bed, as well as the loveseat's throw pillows, the small cabins can often feel overwhelmed with them. Outside and balcony cabins that sleep three will typically have pullout sofas, while inside cabins have beds that pull down from the ceiling. Balconies are each furnished with two chairs and a table -- great for eating, bad for lounging. Storage is adequate and got better in 2012 with an adjustment to beds, which now permits luggage storage below.
Bathrooms are smaller than average; toilets face at odd angles, and tiny showers have the dreaded clingy curtains. Bathrooms come with bottles of About Rose brand shampoo, conditioner, foaming body wash and body lotion, and there's a hairdryer in one of the desk cabinets. Safes and mini-fridges with complimentary sodas and water can be found in the closets. There are also alcoholic beverages for purchase. Passengers are welcome to bring their own wine, beer or spirits onboard to consume in their cabins without incurring extra fees. Flat-screen TV's offer interactive features that allow passengers to view their bills or order room service on screen.
All cabins on Azamara Quest receive fruit baskets, replenished daily; free bottles of water; fresh-cut flowers; turn-down sweets; afternoon canapes (you must request them); shoe-shine service; personal stationery; and complimentary use of bathrobes, binoculars and umbrellas.
At 266 square feet with 60-square-foot verandahs, Club Continent Suites are extra-spacious verandah cabins. The color scheme is red and beige. These staterooms have extra-large sitting areas with sofas and chairs, as well as larger closets. Bathrooms are huge, compared to those in regular cabins, and they feature tubs.
In a nod to luxury, Azamara Quest offers Club Ocean and Club World Suites. The Ocean Suites, ranging from 440 to 501 square feet, each feature a separate living/dining room and master bedroom, a master bath with whirlpool tub and shower, guest bathroom and a 105- to 156-square-foot verandah. The World Suites, at 560 square feet, have a separate living/dining room and master bedroom, walk-in closet, dressing room with vanity, master bathroom with marble features and a whirlpool tub, guest bathroom and a 233-square-foot verandah.
Suite passengers receive priority check-in, luggage delivery and priority debarkation; butler service; free garment-pressing of two items per person; in-suite spa services (for a fee); a welcome bottle of Champagne; specialty in-suite coffees; and complimentary dinners in the two specialty restaurants.
The main onboard entertainment venue is Deck 5. The Cabaret show lounge is an intimate performance space with a bar in the back. Instead of a Broadway-style theater with a big stage and stadium seating, it feels more like the secondary show lounge on larger ships with a small stage, dance floor and rows of free-standing chairs that are arranged in semicircles around the dance floor. Sightlines aren't fabulous, so be sure to grab a seat early.
Continuing aft, the Casino Luxe features slot machines and gaming tables, as well as Club Luxe, its own recently expanded bar. Past the shops, the Mosaic Cafe is in an open, atrium-style space with scattered seating that represents the social hub of the ship; it's where you pause to grab a midday snack, hang out on a sea day with a deck of cards or a good book, or listen to musical performances. Outside Discoveries is the Discoveries Lounge, which is the perfect spot to sip a before-dinner drink while listening to music. On Deck 10, the elegant Looking Glass lounge has it all: a dance floor, D.J. booth, bar, card tables and board games, and Wii. Typically, multiple activities are going on there at once.
If you are on a longer cruise, you will find that Azamara Quest packs its sea days with plenty of daytime activities. (The spacing between event listings in the Pursuits daily newsletters is noticeably reduced to squeeze all the activities in.) But, for the most part, activities are limited to cliched onboard events. You'll find multiple trivia games each day in addition to line-dancing classes, spa seminars on burning fat faster or eating more to weigh less, arts and crafts like origami or jewelry-making, casino or sports (Ping-Pong, shuffleboard) tournaments, bridge, bingo, culinary demonstrations and wine-tastings. Enrichment programming has never been a hallmark of Azamara, but that should change, due to the line's new arrangement with Compass, a provider of top-notch enrichment lecturers used by companies like Crystal and Seabourn.
In the evenings, you can find a variety of musical entertainment throughout the ship, including a guitarist or pianist at Club Luxe (by the casino), Looking Glass or Discoveries Lounge. Performances in the Cabaret show lounge on our cruise featured a comedian, singers and a classical pianist -- nothing super special.
Some nights offer additional evening entertainment, including movies, dance classes and an alfresco deck party called White Night that features a huge outdoor buffet and local folkloric entertainment.
