Tarragona – New for Cruisers

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The Catalan port city of Tarragona is a large shipping port which has been occupied since before the time that Romans settled (perhaps 5th Century BCE). The Azamara Quest docked at the end of a massive breakwater-pier-jetty that was well over a mile long. Taking the free shuttle bus into the center of the city (we usually walk), we passed the industrial port including mountains of coal, presumably stored there prior to shipping. It was an oddly beautiful sight. After passing the security gate of the port we traveled north along the Mediterranean before we got to the entrance to the walled city.

Between the old city and the sea are the ruins of the Roman Amphitheater. As in many other places much of the stone used in the arena was hauled away centuries ago to be used in other buildings. So much of what remains is a reconstruction. Interestingly within the amphitheater are the remains of two early Christian churches.

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Roman Amphitheater (photo by Donna)

The old city itself has two sets of walls – the Roman originals and more recent walls built by the British. Within the old city are narrow winding alleys with old foundations and much newer structures built on top. I suspect during the peak of the Summer tourist season, these alleys are packed with visitors, but our early November visit was busy enough so that the stores were open, but cool and quiet enough to make the visit very relaxing. We did not visit the archaeological museum just inside the walls, near the amphitheater, but it gets excellent reviews.

The Tarragona Cathedral is the largest in all Catalonia. Begun in the late 12th century, the major architecture is transitional between Romanesque and Gothic, but the interior is much more mixed with stunning chapels in many style including over-the-top Baroque. Perhaps the highlight of the visit was the cloister with orange trees and fountains.

We walked past the Placa de la Font near City Hall past the old Ramblas to the new Ramblas, where we walked a few blocks. It was a nice with interesting shopping and attractive restaurants, but definitely did not compare to the Ramblas in Barcelona.

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Shrine of the Barefoot Carmelite – Neogothic

Since Tarragona was a replacement port due to congestion in Barcelona, the ship tours mainly took passengers up to Barcelona where the ship was scheduled to arrive at 7pm. And if you haven’t been to Barcelona, you should definitely take a Barcelona tour. But Tarragona is definitely worth a nice walking tour in the old city.

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Ajaccio – Not so proud of Napoleon

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Sailing into the Gulf of Ajaccio the sun rose over impressive rows of mountains, like the rows of shark teeth. Dolphins were happy about our arrival. Large ships stir up the local fish giving predators such as dolphins a nice meal.

Ajaccio is the capital of the French ruled island and about one in four Corsicans live in the area near Ajaccio. Corsica is a large island with a sparse population of only one-third of a million, almost half of whom are not native to Corsica. The island has the highest mountains of any Mediterranean island and the rugged interior has the old medieval hilltop villages where the historic population lived, avoiding the dangerous and pirate-ridden coasts. Genoa ruled the island for much of the 500 years before 1755 when Pascal Paoli declared independence. Corsica was nominally a nation until the Genoese signed a treaty turning over the island they did not rule to France in 1768. By 1780, the French Army had turned back the rebels. In 1769 Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio. Among his other accomplishments, Napoleon ensured that Corsica did not regain its independence. That explains the local’s ambivalence to their most famous native son.

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As the birthplace of Napoleon, Ajaccio has more than its share of Napoleon statues, museums and historic markers which are popular with tourists. We took the Ajaccio city tour that included walking in the city and near the Iles Sanguinaires, three small scenic islands that provide a wonderful view with several of the Genoese towers that were constructed to protect the island from pirates. The entire island coast is dotted with these stone monuments. At the view point for the three island the water is calm and stunningly clear, allowing Donna to notice a small pink jellyfish floating below a pier. It was a bit cool, but if we ever stay there in the Summer the beaches would be wonderful, since pirates are no longer an issue.

After the islands and several monuments to Napolean in scenic parks and squares, we visited the Ajaccio cathedral where Napoleon was baptized. It is a small church that featured trompe l’oeil walls (3D painting used especially during the Baroque period) were meant to look like marble and other more expensive ornaments. The island has never been rich, even in the capital. The end of our tour was at Place Foch where there was a small but attractive farmer’s market.

The other popular tours offered from Ajaccio included a trip to the verdant Prunelli Gorges with long blue lakes and dramatic cliffs or the Vizzavona Pass with views of the Monte d’Or and rustic town of Bocognano. The setting of the Gulf of Ajaccio is wonderful, but the natural wonders of Corsica are even more dramatic as you explore the central mountains. Oh, well. Next time!

