Having spent 16 nights on the Azamara Quest, I have some
general impressions and some specific comment on the Azamara Club Cruises
product. My opinions are based upon the Azamara Club Cruises’ delivery of
what it intends its product to be…at least from the perspective of staying in a
Club Continent (Standard) Suite or better. (Note: There is a significant
difference in the product should you stay in a veranda stateroom or lower and I really do not discuss that in this article or the other eight related ones.)
|Dolphins off the Coast of Japan|
Short Answer: Azamara Club Cruises provides a solid upscale experience with strong itineraries and good value (especially with standard wine, beer and spirits, Specialty Dining and Gratuities included throughout your cruise). Staff, inclusiveness and itineraries are its strongest points. While I would not say it is “amazing” I can say it is well worth a look; especially for itineraries after the Azamara Quest’s major refit in September 2015. I plan on sailing on Azamara Club Cruises again!
Azamara Club Cruises is a premium cruise product that tries
to focus more on premium experiential travel and does not market itself as luxury
product, as I have noted on particular line does. In that regard, Azamara Club Cruises is an “honest” product. Azamara Club focuses on more overnights in port and excellent
itineraries including some more of the exotic and/or lesser known
ports. On my February 2015 cruise I visited various ports in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Japan ranging from fairly primitive and undeveloped to those of modern cities. It was, to my mind, the perfect cruise to understand the Azamara Club Cruises’ product.
Again, please remember that Azamara Club Cruises does not attempt to compare itself to, say, Seabourn, and
you should not either. Throughout this article I will make some points of comparison with other cruise lines so that you
can properly differentiate between the levels of cuisine and service.
I always say that the software matters more than the
hardware and on Azamara Club Cruises the staff portion of the software is, without
question, some of the happiest, most engaged, you will find at sea. From
Captain Carl (no last name please!) to Hotel Director Phillip to the
bartenders, waitstaff, butlers, tour and activities staff, they are out and
about, approachable, friendly and genuinely care. (“Fist bumps” abound
should you wish to personally engage in the enthusiasm.)
Azamara Club Cruises truly excels in this area and I saw some very specific instances where the officer’s caring for the staff shined through. I was impressed.
Do all staff have the polish or communication level to the same standard as Seabourn? No, but it is not a critical flaw and, in this day and age, with European/Australian/South African staffing being the exception, you probably would find the English language skills it akin to the staff and crew on Silversea, Crystal, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.
As an example, while the wait staff in the specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, provide a high level of service, you will find that the wait staff in the main restaurant, Discoveries, are more deliverers of your meal than waiters who are familiar with, and can fluently explain, each dish. In fact, unlike say Seabourn they do not have meetings where they taste the food prior to each service, so you are pretty much on your own with the menu.
Dinners in Prime C
were uniformly excellent…and if you are in a suite you may dine there every evening at no additional cost. (Rumor has it an Asian restaurant will be added during the Azamara Quest’s September refit.)
On Oceania– a more directly comparable cruise line – you are provided one or two nights of complimentary access rather than the entire voyage and while overall Oceania has a higher quality of cuisine, it lacks the overall happiness of staff. (That said, I would rather be surrounded by happy crew and cuisine with some misses than better cuisine and crew that is not as happy.)
While most people I spoke to (few of which were American)
found the Main Dining Room
’s food quite good, I found it to be “adequate” and
portion control extremely obvious. (To me this is a case of the quality
meeting the expectations of the lower category passengers rather than the
mission statement of the cruise line.)
That said, I did not have a bad meal in the main dining room; just not a single memorable one.
|Azamara Quest Discoveries Main Restaurant|
And, to be sure, I did everything necessary to avoid the Buffet
, as it
was a truly mass market experience with literally elbows out to get to their chosen food; most of which were just unappetizing to me. There was a carving station with good quality
meats and poultry and standard sushi and sashimi offerings as well. Salads
and cold cuts were uninspiring as were most hot dishes. (That said, many of the passengers liked the
buffet though none of those who I saw were to my knowledge suite guests.) A simple solution: No self-service. Have the staff serve everything…as is done on many upscale and premium cruise ships; including sister line Celebrity.
