Azamara Quest Sampler Trip
Azamara Cruises re-branded itself in April 2010 as an upmarket boutique cruise line called Azamara Club Cruises. Their new CEO, cruise veteran Larry Pimentel, took over the company and before he took the job he booked himself on a cruise to see if it was right for him - even going as far as eating in the crew mess to get their feedback about the brand. Since Larry’s arrival he has transformed the brand in to Azamara Club Cruises, offering a more inclusive cruise product and carving a niche in a busy market place. Bottled waters, soft drinks, speciality teas and coffees are now included in the fare, including soft drinks in the mini-bar in your Club Stateroom. Also included are shuttle buses into the town centres, wine served at lunch and dinner, gratuities for housekeeping, dining and wait staff and a complimentary self-service laundry. Other enhancements made include longer stays in ports of call and more overnight stays, immersive shore excursions and new, evening shore excursions too, English butler service for Club Suite guests (trained by the same company that trains the butlers for Buckingham Palace) and destination influenced entertainment.
I joined in Barcelona after quick flights from Gatwick. The direct transfer only took about 20 mins and I was soon onboard with the rest of our group and quickly found my Club Stateroom - number 7093.
Rooms are a good size, plenty of wardrobe space (with real hangers) flat screen TV with a variety of free and pay channels, double or twin beds facing a huge mirror, sofa, table and writing desk, fridge, safe, and floor to ceiling windows opening onto a balcony. The bed was dressed with 2 pillows, a further large square pillow and then a smaller embroidered "Azamara" pillow in the front - it looked very sumptuous when I arrived and later proved very comfy too. The bed was topped of with thick duvet. Air conditioning was very good and I like the room on the chilly side so I can get cosy at night! In the wardrobe were two FRETTE gowns, an umbrella, and two life jackets. There were also binoculars and an atlas supplied too, a fruit bowl, fresh flowers, bottled water, filled ice bucket and welcome manual. The atlas was a gift to keep, and the other items were available for you to purchase should they make their way into your suitcase. My cabin steward popped along to introduce himself and demonstrated the cabin, pointing out the safe, TV and mini bar and telling me what was included. The bathroom was the usual toilet, shower with a curtain and sink/vanity unit with a bathroom cabinet, which was nice, rather than just shelves. The shower was good with a good pressure and even though it had a curtain, it did not get sucked in when you took a shower and stick to you! The supplied toiletries were by Elemis (shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion)
After unpacking we had lifeboat drill - this was the first time where we did the drill and did not have to take our lifejackets with us! It made a nice change and al the guests were seated comfortably at their muster stations without having to wear bulky lifejackets! We had the usual safety announcements made by the captain and demo of how to wear the jacket in case of emergency and then we were let go. A role call was taken when you entered the muster station to ensure everyone was there. It was a nice change to do it this way and ensured no one fell or tripped over the usually long life jacket straps on the way back to the cabin.
After a shower and change - it was off to the Cabaret Lounge to meet the captain and his senior officers. The maser of the vessel is Captain Carl Smith - a British captain from the Isle of Man. It was nice to see such a personable captain onboard a cruise ship - and he did the whole introduction of his senior officers by himself (usually a task taken by the cruise director) and was engaging and charismatic - a credit to the cruise line and in fact his leadership and friendliness cascaded down to all the other crew members I encountered.
After he cocktail party we went to dine in one of the specialty restaurants, "Aquallina". There is a $15 a head cover charge to dine here and it is well worth it - the menu selection was very extensive offering Mediterranean fare, from meats, fish and vegetarian options that were all a la carte thru to a five-course tastings menu. I had the fillet mignon for main course and it was delicious. The food and service were very good and the wine that was included was a Spanish red - full-bodied and very smooth. The quality of the included wine was excellent and Azamara try and pair it to the destination you are travelling too, and kept the glass well filled when it was empty!
