What a great cruise! Wow! On Friday evening we returned home after a 10-night cruise from Southampton, England to Lisbon, Portugal on the Azamara Quest. We paid for our own cabin, but we got a great rate and an upgrade to a balcony cabin.
Overall Score: 97/100
Before I get into details, it’s important to understand Azamara’s approach. They have cruises for adults, which I define as people whose children have grown. Put another way, your fellow passengers are likely aged 50+. Everyone is lively and in great spirits. Azamara’s focus is on cultural immersion. Expect to see the town while onshore, have insightful shore excursions, enjoy the local cuisine and local entertainment when back on the ship. They do this very well.
Evaluating the Cruise
Scoring is done across 10 categories, each with a maximum of 10 points per category. Simple enough.
- Boarding and disembarking. We registered most of our details online before we arrived in Southampton. We were scheduled for our “health check” at 3:00 PM, yet upon arriving early, we were told we could join the line immediately. We waited about 25 minutes, but the line moved quickly. They had about a dozen agents behind the counter. The health check involved them snapping a picture of our Covid vaccination cards. No testing required. We were then seated in sections A or B, corresponding to muster stations. As our group was invited onboard, the first stop was the muster station where we saw a two-minute video. Fast forward to the last day, disembarking was straightforward. We left a day early because of flight connections. We walked off with our luggage. An officer and a crew member rushed over, took our bags and got us a taxi. Score: 10/10.
- Health. Azamara took this seriously. Our vaccination cards were checked before boarding. Passengers are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. Azamara complies with rules in place for each port visited. In Gijon, Spain masks were required on busses. The crew handed out masks before you boarded the shuttle bus. Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. The crew is proactive in directing you to use them. Bottled water is handed out at the gangway when going ashore. The captain provided a Covid update during the voyage. Score: 10/10.
- Ship design. The Azamara Quest is about 30,000 tons and carries 600+ passengers. Azamara explains the advantage of “a smaller ship” is the ability to get into ports off limits to larger vessels. On the other hand, I found the “motion of the ocean” more noticeable than on larger ships. The 18 knot cruising speed may be a factor. I found the Azamara Quest had all the amenities I would expect from a larger ship with the exception of a retractable roof over the pool and the absence of an onboard florist. Score: 9/10.
- Stateroom. Cruise ship staterooms today are like Lego blocks. They are substantially identical in size. We started out in an ocean view cabin, then were upgraded to a balcony cabin. The cabins are slightly smaller than we are used to, but it’s not a big deal. If you have ever typed on a laptop computer and then a desktop, you realize the keyboard is slightly smaller on the former. In practical terms, we are used to a closet with four doors, this had three. The curtained shower is a little tight. Score: 9/10.
- Shopping. Onboard shopping is always a difficult category because you are sailing to great ports with great stores – how can anything compete? There are two main shops, the jewelry shop and the general shop. The jewelry shop also featured an extra jeweler representing his line. The general shop also had a section featuring preowned Louis Vuitton and Gucci luxury goods. The shops did not take up too much space. There was no duty-free liquor section. The staff explained it’s available at the airport. The staff was attentive and friendly. Score: 9/10.
- Food. We primarily dined in the main restaurant. It was open seating. You showed up and they assigned a table. If there was a wait, they handed you a discrete buzzer. The menu was divided into four sections: Appetizers, entrees, favorites and destination specific. The food was excellent and presented beautifully. The Windows Café is their buffet restaurant. The selections and food were quite good. We had lunch there almost every day. You could get afternoon tea served in your cabin and savories delivered a little later. The main dining room was closed when the ship is in port, but you have plenty of other options. They have two specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C. We tried Aqualina and were happy – that is where we had our soufflés. Score: 10/10.
- Drinks. They are included. That is a major feature when sailing with Azamara. They have two upgrade tiers you can choose, but it’s not really necessary. Their “house gins” are Tanqueray and Gordons. That’s their baseline! Wine is included too. I preferred the Whites and Rose over the reds. They have a wine list you can order from too. Score: 10/10.
