Thursday, February 19, 2015

Goldring Travel Experiences Azamara Club Cruises in Asia - Is it Amazing? Part II

The flight, or better “flights”, from New Jersey to Bali is long.  There is no way around that (unless you live in Australia and then it is an easy flight).  Being that I am at almost at my 1,000,000 revenue miles on United Airlines (which will provide me with Gold Premier status on United Airlines and the Star Alliance for life) my trip took me longer than it would on some other airlines:  16 hours non-stop to Hong Kong, then 4 hours to Singapore, then a longish layover and, finally, a 2.5 hour flight to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.

Early Morning - Benoa, Bali, Indonesia
A few thoughts about Changi Aiport in Singapore.  It is regularly rated as the No. 1 airport in the world.  The place is pretty incredible, as far as airports go.  There is a small butterfly garden you can walk through, a small koi pond, a free movie theatre, lots of places to eat and shop and a number lounges…and that is just in Terminal 3.  There are two more terminals as well.  I tried three different clubs while I was there.  Between my American Express Priority Pass and Garuda Indonesia Airlines, access was easy and the facilities were OK, but not at the level of European clubs, which was surprising. 

One flaw, and it was a big one, there is only one lounge/hotel on the transfer side of Terminal 3 (before immigration) that had sleeping rooms or hotel rooms; which you cannot book in advance.  With my flight arriving at 1:40 a.m., I found both to be booked out, so no bed for me!  Or a number of other people…and I saw dozens and dozens of people sleeping on the floor of the airport (and even in one of the lounges by putting two or three chairs together into beds (which should not be allowed!)

While in Singapore I did exchange US$60 so that I had Indonesian rupiah for my taxi to the ship and some in my pocket.   As Indonesia is fairly inexpensive, it is just not worth the bother to worry about exchange rates, so getting rupiah when you can make sense.

Arriving in Bali, you must line up to purchase a Visa on Arrival which costs US$35.00.  Don’t believe the online information or the signs in the airport that credit cards are accepted; they are not (and I did not see any credit card machines next to the visa officers).  It was then to Immigration, which I breezed through.  After collecting my luggage (which thankfully made it, including a transfer to Garuda Indonesia Airlines - which was quite good), I headed out into the airport proper, turned to the left and looked for the Taxi Desk.  At the desk you purchase your ride and are given a slip of paper with a taxi number.  You only give up the slip upon arrival at your destination, so no games are possible.

Through the chaos as you head outside, somehow the taxi driver (they are all wearing the same shirt, so you know the legitimate taxis) finds you before you can find him mentioning your taxi number and you are off for the rather short 15 minute drive (with three tolls!) on the only modern road and bridge you will see in the area.  Note that the cruise port is literally in the flight path of the airport…and there are many flights into Denpasar, Bali...so any expectation of a bucolic view with the sounds of birds and waves are quickly dashed.

A woman fishing in Benoa, Bali, Indonesia
Even in a rather busy local port there is beauty and peace to be found
...if you look
However, the efficient, friendly and warm greeting by the staff of the Azamara Quest quickly made me feel welcome and relaxed.  While I appreciate that I am a VIP guest, I don’t let that sway my observations.  I see that everyone who is boarding, or who has boarded and is wandering about, are treated well.  But, to be honest, at this point I just want to get to my suite, take a shower and chill out.

(But me being me, I noticed that the Azamara Quest’s public areas are extremely well maintained.  She immediately strikes you as a classic cruise ship with elegant touches.  More on the ship in another article.)

My suite is very nicely appointed with pretty much everything you would want.  While I note the suites will be undergoing some very significant upgrades in the next year, the bed is quite comfortable, the small sofa and occasional chair with ottoman are too.  There is sufficient storage for two (noting Azamara Club’s country club casual does cut down on the clothing required).  

Azamara Quest Club Continent Suite
The desk/vanity is fairly small, but by moving the complimentary bottled water and 350 ml bottles of Absolute Vodka, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Bacardi Gold Rum and Johnny Walker Red Scotch (provided to all suite guests) it works.