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Place DeGaulle (photo by Donna)

Palamos: Costa Brava

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Barcelona is one of the most popular cruise ports in the world with good reason. But the entire region of Catalonia has much to offer. Costa Brava (Wild Coast) north of Barcelona offers dramatic coastal views and cultural attractions. Palamos and Roses have recently attracted the cruise lines who want to spend a little more time in Catalonia.

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View of Palamos and Azamara Quest from Cap Gros

(See Comment about Catalonia unrest below.)

Palamos is situated on one of the longest stretches of beach in the area and it had that post-Summer resort feel. Many store and restaurants were closed and the beaches were sparsely populated. There were several excellent para-sailing athletes providing entertainment when we stopped for a drink after our long day.

The cruise lines offered tours focusing on Dali (the Dali Museum in Figueres or the Dali Castle plus some other hilltop towns and castles), food (Fish Museum in Palamos, a local farm tour, rice farms in Pais and a winery) and Girona, the historic regional capital of the area. We decided to do our own private tour and stayed in town. North of the beach is the old town built on a finger peninsula with narrow streets and a lovely church – Santa Maria del Mar. Traffic was light and sadly nearly all the stores were closed. I love traveling to places when they are quiet, but the downside is that stores and restaurants are often closed.

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Once we got to the north side of the peninsula we had a striking view of a large marina and Cap Gros, the next peninsula which looked like a challenging climb from a distance. At this point Donna and I discussed the difference between a walk and a hike. I had worn my hiking boots, so I was ready. Donna said she was only interested in a walk, not a hike. We continued. The area was residential with coastal apartments facing the water and large houses high on the rocks with paths down to tiny beaches. There was a large fancy campground on the slope of Cap Gros. The end of the peninsula was a park with striking views of Palamos to the south and more of Costa Brava to the north. This was when the hike started so Donna didn’t climb the last part of the hill and I got to see one of the area’s most popular beaches, Platja Fosca as well as Castell de la Fosca in the far distance. We had done the first part of a three hour hike along the rocky coast north of the city. If you are a hiker, this is a beautiful walk (or hike).

We walked back and had our drink on the beach and watched the para-sailing.

When we got back I heard from others that the Fish Museum tour was fascinating. They got to see the fish auction, here about the local catch and each some of the super-fresh product. For those who enjoy fish, sounds like a fun tour.

Away from the hustle of Barcelona, Palamos is a nice daytime stop for a cruise.

(Political turmoil in Catalonia: We visited Catalonia about 10 days after the elected leadership of the Community of Catalonia declared independence and the government of Spain responded by removing that leadership. It was not certain we would go there with the political uncertainty. Despite the dramatic events, there were no acts of violence by the rebels or the government, so our cruise made three stops in Catalonia – in Palamos, Tarragona and Barcelona. The only evidence we saw of the revolt were many flags waiving from windows and locals handing out leaflets at the ports. We did not see increased security anywhere. We did not spend much time in Barcelona, so we may have missed some stronger evidence of the troubles. Nonetheless, the Catalans seem to be maintaining a vocal, but peaceful stance. It is unclear from all that I have read if the rebels have the support of the majority in the region. Hopefully Catalonia will continue to remain peaceful.)

Cote d’Azur – Eze, Nice and Monaco

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What we call the French Riviera is called the Cote d’Azur in France. Near the eastern end of the region is the Principality of Monaco, which is about one square mile and ruled by Prince Albert II. The harbors along this area of France are small, so cruise ships have a challenge docking. Monaco has a small terminal where we docked. Our tour ran from 9am to 6pm first visiting the eagle’s nest village of Eze, and the regional capital of Nice before returning to Monaco.

One of the attractions of the area is the dramatic geography with the Southern Alps which rising precipitously from the Mediterranean coast and with rocky peninsulas jutting out protecting small bays.

Going along the middle corniche (road parallel to the coast) you arrive at the entrance to Eze. This is similar to town of Les Baux des Provence which we visited in May during our Rhone cruise. Only Eze overlooks the sea. It is a tiny medieval stone village topped with the ruins of a fortress. There are two five-star hotels along with shops and cafés along the steep and narrow pedestrian. We were lucky to have cool weather! The highest point is an arid cactus garden that has a 6 Euro admittance. I think it was worth it because of the incredible views of the coast and the garden. Our guide did not mention that Walt Disney was a big fan of Eze. The pictures will tell you why.

