Southeast Asia Cruise on the Azamara Quest
2/20/10 to 3/6/10
Due to the length of the review, it is in three parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1: Pre-Cruise in Singapore; Ship Information
Page 2: Bangkok, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Page 3: Danang, Vietnam; Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong, China
We have been fortunate to be able to travel to many parts of the world, but had never been to the Orient. When we found this cruise to SE Asia on Celebrity Cruise’s upscale line Azamara, it seemed like the perfect cruise for us. With Azamara’s smaller ships, we would be able to get closer into ports, enjoy a more intimate cruise and experience a higher level of service. Azamara’s itinerary would also allow us to overnight in all but one of the ports, which would allow for more time in the wonderful cities.
Pre-Cruise in Singapore
DAY 1 -
The appeal of a SE Asia cruise is that it is in a part of the world that is quite different from where we live. The downside is that it is on the other side of the planet and takes a very long time to get there. We had found flights that only had one layover, but with 21 hours of flying time and a five hour layover in London, it was not going to be a fun trip. We did get some sleep and got to watch a lot of good movies, but spending that much time in a coach seat was not something we were looking forward to repeating on the return flight.
Our friends Hans and Barbara were accompanying us on our adventure, and we were meeting two other couples we had cruised with before. We had booked a flight that would arrive in Singapore at 8:00 AM, so that we would have most of the day to tour. As with all the cities we would visit on this cruise, it was our first visit and we wanted to see as much as possible. The taxi ride into Singapore from the airport was quite scenic with lots of trees and flowers along the sides of the road and in the median. What a nice welcome to that large modern city.
I had stopped at an ATM in the airport to get the Singapore dollars for the taxi ride to our hotel. The half hour ride only cost 28 Singapore Dollars or about $18 US. Quite a bargain!
We had booked the Intercontinental Hotel (Link) for our one night stay before boarding the Quest.
It was in the heart of downtown and close to everything we wanted to see. Since we were arriving at the hotel just before 9:00 AM, we assumed that we would have to check our bags and come back later when our room was ready; but to our pleasant surprise, we were given keys and shown to our room. It is a very nice hotel. The room was a good size and very comfortable with a large bathroom.
While Carol was putting up some of the clothes, I went downstairs and checked out the hotel. It was quite a lovely place and it adjoined a large mall. A fringe benefit of this was that there was free WI-FI available in the mall.
Our plan for the day, since most of our other friends were arriving later in the afternoon, was to take a city tour on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus (LINK). This would give us a good orientation to Singapore and allow us to see which places we wanted to come back to.
As we rode around the city on the upper deck, we were very impressed with how modern Singapore was. The buildings were just stunning and there was a large amount of construction going on. We passed by the famous Raffles Hotel, where before dinner we would be meeting up with a large group of Cruise Critic friends we had met online on our cruise roll call.
We were fortunate to be in Singapore during Chingay, a Chinese New Year celebration. It was a real treat to be able to see the brightly colored decorations along the streets.
After taking most of the Red Route on the HOHO bus, we stopped for lunch at Suntec Center, which claims to have the largest fountain in the world, the Fountain of Wealth. For lunch, I had a wonderful spicy dish called Curry Chicken Noodles. Carol had a chicken dish that she wasn’t particularly happy with because it was overcooked and dry.
We hadn’t seen our neighbors Hans and Barbara since we left them at the airport, since they were staying at another hotel in a different part of town. We had planned on seeing them later at Raffles. To our surprise, when we got back onto the HOHO bus, they were sitting on the upper deck. Hans told us he had also had Curry Chicken Noodles, but at a different place. We found out later in the day that it caused him some digestive problems; which would become a real issue the next day.
Continuing on the HOHO bus, we passed by an intricately decorated Hindu Temple and the lovely Sultan Mosque.
The ride continued to be interesting as we passed by a huge new hotel/casino complex that is under construction, as well as the Esplanade and some more festive New Year’s decorations.
