Peter Knego journeys with Azamara Club Cruises’ AZAMARA QUEST on a voyage up the California coast from Los Angeles, continuing with the ship’s maiden, three day/two night visit to San Francisco, including an AzAmazing Evening at Inglenook.
It was all hands on deck at 8:00 AM for AZAMARA QUEST’s maiden passage under the glorious Golden Gate Bridge. Even for this dyed-in-the-wool Californian it was not an event to be missed but unfortunately, the weather was less than welcoming and only the bottom portion of the graceful monument was unobscured by the fog.
Music rang across the deck as San Francisco’s many hills and landmarks unfolded before us. Tony Bennett and Scott McKenzie classics shared the air with some campier nuggets, including a bawdy Liza Minnelli tribute to the City by the Bay. Who knew?
As the ship slowly turned into Pier 35, the onetime Matson Line terminal and main cruise hub for San Francisco for decades, we headed down to Discoveries for a quick breakfast.
Through the window, we watched as Azamara Quest closed in on the dilapidated pier that once hosted great liners like Matson’s LURLINE, MATSONIA, MARIPOSA and MONTEREY, Cunard’s CARONIA, P&O’s ARCADIA, CANBERRA, ORONSAY and ORIANA, among countless others. Pretty soon, cruise ships will be berthing a bit further down the Embarcadero at a brand new facility at Pier 27.
Discoveries looks better than ever with new lighting fixtures, golden highlights and silver leaf in its domed recesses versus the fussy, clichéed faux frescoes of yore.
After breakfast, we disembarked for a self-guided day on the town. From Union Square, where we visited a close friend, to Chinatown for a tea sampling at TenRen, few cities can rival San Francisco’s gorgeous setting and unique architecture.
Who can ever tire of the 1972-built TransAmerica pyramid, which looks so much taller than its mere 48-stories.
For me, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without stopping for a bite at The Hunan on Samsome near Broadway.
The steamed broccoli in black bean sauce was particularly steamy and ultra umami, even (and thankfully) without MSG!
Back aboard, we watched from our balcony as San Francisco’s timeless battle between sun and fog ensued. There was an opportunity to grab yet another perfect cappuccino at Cafe Mosaic and relax before joining the AzAmazing Evening. AzAmazing Evenings are included-in-the-fare, once-per-voyage events that emphasize local culture and a monumental setting, when possible.
At 5:30, we joined no less than 600 fellow cruisers aboard a fleet of coaches for a 60-mile exodus up the East Bay corridor as a dramatic sunset sizzled over the Golden Gate. Our destination was in Napa — the famed Inglenook winery, which is now owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Its sprawling, fountain-lined grounds and brilliantly lit chateau were designed by famed San Francisco architect William Mooser and completed in 1887.
As soon as we stepped off the coach, we were welcomed with a glass of Inglenook chardonnay. For the next couple hours, we could wander the grounds…
…sample various wines….
…and nibble away at a number of delicacies, from dim sum to artisan pizza and bocconcini mozzarella. All the while, the bands played on, glasses clinked and the din of chatter filled the halls.
A mahogany and brick grand staircase led up to a museum of vintage wine-making instruments and a collection of classic cars.
In the basement, a vast wine cellar beckoned, its nooks and crannies linked by a giant tunnel. All-too-soon, we were back on our respective coaches, rumbling our way towards Pier 35, this time via the eerily fog-enshrouded Golden Gate.
Friday, February 14, 2014
With a second day at our disposal, we wandered into nearby downtown San Francisco, past the remarkable Embarcadero Plaza and its series of book-like buildings (where as a teen, I used to visit the Royal Viking Line headquarters) to the Embarcadero BART Station.
In a matter of moments, we where whisked off to the East Bay, where my darling Aunt Mary awaited for an afternoon visit at her home — my second childhood haunt — in the Oakland Hills.
We were back in San Francisco by the early evening. While walking to the ship, we had passed Powell, Lombard and Montgomery Streets. Some agent who assigned screen names for Hollywood’s most luminous stars must have been very fond of San Francisco.
At the pier, I was chided by security for taking a photo through the window of our beautiful ship. Those guys are just so efficient!
When we stepped back on board, the White Night party was in full swing in the Cabaret Showroom. This once-per-cruise gala buffet with everything from a suckling pig to a chocolate fondue is normally held on deck by the pool but was moved inside due to the chilly, damp weather.
Before retiring, we whooshed down to the laundromat on Deck 7 and threw some clothes in the wash. Azamara thoughtfully provides its self service laundry at no charge, which is especially handy on longer voyages.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
On our third day in San Francisco, we again enjoyed time on our own. First, we took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge and walked half way across before heading to The Castro and onwards to Market Street. In due course, we joined friends for lunch and coffee, shopped for olive oil, then returned to the ship in the early evening for dinner. Alas, these images were lost to a disc failure, including our 10:00 PM departure under the brightly lit Golden Gate Bridge.
End of Part Three.
More to come…
Special thanks: Martin Cox, Janet Diaz, Rob DiStefano, Lori Goldspiel, Philip Herbert, Harrison Liu, Tracy Quan, Carmen Corvos-Roig,, Captain Jose Vilarinho
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."