With a full breakfast being available for delivery to your suite and breakfast (and lunch on sea days) being served in the main restaurant, for suite guests there really is no reason to venture into the buffet. One downside to this is that al fresco dining overlooking the stern of the ship
is eliminated as a option if you do not brave the buffet; though dining on your veranda is a good alternative (though the room service menu other than for breakfast is quite limited).
|Azamara Quest’s Al Fresco Dining off the Buffet|
On the other hand, the extra cost Chef’s Tables
(held on various nights, dependent on demand, with French, Italian and Californian themes) did provide me with two nice
dining experiences with paired wines. Each course was well prepared, the
wines were nice (none truly outstanding) and properly paired and the experience
was good. Again, Oceania does a better job as “the show” was not great
and there was a very real Celebrity Cruise pitch for different shaped Riedel
crystal glassware that seemed incongruous with the experience.
|Azamara Quest’s Chef’s Table|
Food & Wine Parings with Italian, French and California Menus
A truly excellent evening is The Best of the Best Dinner
where the top ten suites (and any VIPs) dine with the Captain and Officers in
the Drawing Room. Wonderful food, excellent
wines and great conversation in a beautiful setting. This evening really allows Azamara Club
Cruises the opportunity to show off its officers and its appreciation for its
top suite guests.
The Pool Grill
(which is scheduled for a major upgrade during the September refit) presently has both self-service and waiter service and
is also used as a venue to have more interaction with the Officers and Staff. While the food was acceptable (though the
self-service chaffing dishes really were below par and should go) and the
regular menu is limited, there were a number of special events that made the venue inviting and energized. It was, to be
sure, fun to have the Hotel Manager make you tacos, the Cruise Director a
Caesar Salad and the Guest Relations Manager ribs. Ice cream sundaes were also events. (Note:
Hidden in the back of the area is a self-serve soft ice cream
machine. I am glad I didn’t find it
until later in my cruise!)
Finally, Room Service
is available 24 hours a day, but it
has a rather limited menu. Afternoon tea service is also provided. Served by your butler, it was top notch on my veranda and in my suite.
Interestingly, the hamburgers served at the
Pool Grill are frozen, but those provided through room service are fresh…and
there is a significant taste difference.
(Note: The room service pizza
should be avoided at all costs!)
The Beverage Service
|Garnishes really need to be improved |
in the Main Dining Room, Pool Grill and Room Service.
Tomato, lettuce and onions matter!
Azamara Club Cruises includes a limited selection of standard brands of beer, wine and spirits and has packages available if you wish to upgrade. Clearly, Azamara Club Cruises provides a more upscale bar and beverage experience then say Oceania, which charges dearly for every beverage ($11.00 for a gin and tonic plus and 18.5% gratuity). By way of comparison, just for having the option of beer and wine during lunches and dinners Oceania charges about $1,500 for couple for a similar length cruise. (Note: Frank Del Rio has just announced that Oceania will be increases its beverage prices.)
The bar service was excellent throughout the ship. Thus, when the bartender sees me coming and begins to pour my Glenfiddich before I even sit down, and then provides me with a tray of snacks after I do without my asking, it is a bit of much appreciated intuitive service.
|Azamara Quest’s Mikey|
He loves his job and it shows…as with all of the crew.
That said, there is a dizzying number of beverage packages:
Premium, Top Shelf, Ultimate, Beer, Wine, Bottled Water (By the glass or the
liter)…This is simply overly complicated and, to my mind, the confusion probably
reduces rather than increases the sale of these packages. For example, the Premium costs $12.95 per
day, the Top Shelf costs $15.95 per day and the Ultimate costs $18.95 per
day. Why not just make it a single
$15.95 upgrade and be done with it.
(Also, there is some curious pricing.
For example, Budweiser and Bud Light are included, but Miller Light is
extra cost.) Regardless, even with these confused offerings it is far superior to what Oceania offers as its premium beverage package which would run almost $2,000 for couple on a similar cruise.
One area of disappointment was the complimentary pour of
wines. This was because (and it was obvious) a container did not meet the
ship in Bali. I fully understand “just in time” inventory, but there needs to be a reserve in case something like a missed container happens…especially when you are in a relatively remote area of the world. (A missed container should not so significantly impact my cruise.) As a result we were
offered some “emergency” off-brand Balinese wine (red and white) that were marginally
acceptable for a number of repetitive days. But the worst was near the end of
the cruise when we were served Paul Masson wine, which was famous in the 1970’s for
coming in its own carafe (no cork), and to my shock it still is…for a little as $2.99 a bottle. There
was not a single complimentary pour that was better than OK.