- Entertainment. They have a full entertainment program. They also bring in local performers when in port. The jewel in the crown is their “White Night Party.” Everyone is encouraged to bring white clothing ahead of time. The tables, linens and tableware are all white. The staff is dressed in white. This was probably the best party I have ever attended. It took place around the pool on the third night. About 120 crew and officers are involved. The music is great. I counted about 50 people on the dance floor at one point. The cruise director is a talented entertainer. Score: 10/10.
- Ports. This was a different experience for us. Ten nights at sea with only one sea day! Two ports were overnight stops, Bordeaux and Lisbon. Because the ship is smaller, it could dock in seven of the eight ports. Only one port required tendering. They have an excellent shore excursion program. Some might seem expensive, but many passengers have onboard credits to spend. (With liquor and tipping included, there are not many ways to spend money!) We had an excellent time. Score: 10/10.
- Staff attitude. Everyone was upbeat. They are genuinely glad to be working onboard. The staff is primarily from the Philippines, Indonesia and India. Speaking English is not a problem. They genuinely want this to be your best vacation ever. The Guest Services Desk (Purser’s office) and Concierge desk are very helpful. I cannot believe both the Chief Housekeeping Officer and a crew member carried our luggage from the gangway to the taxi when we left the ship. Score: 10/10.
High Points of the Voyage
Here is what we liked best:
- The white party. I raved about it earlier. It was one of the best parties we have ever attended. Did I mention the conga line?
- All-inclusive pricing. You do not feel surrounded by profit centers. Upgrading your drinks package, buying shore excursions, paying for Internet, spa services or booking your next voyage are about the only ways you can spend money. Usually, we spend about $1,000 on a seven-night voyage. On this 10-night voyage, our final bill was $185.00.
- The ports. We are wine fans. We were able to visit two famous chateaus in Bordeaux and a famous port house in Porto.
- The crew and officers. They were proactive in being helpful and delivering the best experience possible. At themed dinner events the officers were actively cooking and serving food.
- The abundant extras. You can enjoy breakfast, afternoon tea, pre-dinner canapes (savories) or dinner in your cabin! When you return to the ship, you are greeted with cold drinks and fresh fruit! At 5:00 PM they put out a spread of tapas in one of the lounges!
Areas for Improvement
It would be impossible for everything to be perfect.
- TV reception. The ship has a good selection of free movies available “on demand” on your cabin TV, but for some reason, in a couple of ports, the broadcast channels simply disappeared. “No service.”
- WiFi. Service was actually quite good. You need to buy a package. I think my first package was 60 minutes for $19.95. Later I bought the unlimited package at about $20/day for the remainder of the voyage.
- Can the ship arrive earlier? In some ports, the ship docked close to noon. This might be due to the tides. In one case, it was because a bridge would only be opened at certain times. It would have been good to have had longer days in these great ports.
- Motion of the ocean. This one cannot be fixed. Maybe it’s the Bay of Biscay, but I felt queasy on two evenings, heading back to the cabin immediately after dinner. Jane, my wife, had no problems.
- The flight home. Once we stepped off the gangway with our luggage, we were “on our own.” British Airways e-mailed us to announce our flight was cancelled. The flight to Heathrow was delayed in taking off. Changing planes at Heathrow was not a positive experience. Again, not under Azamara’s control.