Azamara Quest - Club Continent Suite
(Note the complimentary bottles of liquor and water)
The refrigerator is stocked with cans of soda and juices along with bottles of beer and wine.  If it is in a can it is replenished without charge.  If it is in a bottle it will cost you even though Azamara Club Cruises has a liquor inclusive product (which you can upgrade in a variety of levels: Premium, Top Shelf and Ultimate), which I think is a bit curious…and a little bit too Royal Caribbean (its parent company). If you can provide a bottle of Bombay gin you should be able to provide a split of wine with the suite.  (I must admit an excellent bottle of champagne was waiting for me.)

High tea is served every day by reservation.  You simply fill out a card as to when you would like it served and, of course, you must be in your suite to receive your choice of freshly brewed teas or coffee along with scones (jam and clotted cream, of course), finger sandwiches and cookies.

Azamara Quest - High Tea on your suite's balcony
The larger (32 inch?) flat screen television has virtually every news station (so dependent on your point of view, you are not trapped watching Fox News, CNN or BBC as you have them all plus more), but the other stations are very limited.  Also, there are pay per view movies (aren’t we past that?), but a DVD library with just over 100 titles (new and classic) is provided.

The suite’s bathroom is spacious enough with a full sized bathtub, but the vanity is fairly small and only has one sink (though storage is, again, plentiful).  While the towels are plentiful and plush enough, one niggling bit is the toiletries.  The About Rose amenities are certainly are of high enough quality.  The problem is the bottles are all the same size and color, so unless you read them carefully (or need your glasses in the shower) you can easily confuse the hair conditioner, shampoo, lotion and body wash.   (A simple change of color or even a sticker would be a huge assist.)

Azamara Quest - Continental Suite Bathroom


 My suite’s balcony is holds three all-weather wicker chairs and a full size table.  While a bit more depth would be great, I think Azamara Club Cruises has done the right thing by having larger, more comfortable and functional furnishings that you have to squeeze around than smaller, less usable, ones that give the appearance of more space.  It means you can easily dine or work on your balcony in comfort.


As you combine your loyalty between Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara you also gain additional benefits  (my highest level is with Celebrity, so it follows me on all three brands).  For me, being at the higher Le Club Discoverer Level I receive 235 minutes (almost 4 hours) of free internet plus 2 bags of laundry (one for each 7 day portions of this cruise) as well as discounts at the spa and other items.  The inclusion of internet and laundry are the big benefits to my mind.

Another suite benefit is unlimited access to the two specialty restaurants: Aqualina (Italian/Mediterranean) and Prime C (steakhouse).  Jumping ahead, I found that at least early in my cruise both restaurants appear to be underutilized (as there is a $25 per person charge if you are not in a suite).

Another very nice (though understandably extra cost) option available to all guests is the Chef’s Table.  There are three different menus (French, Italian and Californian) which cost $95 per person (or all three for $225).  I am looking forward to these food and wine experiences, which you have to sign up for.  (There are a minimum number of guest that have to sign up for each event.)

So with my suite in order, my beverage package organized (Azamara Club had graciously given me a Premium Package, but I wanted a Top Shelf Package so I could enjoy my Glenfiddich…which was accomplished seamlessly), the Chef’s Tables signed up for it was time to settle in for a pre-dinner cocktail (Glenfiddich, of course) and then dinner in Aqualina. 

I was told there was a “Sharing Table” in Aqualina at 7:00 p.m. and, as I am traveling solo this time, I thought that was a great way to meet people even though it was about an hour and a half earlier than normally would dine.  So arrived and…a glitch.  Apparently there were two couples that also signed up for the sharing table, but decided they didn’t want to share.  (Did they know me from my days on Cruise Critic?)  So it was back to Mosaic, the bar by the main restaurant for another cocktail and then dinner in Aqualina at a more reasonable hour!

Dinner was quite good though the effects of my long trip started to take hold.  Gnocchi with pesto, sweet pea soup and Branzino with Tagliatelli were all  very good.  I must admit, though, that my memory of the Limocello Soufflé is vague.  It was most definitely time for bed.


Tomorrow I head out to discover Bali and a bit more about Azamara Club Cruises.