After we finished the Yellow route on the HOHO bus, which mostly went to the Orchard Road shopping area, we went back to the hotel. Our friends Jim and Kathleen had just arrived from the airport and we were anxious to see them. Like us, they were exhausted from their trip, so we made our plans to meet up for the evening activities. At 4:30 PM, Jim and Kathleen, along with Jack and Debi, with whom we have previously cruised, took the short walk over to the Raffles Hotel.
The meeting with our Cruise Critic friends was to be at Raffles’ famous Long Bar. That is where the Singapore Sling drink was first created. The Long Bar is actually two bars on two separate floors. We climbed the long flight of steps up to Raffles second floor, which is the first floor of the bar. We later found out that there was an elevator on the other side of the building. We never went up to the third floor to see the second level of the Long Bar, since it only opened later in the evening. That was fine, since the bar we were in was long enough.
Some of our crew was already there when we arrived. As more people drifted in, we kept pulling more and more chairs over; but we quickly outgrew the section since there were 24 people in our group. It was so nice to finally meet people who we have been communicating with on the roll call for over a year. During the cruise, we would continue to spend time with these folks; as well as others that were not able to attend that night. We had a great group to share this cruise with.
Since the signature drink there is the Singapore Sling, most people got one. Raffles is very proud of their drinks and charge $29.45 in Singapore dollars or about $21 US. Not a good deal; but it is one of those required rites of passage for first time Singapore visitors.
Jim had booked the Forbidden City Restaurant (LINK) in Clark Quay for dinner that night. The short taxi ride dropped us off at the opposite end of complex where the restaurant was, so we had some difficulty finding it. Clark Quay is a lovely shopping area. It is quite unique in that it has a large umbrella like covering high above the buildings. They also have some interesting businesses. One of the restaurants used wheel chairs as the chairs for their dining tables.
The Forbidden City was a nicely decorated restaurant which made us feel like we were truly in Asia. The meal was good, but the best part was to be able to relax with friends after a long trip and a full day’s touring. Our main group of eight would be spending a lot of time together over the next two weeks.
When we left the restaurant, we were impressed with the illumination of the umbrella type structure.
We walked down to look at the river before grabbing a cab back to the hotel. It had been a long time since we left Florida and we were very tired.
DAY 2 -
4:30 AM and wide awake! A twelve hour time difference has a major impact on sleep patterns. I was well rested, but quite anxious to see more of Singapore. I knew there wouldn’t be much to do at that time of day, but went downstairs anyway to entertain myself and to keep from waking Carol. I took some photos of the hotel and walked around the deserted mall.
Around 5:30 AM I ran into Jim, who wanted to take a walk, so we headed out. I always like to walk around cities in the early morning when everything is quiet and not crowded. We passed Raffles and a nicely lit monument.
Today we would be boarding the Azamara Quest, our floating hotel for the next two weeks. The main attraction we were going to visit before boarding was the Singapore Flyer (www.singaporeflyer.com), the world’s largest observation wheel. It is like a 541 foot tall Ferris wheel with large enclosed capsule-like compartments. It moves very slowly at twice the speed of a watch minute hand, so it takes 30 minutes to go around one time. The cars are enclosed in glass and have two benches in the middle to sit on, but most people were standing up looking out the windows. An audio program was included with the Flyer ticket. The hand-held player provided information about what we were seeing.
The views from the Flyer were outstanding. There were so many ships anchored out in the Singapore Strait. Just below the Flyer was a Formula 1 race track that was the first one to have night racing.
The new Marina Bay Sands Hotel/Casino is a massive complex which will be opening later this year. We had a great view of it from the Flyer, along with the rest of this large modern city.
We could also get a view of the Merlion Statue. It has the head of a lion and body of a fish and is the official symbol of Singapore. We planned to visit the Merlion Park after we finished the Flyer ride. We could also see the location of the Chingay New Year's Festival that had taken place the previous night. We passed by it after we got out of the Flyer capsule.
We took a taxi from the Flyer to Merlion Park so we could get some photos. We asked the driver to wait for us, since it wouldn’t take long; and we were ready to go back to the hotel to check out. The park area around the statue was packed with people. It is a beautiful statue and must be the most popular tourist spot in Singapore.
