California Coastal QUEST With Azamara, Part Two

Peter Knego journeys with Azamara Club Cruises’ AZAMARA QUEST on an eight night cruise up the California coast from Los Angeles, beginning with calls at Santa Barbara and Monterey.

Azamara Club Cruises

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THE SANDS OF ALANG: A new DVD about shipbreaking in Alang, India

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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An Azamara-like swirl.

After venturing across the globe on an almost constant basis for two decades, it was comforting to be on a ship cruising in my home waters.

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Azamara logo overhead.

When we awoke, AZAMARA QUEST was pivoting in the anchorage off majestic Santa Barbara, a hamlet of 89,000 year-round residents that is a mere 70 miles from my soon-to-be-former residence in Moorpark.

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Brekky on the balkky.

At 8:30, the doorbell rang — it was our formidable butler Eyup with breakfast. This would probably be our only chance to enjoy an al fresco meal on the balcony before cooler weather prevailed.

Overlooking sparkling seas and the very Mediterranean-like California coastline, we savored eggs, fresh-squeezed juice, toast and green tea.

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AZAMARA QUEST midships from starboard Deck 11.
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AZAMARA QUEST Cabaret Showroom, facing aft.
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MV AZAMARA QUEST at Santa Barbara.
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Another tender vantage.

I documented more of the ship’s decks and smartly revamped interior, then commandeered a tender during a lull in traffic to circle the QUEST for exterior footage.

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Mosaic Cafe balcony.
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Macarooned!

After buffet lunch in Windows, we perked up with yet another round of specialty coffees, croissant sandwiches and macaroons at the Mosaic Cafe — without a doubt, the best included-in-the-fare coffee experience at sea.

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Pelicans peruse AZAMARA QUEST.

From the tender landing in Santa Barbara’s marina, it was a few steps to a shuttle that ran every fifteen or so minutes to downtown (Azamara thoughtfully provides transport from the ship to a central point in almost every port of call). Our main goal was to visit Santa Barbara’s historic mission, which is some two and a half miles from the shuttle drop-off point. When the driver determined there were no guests waiting to go back to the ship, she whisked us up to the mission before returning to her regular route. Now, that’s hospitality!

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Mission Santa Barbara.

Nicknamed the “Queen of the Missions” and founded in 1786, Mission Santa Barbara was one of 21 Spanish outposts situated a day’s ride apart along El Camino Real (now known as Highway 101) connecting San Diego to Sonoma. Probably only Mission San Carlos in Carmel can rival the splendor of Santa Barbara, whose twin domed towers can be seen for miles around.

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QUEST in the channel.

From its steps, there is a commanding view of the Pacific and the nearby Channel Islands.

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Adobe stucco alien.
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Cryptic vision at Mission Santa Barbara.

For $6.00, visitors can tour the courtyard and crypt, as well as an interesting museum filled with local native artifacts and mission history.

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State Street, facing north

As friends in the U.K. were besieged by floods and others on the U.S. east coast were shut down by a huge ice storm, we ambled casually downhill in the California balm via State Street and its alluring shops and eateries to the shuttle depot.

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Feeding time at sea.

We returned to the QUEST in time to observe a dolphin and gull feeding frenzy from the vantage of our balcony, nibbling at a tray of fresh fruits and artisan cheeses.

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Sunset-a-Barbara!

The sunset that followed was one of the most brilliant I can recall and it went on and on and on…

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Aqualina, facing aft.
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Aqualina TRC.

Eyup booked us an 8:30 PM dinner in Aqualina, the AZAMARA QUEST’s Mediterranean specialty restaurant. This smartly refurbished space accommodates 84 guests for a cover fee of $25.00 and looks better than ever in its understated silver and blue palette.

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Aqualina table setting.

I fancied the Saul Bass-like Bauscher porcelain chargers.

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Aqualina salmon starter: Slow cooked Norwegian salmon with avocado and tomato tartare and sun-dried tomato pesto.
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Towers of baked brie in crispy phyllo dough with candied pecans and cranberry compote.

From Rob’s tangy salmon starter to my Dover Sole entrée (skillfully de-boned tableside), a veritable feast ensued for the next two hours. About half way through, we could feel the gentle rumble of the AZAMARA QUEST’s engines before the lights of Santa Barbara gradually disappeared from view. By the time we polished off dessert and petits-fours, most of our fellow guests had called it a night. After rounding Point Concepcion, the QUEST met a moderate swell that would soon lull us into a deep sleep.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

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From little ship to Big Sur.
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Pool, facing forward.

We skipped a full breakfast in exchange for nibbles and coffee at Cafe Mosaic, then bundled up in poolside deck chairs for a passing view of Big Sur off our starboard side.

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More and Mor-occan!

A Middle Eastern feast soon beckoned to us from the Pool Grill, replete with all the essentials, from chicken shawarma to hummus, tabouleh, grilled veggies and falafels.

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AZAMARA QUEST at Monterey.
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Cannery Row, Monterey.
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Pacific Grove, California.
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AZAMARA QUEST in layers of Monterey.

We had no pressing agenda in Monterey, so spent some quiet time on board before tendering ashore to Old Fisherman’s Wharf. On prior visits, I toured the Aquarium or took a quick lunch break before hopping into the car for the rest of the drive up or down Highway 1 between L.A. and San Francisco. Today’s more leisurely agenda allowed a stroll from Fisherman’s Wharf down to Cannery Row and then along the Pacific Grove promenade to a rocky outcrop called Lover’s Point Park.

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Prime C, facing aft.

Back on board in the early evening, we dined in the second of the AZAMARA QUEST’s two extra tariff eateries, the 84-seat Prime C. This handsome space is fitted out in warm mahogany and walnut tones and while it is officially a steakhouse, it amply accommodates those of us who do not eat meat or shellfish with plenty of alternate selections ($25 per person).

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Crispy tempura veggies in Prime C.
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Tip of the iceberg: Table-prepped Caesar salad topped with poppyseed flatbread croutons.

I began with a crispy vegetable tempura starter accompanied by a trio of sauces (soy, mustard and chili) before graduating to a Caesar salad, baked potato, creamed spinach and a Cornish game hen main course.

After yet another culinary event of a dinner, we managed to retire relatively early so as not to miss the AZAMARA QUEST’s maiden passage under the Golden Gate Bridge.

End of Part Two.

Much more to come…

Special thanks: Martin Cox, Janet Diaz, Harrison Liu, Tracy Quan

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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