My dad and I are throughly enjoying our time onboard the Azamara Quest, and with each passing day, we grow that much fonder of the Azamara Club Cruises brand of exceptional service delivered by friendly crew to passionate guests in an intimate setting. We have always had great experiences onboard Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, but Azamara is certainly the jewel of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited family.
Yesterday was an outstanding day in Recife, Brazil, and we could have easily spent more time there, especially in the colonial town of Olinda which was quite the discovery. Our tour began in full size buses to take us from our ship to the outskirts of Olinda. There we transferred to minibuses that were more conducive to the narrower cobblestone streets.
Although quiet on a Sunday morning whilst we were present, remnants of Carnaval reminded us that the town was a hub of activity just days prior. It was a pleasure to walk around the relatively empty streets and explore the churches and take in the magnificent view of the tropical coastline below.
Our first stop was at a Benedictine church that was magnificently gilded in gold – albeit not nearly as much as the San Francisco Church in Salvador de Bahia. In fact, aside from the altar space, the church was rather modest actually, which was a nice change of pace to this believer who acknowledges the humble nature of Christ.
No Sunday service was taking place here just yet, but at the second church we visited mass was under way. And the acoustics in that sanctuary were remarkable. The beautiful music and vocals resonated with such power that I would have loved to sit down for a period of time to soak it all in had the tour not required us to move on.
The delightfully aged patina of the vibrant town paired with the surrounding dense foliage created a relaxed cocoon-like atmosphere that we found instantly appealing, and the local 4-star hotel villas and pool cradled in the center called to us to one day return. Leaving to explore the rest of Recife was worthwhile as we visited the local beach, craft center and government square where we encountered a rare form of rainbow in the sky above.
I just happened to look up at the morning sun to discover not the usual arc of a rainbow but rather a full spectrum ring encircling the bright solar orb, and what a sight it was (as you can see in the header image above). I had never even heard of such rainbows occurring and was utterly amazed by its sci-fi-like appearance which of course made for incredible photographs with the government buildings and palm trees below.
We were also taken to the umbrella strewn beach where a construction boom of new hotels is currently under way. The new buildings tower above the popular coastline and its sandy soccer fields. Last on our list of stops was a former prison that has since been creatively converted into a craft shopping center with the former cells now used as individual stores. The multilevel facility – as with most things in the city – was also well decorated for Carnaval.
It was such a pleasant surprise to return to the port and our ship with a welcoming party led by Azamara Quest’s incomparable hotel director, Philip. The crew was ready to bestow upon us refreshingly chilled towels and Sprite-fruit punch cocktails. All the while, the house band was also pier-side playing a fantastic set of jazz music. What a nice touch!
Our next and last port in Brazil is Belem at the mouth of the Amazon River which will surely be another highlight of this cruise itinerary.
Aqualina and Galley Tour
Yesterday, we also had an opportunity to tour the main galley which was interesting to see since Azamara cooks its meals a la minute as opposed to taking the usual assembly line approach required for larger cruise ships with thousands of passengers.
The smaller Azamara ships make it possible to dedicate more time to each and every dish that comes out of the kitchen, the effect of which is a noticeable improvement in flavor, portion and presentation.
The galley is actually situated one deck below the main dining room to dedicate more space to preparation and cooking before the meals make their way up via escalator to your table. The kitchen appears very similar to other cruise ships but the operations is quite different.
Most galley tours I’ve been on highlight a relatively empty kitchen, but a great deal of preparation and precooking was in progress from meats and pastries to soups and grilled items.
Last night was also our first experience in one of the specialty restaurants onboard at the Mediterranean-themed Aqualina. The food here was as we expected. Selections were generous and included cruise favorites like souffles and lobster. My halibut and salmon tartare appetizer was a flavor explosion with chunks of fish mixed with avocado and finished off with tarragon and citrus juice.
A second appetizer of goat cheese souffle with marinara sauce was equally tasty and was presented on a modern spiral-patterned dish. The piece de resistance, however, was a delectable surf and turf entree with a sizable portion of medium-rare filet mignon paired with an expertly prepared lobster thermidor. And then a delicate chocolate souffle. Tres magnifique!