Like all the taxi rides we had taken in Singapore, the trip to the park and back to the hotel was a bargain.
To get to the ship, each couple took their own taxi, since we had too much luggage to double up; plus with the reasonably priced taxis it made for an easy trip. It cost us $8 US to get to the ship. The cruise terminal is at the end of a long shopping mall. Unfortunately our cab driver dropped us off at the beginning of the mall, so we had to roll our luggage all the way to the other end. It would have been much easier if we had been dropped near the luggage drop off area, where most other passengers appeared to be arriving.
Once we were at the right place, it was very easy to drop off our checked baggage and head up the escalator to the Azamara check in counters. When we met up with some of our friends we had met the night before at Raffles, they told us that the previous Quest cruise had a Norovirus outbreak with 10 passengers and 7 crew members affected. This was going to delay our embarkation due to additional cleaning of the ship that was required. We got in line and quickly received our key cards for the cabin and were told to wait until we were called to board the ship. They didn’t know how long it would take.
We were surprised when we were allowed to board the ship around 1:00 PM. We thought it would be closer to 2:00 PM based on what we had heard; but as more passengers arrived, they were running out of room in the terminal. We were told that no one could go to the cabins, and that we could check our carryons with the ship staff before going up to eat. After lunch, we checked out the ship and then waited around in the lounges to be called to go to the cabins. Apparently cleaning up after a Norovirus outbreak requires a major effort involving thoroughly cleaning many areas that aren’t normally done to that extent before a sailing.
We had not seen Hans and Barbara on board yet, so Carol was becoming a little concerned. We had seen them near the head of the check in line before we boarded, so we knew they had made it from their hotel.
As the time wore on, we became worried about when we could get to our cabins because we had booked a trip to the Night Safari. Jim had scheduled a small bus to take nineteen people from our group to the excursion at 7:15 PM. Dinner is normally scheduled at 6:00 PM, but that night it started at 5:45 PM, which was great news to us since we had planned on eating in the main dining room before going to the Night Safari.
At around 4:00 PM, announcements were finally made to allow guests on one deck to go to their cabins. Thank goodness progress was being made. We got to go to our cabin at 5:00 PM. It wasn’t a great way to start a cruise; but we did appreciate that the staff was taking the medical situation seriously. Apparently this cleaning and the procedures put into place worked well, since no one came down with Norovirus during our cruise.
After Carol checked their cabin and found no sign of Hans and Barbara, she went down to the Guest Relations Desk to see if they had boarded. A fellow passenger overheard the conversation and approached Carol to say that she had been in line behind our friends and had seen them leave in the company of the medical staff. Now there was cause for real concern. We had no idea as to what had happened. Guy Brundrett, one of the Guest Relations Officers was extremely helpful, and said that he would continue checking for us.
After dinner, Carol went back down to the Guest Relations; and Guy arranged for the ship doctor to come out and speak with her. All he could tell her was that Hans and Barbara were not allowed to board and were safe in a hotel. Since we’re not family members, we knew he couldn’t tell us any details; but he did say that it was not Hans’ heart, which is what had concerned us. He also said that they would come back to the terminal in the morning to see if they would be allowed to board.
It was time for everyone to get on the bus to go to the Singapore Zoo Night Safari (www.nightsafari.com.sg). The Night Safari is a unique thing done by the Singapore Zoo, where there is a tram ride through animal exhibits at night. Since most of the animals are nocturnal, they are up and moving about after dark; rather than resting and sleeping as is normally the case when visiting a zoo during the daytime.
As we were trading in our pre-purchased vouchers for tickets, we saw Hans and Barbara walking around. They had come on their own, since they had previously purchased the vouchers also. Hans was feeling fine and they updated us on what was going on.
Hans and Barbara weren’t allowed to board the ship because Hans had indicated on the medical questionnaire that he had recently had some intestinal issues. We believe it was due to the lunch he had the previous day. With the ship being very sensitive to the recent Norovirus outbreak, they didn’t want anyone on the ship that could cause another outbreak. That is understandable; however, the nurse that Hans had discussed it with did not take his temperature or check him out in any way to see if he might not have a Norovirus. Had the medical staff done even a minimal examination, a lot of hard feelings could have been prevented. Our friends were told that they could fly to Bangkok, at their expense, and check back to see if they could board then. What a horrible situation to be in after traveling half way around the world to go on a cruise. Hans had then become very upset, and they were talking about just flying home.
