The sleek Azamara Quest berthes in Napier this week for its first visit here. Hawke's Bay Today chief photographer Warren Buckland headed onboard to snap a few photographs and get a close-up look at luxury.

The sleek Azamara Quest berthed in Napier this week for its first visit here. Hawke's Bay Today chief photographer Warren Buckland headed onboard to snap a few photographs and get a close-up look at luxury.

They say if you want to break a drought, host an international cricket match.

While we didn't really have a drought, it did rain, long enough for the cricket to be cancelled and for passengers visiting Napier off the Azamara Quest to believe our weather is often like this. Shame, as we all know what real summer Hawke's Bay weather is usually like. Cobalt blue skies, desert-like heat and outdoor concerts.

The first thing I noticed about the Azamara Quest on its first visit to Napier is it's painted a colour that looked black to me. Officially, it's not. Apparently the ship's hull was painted a dark 'Azamara blue' when it went into drydock for refurbishment in 2012. The shade was named 'Azamara blue' by the Spanish-owned Navantia Shipyard to mark the occasion.

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Travel agents Nicola Thompson (left), Havelock North Flight Centre, and Laura Maile, Taradale Flight Centre, relax in the forward lounge. Photo / Warren Buckland
Travel agents Nicola Thompson (left), Havelock North Flight Centre, and Laura Maile, Taradale Flight Centre, relax in the forward lounge. Photo / Warren Buckland

At this time of year, the port's wharves are busy. The Azamara Quest does not take up much room. In fact she is smallish by cruise ship standards. Officially referred to as a boutique vessel, she is 180 metres long and 25 metres wide, with nine decks, and weighs 30,277 tonnes.

Mark Kinchley, NZ sales manager Azamara Cruise Club, says the emphasis of Azamara Club Cruises is put on the destination.

"Smaller ships can go places other cruise ships can't, up rivers, smaller shallower ports. They offer longer stays in port, giving passengers time to really explore the area at a much slower pace."

Passengers disembark from the cruise ship.
Passengers disembark from the cruise ship.

The ship caters to a mostly over-40s demographic. This trip they were predominantly Americans but the passengers on the next voyage from Auckland to Australia will be mainly Kiwis. And what do over-40s want?

"A little bit of luxury," Mark says. "The ship has a luxury treatment spa with massage, acupuncture, botox, hair and beauty treatments and even a cut-throat razor shave for the gents."

The overall feel of the ship was one harking back to a romantic era. Lounge walls adorned with photos of stars of 1930s-1960s American films. Warm wood-lined rooms, plush carpet and leather chairs. The library resembles a drawing room in an American country house with decorative mantelpiece and fireplace. The library, usually busy I was told, was almost empty as most of the American passengers were out visiting the local wineries and attractions.

The Discoveries Lounge aboard the Azamara Quest cruise ship.
The Discoveries Lounge aboard the Azamara Quest cruise ship.

The considered opinion of some local travel agents was the ship was looking a little tired. Understandable as she is 15 years old with eight of those under the Azamara Club Cruises brand travelling thousands of nautical miles each year in all weather. A refurbishment is planned for April this year with $US25 million spent on a transformation to a more contemporary look that will be completed in two weeks.

Customer feedback has shown that New Zealand is a popular destination among cruise passengers. Azamara Club Cruises also wants to give New Zealanders the option to take a local cruise aboard their ships before making the decision to visit the Caribbean or Mediterranean where they offer cruises for most of the year. The ship will visit other ports in NZ including Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland.