ITTN’s News & Features Editor Neil Steedman visits Loch Ness and logs his final report from onboard the Azamara Quest (without having seen Nessie).
From Invergordon I took a most pleasant Land Discoveries tour to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, with the landscape lush and green from Scotland having finally enjoyed a late spring and with the sun shining for the past few weeks. The tour bus was of good quality and our local guide most informative. I know there were time restraints (the castle is about one hour’s drive from the port) but I would also have liked to visit the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition in Drumnadrochit – rather than just pass it by.
Back ‘home’ onboard (and the ship had become to feel like home), I met Philip Herbert, Hotel Director, who told me that there are 590 guests on this cruise (the average is 620) and 404 crew of 52 nationalities, who are trained inhouse and most of whom work either five or six months on, two months off. How many are repeat guests, I wondered? “That varies from 30% to 65%, depending on the itinerary,” Philip replied.
He has been on cruise ships for the past 21 years, first with Celebrity, then Crystal and back to Celebrity before joining Azamara in 2007, first on the Journey and now the Quest. “I work four months on, two months off, and really enjoy the working environment on the Azamara ships,” Philip added. As Hotel Director he is in charge of most of those (extensive!) areas of the ship that guests never get to see. “I like to think of the Quest as a swan, with the guests gliding serenely over the water while the rest of us paddle furiously underwater!”
For dinner I opted to share a table in Aqualina, one of the two speciality restaurants, which serves “contemporary American cuisine with a Mediterranean flair”. By sheer chance my most engaging dining partners were a New York independent travel consultant with Altour and his wife who have Irish ancestry and a holiday home in the West of Ireland. What were the chances?
We all agreed that the food and service were excellent, although my companions did confess that the lobster was not as good as they get in Maine. However, there they call the fishing boat to place their personal lobster order 90 minutes before they arrive in the harbour, so they agreed that it would be tough for any restaurant in the world to compete with that!
Leith and Edinburgh
Finally the Azamara Quest squeezed through the lock into Leith Harbour, from where I took one of the efficient shuttle buses into Edinburgh, where the Mac Tours hop on/hop off bus tour and the Our Dynamic Earth centre are highly recommended.
So now I must take my leave of the Azamara Quest. May my fellow guests sail serenely on to Hamburg and I thank all the crew for being so friendly, outgoing and helpful as they paddle furiously below decks!