On a recent ocean voyage through New Zealand on Azamara Quest, Kavita Lala discovers how cruising is back with a vengeance.
The shock of the cold droplets from the geysers makes me take a step back. Looking at the steaming thermal springs, I am mesmerised by the bursts from the geysers which seem to be getting angrier by the minute. I am at a shore excursion at Tauranga, one of the ports we’ve stopped at, as part of my Azamara Quest cruise itinerary.
As a first-time cruiser, I am not sure what to expect and, before departure, I am wondering how I will keep myself entertained. I need not worry as I soon find out there is plenty to do on this cruise.
Azamara Quest is a beautiful, mid-sized ocean liner cruise ship that offers an upscale experience for its guests. The staff are friendly and attentive, always willing to help with any request or concern. The ship offers a variety of amenities, including a spa, fitness centre, games room, cabaret lounge and several restaurants and bars. It encapsulates all the liveliness and fun of a big ship with the warmth and personal touch of a smaller ship.
I board during the second leg of a 17-night voyage between Australia and New Zealand, embarking on day 10 in Wellington. Boarding is a breeze and after checking in with my fellow travel companions, a group of other travel media, we are booked in for a special experience known as the Aza-mazing evening, which is a surprise shore experience included on every Azamara itinerary. In this case, it is held at the Wellington Opera House where we are treated to a spectacular performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Staterooms and suites
While we stayed in a Club Verandah Stateroom, for the most luxurious accommodations on board get in early to book the best suites on the ship – including the Club World Owner’s Suite or Club Ocean Suites. Our Club Verandah was comfortable with a queen size bed, balcony, lounge, and a mini bar.
On shore activity
Azamara is known for its onshore itineraries and, not surprisingly, they book out fast. There is a huge variety to choose from, due to the number of ports visited – and we dock at a new port most days. My travel companion and I booked our excursions prior to boarding to ensure we secured our preferences.
My favourite is the eight-hour shore excursion to Rotorua and Polynesian Spa when we docked at Tauranga. We are chauffeured in a minivan which took us to geothermal lands of bubbling mud pools, geysers, and mineral springs. We are lucky enough to see the geysers in action, close-up, and it was fascinating, though the distinct sulphur smell is quite strong. Afterwards, we head to the bubbling mud pools where we soak in temperatures ranging from 36 to 42 degrees Celsius, absorbing minerals that are said to relax and rejuvenate.
It’s a great way to finish the day before returning to the ship for dinner.
I am in awe of the range of diverse, fresh cuisine we can enjoy at every meal. We have the choice of venues to book for dinner. For a fine dining experience, we enjoy Italian cuisine at Aqualina (where the food is truly exceptional), serving dishes such as lobster bisque, veal chop Milanese, and authentic, homemade pastas.
The service at Aqualina is also outstanding, with waitstaff who are knowledgeable about the menu and attentive to all guests.
Another great fine dining option is Prime C, a steakhouse that serves up some of the best beef dishes that I have personally ever tasted. The menu at Prime C features a variety of cuts of meat, all of which are cooked to perfection, according to your preference, and served with delicious sides such as truffle fries and creamed spinach. The restaurant also offers a great wine list, with selections that are perfectly paired with each dish. While all the other dining options are included in your package, Aqualina and Prime C have a nominal additional charge of USD$35 per person.
My lunch and breakfast are mainly taken at either the Patio or Windows Café. The Patio had great burgers and meat skewers from its casual café style menu. The quality is premium, as testified but my usually-fussy partner who devours the lamb burger, with pleasure.
For a more casual or buffet themed option, guests can dine at Windows café or Discoveries, which is à la carte. There is a different buffet theme every night and I can say there is no lack of choice.
The chef has curated a unique vegan option at all dining venues so, for vegan diners, this is one ship where your palate will be satisfied.
The standard inclusive wine package has a pleasing selection, however, those with a more discerning palate might like to upgrade to a premium drinks package for a nominal USD$25 per day.
In between main meals, the Mosaic Café is our go to, where we grab a late coffee or a pick-me-up snack in the afternoon before dinner.
With mini quiches, small finger sandwiches or healthy cookies there is enough to satisfy those mid-afternoon hunger pangs. The quality of the food, combined with attentive service, make for a memorable dining experience at sea.
What can I say, I love my room service — and on board, I was not disappointed. Complimentary room service was available until late hours. After a busy day on the ship and enjoying the entertainment, you may just need a club sandwich to wind down – and the crew obliged with a smile, night after night.
The white night
I don’t generally participate in themes, but the white night is easy to dress for. And oh, what a night it is! The energy is electric and before I know it, we are dancing to the band. The live food stations on the white night are my highlight, being a foodie. From freshly cooked mussels to made to order crepes, it’s hard to fault. The variety is enormous, from all fresh seafood, all meats, salads, pastas, cheeses, desserts and bottomless drinks. Everyone seemed to have a really fun night.
One of the standout public spaces for me on Azamara Quest is the Living Room, which is located on Deck 10. This space is cosy, with an inviting lounge area that features comfortable seating, plush sofas, and armchairs. The Living Room is the perfect place to relax with a book, catch up with friends, or simply enjoy the stunning views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. On Deck 10 is also the Card Room, where you can play games like Scrabble, 1000-piece jigsaws or attend Bridge lessons.
Another great public space on the ship is the Discoveries Lounge, which is located on Deck 5. This lounge features a large dance floor, a full-service bar, and live music in the evenings. It’s also an ideal place where you can unwind after a day of exploring, and it’s a great spot to socialise and meet other guests.
One of the most popular public spaces on Azamara Quest is the pool deck, which features two pools and several hot tubs. It’s here where you can soak up the sun and take in the stunning views of the ocean. The top deck also features a running track which is a great for the early risers to take their walk.
Performances are hosted most nights in the Cabaret Lounge, opposite The Den, where you can sip on a signature cocktail before heading across to the show. A fitness centre, located on Deck 9, is well fitted with modern equipment. It’s here where you can attend group fitness classes such as yoga and Pilates most mornings.
Overall, the public spaces on Azamara Quest are well designed and offer plenty of options where I can relax, socialise and have fun. The ship’s elegant decor and the attentive service of its crew create a sophisticated and welcoming atmosphere.
The captain and crew
Above all else, I found this to be a wonderful cruise largely because of the people. The staff are faultless, and I’m not one to say that lightly. I feel taken care of, at any time of day, and no request is too hard.
Captain Johannes Tysse is passionate, something I see clearly when I take a tour of the ship’s engine room. Being my first cruise, I am not sure what to expect but I am surprised to meet many amazing people on this cruise and now understand why cruising is so popular. Dare I say it, I’m converted.
Rates for the 17-night Australia/New Zealand voyage on Azamara Quest start from AUD$16,416 for two in a Club Verandah Stateroom.
Photography by Tim Faircloth
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