After appealing the decision to meet the ship in Bangkok, they were told to come back in the morning at 8:00 AM to see if the doctor would let them board. We were thrilled that there was a chance they might be able to take the cruise; but they could just as easily be turned away again. They had already completed their Safari, so they headed back to the hotel that they were staying in that night at their own expense.
We headed for the long waiting line to board the trams. The Safari is a very popular activity. The boarding area was not well lit and difficult to get any photos. The actual safari area had extremely low light levels to protect the animals, and the combination of this and the tram movement made decent photos impossible to take. I have included a few low quality ones to give an idea of what the experience is like; but I apologize for the quality.
The actual ride through the safari area was somewhat spoiled by kids that were very loud and disruptive. Additionally, people kept taking photos with flashes after repeatedly being told not to, since it can damage the animal’s eyes as well as upset them. The Night Safari was a different type experience; but it wasn’t as good as most of us had expected.
After the tram ride we went to the Creatures of the Night show. It was OK, but like on the tram ride, people kept using flash photography after being told numerous times not to. It was aggravating that people have so little respect for the rules that are protecting the animals.
Everywhere we went in the park it was very crowded with tourists. We were glad to leave and head back to the ship.
DAY 3 -
Since the ship was departing at 10 AM, it was basically a sea day. We had not seen or heard from Hans and Barbara, so we were worried that they were turned away again; but hoped that we would still hear from them.
I always try to be on the upper decks for sail away. Looking over at the Costa Allegra at the next dock, we saw a large happy face being waved at us. How cute was that? Then I saw why it was waving, one of the Quest’s crew was waving a giant hand at them.
This is the first time I have seen something like this and just thought it was a splendid addition to a sail away. I was amazed at how many ships were anchored just outside the Singapore harbor. This one looked more like a submarine than a regular ship.
As the day progressed and we still hadn’t seen or heard from Hans and Barbara, we called their cabin with no response and asked their cabin steward if he had seen them. They didn’t seem to be on the ship. We assumed that they had been turned away.
During dinner, our tablemates pointed at something. We turned around and there they were standing behind us. We thought we were seeing ghosts. We couldn’t believe they were on the ship. We were so happy. When they came to the ship at 8:00 AM, the doctor had taken Hans’ temperature and checked him over. He said he was fine and they came on board. They had been unpacking and relaxing most of the day. Barbara said they were exhausted from all of the stress. They had left us a voice mail on the phone; but we hadn’t seen it. Thank goodness they were there. We could now really enjoy the cruise.
A major appeal of this cruise was that it would be on a smaller ship. The Quest only accommodates 694 passengers and is a sister ship to the Tahitian Princess that we had thoroughly enjoyed. It is a very lovely, stately ship, unlike most of the newer ships we have cruised on. The ship size and layout made it very easy to get wherever we were heading without a lot of walking. Additionally, with our cabin being on deck seven, we could take the stairs much of the time, because most of the public rooms were on deck five and nine.
The pool area was very comfortable with a good amount of shaded area. The chaise lounges were nicely padded and very comfortable. With the warm weather we had in the ports and most sea days, the area was very popular, but it didn’t feel overcrowded.
The Promenade Deck was also a favorite place during sea days for people to relax on the comfortable lounge chairs.
The Discoveries Dining Room is at the back of the ship on deck 5. It is on one level, so the room doesn’t have the wow factor of some of the newer ships multi-level dining rooms with high ceilings and lovely stairways. But what it does have is room between the tables. Unlike most dining rooms, it didn’t feel like too many tables were jammed into the room to accommodate more people than the room could handle.
