"Like a Local" is the catchphrase of Azamara's shore excursions, which are classified "Bike Local," "Taste Local," "Meet Local," and so on. The aim is to offer unique tours that showcase the local culture, attractions or history, but the reality is that the majority of the tours are standard cruise excursions, with a few standouts thrown into the mix, especially in the larger destinations.
For example, in Livorno, you'll find the typical Florence and Pisa tours and a walk through Lucca, but there was also a cheesemaking tour that takes you to a family farm, where you'll meet the owner, get a tour and learn about how cheese is made. On another, an Azamara chef takes you through Livorno's main produce market and to a local brewery prior to an exclusive dinner onboard of local specialties, made with the ingredients purchased at the market. However, these more immersive excursions had limited spaces available and sold out before we could book them. You will have the best luck if you book the most special tours as soon as you're allowed pre-cruise.
* May require additional fees
The line is also committed to no more than 25 passengers per guide/bus on most tours (sometimes fewer), which can make certain tours hard to get into, if the line can't add a second group.
Azamara also boasts evening tours, but they only really existed in the one port (Barcelona) where we overnighted -- in addition to the AzAmazing Evening. Every Azamara cruise, except for transatlantic voyages and the rare less-than-a-weeklong sailing, includes a complimentary AzAmazing Evening that showcases the best of local culture in fabulous settings and famous landmarks. Examples include a concert inside St. Michael's Cave in Gibraltar; a polo match in Saint-Tropez on the French Riveria; and, in the Ancient City outside of Bangkok, a personal tour of replicas of different kingdoms, with samples of Thai beer and cuisine.
Azamara also carries touring bikes (the upright kind with bells and baskets) aboard Quest, with a dedicated cycle guide, and offers biking excursions in several ports. The bike tour we tried in Valencia had a local guide leading the way and giving commentary, while Quest's guide was on hand to provide support to the passengers and fix any bike issues, should the need arise. While our tour involved some rather dicey street biking, we're told the line is working on finessing its bike tours to involve only rides on dedicated bike paths.
One other nice touch about Quest's excursions is that most of our tours included local snacks, even on excursions that are not otherwise food-oriented. On a boat ride, we stopped for local cookies and wine; a historic walking tour concluded with local cheese and cured ham; and even the bike tour included a pit stop for a refreshing local drink.
Prices for tours run the gamut, with some under $100 for a half-day tour and others priced at $350 per person. We did hear some grumbling about the more expensive tours, and for some, you might be able to find an independent tour for less. A concierge is available to help passengers arrange for private excursions or tours that are run independent of the ship. The ship also provides complimentary shuttles to and from port communities, when it's not so easy to walk off the ship and into town.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Azamara Quest's cruises are so port intensive, there are hardly any sea days and a minimal need for daytime activities. On our sailing, everyday activities were limited to fitness classes and spa seminars, themed trivia, and unhosted shuffleboard or Ping-Pong play.
If you are on a longer cruise, you will find that Azamara Quest packs its sea days with plenty of daytime activities. You'll find bridge, bingo, culinary demonstrations, afternoon movies in the show lounge with popcorn and extra-fee wine or caviar tastings. Ocean crossings feature a watercolorist to lead art classes.
Deck 5 is the entertainment hub for the ship. All the way forward is the Cabaret Lounge, which offers two seatings of a different show most nights. Azamara has an in-house troupe of four singers (no dancers currently, though the hotel director indicated that was changing), who perform themed musical revues, which are entertaining but nothing special. The cruise director and assistant cruise director each perform their own solo acts. (On our cruise, both were recruited from sister line Royal Caribbean -- including one who'd been in the onboard cast for the Broadway musical "Chicago" -- and both were more talented than the in-house troupe.)
Certain guest acts are labeled 54 Below at Sea and are a result of Azamara's partnership with the New York club, 54 Below, which selects the visiting performers. (On our cruise, we had a vivacious woman who sang Whitney Houston covers; she was excellent but somewhat lost on the older crowd.)
Continuing aft, the Casino features slot machines and gaming tables, and was quite happening on our Mediterranean cruise. Next door is Spirits, where a singer-pianist performs in the evening and social travelers gather at the bar and surrounding lounge seating. (In March 2019, the casino will be removed and the entire area turned into a lounge called The Den; because the casino can't run while the ship is in port, it's under-utilized on Quest's port-intensive itineraries, and will be changed into a more usable space.)
Musical entertainment can also be found at night in Deck 10's Living Room, alternating among unhosted ballroom music before dinner; Smooth Sensations, who play easy listening and dance music; and a late-night DJ.
Every evening there's an outdoor movie screening on the pool deck. There are also a variety of get-togethers for like-minded groups (LGBT, singles and solos, even a pizza social for the under-17s).