Azamara's shore excursions department offers the usual sightseeing opportunities, but it has amped up its options with the addition of tours directed at more active travelers. One example is a four-mile hike on a French Riviera beach with a break for a wine tasting and typical Provencal meal. Prices are all over the map. A concierge is available to help passengers arrange for private excursions or tours that are run independent of the ship. The ship also provides complimentary shuttles to and from port communities, where available.
Each cruise, except for transatlantic voyages, includes a complimentary AzAmazing Evening that showcases the best of local culture in fabulous settings and famous landmarks. In Gibraltar, for example, passengers were treated to a concert inside St. Michael's Cave. In Saint-Tropez on the French Riveria, they watched a polo match, then socialized afterward with polo players onboard the ship. And in the Ancient City outside of Bangkok, passengers had a personal tour of replicas of different kingdoms, where they were introduced to Thai beer and cuisine.
Tips are included in cruise fares, but additional tipping is at passengers' discretion. Spa gratuities are not included in fares. An 18 percent gratuity will be added to passengers' onboard folio for spa services. The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Deck 9 is the lido deck, with one pool and two whirlpools surrounded by loungers with cloth-covered padding. Wicker tables and chairs are set up for alfresco dining by the Pool Grill; on the opposite side of the pool bar, a covered area offers comfy couches and lounges for reading or hanging out in a shadier spot. On the forward end of the pool deck, a Ping-Pong table is available for game play. One deck up, an oval track circles the pool area for walking or jogging. A half-deck on Deck 11 provides additional space for sunbathing and is a great place to stargaze on the one night the ship turns the upstairs lights off.
Given the size of the ship, the Astral Spa (featuring Elemis products) has to be small, but it does offer full service. A salon offers typical hairstyling, manicure and pedicure services, while treatment rooms are available for everything from massages to facials and Ionithermie Algae Detox. An acupuncturist is also onboard. Wait for the in-port spa specials for treatments at reduced rates. Passes to the thalassotherapy pool and spa sun deck are complimentary for suite passengers but can be purchased by others. A one-day pass is $20, and a couple's cruise pass costs $150.
The small fitness center packs a lot into minimal space. Elliptical trainers, treadmills and stationary bikes all have high-tech displays with TV capabilities. Behind them, a selection of free weights and a few weight machines are available for pumping iron. An aerobics area is kitted out with spinning bikes, conditioning balls and yoga mats. Fitness classes -- including yoga, Pilates, core strengthening, body conditioning, spinning and stretching -- are all free of charge. Personal training and a four-session body sculpting boot camp are available for additional fees.
The best-kept secrets on the ship are the spa locker rooms. Use of the steamrooms is free (just swap your cruise card for a locker key), and so are the spa showers, each with multiple jets for a massaging wash. When you're tired of fighting with the curtain or banging your elbows in the tiny cabin showers, head on up to the spa for a more enjoyable cleansing. The anteroom between spa reception and the locker rooms also serves up fruit-infused waters for free, which are quite refreshing whether you've been to the spa, worked out or have simply been lounging in the sun.
Azamara Quest has no children's areas or programming, though kids are allowed onboard. Infants must be at least 6 months old to sail (or 12 months on all transoceanic voyages).
The pool, Wii, some board games and in-cabin TV's are pretty much the only shipboard amenities that will entertain children. If you plan on bringing your brood onboard, make sure they're capable of finding their own fun while on the ship. On rare occasions, when there are 25 or more children onboard during summer or holidays, Azamara Quest will "borrow" a youth counselor from its parent company Royal Caribbean International for the duration of the cruise.
Azamara Quest's evening dress code is always resort casual, which means slacks and nice, collared shirts for men, and sundresses, dressy slacks or skirts for ladies. Dressing to the nines is the exception, rather than the rule; we saw some stunning dresses in the specialty restaurants Prime C and Aqualina and in the Discoveries main dining room, as well as a handful of men in suits; mostly passengers dressed nicely but not necessarily fancily. Jeans are not permitted in the main dining room or specialty restaurants.
Passengers onboard were an international mix, though the largest nation represented by far was the U.S., followed by the U.K., Canada and Australia. Other Europeans rounded out the lot, although there were also passengers from the Dominican Republic, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Chile and Mexico.
A large fraction of passengers are seniors, but Azamara says the average age is 55 to 57. Onboard entertainment, from trivia topics to musical choice, is clearly intended for Baby Boomers and their elders.
Almost a quarter of passengers on a typical voyage are first-time cruisers who are seasoned land travelers. Azamara says its chief competitors are boutique hotels. Statistically, the cruise lines it draws from are, in order, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal.
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