After dinner we made our way to the Looking Glass - a multi function room at the top of the ship overlooking the bow (like an observation lounge) - and at night it becomes the club. Even for the first night of the cruise it was busy - there is a very good international mix of guests onboard which gives the ship a great atmosphere - and the average age was young for a cruise ships - about 45 years old upwards. The DJ was an excitable man from Brazil, Marcio, who enjoyed dancing on the dance floor with the guests as well as taking music requests! He was another example of what a great crew the Quest has - really very personable and naturally friendly and eager to please, without being sycophantic.
The next day after a delicious breakfast at the Windows Café we arrived in St Tropez. The Windows Café is a buffet area, but well designed and laid out and there was no queuing for any of the stations like you can experience on the larger ships, which can be a bit of a "bun fight"
This was a tender port and the announcement was made when the tenders were in place. As the ship only holds 694 guests, once the tours departed there was no queue for the tenders to go ashore, another advantage of a smaller vessel.
St Tropez was bathed in warm autumn sunshine and even though it is low season, he streets were full of beautiful people with small dogs, fashionistas and locals giving it a really good and vibrant atmosphere. Also as it was late in the season many of the upmarket shops had sales on - great time to grab a bargain. The tender docked right in the port so it was just a short walk to the delightful waterfront and mariner to stare admirably at all the million-dollar yachts moored there.
Back on board that evening we dined in the other alternative restaurant " Prime C" which is a steak house. Again the food and wine were excellent and our leisurely meal took a few hours - which was lovely as we were in no hurry! Pudding was a Velvet Lava cake - with oozing gooey chocolate pouring out of a warm sponge casing when you cut into it. Suffice to say it was chocky heaven.
The next day we arrived in Cannes. The weather was not in our favour today and the skies were grey and heavy looking. Before lunch we had a meeting with Larry Pimentel the CEO and he gave us his idea of what Azamara Club Cruises was all about and his vision for the future - he explained its an upmarket boutique ship and "more inclusive" rather than all-inclusive. The brand has certainly lived up to his vision and he had more ideas to improve it further. Larry is a very "hands on" CEO and is the best person to steer this new brand forward.
We also had a visit to the bridge - hosted by Captain Carl Smith. I have to say this had to be the most interesting bridge visit I have ever done, and the Captain explained everything in detail - so much so I felt I could drive the ship afterwards! He was very engaging and open to questions and was very charming, as many of the ladies present mentoned!
That evening we dined in the main dining room on a table of 8 - again the food was of a very high standard and the service was very good too. There was a good choice of starters, soups, salads and main courses and veggie options. The complimentary wine was again very good and flowed freely, and the pudding was great too.
On our last morning we had the chance to look at a few different staterooms, including a wheelchair accessible one, and the Club Ocean Suite which was amazing - lovely separate living room and massive marble bathroom too.
After a walking trip around Monte Carlo, we returned on board for some afternoon tea served in the Mosaic Café (on sea days it is served in the Discoveries Restaurant) I had 2 delicious scones, cream and jam, a few french macarons and then a scoop of ice cream!
That evening up on deck whilst still docked in Monaco, the ship arranged a 007-themed Deck BBQ. We made our way up to the deck where they had rolled out the red carpet - literally - over the decking by the entrance, and had banners with images of all the Bonds on and other themeing, including a huge ice carving in the shape of the 007 logo. On the other side was a BBQ set up and tables of hams, stuffed fish, boeuf bourguignon and loads of other delicious dishes. The band were out on deck playing Motown classics for dancing to, and as the ship left port at 10pm, stewards brought around blankets as it was getting a bit chilly.
It was the perfect finale to a wonderful 4 days onboard Azamara Quest.
This is a great ship, the atmosphere is warm and friendly onboard, the food of a very good quality and the staff and crew really excellent. The whole ambience is very homely and welcoming, and the smaller size of the vessel lends itself to meeting the same guests more than once on the cruise. The longer stays in ports are a welcome change too, allowing for evening excursions and exploration. The entertainment was of a cabaret style - no big shows on this little ship!