See previous posts on this Azamara Quest cruise:
September 11, 2022 by Bryce Sanders
Monday, September 5th: On Monday we arrived In Gijon, Spain. This city has the largest bulk materials port in Spain. We docked near a freighter that was either loading or unloading loose coal. The pile on the concrete pier was enormous! One hillside featured the round tanks used to store natural gas while the tanks on the left hand side were oil tanks. Azamara provided shuttle busses into the city of Gijon. It is known for … Read more
September 3, 2022 by Bryce Sanders
Wednesday, August 31st: Our second day, the first full day and our one sea day. Up and groggy at 7:00 AM. Thankfully the cabin steward called before arriving with our breakfast so we at least had covered up. The coffee is excellent and they serve Tiptree jam. Life doesn’t get much better. We have a balcony on deck 7 overlooking the bow. This is pretty cool. We asked the ship to send someone to show us how … Read more
August 31, 2022 by Bryce Sanders
Southampton, boarding the Azamara Quest – Tuesday, August 30, 2022 Arrival Today we joined the Azamara Quest in Southampton, England. As a reader, your primary interest is the shipboard experience. I’ll skip over the details of getting to the ship from London. It all went smoothly. The Azamara Quest was docked at the City Pier. (Southampton has more than one pier.). The taxi driver knew where it was. Although Azamara talks about their ships being smaller, it’s … Read more
August 23, 2022 by Bryce Sanders
Spain, here we come! In a few days we will be sailing on the Azamara Quest on their 10-night Wine and Culture cruise from Southampton to Lisbon. Seven ports, all during a heatwave. How should I pack? When I write, I usually refer to Jane and myself as a couple. Yes, we are traveling together as a unit. As a guy, I understand what men wear. Women’s clothing is still a mystery to me. In this article … Read more
August 23, 2022 by Bryce Sanders
We will be going to sea in a few days! We cannot wait! Jane and I will be sailing on the Azamara Quest from Southampton to Lisbon. We are fans of transatlantic voyages on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 because we feel the ship is the destination and the vacation. The Azamara Quest will visit seven ports in ten days. Only one sea day! We will be seeing plenty of places we have never visited before and might … Read more
Our Itinerary-Azamara Quest, Southampton, England to Lisbon, Portugal
- Southampton, England. We fly into London a day or so early. Hopefully there will be no flight cancellations or rail strikes. We take the Underground into London.
- Marriott Kensington Hotel. It’s located about two blocks from the Gloucester Road Underground station on the Piccadilly Line, which runs from the airport. It’s a good hotel that is reasonably priced. They have a Concierge Lounge, a Marriott Bonvoy perk.
- Pont de La Tour. We plan to have dinner with friends at our favorite restaurant. It overlooks Tower Bridge, as the name implies. They have a good price fixed menu in addition to a la carte offerings.
- National Express. We will take the bus from Victoria Coach Station to Southampton on Monday morning. The fare is about $7.50.
- Bordeaux, France. We have an overnight in Bordeaux so everything doesn’t need to fit into one day. Bordeaux is a city famous for the wine of the same name. The most famous chateaus in the region are just outside the city. I am a wine snob. There are 8,500+ wine producing chateaus in Bordeaux. In my opinion, only 87 matter, the chateaus in the original classification of 1855.
- Visit chateaus. The ship has a 5 hour tour, Medoc Discovery. You visit Chateau Beychevelle and Chateau Kirwan. Yes, they are on the 1855 list! Cost is about $180pp. It will be worth every penny. At this moment it is sold out, but we will join the waiting list upon boarding the ship. We are contacting the major chateaus directly as out backup plan.
- Cite du Vin Wine Museum. It’s relatively new and supposed to be spectacular. Tickets are 21 Euro each. That’s good for a couple of hours.
- Lunch at a sidewalk café or fine restaurant. Friends in the wine trade recommend Les Noialles or Chapon Fin. We can book reservations online.
- Food to discover. Bordeaux is famous for Bordeaux wines. The cheeses are probably numerous too.
- Jean de Luz, France. We are near or close to Basque Country, but we are also close to Biarritz, the legendary resort town made famous by Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III. Queen Victoria liked the place too. It’s the sort of place the super wealthy of the 1800’s visited and Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes would visit while solving a case. The ship has a 3+ hour tour, priced at $99 but we might explore on our own if we can get there easily. St Jean de Luz seems pretty small. The population is about 14,000. There seems to be one main street running from one side of town to the other. (I am sure there are other streets.) I think I read there is a frisbee throwing contest, but not when we are there.
- Michelin highlights seven restaurants in the town. None get stars, but all are recommended. Usually they have lunch menus that are three courses and price fixed. I am sure we will find something.
- St. Jean de Luz might be small, but there is a hypermarket nearby. Carrefour usually has a great wine selection.