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Driving to Nice still on the middle corniche, you pass above the port of Villefranche-sur-Mer, which is where the larger ships dock in the area. Passengers tender in because they have not built a dock. There are two more small peninsulas before reaching Nice and between those is the tiny Nice harbor were only a few of the smallest cruise ships dock. The last peninsula is called Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) where the city was first established and where Elton John owns a house. Unlike the rest of the area Nice sits on a large coastal plane. The old city is in the morning shadow of Castle Hill up to an old riverbed which has recently been converted to a series of parks. Beyond the parks is the new city where rich English started to vacation starting in the 18th Century. Here you will find the English Promenade and classic Nice hotels, such as the ornate Negresco Hotel. Across the promenade is the rocky beach. (Security has been added with strong posts preventing vehicles from driving down the promenade and French military patrolling regularly.} After driving along this area we headed back to the old town to Massena Square which served as our meeting point after free time exploring the old town, the flower market and the beach along United States Quay (in honor of American efforts during World War II). The flower market was beautiful. I had a lovely Baguette, Brie and Ham sandwich in the Old Town.

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Driving back we traveling along the coast and got a closer look at Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, where Bono has a beach home.  Between the two beach towns is the exclusive Cap Ferrat (peninsula) where the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street and took a lot of drugs. The only mansion that is open to the public is Villa which houses a Rothschild art collection.

In the afternoon we returned to Monaco. I confess that I am not particularly interested in the tax haven principality. But I admit it’s a personal issue. There are interesting things to see there. We parked in a garage below The Rock (Old Monaco) where the Monaco Palace and Cathedral are located. Taking two escalators and an elevator, we found ourselves next to the famous Monaco Oceanographic Museum (once managed by Jacques Cousteau). Walking to the top of the Rock, we passed the houses of Princess Caroline and Stephanie before reaching a small square with the also small cathedral and the Monaco court. Between the court and the palace square is a network of narrow lanes with nice shopping and restaurants. The large palace square offers stunning views of the city.

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Then we walked back to the bus and rode to Monte Carlo part of the way along the Grand Prix route. It was a bit surprising to see a kid’s carnival with fun houses and rides occupying the spot where the grandstands for the race will be. We parked in an underground garage and walked to the Casino along the hairpin turn that is part of the Grand Prix route. There was not much going on at the Casino at 5pm in the afternoon. I did not go in but wandered the area seeing designer boutiques and small urban parks. Monaco was about what I expected – densely populated and very clean.

This was our cruise line tour with all the plusses and minuses that go with that. It was nice to see such a wide variety of places and to have an expert guide.

Livorno and Pisa

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If you have one day in Livorno and have not been to Tuscany before you really must go to Florence (called Firenze locally). It is one of the great cultural centers of Europe and Italy. The historic center is easily walkable. Whether you want to shop, enjoy the cuisine or view the architecture and art of the city, Florence welcomes its visitors warmly. Pisa and its famous tower get a lot of press, but Sienna and Lucca are even more interesting in my opinion. Livorno has something to offer, but only stay there if you have already visited Tuscany and Florence.

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Four Moors Statue at Livorno

Our Azamara cruise allowed us two full days docked at Livorno, so we decided to spend some time in the historic port city and take a train to Pisa, which I had not seen before. Livorno (called Leghorn by the Brits) is a relatively new city (16th Century) established as the port by the Medicis who lead Florence during its time of pre-eminence. Livorno was a free port and people from other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa settled there to do business. Jews and Muslims had vibrant communities and there is still a rich Jewish tradition in the city.

Walking across the bridge from the port area to the city, the first thing you see is a rather strange statue of Grand Duke Fernando Medici who lead an expedition to defeat the Berbers or Barbary pirates. The statue shows a rather dapper count on a pedestal with the muscular and nearly naked pirates chained below his feet. The statue is considered a masterpiece, but for the pirates, not for Medici. Piracy was a way of life in the Mediterranean through many centuries and one not unique to North Africans. Legitimate traders were often the pirates when it was convenient.

