All Photos Copyright 2018 by Shawn J. Dake unless otherwise noted.
Among the many cruise lines, Azamara Club Cruises might be described as the Goldilocks of companies. Their ships are not too big, not too small, but just right. They rarely make headlines but go about their business in a quiet and efficient manner that is highly pleasing to their discerning group of guests. The fleet is about to grow once again with the addition of a third sister to the existing Azamara twins. Entering drydock in March, the AZAMARA PURSUIT will receive extensive enhancements before emerging in August, 2018 to begin her new role.
A preview of what is to come was on view recently in San Diego where the 30,277 gross ton AZAMARA QUEST (ex R SEVEN, DELPHIN RENAISSANCE, BLUE MOON) stopped by for a couple of rare West Coast departures. The ship has been consistently updated but the refreshment that was lavished upon her in 2016 was among the most complete touching all areas of the ship from every stateroom, public room, spa and behind the scenes technology. The result of these efforts is a pleasing blend of classical with contemporary décor. The best original elements of the ship remain while bringing a more modern feeling forward with an elegant color palette of earth tones primarily in shades of beige and grey not unlike that found in a designer home or boutique hotel.
Upon embarkation, guests enter the ship on Deck 5 which is home to the majority of public rooms and at the aft end, the main restaurant, Discoveries. Although not named as such, this level would be considered the Promenade Deck and actually sports that feature along both sides of the mid-section. The central feature of the Grand Staircase is surrounded on Deck 5 by the Mosaic Café, with a selection of specialty coffees, a variety of tea and hot chocolate drinks alongside a selection of delectable cookies. Should business need to be conducted with the reception or tour desks they are located directly below on Deck 4.
The Discoveries Bar is an excellent spot to congregate for drinks before or after dinner in the adjacent restaurant. It well represents the thoughtful elements of the ship’s interior transformation. The white faux fireplace complete with urns on the mantel remains intact as does the contrasting dark wood walls. Above, the circular ceiling frescoes are gone replaced with a contemporary lighting feature. Fresh carpeting complements new, plush furniture while the Edwardian wall sconces remain. It forms a harmonious blend of the old and new.
Perhaps the least changed of the major public areas aboard is the Cabaret Lounge, forward on Deck 5. This large venue serves as the main show lounge of the ship with a full bar at the after end. The entrances on either side are lined with faux-wood Corinthian columns and leather wall coverings.
The Spirits Bar is adjacent to the small casino area midship. It too has been brought up to date with fresh carpeting and new furnishings that remain true to the original “spirit” of the design. In the near future the underutilized casino may be removed adding a bit of new lounge space in this centrally located area. Between this section and the atrium lobby is the shopping area comprising the upscale Indulgences and larger Quest Shop.
The staterooms and suites of the AZAMARA QUEST are as comfortable and well-conceived as any on the seas these days. On Deck 9 two Club Spa Suites were added in 2016 in space that previously contained a room for acupuncture and another for Internet connections. In the original design they had been the combined Card and Conference Rooms. Each now has a living and bedroom area with private balcony and a spectacular adjoining bathroom area with dual sinks, dressing table along with a private outdoor soaking tub overlooking the sea. Then right next door is the completely refurbished Sanctum Spa.
The Club World Owner’s Suites occupy the back of the ship on Decks 6, 7 and 8. They are the largest accommodations on the ship at 603 square feet, along with a 233 square foot aft-facing balcony. They are rivaled only by their forward-facing counterparts, the 478 square foot Club Ocean Suites and their 173 square foot balconies. Club Veranda Staterooms make up the bulk of the standard balcony rooms. Most of those measure 175 square feet while their few interior counterparts make up the minimum level of accommodations at a compact, but comfortable 158 square feet. Even these contain a desk and sitting area. All rooms have a refrigerator with mini-bar and a flat screen television of at least 40 inches. A cruise with Azamara is inclusive of select standard liquors including rum, vodka, gin and whiskey. A selection of wines, beers, soft drinks, bottled water and coffees are also available. There is also free self-service laundry on board.
