California Coastal QUEST With Azamara, Part Four

Peter Knego journeys with Azamara Club Cruises’ AZAMARA QUEST on an eight night voyage along the California coast from Los Angeles, wrapping it up with a day at sea and a short call at Ensenada.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

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Veggie burger at the Pool Grill.

It would be a leisurely day for all on board as the AZAMARA QUEST proceeded on her southerly course. Up on deck, there wasn’t much to see with a thin band of fog obscuring the view of Pismo Beach on our port side. We skipped a regular breakfast for muffins, pain au chocolate and espresso drinks at Cafe Mosaic, then headed to the Cabaret Showroom for a presentation by Captain Vilarinho about the behind-the-scenes working of the ship. From there, it was off to the Pool Grill for a light veggie burger lunch.

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QUEST face.

The lighting was gorgeous that afternoon when I was given permission to visit the fo’c’sle head for the usual round of signature shots. As ships get ever massive and square, that subtle curvature of the “R Ships’” superstructure seems more and more a lost art.

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Bulbous swirl.

I couldn’t resist dangling the cameras out of one of the hawser openings as the QUEST plunged through the moderate seas.

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Dalls Porpoise escort.

And then, right on cue, a trio of Dalls Porpoises shot out from underneath the ship’s massive bulb for a frolic with her “bone in teeth”.

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SoCal sunset at sea.

Another regenerative work out, time on deck and a short nap would fill the rest of the afternoon. As the sun began to set, I ventured up to the Drawing Room to join a group of fellow guests for the Best of The Best, a once-per-voyage chef’s dinner with the captain and senior officers.

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Captain Jose hosting The Best of The Best.

Captain Jose Vilarinho is one of those gifted mariners who not only loves and appreciates his ships but knows how to make every guest feel like his personal friend. I first met him on the bridge of the SS REMBRANDT (ex ROTTERDAM) when that ship was doing New England/Canada cruises between Montreal and New York in 1999. Since his time with REMBRANDT, the good captain mastered the lamented REGAL EMPRESS and several of the ships in the Portuguese-owned Classic International fleet before joining Azamara.

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Capped layers of wonder.

Normally, the Best of the Best is set up with a long banquet table in the Drawing Room but our group was a bit larger than most, so it would be held at several tables in Discoveries.

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Best of the Best pouring.

I was seated with two lovely sisters, one from Atlanta and the other, a serial AZAMARA QUEST guest, from Sausalito, California. With each delicious course, we enjoyed a wine pairing and the company of a different officer.

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Best of the Best dessert.

The Best of the Best is normally a set menu with a choice of entrées (fish or meat) but I was discretely served an absolutely delicious vegetarian substitute for each course and no one knew but me.

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Officers on parade.

After dessert, we all headed to the Cabaret Showroom where the good captain and his crew took the stage. Not unlike the Olympics Opening Ceremonies (albeit with a much kinder host nation), representative crew members from dozens of countries marched up to the proscenium as their native flag was projected on screen.

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Closing ceremonies.

Although there would be one more night to enjoy, this was a chance for the officers and staff to bid a fond farewell to the ship’s guests.

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”Stage Door to Dreams” production.

Moments later, the cast took the stage for a Broadway tribute called “Stage Door to Dreams”.

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“Hairspray” with Russ Thomas Grieve.

Even cruise director Russ Thomas Grieve, a veteran of the Broadway run of “Mama Mia” joined the company on stage for a reprieve of the Divine/John Travolta role (take your pick) in “Hairspray”.

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Boogie Nights in the Looking Glass.

Later, in the Looking Glass, DJ Matt spun the hits of the 50s and 60s. Everything after that became a pleasant blur.

Monday, February 17, 2014

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Windows, facing aft from port.

Windows Cafe is the 158-seat buffet eatery on aft Deck 9. It boasts a pleasant, muted blue palette and full length windows on either side, often providing gorgeous views of a surging sea. But more important than its decor is the top notch food and attentive staff that make even a buffet meal something to savor.

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Windows terrace, facing port.

The open terrace aft of Windows seats an additional 70 guests. It was an ideal spot to wake up to breakfast with green tea.

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Breakfast wake.

And since the cool breeze was a bit nippy, wool deck blankets were provided at every seat.

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Quiz time in the Casino Bar.

Our only chance to play Team Trivia came and went all-too-quickly in the Casino Bar. The subject was flags of the world and I’m afraid we didn’t fare too well.

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Mark of miracles.

I stopped by the cabin to get the cameras as we neared the Baja California coast. Our intuitive and kind attendant Mark was just wrapping up the morning turnaround.

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Baja promenade.
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Toes to sea.

As we made the turn towards Ensenada for what amounted to little more than a technical call to meet Jones Act requirements, we paused to enjoy a few moments in a cushioned deck chair overlooking the promenade.

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Ensenada billowing.

The flag that towers over Ensenada’s harbor is visible from miles around. It was a gorgeous day in the Mexican coastal town but there really was no compelling reason to go ashore other than to get some photos of the ship.

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Miso soup and salad over the sea.

As AZAMARA QUEST maneuvered into the new passenger terminal across from the much larger STAR PRINCESS, we enjoyed lunch in Windows.

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Ex-Yugoslav in residence.

I was so happy to see the former Yugoslav coastal liner OPATIA tucked away in the marina. Rebuilt as the diving expedition ship TERAAKA with accommodations for 80 passengers, she the 1959-built ship has remained mostly idle for the better part of two decades at Ensenada.

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AZAMARA QUEST at Ensenada.

Once most of our fellow guests had gone ashore, we disembarked for a couple photos of the ship.

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Captain Jose and Hotel Manager Philip.

On the pier, we ran into the good captain and Hotel Manager Philip Herbert, true gents who run an utterly seamless ship.

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Discoveries detailing.

And so our final full day sped by faster than we would have liked. I used up my last internet minutes on a couple of Facebook posts and Tweets, then started packing before we headed down to our ultimate dinner in Discoveries.

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Samosa starter with mint sauce.

Everything was flawless, once again, from the wonderful service and delicious, flaky breads, quality included wines and a procession of courses. One unusual and particularly delicious highlight was the crispy, authentic samosa starter.

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Final act: Comedy with Rich Ceisler.

I’m not usually a big fan of comedians but Rich Ceisler delivered some truly funny and unpredictable moments in the final show of the week in the Cabaret Showroom. From there, it was back to put the luggage out and try to catch a few hours of sleep before disembarking the following morning in Los Angeles.


Special thanks: Martin Cox, Janet Diaz, Rob DiStefano, Lori Goldspiel, Philip Herbert, Harrison Liu, Tracy Quan, Carmen Corvos-Roig,, Captain Jose Vilarinho

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 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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