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We took a hop-on, hop-off tour of Livorno which is an inexpensive way to get an overview. Because it was a Sunday, the city market (one of Europe’s largest) was closed as were several other attractions. Also, because of recent flooding in which six people were killed, the funicular up to the top of Montenero was not operating so we were unable to visit the Shrine of our Lady of Grace – one of the area’s most popular attractions. So instead of hopping off we only hopped on. Nonetheless we enjoyed the drive along the Esplanade and hearing about the history and culture of the Livornese. East of the port area is a recreational shoreline with public spaces, marine parks and historic mansions facing the sea. We passed by the Italian Naval Academy and saw the trainees (men and women) marching. The other historic areas of the city are the Old Fortress just west of the massive port, the many canals now filled with recreational boats and the New Fortress at the center of the canal network. Some people take a short canal tour by boat.

Sunday night our cruise included a wonderful concert at the historic Goldoni Theater in Livorno featuring the Three Tenors of Florence.

Livorno Train Station

Livorno Train Station

On our second day, we took a pricey taxi ride to the train station – two miles for about $19 – for the 12 mile train ride to Pisa – round trip for two for about $13. Donna had taken students many times to Pisa. I can report that the tower is still leaning and a brilliant white and there is some nice shopping along Via Francesco Crispi the main road between the train station and the tower. The walk is about one and one-half miles. It is a pretty city and worth a short visit.

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We got back in the early afternoon and walked back to the ship, watching the local school kids being picked up by their parents.  Not far from the ship we found Volte, the restaurant in the port that our cab driver recommended. Donna ordered Lobster with pasta and a tomato sauce. I had the cacciucco (cah-chu-co) which was a spicy tomato-based fish broth with a huge portion of seafood – octopus, palombo (a small shark), mussels and langoustines. It was excellent as was the local flat bread with olive oil, salt and oregano. Donna had the Ponce afterwards – strong coffee with rum, brandy, sugar and lemon zest.

Cacciucco

If I had it to do over again, I would do the same things, but change the order. On Sunday, we should have gone to Pisa – a tourist town where stores would have been open on Sunday. And then on Monday the Livorno market would have been open as well as other Livorno attractions. Oh well – live and learn.

Azamara Quest – Part II

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Part II

Cuisine

From 2005-2010 I worked as the Training Manager at Oceania Cruises where “finest cuisine at sea” was one of our mantras. Azamara was established to compete with Oceania and has made an effort to offer comparable dining opportunities. While I don’t think it offers the culinary level that I have experienced at Oceania, this is not really a complaint. Both Donna and I felt the food was consistently of high quality. My only negative comment is that some items were a bit bland. The French Onion Soup didn’t have the robust flavor you look for. They did an excellent job with dietary restrictions coding the dining room menus and the signs on the buffet.

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Italian Night Antipasta Buffet

 

The Window Café on the pool deck offered less variety than on a large ship, but I did not miss it. Sometimes having so many options is just confusing and encourages overeating. The bread selection was very nice and each day at dinner there were ethnic themes such as Italian, Indian, Spanish and French providing a more casual alternative to the Main Dining Room. There were perhaps 10 dessert options plus gelatos in many flavors.

We had lunch at the Patio on the Pool Deck one day eating burgers, onion rings and chicken wings. Self-serve soft ice cream with toppings was available beside the grill.

The main dining room Discoveries offered about six new main courses each night plus three or four that were always available. Vegetarian options looked much more interesting than you usually see. For me one thing that stood out was the variety and quality of the seafood offered.

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Captain Jose celebrates the crew

Specialty dining in Aqualina (gourmet Italian) and Prime C (steak house) cost $30 and they offer a Chef’s Table experience as well. We dined in Aqualina and had a lovely evening in the elegant room. Was it worth the extra fee? When the main dining room is superior what would it take to say yes to that question? To me that atmosphere was more serene and elegant, and the sea views were wonderful. The service was good and more focused since the servers had fewer tables to assist. While all items were good only one stood out as memorable…the appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops. So the answer is maybe for me. For suite guests who get the specialty restaurants included, I would dine in one of the specialty places every few nights.

24-hour room service is offered. Donna took advantage at breakfast when a wide variety of cold and hot options were available.

Service

One of the things that makes vacationing more enjoyable and practical is having help with the little things we do for ourselves normally. It saves time and makes the experience more relaxing. However, I am uncomfortable with the overly modest service and servers who do not meet your eye. And for the most part, the service on the Quest was not obsequious, but politely friendly. I wish I’d had the opportunity to get to know a few staff members more, but on a short cruise it is difficult.

During the White Nights evening event (more below) the beverage staff were sent around with bottles of cognac and other beverage options. They were polite about it, but after a while it got a bit annoying perhaps because no one at our table was interested.

