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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.