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Azamara CruisesAzamara Quest
Cruise to Central America
January 15-28, 2014

by Dr. Joseph Reynolds

We flew to San Jose, Costa Rica and stayed at the Peace Lodge Vara Blanca 126 Alajuela, Costa Rica () We spent two nights there and it was a most magnificent stay. On January 15, 2014 at 9: 00 am Ricky Ricardo met 6 of us by previous arrangements for the trip to Caldera to board the Azamara Quest. Ricky was able to handle all the luggage in his van for the six of us. We made a stop at Zoo Ave on the way to the ship which was an interesting stop to use up some time.

The ship, the Azamara Quest, was built in 2000 and was the R7 until Renaissance Cruises broke up. She has also sailed as Delphin, and Blue Moon under Pullmantur. Pullmantur, a Spanish Cruise line, was purchased around 2005 by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL), which thus acquired all Pullmantur’s ships.

She was refurbished in 2007. At 30,277 GRT, with a crew size of 408 and passenger capacity of 694, there are 42 suites. All tipping is included, but the service was so good we just had to tip. All the officers on this ship are frequently seen and call the passengers by name. The Hotel Director Phillip and the Cruise director Russ Grieves did amazing jobs doing things to entertain the passengers that were very unusual. They served ice cream and did an Iron chef competition. Both are just so quick witted one could not help liking them. Russ has got to be the hardest working CD I have ever seen. He was dancing on white night, announcing all the time, greeting passengers around the ship, and just a bundle of energy.

The captain was seen often around the ship and stopped to talk to all the passengers. He was even at the gangplank greeting passengers back on board after the AzAmazing evening in PV. I saw Phillip and the Captain at the AzAmazing evening and other officers and ship personal at the function also.

My take is that Azamara Club Cruises cruise line would be RCCL’s answer to Silversea. Having sailed three Silversea cruise ships, I must say that RCCL has answered quite well. The complimentary wine aboard Azamara Quest exceeded the Silversea complimentary wine. Azamara did not comp Bombay Blue Sapphire gin except to furnish a bottle to the Owner’s suite. They did comp Beefeater gin and most mixed drinks.

The next day January 16, Thursday the ship had sailed about 20 miles to Puntarenas. All passengers boarded in Caldera because of limitation of luggage handling in Puntarenas. In Puntarenas, Costa Rica we took a tour of the Puntarenas Area with Ricky Ricardo () Mob.Tel # 506-8848-1499 Ricky lives in Puntarenas so it was easy for him to meet us for this tour. He was kind enough to come to the Peace Lodge to get us and bring us to the ship.

We had a River boat ride on a small personal boat of about 10 passengers seeing many different types of birds. A sheet with numbers was furnished each of us to use describing what type bird we were seeing. When the guide spotted a bird he would call out the number and you could then see the name of the bird. This was a wonderful day on the River and we also got to see crocodiles being fed chickens right by our boat by the guide. He was in ankle deep water and the crocodile would leap to catch the chicken in his hand. We had a stop at a local restaurant on the water for an included lunch of Cosada with fresh Sea Bass. This was a very nice stop. We also went on an Aerial tram through the jungle. Lots of termite nests, but many beautiful birds also. I can highly recommend Ricky Ricardo. He was very prompt and informative and arranged some very nice tours. We stopped to practice squeezing sugar cane with a press. Sugarcane juice with lime is a nice drink. Of course he gave us time to shop. Ricky also stopped on the side of the road to visit some monkeys and they did come close to him for the bananas.

On Jan 17, Friday we went to Colonial Grenada, Nicaragua where we saw La Merced Church, dozens of colonial homes, and the convent of San Francisco to see the mysterious stone idols. We had a ride on the Lake for one hour past some of the hundreds of small islands that were formed during the Mombacho volcanic eruptions. We had a Horse & buggy for an hour ride around Grenada. Each of us had taken a lunch and found a nice establishment to stop and get drinks to go with our picnic meal. This tour was arranged through Careli tours. (). I was allowed to make payment for the 8 of us via check to a bank in Florida. The regular tour was upgraded to a buggy ride through the streets of Grenada for $5/person.

On Jan. 18, Saturday our next tour was in El Salvador where we had a ships tour from Acajutla, El Salvador to Nahuizalco and Ataco. Nahuizalco we visited the place of the four Izalcos, cradle of one of the most distinctive handcrafting techniques of wicker and tule in El Salvador and purchased some nice wicker souvenirs. Ataco or High Place of The Springs offered vivid paintings on the walls of the town's buildings. This tour was billed as the "FLOWERS ROUTE" but was disappointing as there were very few flowers seen. This was a long tour--
over 7 hours--and wore out some people.

