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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)