A Taste of Luxury on Boutique Ship, Azamara Quest
Boutique cruise line Azamara Club Cruises invited me to tour Azamara Quest in Southampton.
Richard Twynam, UK and Ireland Managing Director of Azamara Club Cruises, led the tour during the ship's turnaround.
The purpose of the visit was to preview the renovations planned for April 2016. During the top-to-toe transformation, every public space will receive a new contemporary décor. Some spaces will also receive new facilities.
Azamara Club Cruises is the luxury boutique arm of Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, the parent company of family-friendly Royal Caribbean International and modern luxury specialist Celebrity Cruises. It has a fleet of just two ships, both of which starred in Nigel Marven's television series, 'Cruise Ship Adventures'.
At 30,277 gross tonnes, Azamara Quest is a relative baby when compared to the giants of the seas. Up to 686 lucky people travel on the ship on each itinerary.
You might expect Azamara Quest to feel cramped and tiny, but its size is deceptive. Inside, the ship is spacious, with plenty of cosy areas to relax in beside the well-appointed cabins. The only hint of the diminutive size of this ship are the narrow yet elegant staircases.
The outdoor space is generous, with a sun deck and a shuffleboard area on Deck 11. Deck 9 is home to a small swimming pool, sparsely surrounded by comfortable, padded loungers.
Inside, the Looking Glass Lounge on Deck 10 is a great space to relax, enjoy a quiet drink, listen to live music, or to gaze out to sea.
The Drawing Room, a well-stocked library with comfortable seating and intricate artwork on the ceiling, is another quiet retreat. The venue can be hired out to host small and intimate dinner parties.
Deck 5 is devoted entirely to entertainment, shopping, and dining. You will find a café, boutiques, a surprisingly large casino, bars, and restaurants all on this floor. It is also home to the Cabaret Lounge, used to host lectures and performances by talented singers and musicians.
E-Connections, an Internet access computer room, is due to be downsized once installation of pervasive WiFi Internet access takes place during the refit. This space will transform into two new exclusive Spa Suites, each with a private balcony complete with a whirlpool tub.
The spa will receive an update and the new name 'The Sanctum'. Outside is a thalassotherapy pool in a romantic setting with private cabanas adjacent.
Despite its size, the ship boasts a range of dining choices. Window Café, a buffet restaurant, offers indoor or alfresco dining.
The main dining venue, Discoveries Restaurant, with the Captain's Table at its heart serves classic dishes.
Prime C, one of two speciality restaurants onboard, specialises in steaks and seafood and comes with a $25 per person cover charge. The Chef's Table, in a prime location at the front of the restaurant, is popular with large families or groups of friends who want to enjoy a special dinner together.
Kibo, a new pan-Asian restaurant offering fusion food inspired by dishes from China, Japan, Korean and Thailand, will open after the refit. It too will attract a $25 per person cover charge.
Aqualina specialises in Mediterranean-inspired dishes and also charges a $25 per person cover charge for non-suite guests. I dined in this restaurant during my visit.
For lunch, I started with 'Pomodoro e Mozzarella', a tomato and mozzarella cheese salad served with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressings and a crostini topped with an olive tapenade. This salad was delicious, with the rich and creamy mozzarella complimenting the four varieties of tomato.
For the main course, I opted for 'Scaloppine di Vitello', sautéed veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with an Arancini Veneziani (a Venetian rice fritter made with Gorgonzola cheese), wilted spinach, and chopped tomatoes. The meat was tender, and the Arancini Veneziani was delicious. The greens were stone cold, though.
A large range of cabin category grades spans three decks, including Inside, Oceanview, Balcony, and Accessible cabins, plus a range of luxurious suites.
Each cabin is spacious and generously proportioned although the suites are hard to beat for sheer luxury.
Azamara Club Cruises' strapline is 'stay longer, experience more'. It differentiates itself by offering varied and diverse itineraries with visits to lesser trodden ports of call. Voyages often include overnight stays or late departures so that passengers can experience more on land.
With just two ships in the fleet, demand is often high and so are the prices. But the high prices buys a luxury setting and attentive service.
If the itinerary is most important to you and you want to a cruise holiday with extended port stays and a diverse range of ports of call, look no further than Azamara Club Cruises.
Have you sailed with Azamara Club Cruises? What did you like the most? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclosure: Azamara Club Cruises hosted me aboard Azamara Quest for a day. I paid for my transport to and from Southampton. All opinions are my own.