Events

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Boldoni Opera House in Livorno where we saw the Three Tenors

Azamara includes complementary special events on every cruise. There were two that were most memorable. Nearly every cruise has an “Azamazing Evening” which is a on shore happening to which every guest on the ship is invited. For our cruise, this was the Three Tenors of Florence at the Goldoni Opera House in Livorno. What could have been a logistical challenge was accomplished without a hitch. The entire ship was transported into town by bus and returned the same way. The timing and organization were impeccable. The venue was recently renovated and stunning. The performance by the three singers and pianist was impressive and a lot of fun. When we got back to the ship we had to wait to get back on board, but they had the ship band playing jazz and served hot chocolate (with a rum floater for those so inclined). A truly great evening!

The second event was what they called the White Nights party. Guests are encouraged to wear white. The grill had lobster, beef and lamb cooking so the whole area smelled of a wonderful barbecue. Other memorable items were a seafood fry mixing calamari with sardines and shrimp. Of course, there were a wide variety of breads, salads, vegetables and desserts. Things got started at 6pm and at 7pm a local Flamenco group from Palamos performed. They were excellent. That was followed at around 8pm with the ship ensemble playing dance music. The dance floor was full most of the evening. There was a short break when our gregarious Captain, Jose, introduced the ship staff and celebrated their excellent service. It was another well-staged event.

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Flamenco Dancer at White Nights in Palamos

 

Itinerary

Azamara has distinguished themselves most with their itineraries. The small ships make it easier for them to add boutique ports and to dock at the most convenient berths at the ports. In addition, they overnight in many ports and stay late into the evening in others, offering a more extensive experience in many ports.

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Pulling into Monaco

Our cruise stayed overnight in Livorno which was great because there are so many nearby places to see – Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Sienna and more. Plus, we got to see the three tenors. Our other ports were Monte Carlo, Ajaccio in Corsica, Palamos and Tarragona in Spain and finally Barcelona. It was actually the first time that Azamara had visited Tarragona which had a wonderful old walled city and good shopping. I will be writing about each of the ports in other posts, but overall, it was a very nice itinerary.

Conclusions

Though I had seen the Azamara ships, this was my first cruise. As much as I’d read about the port focus and special events that Azamara offers, the cruise experience really made a difference. In some ways it reminded me of the river cruises Donna and I have taken. The Azamazing Evening was an amped up version of the local performers river cruises feature. The daily wines were the same as well. Rather than the daily schedule of 8am arrival-5pm departure that so many ocean lines offer, Azamara followed a pattern more like the river lines staying later and overnight when it makes sense to do that.

On Staircase

The size of the Azamara ship (30K tons, 700 passengers) is also wonderful. You almost never stand in line more than a few minutes. And most of the time you go somewhere and there is a place to sit. And when they are dealing with a crowd, they really have it organized well. The staff to guest ratio ensures that you get what you want when you want it.

If you are looking for constant events and exciting activities, perhaps you should stick to larger ships. It was really a relaxing cruise and we spend most of our energy exploring the ports. Donna’s fitbit reports we walked 26 miles during the 7-day cruise.

As far as pricing, Azamara is definitely more than your typical premium line but less than a luxury line. For a balcony cabin you can expect to spend perhaps 40-50% more for an Azamara cruise. Pricing is very similar to the direct competitors, Oceania and Viking Oceans. If you are looking for a luxury experience and want to find savings, the Club Continent Suites are a great option with drinks, specialty dining and gratuities included.

Donna and I really enjoyed our Azamara experience and the few negatives were really minor. Azamara offers a wonderful alternative for those who are annoyed by large ships. And for luxury cruisers looking for another options, the suites are worth considering.

Azamara Quest – Part I

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Between 1998 and 2001, Renaissance Cruises built eight ships which are often called the R-class ships. Just after 9-11, Renaissance went out of business. At present four of these 30,000-ton ships are owned by Oceania, two by Azamara, one by Princess and one by P&O. P&O’s ship the Adonia will begin cruising as Azamara’s third ship the Azamara Pursuit in August of 2018. Though often described as mid-sized, by today’s standards, the R-class ships are small holding 650-700 passengers.

Quest in Palamos

In 2007 Royal Caribbean purchased two of the ships to compete in the Upper Premium market with Oceania creating Azamara Cruises. Initially the line was part of Celebrity, but in 2009 became independent as Azamara Club Cruises. It is led by industry veteran Larry Pimentel who has sought to create a unique brand focusing on destinations and experiences.