Dining is of course a major pleasure of any cruise. In addition to the Discoveries Restaurant there is casual dining available at the Windows Café high on Deck 9. For those who prefer to eat al fresco, tables overlook the ship’s wake from the redesigned Sunset Bar or forward near the pool at the Patio Grill. Cuisine and service is certainly a step above the average self-service eatery. For a special night out of fine dining, Deck 10 houses the attractive Aqualina Restaurant for Italian/Mediterranean dining on the port side, while the Prime C Steakhouse to starboard is traditionally decorated in dark wood paneling and furniture. There is an attractive bar at the entrance with an atmosphere that would rival any similar type restaurant ashore. Both of these are extra-tariff restaurants except for suite passengers.
The best may have been saved for last in this tour of the public spaces aboard the AZAMARA QUEST. Near the top of the ship on Deck 10 are two contrasting areas known as The Living Room and The Drawing Room. The latter is the beautifully designed library, remaining nearly unchanged since the ship was first completed. Above the impressive faux-fireplace, an arching dome is painted with images of exotic birds. Comfortable furnishings add to the feeling that this is the place for quiet relaxation, reading or just contemplating life.
Although quite a large area, The Living Room feels just like its name describes. More than any other area of the ship, this is perhaps the most changed. Number one, this is an impressive observation lounge with windows along three sides. The space has been opened up allowing unobstructed views from the bar all the way looking forward over the sea. There is a central dance floor. Side alcoves still allow for more intimate gatherings. On the starboard side an area has been partitioned to form a separate Card Room. Here and there interactive tabletops are available to passengers. A granite table and a wooden floor have been added to create a caviar and wine bar. Depending on the time of day, The Living Room can be quiet and relaxing or active and lively. Though vastly different from its previous appearance the transformation has been a great success and this massive room retains a welcoming atmosphere.
The AZAMARA QUEST was completed in 2000 at the yard of the famous French shipbuilders, Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire. It was the seventh of the eight so-called R-Ships for the soon-to-be defunct Renaissance Cruises. The R SIX eventually became the AZAMARA JOURNEY, while the R EIGHT, built the following year, is the newly added AZAMARA PURSUIT. Azamara Club Cruises now has all three of the final ships in the octet which differ slightly from the earlier five in the cabin categories and configuration offered on Deck 8. Otherwise all are nearly identical. Each ship is 594 feet long and 83.5 feet wide. For Azamara they carry 690 passengers with a crew of approximately 408. The engines consist of four Wartsila Vasa 12V32 diesel engines, giving them a service speed of 18.5 knots.
The AZAMARA QUEST was laid up for two years as the R SEVEN following the demise of Renaissance Cruises. She was then sold to Cruiseinvest who chartered her for three years to the German-based firm Delphin Seereisen where she was named DELPHIN RENAISSANCE and given a white hull. In 2006 the ship was sold to the Spanish-based, Royal Caribbean affiliate Pullmantur Cruises and given the unlikely name of BLUE MOON, and now sported a dark blue hull. That venture was short-lived and when Royal Caribbean formed the upscale Azamara Cruises in 2007 the ship received her current name and went back to being an all-white hulled ship. During a major refurbishment in 2012 the color was once again returned to a deep Navy-Blue or “Azamara Blue” hull which gives her the distinctive look she wears today.
Perhaps most importantly, the AZAMARA QUEST is a happy ship. Her Portuguese Master Jose Vilarihno runs a ship with a crew, that while it may sound cliché, is like one big family. There were smiles and warm greetings from every member of the staff onboard. They seem to really go out of their way to please passengers and it shows in the exceptionally high approval ratings and percentage of repeat guests. In a world of ships that are increasingly too big, the AZAMARA JOURNEY is just right.
Thank you to Peter Knego, Hotel Director Philip Herbert, Maria Navas, and Martin Cox.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.