With the Quest having open seating for dinner in the Discoveries Dining Room, we didn’t feel as obligated to eat there. The food was quite good and well presented, but the special buffets that were available in the Windows Café, the buffet, were so appealing that we ate there several nights. The Indian and Thai buffets were exceptionally good. My only complaint about the buffet is that the path between the two serving sections is way too narrow, making it difficult for traffic to move through easily. For some reason, the name of the Windows Café changes to Windows Breeza for dinner time. I really don’t understand the logic for that; but it was still a great place to eat.
Just in front of Windows Café is the Pool Grille, which had great hamburgers and many other items which made it a very good lunch alternative.
The two specialty restaurants Prime C and Aqualina are on the back of the ship on deck 10. These restaurants do have a little better food and service than the dining room and only cost $5 per person per meal; which is the suggested tip. We went to Prime C, the steakhouse, only once. We enjoyed Aqualina much more than Prime C and went there three times. The menu was more appealing and the service was better.
The Mosaic Café offered small sandwiches, desserts and specialty coffee. It is a very pleasant place to just sit around and people watch. It is a central hub of activity and in a lovely setting above the beautiful staircase to deck 4. There was a musician playing his guitar there frequently.
There are several bars/lounges on the ship. The largest is the Looking Glass on deck ten in the front of the ship. It also serves as the secondary entertainment venue, with something going on every night. It is also a great place to sit and watch the world go by during the day, since it is has the best outside view on the ship.
Each night we would meet for drinks at the Discoveries Lounge, which is just in front of the main dining room. It was the perfect location for a before dinner drink. With the drinks, plates containing some feta cheese, olives and crunchies were provided. They were very tempting snacks and tended to spoil our appetites a bit, but somehow we still managed to eat every meal.
Another lounge is in the casino. Since we don’t gamble, we didn’t have much of a reason to stop there. However, there was a small area that was set up to be a small sports bar. The two times I did have a drink there, I really enjoyed the bartender. He was most enjoyable to talk with and made very good drinks. We discussed beers of the region and he recommended a Tiger Beer.
The Pool Bar is probably the most popular of the various bars on the ship. Since we didn’t spend much time at the pool, we didn’t get to try out the many exotic drinks that are prepared there. Probably just as well, since I was over indulging in food and drink enough already.
On our last night on the ship, I finally tried the bar area at the back of the Windows Café. It is a popular place to eat and a most enjoyable place to have a drink with friends. I wish I had realized what a pleasant place it was earlier in the cruise.
On deck 4, where Guest Relations and Shore Excursions were located, they had a high end shop called Boutique C. It wasn’t staffed very often and when it was it didn’t attract too many customers. It seems like putting a shop there was just a way to use up some empty space. It is an attractive area, but it is more of a display than a store.
One of the most beautiful areas of the ship is the staircase area between decks 4 and 5. It has the feel of a classy old ocean liner.
It is pretty from any angle.
With the Quest being a small ship, the Cabaret Theater is also rather small. It is large enough for the number of passengers, but I just don’t like the arrangement with uncomfortable, straight back wing chairs on a flat surface. I much prefer to have stadium type seating, as on most larger ships, which allow people that are sitting further back to be able to get a better view of the entertainment. However, the room itself is quite attractive, with the dark wood entrances and main wooden entertainment floor with a mosaic pattern.
The Casino Luxe is very small, but that seemed alright, since I never did see it very crowded. Even though it was small, it did seem to have a pretty good variety of slot machines and various table games, just not that many.
The Drawing Room or library is a lovely room with a raised fresco glass ceiling and lots of beautiful wood. There is a large collection of books and a good selection of comfortable chairs to read in. Since our cabin wasn’t as cool as we liked, Carol particularly spent a lot of time up there in the library with her Kindle. She managed to finish reading several books during the sea days.
The Astral Spa is at the front of deck 9. It is nicely appointed and has the normal facilities that are found in most of the spas.
Just in front of the spa, or right at the front of the ship is an area with loungers and a large hot tub. I discovered that the best view from the front of the ship was available by walking up the steps to get into the hot tub. This allowed me to be above the glass wind diverters, so it provided an unobstructed view. It is the only place on the front of the ship, other than the bridge walk outs, where you don’t have to look through glass.