Azamara Club Cruises needs to significantly
improve in the area of Shore Excursions. especially since it focuses its marketing on immersive
travel. There needs to be more emphasis explaining that when experiencing emerging ports, rather than say Rome, things are not going to be perfect or polished; and that they need to appreciate/tolerate that they are on the “cutting edge”.
Also, many of the tours were very
expensive for what they were and some were not of a premium quality. Getting information about upcoming ports
(even local maps) was difficult and the head of the department was, many times,
very difficult to understand.
there was one standout, Beatriz, who was a shining star with a can do attitude
and a charming smile that made sure things happened and the passengers were
|Beatriz is as good as shore excursion staff gets.|
Also, on each cruise there is an AzAmazing Evening
, which is
a rather difficult feat to put together when you are dealing with 600+
guests. (This is something Seabourn started years ago and clearly was “borrowed”,though doing something for 200 guests is not quite as difficult as for 600.) Our event in Manila was a really
nice evening which I have already reported on.
|Azamara Club Cruises’ AzaMazing Evening in Manila, Phillipines|
I have given a fairly detailed description of the ship and her spaces in some of my prior articles so I will not repeat them here. Also, the ship is about to undergo a huge…and I mean huge…refit in September 2015 so many of my observations may well not be relevant to your cruise.
Overall, the Azamara Quest was very well maintained…regardless of her
age. I was impressed and I don’t get
impressed easily. I found it interesting
that of the many people I spoke to on the ship that had also been on Oceania’s
R ships, they were emphatic how much better the Azamara Quest has been
maintained…and that is right before she goes into that extended drydock in
|Azamara Quest Club Continent Suite|
What I will say from the Suite Perspective
is that, as I detailed in an earlier article, my suite was quite
comfortable – though the soon to be announced improvements will be
welcomed. The bed and linens are quite good, the seating comfortable and
the bathrooms (with the full tub) function well enough. Some little
- While standard wines, beer and spirits are
included about the ship, and complimentary 375 ml bottles of liquor are
provided in your suite, the wine splits, beer and Perrier provided in your
suite are charged for.
- The bath amenities are merely acceptable (though
they should be brand named in the suites) and the labels are frustratingly
similar…especially if you wear glasses.
- The video system needs a significant upgrade
with only part-time non-news programming and even though there is a limited complimentary
DVD library, pay-per-view movies are just inappropriate; especially in the suites
where a number of the movies are on the DVD list.
Both of the specialty restaurants, Prime C (steakhouse) and
Aqualina (Mediterranean), are beautiful venues and, as I mentioned, have
excellent service and cuisine. They are
dine by reservation, but I found that on most nights there was no problem getting
a table if you were a bit flexible.
The Thalasotherapy Pool area overlooking the bow is a wonderful escape and while available to non-suite guests for an extra charge and those with spa appointments for an hour or so after same, the space is really underutilized…which is wonderful!
My enjoyed my time on the Azamara Quest and as a premium product it is, to my mind, “almost there” and I can recommend it; especially knowing some of the things coming in the near future.
There are definitely some tweaks unrelated to the refit that would make significant improvement to the overall suite experience such as luxury bath amenities, no menu for beverages in your suite, a simplified beverage package menu, waiter service in the al fresco dining area and elimination of self-service in buffet.
There is a bit of a clash between the experience the Suite guest is expecting and those who in lower categories who are onboard because they got a good deal. Those folks tend to compromise a number of aspects of one’s upscale cruise experience because they tend to jeopardize more of the ship’s services and staff, consume more alcohol, create more waste of food and complain more about things not really worth complaining about.
Honestly, I think Azamara Club Cruises needs to reevaluate its pricing strategy as the Royal Caribbean concept of “butts in beds generate onboard revenue” doesn’t work on an inclusive product like Azamara and undercuts what it wants to be with bargain hunters adversely affecting the product. Ten dollar watch tables just shouldn’t be onboard.
Overall, Azamara Club Cruises provides a very good value for a suite guest by combining a fairly inclusive product with top notch (and happy) staff, strong cuisine in the specialty restaurants and unique itineraries.
Interested in an Azamara Club Cruise? Give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY
or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org