Notes from a Venice Virgin

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Now at this point some readers may recall my disastrous encounter earlier this year with MS Marco Polo, and I must say that my mind’s eye has had the greatest difficulty in eradicating images of projectile vomiting in public areas and white crosses marked on cabin doors of the especially unfortunate. As a travel writer with by now a fair bit of experience, I have learnt enough to know that readers really enjoy hearing disaster stories from the comfort of their own armchairs or sofas. Indeed, to a certain extent I agree with this, as there is nothing better than pouring scorn onto something you have not had to pay for. But lo! The Azamara Quest is a different animal altogether; 400 attentive staff servicing a maximum of 700 guests and the only child on board being the Captain’s young son with the run of the ship to himself.

Stormy horizon

The Azamara Quest is pitched directly at a middle-bracket, childless (at least on the voyage) clientele and succeeds so spectacularly as they up the ante at almost every point. So for example, although the standard food is very good, for a nominal cover charge of $15, you can reserve a table in their specialist restaurants, Prime and Aqua Lisa. This I would urge every future traveller to do, as my experience on the three occasions I did was outstanding. Wine is served freely (and free!) at both lunch and dinner and proved to be highly quaffable.

Staff were everywhere, at one’s slightest beck and command, and were all cordial and helpful, and chatty where appropriate. There were representatives from over fifty nations amongst the crew, so the mix was truly international and cosmopolitan.

Duibrovnik

The Cruise Director responsible for the entertainment on board was Tony Markey – he of the golden voice, used for both informative commentaries and evening entertainment as well. The mix he chose was varied and excellent, the highlight for me being the classically trained pianist, Brooks Aehron. Brooks gave two shows in the eight days I was onboard, and I frankly wish he had been given a third slot as well. His first gig involved popularising classics, but the last one on our penultimate night was worthy of the Wigmore Hall in London. He actually performed the incredibly hard final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto with only a CD backing track to aid him, and he kept an audience, clearly not familiar with List and Chopin, enthralled. Incidentally, Azamara cruises should be complemented not just for giving Brooks to us, but for actually playing good classical music in public areas rather than the usual muzak pap.

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