Deck at Sunset

Last Saturday (October 2017), Donna and I boarded the Azamara Quest for a 7-night cruise from Civitavecchia to Barcelona. Personalized service began immediately at the terminal. We waited perhaps two minutes to sign in. Our balcony cabin was ready. The standard R-class ship cabins are small which is one of the reasons that Azamara does not fit in the luxury category. But in terms of inclusions, Azamara is close to luxury. House wines (two reds, two whites and a rose changing each day), house liquors and a few beer brands (Budweiser and Beck’s) along with cocktails such as Donna’s favorite, the Manhattan, are complementary at all bars and dining rooms throughout the day. Two upgraded beverage packages are available for those wanting more options. Gratuities are also included. So it is possible to get off the ship without a bill if you wish.

 

Ship

The Quest was fully renovated in early 2016 and made to look contemporary. Colors on the ship are neutral – light grays, browns and creams – with metallic rather than color highlights. It is a bit boring in my opinion, but most people seem to like it.

 

On Staircase

Those who do not like cruising often complain about feeling like they always in a crowd. One thing that distinguishes luxury cruise ships from the other lines is the amount of space the ship offers overall. The Azamara Quest offers an almost luxury feeling when it comes to space, but at below luxury price. Our cruise was fully booked, but rarely did we feel like we were in a crowd. Perhaps two or three times we saw full elevators. When we went with a large group to dinner, we had to wait of course, but otherwise we always got right in. The only place where I felt a lack of space was the buffet area of the Windows Café, which has a traffic flow issue. It is a minor complaint though.

One thing that nearly everyone will love is the small ship. You are never far from anything! Our cabin was on Deck 6. The pool deck with the Windows Café and Spa were on Deck 9, so was always walked up. The Cabaret Lounge and Discoveries Restaurant were just below us on Deck 5. The Cabaret Lounge was directly below our cabin and it was possible to hear the show one night, but it was not loud.

Cabins

For some the standard cabin size will be a negative. The King size bed was very comfortable. Donna enjoyed the love seat for reading. The desk had two US plugs and the ship phone. It was wide enough for my laptop. The coffee table was a good size for room service breakfast. Drawer and closet space was limited especially if you are taking a longer cruise. The bathroom is well-designed but small with a tiny shower and not much space to put toiletries. Though the room was generally maintained, the wallpaper in the shower was pulling away near the floor. The balcony had a nice table and chairs – not the typical plastic. The space between the foot of the bed and wall is very narrow. The rather heavy coffee table must be moved to pull out the desk chair.

Cabin 1

 

The 40-inch TV is at the foot of the bed and visible from the couch. TV selections offer a variety of news channels, onboard information and a free movie channel with very limited choices. Unlike some other lines they have pay movies for $12 each.

Suites on the ship offer an upgrade which is comparable to luxury ships with specialty dining included, free internet (limited), lots more floor space, larger balcony, a full size bath room and more storage. The Club Continent Suite is Azamara’s Junior Suite at about 320 square feet total. The Spa Suite has a Rain Shower, Jacuzzi tub and dual bathroom sinks along with lots of closet space in a total of over 450 square feet. At nearly 650 square feet, the Club Ocean Suite has a separate bedroom and balcony that is 173 square feet, a dining table and lots of open floor space and storage. Finally, the Owners Suite is almost 850 square feet with a balcony over 200 square feet.

Entertainment

The shows were surprisingly good considering the size of the ship. The entertainment staff included a small band (keyboards, bass, drums and four horns), four singer/dancers, two dancers, a guitarist/singer and a pianist/singer and one host. When the band played jazz and dance music, they were energetic and spot on. There were several excellent singers in the group, especially the Cruise Director Tony whose warm personality really set a tone for his staff.

We went to one production show – a typical Broadway feature – which was more enjoyable than most because the choice of songs was not typical, and Tony and his singers did a great job on harmonies and working together. It was definitely cabaret, not Vegas. The dance music show on our White Night (more on that later) was even more fun with music ranging from Doo Wop to funk to contemporary. We went to Tony’s solo performance in the Living Room where he showed off his crooning ability on songs from Sinatra to Michael Jackson.

We saw a few bingo, trivia and other audience participation events listed on the program, but we did not attend these. If you are going on a cruise for over the top entertainment, Azamara will be disappointing. The entertainment of the ship was less a central feature of the experience than an enhancement. And it was surprisingly good.

(To be continued)