Azamara is known for its once-per-cruise White Night. Passengers are encouraged to dress in white (most did) and enjoy an alfresco buffet dinner that morphs into a lively deck party, with all the ship's singers (theatrical troupe, cruise director and lounge singer) taking turns on the mic and many passengers up and dancing. What impressed us was unlike deck parties on other high-end lines, this one drew a huge crowd that stayed well into the evening hours. The vibe was incredible, and even folks who didn't dance enjoyed lingering at their tables and watching the fun on the pool deck.
Enrichment programming has never been a hallmark of Azamara, mainly because the line expects you to get your enrichment on tour in port. A guest lecturer gave a few talks on our cruise, but there was no robust lecture series -- and it wasn't missed. We're told that longer cruises, or ones with more sea days, will host two lecturers, one who talks about the destination and its culture or history, and another who talks about general interest subjects (astronomy, marine wildlife, etc.). Otherwise, you'll find some spa seminars.
Since there are not a ton of entertainment options onboard, the bars and lounges are a main attraction. Head to Spirits if you want to drink and socialize; choose the Living Room for a pre-dinner chat with your travel companions or a dance party late at night.
Azamara's semi-inclusive alcohol policy can be confusing. A selection of wine, beer and liquor are complimentary but the list of included brands is not comprehensive. For example, you'll find select brands of rum, vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon and tequila -- and flavored spirits like peach schnapps, triple sec and creme de menthe. But you won't find amaretto, Baileys or Kahlua.
The bar menus are mainly lists of the extra-fee cocktails and liquors; the last page has an abbreviated list of complimentary options, without cocktail descriptions. (See Cruise Critic's A to Z for the full cocktail rundown.) If you're passionate about not paying for booze, request the full list of complimentary beverage items from Guest Relations.
Cabaret Lounge and Bar (Deck 5): The Cabaret show lounge is an intimate performance space with a bar in the back (only open during show times). Instead of a Broadway-style theater with a big stage and stadium seating, it feels more like the secondary show lounge you usually find on larger ships with a small stage, dance floor and rows of free-standing chairs that are arranged in semicircles around the dance floor. The bar here serves drinks around show times. Note that if you sit in the chairs set out on the dance floor area, you will be sung to, flirted with, sat on or kissed by the performers in practically every show.
Lectures, sea day movies, the muster drill and shore tour assembling also take place here.
Spirits (Deck 5): One of the two main evening destinations, Spirits opens at 6 p.m. and stays open until midnight or 1 p.m. -- and you'll still find people there when the bartenders come around for last call. The bar sits between the casino and a small lounge area, where a piano singer performs at night. The bartenders are engaging (and hard working) and will help you come up with the right cocktail or explain the complimentary options. Passengers who hang out in Spirits are generally a social lot; we never left without having made a new friend.
Mosaic Café (Deck 5): Located by the shops, the Mosaic Cafe is in an open, atrium-style space with scattered seating. It's where you pause to grab a morning coffee or midday snack, hang out on a sea day with a deck of cards or a good book, or watch the world go by with an after-dinner drink.
Discoveries Bar (Deck 5): Outside Discoveries is the Discoveries Bar, which is the perfect spot to sip a before-dinner drink or meet your dinner companions. It's only open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., and is a good meeting spot if you're dining with a group.
Pool Bar (Deck 9): Weather permitting, the pool deck bar is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., serving the sun worshippers and The Patio diners.
Sunset Bar (Deck 9): It's easy to overlook this bar as a destination, since it's stationed among the alfresco seating area for the Windows Cafe. It's open from late morning until 10 p.m., so it's worth nabbing a barstool once the dinner crowd thins to watch the summer sun set or enjoy a starlit evening and sea breezes.
Living Room (Deck 10): On Deck 10, the elegant Living Room has it all: a dance floor, DJ booth, bar, card tables and board games, and computer stations. There's also a small buffet for tapas (5 to 8 p.m.) and a long table with an ice bar, for displaying empty caviar jars and sealed Champagne bottles, in case someone is inspired to make a purchase. We were told you could get tea and scones here in the afternoon, but while we sipped tea, we never saw nor were alerted to the presence of tea snacks. We loved the comfortable seating and funky chairs (including a birdcage-style hanging seat and purple canopy chairs).
Each night, the DJ plays a themed set ('80s, Latin, etc.) and one night, the Living Room hosted karaoke, which started slow but picked up steam. A live band performs here in the earlier hours of the evening.
The Deck 9 pool deck is a buzzy spot on summer or warm-weather sailings, even with Azamara's destination focus. The main pool is flanked by two whirlpools and surrounded by loungers with cloth-covered padding and headrests. There's a stage on one end, but we never saw it used with the exception of the White Party.
Tables and chairs are set up for alfresco dining by The Patio; on the opposite side, a covered area offers comfy couches for reading or hanging out in a shadier spot, but could really use some ceiling fans -- it never seemed inviting. The forward, portside corner of the pool deck is the only place smoking is permitted onboard.