With this being a fourteen day cruise, I did find time to use the Fitness Center a few times. It was much better than I expected, with some very nice machines. It also wasn’t very crowded, so I never had to wait on a machine
There are two shops on deck 5. Indulgences is the jewelry store and the Quest Shop is for souvenirs and clothes. I was disappointed and quite surprised that the Quest Shop didn’t sell t-shirts. They had some higher end golf shirts and jackets, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. Carol felt that too much space was wasted on evening clothes that no one was going to buy anyway. The selection there for most things was kind of limited; but then again, it is a small ship. On the other hand, Indulgences had a very nice selection of watches and jewelry.
The Quest Shop Indulgences
eConnections is the computer room where we signed up for our WIFI package. They had an active schedule of training classes that were very well attended. The WIFI was much slower than my home broadband connection; but it was better than I was expecting. Sometimes it is good not to have high expectations.
The Quest has a very nice feature with a self service laundry. There were four washers and four dryers. The washers cost $2 which included soap from an automatic soap dispenser. For some reason, one of the washers only cost $1. The dryers were free. It was very popular, particularly on sea days. On our last day on the ship in Hong Kong, the laundry was closed, which I am sure upset a lot of people that planned on washing some clothes before heading home.
The regular ship’s laundry was also available at the usual rates for anyone who wanted to send out their laundry.
We were in cabin 7076, which was a mid-ship portside cabin. It was right across from the laundry, which was very handy for Carol; but it did get a bit noisy at times in the morning when people were fighting over their position for the right to use the dryers. Yes, there were some actual arguments!
The cabins are on the small size being only 175 sq. ft. with a 40 sq. ft. verandah. Since the only seating in the cabin was a small loveseat and under the desk stool, there was adequate space in the cabin to move around. We were very pleased with the amount of closet and drawer space, especially since this was a two week cruise.
The bed was stiffer than we prefer. We asked our cabin steward Melvin to see if he could get us an egg crate mattress pad to soften it up. Melvin seemed like a nice guy and he wanted to help us the only two times we saw him during the cruise; but he just wasn’t around when we were. We did see his assistant regularly.
Melvin did get us an egg crate, but since it was only about ¾ of an inch thick, it didn’t do much to make the bed more comfortable. This was our biggest complaint about the ship. Not having a comfortable bed for fourteen days was not pleasant.
The flat screen TV was easy to see from any part of the room. Under the T.V. were a safe and a refrigerator.
The desk had two sets of both European and American type electrical outlets.
The bathroom was unusually small. The shower had a plastic curtain, which I guess was a good thing, since it provided a little bit of extra room. But this was the smallest shower that I have ever had on a ship. I think our grandkids would have complained about it being too small.
The only other problem we had with the cabin was that the air conditioning didn’t get cold enough. We had the engineer come to our cabin a couple of times, and he was able to improve it a little; but we had to keep our heavy drapes shut during the day to keep the cabin from getting even indirect sun. It was strange, since some of our friends a few cabins down complained that their cabin was too cold. Jim’s next door was just right, so I guess it was just the luck of the draw.
I was quite thrilled that Quest didn’t have any formal nights. Every night was smart casual, which covered a wide variety of clothes. I was originally thinking of bringing a blazer along; but then decided that it wouldn’t be needed. I was glad I left it at home. I never felt under dressed. That isn’t to say that some people didn’t dress up at some events; but there were more people that didn’t.
Here is a LINK to many of the menus for the restaurants and bars on the Quest. I have also included photos of many of the dinners that our group enjoyed.
With Azamara being Celebrity’s upscale line, we expected the food to be a step up. The dining room food, to me, was better and some entrees were just outstanding. The menu selection was well varied from day to day. If we couldn’t find an appetizer, soup, salad or dessert we cared for, the Azamara Classic side of the menu had some excellent choices. The only minor thing I would like to change was that we had the exact same bread selection every night at every restaurant. It was delicious, but it would have been nice to have something different on occasion, particularly in the specialty restaurants.
We also enjoyed the dining room for breakfast a few times as well as for lunch. On one of the sea days near the end of the cruise, the dining room served a brunch from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. It was a very nice change of pace. Unfortunately, very few people knew about it because the only place it was mentioned was on the back of the daily Pursuits flyer under the restaurant hours.
