Being Spoilt Azamara Style
It's nice to be spoiled once in a while, but on a Azamara Club Cruises voyage you are spoiled every day in more ways than one - as features editor John Newton found out on a recent 13-day sailing from Auckland around the spectacular North and South islands of New Zealand and across the Tasman Sea to Sydney - a total distance of 2620 nautical miles.
Breakfast fit for a king every day on your stateroom balcony is just one of the many decadent ways of indulging yourself on Azamara Quest – while at the same time keeping an eagle-eye out for dolphins and other marine life off the New Zealand coast.
And it's always service with a smile – no matter what time in the morning – when your choice of breakfast is laid out on a sparkling white tablecloth as you marvel at the view across the white-caps.
Little wonder that couples - and a few singles - from all corners of the world can't get enough of Azamara Quest's deft touches of class. One couple had been on the ship for eight months and were on their 74th Azamara cruise. According to the ship's hotel director, Philip Herbert, they'd been sailing on the cruise line's sister vessels – Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey – almost continuously since 2007 and were the company's “top cruisers”.
For those wondering where the name Azamara comes from, it's a coined term derived from the Romance languages. This includes the more obvious links to blue (az) and the sea (mar).
Unlike today's mega liners crammed with thousands of passengers, Azamara Quest and her sister ship, Azamara Journey - each weighing at a little over 30,000 tonnes – don't need the nightly entertainment and outdoor playground extravaganzas. It's not the size that matters for Azamara's loyal and repeat passengers - many of who return year after year to cruise the Mediterranean and Caribbean - it's the 'family' atmosphere on board, with a capacity of 650 passengers cosseted by a crew of more than 400, almost a quarter of them chefs and galley staff, along with 110 qualified ship's officers.
Add top notch service from the well-drilled crew and gastronomic cuisine that would grace some of the world's fine dining restaurants and it's easy to see why the two ships attract the upper echelon, many of whom like to be seen and every whim pampered.
On this cruise, for the 649 passengers – the majority of them from the United States, UK and Australia – it was the gastronomic pulling power of Azamara Quest that proved to be the big attraction with the two specialty dining restaurants - Aqualina (Italian) and Prime C (specialising in prime steaks) – booked out most nights (an additional US$25 per person), complimentary for suite guests), as was 'The Chef's Table' featuring exquisite French, Italian and Californian haute cuisine paired by the ship's sommeliers (an extra US$99 per person).
But for those content with free-seating dinner in the ship's main dining room - Discoveries – there's no extra charge, while a range of complimentary selected wines, beer and spirits are offered all and every day. You pay only for the top drawer stuff.
Azamara Quest boasts a total of six distinctive dining options, including room service, along with spacious bars, a 350-seat entertainment facility called Cabaret, casino, spa and gym and a pool at which you won't feel like a sardine jammed in and around the water. Attentive staff are always ready to offer you a drink from the pool bar and fresh towels, while you are serenaded by a guitarist or pianist.
For those seeking a quieter and relaxed cruise, there are – among other things - acupuncture and spa treatments, lectures, a library, yoga, bridge sessions and movies.
Azamara claims one of the greatest features of the sister ships is their large number of staterooms with verandas’, backed up by Captain Carl Smith, who contends that they offer more overnight and longer port stays than any other cruise line.
“Its a great place to work – just like a second home,” said the Quest's master, who hails from the Isle of Man and lives with his wife in Western Bohemia in the Czech Republic.
On the 13-day New Zealand voyage, Azamara Quest slipped out of Auckland as a giant fireworks display over the harbour city lit up the night sky. The following morning it moored offshore in the Bay of Islands for a nine-and-a-half hour stay.
Other ports of call were Tauranga (10 hours); Napier (6 hours), Wellington (overnight and night departure on the second day); Picton (8 hours), Akaroa (for Christchurch) (11 hours); Dunedin (10 hours) and finally Milford Sound (viewed from the ship for 4 hours) before the two-day cruise across the Tasman to Sydney, where there was an overnight stay on board before disembarking the following morning.
Highlights of the cruise:
Some of the tours were well-priced – but others not, in particular the TransAlpine Express train when most of the time was spent on a coach from Akaroa to Arthur's Pass, where we clambered aboard the train for a two-hour journey across the Alps and rainforest to Rolleston station on the outskirts of Christchurch. The rugged Alps are not as picturesque when devoid of snow and too much time was spent on the coach. The best part of the trip was a New Zealand lamb lunch on a historic local sheep farm. Tour cost: US$359.75.
For Azamara's worldwide itineraries in 2016/17, go to: www.azamaraclubcruises.com
This year was the first venture down under for the two Azamara ships, but they'll be back. Azamara Journey will arrive in early February 2017 for the ship's maiden season sailing local waters. And both ships will return to Australia during 2018 having had major upgrades, each costing US$25 million. These include new dining and entertainment enhancements throughout the ships, with makeovers to Discoveries restaurant, Windows Cafe, Discoveries Bar, The Living Room and The Patio (formerly known as the Pool Grill).
In one historic weekend in February this year, Azamara Quest and three other cruise ships berthed in Sydney Harbour – the first time such an event had taken place. The occasion also saw history made at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay when two ships – Azamara Quest and Le Soleal (Ponant) – tied up together at the terminal. It was a feat possible only by the size of the ships.
Suggested places to stay in Sydney - The Boulevard in Williams Street, overlooking the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It's where Frank Sinatra stayed during his infamous concert tour in Sydney and Melbourne in 1974, when he and his entourage were involved in a three-day siege on the hotel's top floor. Trouble flared after Sinatra described Australia's female journalists as “buck-and-a-half hookers”. http://www.sydneyboulevard.com.au/
For apartment accommodation, look no further than Adina on Kent, close to Darling Harbour.
See our special report on Adina on Kent.