‘Azamara Quest’ was cosily moored up at the Pier Head in Liverpool on a beautiful day, showcasing the city to the 694 passengers aboard this very recently renovated R7 Class ship (so recent that the carpets were still shedding that typical new carpet fluff).
She weighs just over 30,000 tonnes and 13 laps round the Fitness Track is a mile - so quite a small ship!! As a result most of her public areas are spread over only 4 or 5 decks. Azamara Club Cruises is the boutique cruising arm of Royal Caribbean and as its name suggests, aims to offer a Country Club ambience aboard its two ships (Quest and the very similar ‘Azamara Journey’). The cruise line is known for its ‘destination immersion’ – spending longer in port with later departure times and more overnight stops (even night touring) than many other cruise lines (The current cruise was offering 2 days (11 hours duration each) attendance at the British Open Golf Tournament). It also boasts private, bespoke, AzAmazing evenings (typically one per 7 night cruise, but not on Transatlantic journeys) where guests are invited to a complementary, exclusive, shore based event experiencing the best of local culture. In Liverpool this involved a ship only concert at St George’s Concert Hall with a mix of classical music and songs and a set from the Cavern Beatles, a champagne intermission and fireworks over the Pier Head as the ship departed later in the evening (11pm).
The renovations on the ships (termed ‘Reimagine Azamara’) aim to enhance the essence of ‘Destination Immersion’ on board and have drawn their inspiration from elements of nature like earth (a fresh muted palette of tones throughout the ship, to give it a contemporary, elegant feel), water (new Spa Suites with rain showers and tubs overlooking the sea) and air (new open air venues and experiences like ‘Nights in Private Places’ on the Sanctum Terrace).
As you board ‘Azamara Quest’ there is an instant feeling of serenity and relaxing comfort. Its layout is almost identical to the other R7 ships, so you can get a few ‘deju vu’ moments in terms of the hardware, but there is so much more to enjoy:
Azamara offers a ‘more inclusive’ cruising experience, including gratuities and a selection of drinks within the price paid (this includes spirits like Smirnoff vodka, Beefeater & Gordons gin, Jim Beam whisky, a range of cocktails, red, sparkling and white wine by the glass and Bud, Bud Light & Becks beers). Bottled water is included as standard. For anything else you may want to purchase on board, there is invariably a ‘package’, for water, wine, speciality spirits, wifi usage and spa treatments, etc.
‘Azamara Quest’ was refurbished in Singapore and I started off on deck 10 in the new ‘Living Room’ – the main observation lounge at the front of the ship, complete with clusters of different types of seating in grey and maroon décor. There is a bar, a dance floor (for the resident DJ), a piano, lots of seating overlooking the sea, a Card Room (on the starboard side) and a few quiet areas with interactive computers for you to keep ‘In Touch’. Exiting the ‘Living Room’, jog your way round the track to the aft of the ship and ‘The Drawing Room’ – the library area of the ship, complete with an old fashioned fireplace and trompe l'oeil ceiling murals.
The 2 speciality restaurants – ‘Prime C’ and ‘Aqualina’ wrap round the back of the ship, with fabulous views of the ocean and a range of table sizes from 2 up to 12. ‘Prime C’ offers a surf & turf menu in a New York restaurant style, whilst ‘Aqualina’ serves lighter more Mediterranean type fare as well as caviar and champagne options. There is an additional charge of $30 pp to dine in each restaurant, but it is complimentary for Suite guests.
One deck below is the ‘Windows Café’ – the ship’s self service, buffet restaurant. In true Azamara style you can often enjoy themed evening buffets here, based on local regional and national dishes. However, for the first two or three nights of each cruise, when eating in the Windows Café, you are waiter served. There is also an outside seating area for fair weather dining (in the Sunset Bar). Forward of the Café and opening out onto the pool deck area is the newly named ‘Patio’ (formerly The Pool Grill) – offering bespoke burgers and snacks during the day and on occasion turning into an alfresco restaurant at night. This area is also the venue for the White Night Parties, where everyone dresses in something white (not compulsory). Held once a cruise (weather permitting) there is a poolside buffet and party with a live band. This was the event that Nigel Marven always managed to miss and arrive back in time to help clear up from, on his ‘Cruise Ship Adventures’ TV series.