The buffet food was much better than I have had on most cruises. The variety and quality were very good. As mentioned earlier the Indian and Thai buffets were just outstanding. The Chef’s Special buffet was also nice. Since it was a big event, it stretched out onto the pool deck.
At every meal the buffet had a nice selection of ice creams and sherbets, some quite exotic. It resulted in all of our group eating much more ice cream than we are used to. I normally get ice tea at meals; but enjoyed the lemonade so much, it was my drink of choice whenever dining at the buffet.
We really enjoyed the Pool Grill. It has outstanding hamburgers and other lunch specialties. The grilled vegetables were a very popular item. Since the hours for the grill were normally 11:00 AM till 6:00 PM, it was very popular for those that missed having lunch in the dining room or buffet. A very important thing to know is that the soft serve ice cream machine is in the corner right next to the grille area.
Because of the high sanitation procedures in place due to the previous cruise’s Norovirus, everything had to be served to us rather than self served. The bread was not left on the table nor were the salt and pepper shakers. It was quite frustrating to have to get a waiter to salt the food, even in the buffet. By the end of the cruise, things were back to normal and we could salt our own food. Handshaking around the ship was also discouraged. We were told to touch elbows rather than shake hands. Of course, that got to be kind of fun.
We had two absolutely wonderful and attentive Assistant Maitre D’s in the dining room, George and Eric, who Carol would harass by regularly tapping elbows. It became a game. Since we didn’t have a regular waiter with the open seating, we were thrilled that we would see George and Eric at almost every meal. They would come around and check on us and help us with anything we desired. Other than the Captain, these were our favorite members of the crew.
The first specialty restaurant we went to was Prime C, the steakhouse. The meal was ok, but just not that special. My steak was tougher than the one I had in the main dining room and the service was worse. We were really disappointed, since we had heard so many wonderful comments and reviews about the restaurant. When we left Prime C, we all said that one visit there was enough and that we hoped that Aqualina was better.
Prime C Aqualina
A couple of nights later, we went to Aqualina and thoroughly loved it. As a result, we booked two more reservations. The service was much better than Prime C. It wasn’t as good as the United States Restaurant on the Celebrity Infinity; but we certainly thought this was the best dining on the Quest.
With the Quest being a small ship, they are limited to the types of shows they can have in the Cabaret showroom. It was the right size for solo entertainers. With the heavy touring we were doing during the day, we were pretty tired at night and passed on the shows most nights.
Cruise Director John Howell did a good job as MC for the few shows in the Cabaret that I did go to. He also was very entertaining up in the Looking Glass Lounge, where he would banter back and forth with singer/comedian Jim Badger. In addition to being a very good singer, John was always out and about meeting and talking to the passengers. He would be at the gang plank wishing everyone well as they were off on their daily excursions; and would occasionally be there on our return. His enthusiasm for his job was very evident in everything he did.
John Howell Jim Badger
Three performers that I did see in the Cabaret were comedian/mime Yacof Noy, who I had seen previously on another cruise and British singer Isabel Cooper and the Maverick Magician, Jamie Allen. Yacof Noy’s main routine is one where he comes out with three legs. It is funny the first time you see it, but since this was the second time and I was very tired, I had to leave before he was finished.
Isabel Cooper, whose tagline is “Voice of an Angel”, lives up to it. She has an absolutely gorgeous voice and sang some great songs. I really enjoyed listening to her.
Jamie Allen is a very talented magician. I don’t understand his tag line, Maverick Magician, but the audience did find him entertaining. His magic was either sleight of hand or with cards. One card trick that he did, which is his signature trick that he is known for, was really quite amazing.
Other musicians were a guitarist Frank Gajewski and a harpist Mary-Amanda Fairchild. Both were playing regularly around the ship. The harpist was very good; but the guitarist didn’t have the greatest voice. He probably should have stuck to instrumentals.
