I travelled on Azamara Quest last summer, and it was a reminder of why this cruise line is so popular with British guests.
Barcelona is one of my favourite ports to embark a ship because everything works so smoothly. It took me less than half an hour to get a taxi at the airport, arrive at the ship and start checking in with a glass of champagne in my hand.
Having been on some of the more luxury ships, I was not expecting five star service on Azamara Quest, but I was constantly surprised both by how much was included in the fare, and by the quality throughout the ship.
I had one of the best located ocean view staterooms, just off the main reception area on deck 4. It was quite comfortable, but bathrooms are very compact, especially the shower, so opt for a Club Continent Suite if you like more space, with the added bonus of concierge and butler service.
We were on board for a 6-night Mediterranean cruise to Nice, St Tropez, Portofino, Livorno and Rome. Most were places I had visited before, but Portofino was new, and the highlight for me. We dropped anchor outside the bay and were on the first tender ashore so it was fairly quiet. We avoided the red carpet stretching up to the Splendido Hotel where the celebrities hang out, and strolled up the narrow path opposite to the church and tiny cemetery on the hilltop, which offers the best views. Later we had a very expensive drink looking out to sea and then caught the ferry along the coast to Santa Margherita.
That night on board Captain Carl had promised a special occasion and he did not disappoint. The pool deck had been transformed into a beautiful al fresco restaurant, and the chefs prepared a Mediterranean feast for us, which the Captain,officers and crew all helped to serve while we were entertained by a superb singer doing a great impression of Pavarotti as we sailed off into the sunset.
The complimentary drinks include selected spirits, beers and wine, and the included gratuities created a relaxed, club-like feel. In the evenings the entertainment was low key, with comedians and singers mostly, so we preferred to relax in the open air sunset bar, where we enjoyed the sociable mix of nationalities, primarily American, British and South African.
I usually avoid ship tours, preferring to make my own plans, which we did in Livorno. After a short taxi ride to the train station we got the train to Lucca, changing at Pisa on the way. This little town is surrounded by huge Renaissance walls which encircle the cobbled streets and charming cafés and shops - it was delightful.
With a laid back and easy-going feel it's easy to understand the popularity of Azamara, and we're looking forward to welcoming the latest addition to the fleet. Look out for destination immersion with lots of overnights in port or late evening sailings, and for special themes such as a visit to Rio at Carnival time, the Redentore festival in Venice, or the Monaco Grand Prix.