One deck up, an oval track circles the pool area for walking or jogging; 13 laps equals 1 nautical mile. A Ping-Pong table and darts game are tucked into one corner. A half-deck on Deck 11 forward provides additional space for sunbathing; the shuffleboard court is found here as well.
The guest relations, shore excursions, concierge and future cruise sails desks are all located in the main atrium area of Deck 4, flanked by a few comfy chairs and couches for those waiting. It doesn't have the impressive, high-ceilinged look of many cruise ship atriums. There's one grander than normal staircase with an odd sculpture of stacked heads, surrounded by metal birds and plants, but there's no wow factor. Not that anyone minds. The staircase splits in two at the sculpture, one side leads to the Mosaic Cafe, the other to the art gallery and art desk. The Quest Shop just across sells everything from logowear and stuffed animals to clothing, bags and sundries, while Indulgences offers more upscale purchases, such as designer sunglasses, fancy watches and jewelry.
Also on Deck 5, the Photo Gallery is located behind the Spirits Bar; there you can browse and purchase photos taken by the ship's photography staff and arrange photography sessions. It's unassuming, as befits a high-end cruise line. The beautiful library, called the Drawing Room, is up on Deck 10 by Prime C and Aqualina. It has an extensive collection of books and a ceiling fresco of birds, giving the impression of a greenhouse (one of the few frescoes left from the ship's Renaissance days after its 2016 refurb). The room can be divided with a curtain to host private events, religious services and special dinners.
A few computer terminals are set up in the Deck 10 Living Room for passenger use. (This is also where card tables and board games are found.) You must purchase a package to go online. You'll pay $19.95 for one hour or $29.95 for 24 hours; otherwise you can buy a full voyage unlimited package. Rates vary by length of cruise; for example, a 10-night package costs $199.95. Members of Azamara's loyalty program receive free internet minutes (30 minutes for Adventurer level up to 150 minutes for Discoverer Platinum), but can trade their free time for credit against an unlimited package to reduce the fee. There's a complimentary self-service laundry with six washers and six dryers, detergent pods and ironing boards on Deck 7. The facility can get packed, and you are wise to return promptly to pick up your washing before an impatient shipmate unceremoniously removes it.
A medical facility is on Deck 4.
The Sanctum Spa on Deck 9 is rather unassuming, with beige walls and carpeting paired with darker doors and furnishings. It features Elemis products and treatments, which are on the pricy side but not outrageous. Choose from massage, facials, body treatments and reflexology. An acupuncturist is onboard to offer holistic treatments and sell herbal supplements. Look for the spa's in-port specials for treatments at reduced rates; they're a good deal.
A salon offers hairstyling, manicure and pedicure services, and men's grooming, as well as waxing. It's tucked away within the spa confines, so you don't see it on your way to spa reception.
Passes to the Sanctum Spa Terrace, with its thalassotherapy pool and quiet sun deck, are complimentary for suite passengers but can also be purchased by others. Book cruiselong individual or couple's passes. A one-day pass is $30.
The fitness center is a good size for the ship's passenger count. Elliptical trainers, treadmills and stationary bikes all have high-tech displays with TV capabilities and face floor-to-ceiling windows if you'd rather take in the view while you sweat. Behind them, a selection of free weights and a few weight machines and benches are available for pumping iron. An aerobics area is kitted out with spinning bikes and yoga mats.
Fitness classes -- including yoga, Pilates, spinning (Tour de Cycle) and stretching -- are all free of charge. The classes are short (30 minutes) and nothing special, especially if you've gone to dedicated studios at home. Personal training and a four-session body sculpting boot camp are available for additional fees. Be aware that the fitness instructor will push footprint analysis sessions, which are complimentary but aimed at selling you insoles.
The best-kept secrets on the ship are the spa locker rooms. Use of the steam rooms is free (just swap your cruise card for a locker key), and so are the spa showers, each with multiple jets for a massaging wash. When you're tired of fighting with the curtain or banging your elbows in the tiny cabin showers, head on up to the spa for a more enjoyable cleansing.
The anteroom between spa reception and the locker rooms also serves up fruit-infused waters for free, which are quite refreshing whether you've been to the spa, worked out or have simply been lounging in the sun.
Azamara Quest has no children's areas or programming, though kids are allowed onboard. Infants must be at least 6 months old to sail (or 12 months on all transoceanic voyages).
That said, you can generally find some families on shorter (less than two weeks) cruises during school breaks. (Our nine-day summer cruise had 31 kids onboard.) If you plan on bringing your brood onboard, make sure they're capable of finding their own fun while on the ship. The ship will host one or two get-togethers, like a pizza party, so that youngsters and their families can meet each other.
However, when there are 30 or so children onboard during summer or holidays, Azamara Quest will "borrow" a youth counselor from its parent company Royal Caribbean International for the duration of the cruise. This is mainly to keep kids entertained and out of the way so they don't ruin the adults-only vibe the line promises its other passengers.