Media and Events
The highlight of the day was to listen to Captain Carl Smith do his Noon announcements from the bridge. This is the youngest captain that we have ever had on a cruise. He really loved his job and it showed when he was telling about the day’s events. Much of it was technical, but since he was so into what he was doing, it was a pleasure to listen to him. He was so excited about his job that his enthusiasm was contagious. He was constantly saying, “I love my job!” He was also very informative and let us know what nautical treats were awaiting us later in the day and the next.
It was a good thing that the captain told us what was coming up, since the Quest newsletter called the Pursuits, didn’t. The day’s schedule was in the Pursuit and a few highlights, but it didn’t include everything and some people missed events that weren’t listed. Also, parts of it were hard to read because of the blue background. It really does need improvement.
On our first sea day, we had our Cruise Critic Party. We have always enjoyed these gatherings because we get to meet the people from our roll call, especially the ones that weren’t able to attend our pre-cruise activities. We were also able to get reacquainted with those we had seen at Raffles in Singapore. Due to the size of our group, the party was held in the Looking Glass. We had 45 of the 48 people who were on our roll call in attendance. That is the best percentage of attendance we have ever had for a Cruise Critic group.
Cruise Director John Howell officiated for the party. He talked a bit introducing several members of the staff and then introduced Captain Carl Smith, who comes from the Isle of Man. Captain Smith was such a breath of fresh air. He has so much enthusiasm for cruising and what he does. He was such a joy to listen to and he always had a big smile. He was also very available to passengers since he was regularly walking around the ship talking to everyone. Captain Smith is everything you would want in a captain and more. It was also nice to hear a captain with a sense of humor, who would joke with his staff and passengers. Some captains are kind of stuffy, but not Captain Smith. He was a real people person.
Due to the timing of events, we had to leave the Cruise Critic party before the hour was up to meet Captain Smith and his staff again at the other end of deck 10 in Prime C for the Celebrity Captain’s Club Elite & Select Cocktail Party. We did hear many of the same things we had just heard, but we didn’t mind since Captain Smith was a pleasure to listen to. The free drink selection wasn’t bad either.
While at the Captain’s Club Party, the group was asked if anyone wanted to sign up for a bridge tour. Of course, most of the attendees were interested. Our tour was scheduled for the last sea day. Captain Smith wasn’t at the tour, since he had been up much of the night guiding the Quest out of Halong Bay and through the Hainan Strait; but his staff did a fine job for him. Captain Smith’s attitude has been passed on to his staff; and they were also most pleasant and helpful in showing us around the bridge and explaining the instruments.
We were very fortunate to be blessed with an outstanding port lecturer, Jon Fleming (http://www.jonfleming.co.uk). With so many new places to see and experience, it was so enjoyable to be able to hear Jon’s first hand experiences and recommendations for each port. The port presentations were around 45 minutes, and Jon would answer any questions both before and after for as long as was needed. He really enjoys what he is doing and genuinely wants to assist people to get the most out of their port visits.
For some reason, Jon’s port lecture for Hong Kong was not listed in the daily schedule on the day before we arrived. Numerous requests to have the lecture were made. We were told that the time and location for the Hong Kong lecture would be announced at the Captain’s Noon talk. In a strange twist of fate, our good friend Jim got to make that announcement. Earlier in the day, we attended the Captain’s disembarkation talk in the Cabaret. As an enticement to get people to the talk, there would be a name drawing of the attendees for a prize. The Captain came up with a new incentive that was very well received. For the first time ever on the Quest, a passenger would get to present part of the noon announcement and push the button to blow the ship’s horn. When Jim’s number was called, he was thrilled to death, as were we for him.
Before the announcement, John Howell gave Jim specific instructions on what to say and was told not to deviate. John doesn’t know Jim very well. When the time came, the Captain made his announcements first. Then John went through all of his; but he didn’t mention Jon Flemming’s newly scheduled port lecture. So of course Jim felt compelled to announce it after he had done the prepared information. Way to go Jim! John immediately chimed in and encouraged everyone to attend the lecture. Then Jim went out onto the bridge walk out and pushed the button. It was a special moment that none of us will forget. On the other hand, John Howell would probably like to forget it.
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