- Market Day. Fortunately we will be in port on market day. Visiting an outdoor market in France is always a treat.
- Apparently, the train from St. Jean de Luz to Biarritz takes ten minutes. Exploring this resort is an option.
- Food to discover. Basque cheese is local to the area. The French wine region Irouleguy is nearby.
- Bilbao, Spain. I am confident Bilbao has lots going for it, but the Guggenheim Museum is the star attraction for us. Tickets are 16 Euro for adults, 8 Euro for seniors. Age has its privileges. I am assuming finding a good place for tapas should not be difficult.
- Guggenheim Museum – If we have come this far, we must check it out.
- Trams – Bilbao is said to have the best mass transit system in Spain. I am assuming we can ride trams and get a good view of the city.
- Hop on, hop off bus. Apparently Bilbao has several competing companies.
- El Corte Ingles – Spain’s major department store chain has a location on Grand Via. (Where else would you put it?) In addition to a food hall and great wine department, the chain usually has a self-service restaurant and, depending on the location, a linen tablecloth restaurant. Rioja wines always taste better there!
- Food to discover. The Rioja wine region is nearby. It’s probably the wine of choice in Bilbao. We are still in the Basque region, on the Spanish side of the border. We will look for Basque sheep’s milk cheese.
- Gijon, Spain. Here is a city we do not know much about. It is the 15thlargest city in Spain. Maritime industries and the navy are a major part of the city’s heritage. Cimadevilla, the old fisherman’s quarter, is the oldest section of town. I assume we will head there, walk and explore.
- Gijon has seven restaurants recognized by Michelin. Auga is the one meriting a Michelin star. They seem to have a six course tasting menu priced at about 60 Euro.
- Roman settlement. The oldest part of town also has a Roman settlement, possibly the oldest in Spain. We can check that out.
- Yes, they have a branch of El Corte Ingles. Think of it as Spain’s version of Macy’s.
- Yacht club. It’s also located in the fisherman’s quarter. I wonder if they will let us in.
- Food to discover. Can it be true there are 50 cheeses in the area? Penamellera is one example. We love wine, but cider is popular in this area.
- La Coruna, Spain. This is where you find the Church, Santiago de Compostela, the destination for the pilgrims who do the walk of St. James, the Camino de Santiago. The total journey is 500 miles. Seeing the Church will be great. We will likely find another spot for tapas.
- Santiago de Compostela. There are many reasons to visit this Church. One is the giant censer, a five foot long, 180 pound incense burner swung from ropes and pulleys. It’s the largest in the world.
- Yes, our favorite Spanish retail chain has a location near the Church. It’s our backup plan for lunch.
- Michelin recognizes 16 restaurants in La Coruna. One merits a star, Arbore da Viera. It looks like the most reasonable of their tasting menus is 60 Euro.
- Food to discover. Local chesses include Arzua-Ulloa and Queso Telita. Wine should be from the Galacia region.
- Porto, Portugal. We are wine fans. We are port collectors. We will want to visit one of the historic port lodges, like Grahams. You can buy tourist passes to include the train, boat and a visit to a port lodge. Lunch will fit in there somewhere. Porto has some Michelin starred restaurants.
- Port lodge. We are wine collectors. We know a bit about port. Ideally, we want to get into the best port lodge possible and take the tour with the best tasting. We realize this will come at a cost.
- Enjoying the tourist pass. If we can tour by rising a bus and a boat, we will give it a try.
- Hop on, hop off bus. The yellow bus costs 18 Euro. That’s another touring option.
- Food to discover. Terrincho and Transmontano goat cheese are two to discover. Although the city is famous for port, the region producing Vinho Verde is nearby.
- Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon we have visited several times previously. Our #1 activity will be taking the train to Cascais, a beach town a short ride outside the city. The last time we visited, the train reminded us of vintage NYC subway cars. On that trip, we exited the train, walked into town and asked two police officers where we could find an outdoor restaurant serving platters of cold seafood. They laughed, told us which way to walk and said we would see several! We did and had a splendid afternoon we still talk about today. It was the first and only time we have tried barnacles!