Jan. 19, Sunday We stopped at Puerto Quezal, Guatemala and visited Lake Atitlan with our private guide Luis sponsored by Tours By Locals. Luis Benjamin Cholotio Tel.#+502-4177-5213 () gave us a very good tour. The ride from Puerto Quezal to Lake Atitlan was about 2 hours so the total tour was about 7 hours but went by quickly. We had very nice rest stops.

We boarded a small boat at San Lucas Toliman and visited San Juan La Laguna Luis's hometown and saw beautiful art galleries. We used little tuk-tuk’s to move around town for an extra cost, but it was better than walking. We continued to Santiago Atitlan and visited the Catholic church, and the central park. It was a 2 hour ride from the port to the lake so it was good we brought a lunch to save time and eat while we were cruising the Lake. We decided to just ride by San Antonio Palopo on the eastern side of the lake, but in the interest of time we did not stop. We were getting tired. Luis never got tired. Our guide did tell us to bring some warm cover for the beautiful Lake Ride. We saw textiles and natural dye coloring in San Juan La Laguna our guide's hometown. He took us to visit his home where he lived with his mother. His mother always enjoyed visitors, but was away at this time. We met nieces and nephews. This was a very informative trip that was personalized by Luis for the 6 of us who participated.

Monday, Jan. 20 we arrived in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, I went on a ship tour of a Mangrove and Nature Exploration with 6 people per boat to tour the mangrove streams and lagoons populated by wildlife and birds. My wife and friends cancelled out because of the tour in El Salvador being too long. We saw pelicans, herons, and ospreys (Fish Eagle), cormorants, hummingbirds, egrets, spoonbills, storks and turtles. We had four original reservations, but three in our party elected not go on this tour. We saw a shrimp farm since these lagoons are salt water and have tidal variations. It is a new business not in full function yet.

Tuesday Jan. 21, Huatulco, Mexico where I again went on a ship's tour by myself. My wife and the other couple elected to just rest. We went to La Crucecita and scenic drive to see deluxe hotels, and Continue to Conejos Bay for breathtaking views. We visited an arts & crafts museum to see Oaxaca's arts & crafts. Next we visited La Crucecita, a quaint town where participants in the tour are allowed to browse the bustling market. On the way back at the La Entrega Beach we stopped and had a chance to take photos of our Azamara Quest ship from a high vantage point.

Thursday, Jan. 23 after we arrived at Manzanillo, Mexico where the 4 of us went to the Karmina hotel resort for a 4 hour visit of drinking and eating and laying out and visiting the resort. It was a beautiful property and probably could be visited inexpensively after talking to some of the people that were staying there.

Friday Jan 24, we stopped in Puerta Vallarta. We took a short cab ride
during the morning to visit Wal-Mart and Sam’s, which were next door to each other. More non-Mexicans shopping than Mexicans. It was interesting to see the display or raw fish and octopus that we do not see in America. In the evening Azamara had arranged a complimentary show by The HUICHOL INDIANS OF THE SIERRA MADRE MOUNTAINS. This was a very nice experience. They used multiple vans to carry about 600 people into the mountains to visit the property. Large buses would not be able to make it. The Huichol Indians put on a colorful show and we were served margaritas, tequila, and many nice snacks. A very nice fireworks show followed. I can say that this was a very nice success. As we went up the rough roads we would see cowboys on horseback with flashlights lighting our way to be sure drivers did not go the wrong way.

Saturday & Sunday, Jan. 25 & 26 we spent at CABO SAN LUCAS. On the second day we did a sunset cruise which was very nice with very good eats and drinks. Nice views of the arch and saw a manta ray pop the surface.

Monday & Tuesday, Jan. 27 & 28 We had two nice days at sea before arriving in Los Angeles. We were trying to get off the ship when we were rejected by a customs hold that came up on the screen when my sail/sign was inserted. Phillip Herbert the Hotel director had no idea why. He called customs and an agent came after some delay and escorted us off. We had a 10:30am departure and got to the airport at 8:30am in plenty enough time

Unfortunately that flight got cancelled because of an ice storm in Atlanta, and we spent the night in LA at our usual Courtyard LAX on West Century Blvd. We had rebooked for the same flight to Atlanta the next day. Thursday Jan. 30. We got on the airplane and already had a drink when the captain said we would be delayed for takeoff for 5 hours. We were disembarked and realized that we could not make our Atlanta to MLU connection. The roads in Atlanta would not allow our daughter to get to the airport to pick us up for an overnight stay and all the hotels were booked up so we rebooked for the 7:30 AM Flight to Atlanta on Friday Jan 31, 2014 and spent the night January 30th back at the Courtyard by Marriott on West Century Blvd.

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