Forward on deck 9 is the rejuvenated holistic Sanctum Spa. You will find the Fitness Centre here too, which is spacious and well equipped for the size of the ship. This area also offers the ‘Nights in Private Places’ experience ($395 per couple) where you can enjoy 12 hours of private pampering on the Sanctum Terrace complete with a private butler, be served with champagne and canapes, an evening buffet meal of hot stone cooked meats & seafood, use of the thalassotherapy pool and the opportunity to sleep under the stairs.
The two Club Spa Suites (from 414 sq ft + 60 sq ft verandah) are a new addition to the Azamara range of accommodations: in addition to the features found in all Azamara Club Suites there is also a daily delivery of healthy snacks and in-room spa music. Unique spa amenities include a complimentary “Nights in Private Places” experience for two and a spa credit to be used for spa treatments of your choice. Each suite has a full jacuzzi bath enclosed in privacy glass, plus a rainforest shower looking out to sea – all aimed at making the outside more immersive!
Most of the Suites and staterooms have been upgraded with the same rich woods, custom made textiles and natural colour scheme, with silver and grey overtones so that moving into your cabin is an extension of the rest of the ship, décor wise. As the ship was fully booked when I was on board, I was only able to access what was an adequately sized (170 sq ft) ocean view cabin on deck 4 – which was very much as described above. The bathroom was however a bit on the small side and disappointingly evident was a white plastic shower curtain.
Walk down the slightly narrow staircases with decorative wrought iron bannisters, a few decks and you reach the Discoveries Lounge (good for pre or post dinner drinks) and the Discoveries (main) Restaurant. Dinner is served between 6 and 9.30pm on an open seating basis on tables of from 2 to a larger group. It seats 340 guests and has a raised central section where the Ship’s Captain (on this voyage, hailing from the Isle of Man) may take a table. Also on deck 5 is the Casino (also quite large for the size of ship) and adjoining Spirits Sports bar with wall mounted TV and comfy arm chairs, as well as the Cabaret Lounge. This is quite a small, intimate venue (actually showing the Open Golf on a large screen when I was on board) and is probably adequate for the scale of entertainment offered by Azamara – classical concerts, bands, revues and some comedy and light drama shows. Azamara make no pretence that the evening meal (wherever you may eat) is the main on board entertainment for the evening!
Of note on deck 5, and linking in with the various Guest Services department on deck 4, is the Mosaic Café, an on board coffee corner offering complimentary and payable brands and snacks, serving nearly 24/7 and a great place to sip and people watch! The main staircase, complete with black and gold bannisters and accoutrements in the shape of harps and tribal heads, acts as a splendid entry point to the shops and the Guest and other Services areas on deck 4. Of particular note is the Inspiration Centre featuring a 100" interactive touch screen. Continuing on the ‘Destination Immersive’ theme, you can use it to view videos and photography, find information, discover unique itineraries and research Land Discoveries (shore excursions). Similarly the standard of stateroom TV’s has also been upgraded so that you now have an iTV – where you can access port information, weather reports, ship navigation, onboard schedules, book shore excursions, order room service, submit feedback, text or call your friends onboard, as well as simply watch TV, or enjoy movies on demand.
All in all ‘Azamara Quest’ was lovely to walk round: the chic, stylish, refined feel to the ship, the friendliness of the Officers and the rest of the staff (who apparently totally spoil any children who cruise, on what is basically, a ship with no children’s facilities), the promise of an itinerary and experience that would remain with you for the rest of your life, has an obvious appeal. Although the majority of guests on board were probably over 65 years of age, the type of experience offered by Azamara Club Cruises transcends age and guests are brought together by their like mindedness for exploration, knowledge and shared experiences. Pierre Josselin, Senior Designer of the ‘Reimagine Azamara’ project said, ‘We wanted to break away from what you’d typically expect from a cruise ship….. We went with something much more subtle, much more elegant and timeless. More like a sunset rather than a bright shining sun.’
I think they may have achieved this.