Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
Over Thanksgiving 2013, we joined the 694-passenger Azamara Quest for a 12-night Southern Caribbean Cruise. Although we have frequently visited the islands included in the itinerary, our main objective was to review the ship and to visit several of the resorts that are included in my resort guide- Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World.
Back in November of 2012 the ship had received extensive refurbishments which included a resurfaced pool with new sun lounges and pool towels, new mattresses in all the accommodations, newly refurbished balconies with large dining tables, a new caviar and champagne bar, and new state-of-the-art Life Fitness equipment.
Soft drinks, specialty coffees are gratis throughout the ship; beer and two complimentary winesare offered with lunch and dinner; and there is no charge for alcoholic beverages (other than premium brands) at the various bars during the hours when they are open. Tipping is also included in the cruise fare.
There is a $25 per person charge to dine in the reservation-only, specialty restaurants for non-suite guests. Prime C is a classic steak house with a large selection of high quality steaks, chops and seafood along with a variety of appetizers, soups, salads, desserts, and main course accompaniments. Aqualina offers an eclectic Mediterranean/American menu with an emphasis on fish and seafood. Both are excellent,and offer a more intimate dining experience than the open-seating main dining room. The buffet restaurant by the pool also serves all three meals. Dress is country club casual in all restaurants and jackets are not required. Overall, we felt that the fare in the main dining room and buffet restaurant had been better on prior cruises.
We found the several production shows and cabaret acts exceeded our expectations for a ship of this size; however, there was no serious opportunities to dance in the evenings until after with a disc jockey. This was a bit late for the older crowd and is not as enjoyable as a live band.
The ship's biggest drawback is the size of the ocean view and veranda staterooms, as well as their bathrooms (most were 174 square feet). This is the problem common to all of the post-Renaissance Cruise Line ships. Opting for one of the thirty-two Club Continental Suites at 266 square feet (for $100 a day more) or one of the four top suites at 440 to 560 square feet ( at $200 a day more) is highly recommended.
Relative to the product offered, Azamara Club Cruises falls somewhere between ships I include in my luxury category (such as Seabourn, Silver Seas, Crystal and Regent) and those in my premium category (such as Holland America, Celebrity, Princess and Windstar); and therefore I have placed them in my high deluxe category along with Oceania Cruises.
by Steven B. Stern
author of Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation and Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges.