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10 Months, 117 Ports: A Q&A With Ross Johnson

Ross Johnson, Azamara Quest Orchestra Musician
Ross Johnson, Azamara Quest Orchestra Musician

Hi, Ross! Thanks for joining us. So, how long have you been onboard the Azamara Quest?

Hello all, and welcome. It’s my pleasure. This is my third contract on Quest, but this contract started June 10th 2013, and I’m still going strong. In my position as an orchestra musician onboard, usually our contracts are 6 months, but owing to the itinerary primarily, I chose to extend before I’d even arrived!

What has it been like?

It’s been everything I wanted, expected and hoped for, and more, with a few twists, turns and surprises along the way. Seeing as this isn’t my first contract, there are certain aspects of the job that you can prepare for. However, the one thing I couldn’t prepare for with this contact was exactly how much there is to see in the world! One of the perks of being with Azamara is not only the incredible destinations that we visit, but the amount of time we stay there.

Ross took this photo in Hvar, Croatia, one of the many ports he’s visited over the past year.
Ross took this photo in Hvar, Croatia, one of the many ports he’s visited over the past year.

I can’t even begin to describe the friends I’ve made along the way; both guests and crew. When you’re onboard for 10 months, you’re going to see some familiar faces, and you really do get to know them. Recently, I was able to help celebrate a guest’s 80th birthday onboard. I met this couple on a cruise in June. We sat and had lunch on adjoining tables in a Créperia in Honfleur, France. Since then we’ve kept in touch, they cruised some more, and now I consider them dear friends who I always look forward to seeing. This is only one of many examples I have! I know it’s cheesy, but this whole experience really has been AzAmazing!

You began in Southampton, traveled through the Norwegian Fjords, and spent quite a bit of time in Europe before crossing the Atlantic to travel around the West Indies, Mexico and California. What are a few of your favorite places you’ve been to so far?

My favorite places? It’s a good job you said “places” because I wouldn’t be able to give you just one! I probably have a favorite place in each area that we’ve cruised in, although this is still difficult! I’m a city boy at heart so I’m drawn to that, but you can’t beat a quiet getaway every now and again.

One of my favorite cities in Scandinavia was Copenhagen. We called there a few times, and it would usually be an overnight, giving you a lot of time to explore the beautiful city. It’s fairly modern, very clean and distinguished, and very easy to explore, which is what you want when you’re only there for relatively short periods of time.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark

Another wonderful experience was visiting Iceland; not only Reykjavik, but Akureyri, a port hidden in a fjord on the Northern Coast. I participated in one of our Land Discoveries Tours that day, and saw a beautiful waterfall, many historical sites, sulfur pits and salt baths, a glacier and even a dormant (thankfully) volcano, all in 6 hours.

Travelling further south into the upper half of Europe shall we say, we visited Bordeaux & St. Jean De Luz; two beautiful French ports. What I love about Bordeaux is that we sail 97km through the river, under a raising drawbridge and dock for an overnight in the heart of the city almost opposite the Palais De La Borse. St. Jean De Luz is a beautiful anchorage to spend 36 hours, with so many tour options to Biarritz and San Sebastián. So much varied culture and beauty with plenty of moments to relax, with one of the best lunches I’ve ever had!

The Azamara Quest in St. Jean de Luz, France
The Azamara Quest in St. Jean de Luz, France

Biarritz, a world-famous upscale French resort town
Biarritz, a world-famous upscale French resort town

Now into the Mediterranean is when it becomes difficult to choose, as there’s so much variety. From the incredible cities of Barcelona & Monte Carlo where we visit annually for the Grand Prix, to the hidden gems such as Amalfi, Propriano, Portovenere & so many more, there’s always something for everyone. We spend many days there each season, but you can’t go wrong with Sorrento; I mean who doesn’t like endless pizza and pasta?

Portovenere, Italy
Portovenere, Italy

Through to the Adriatic, I have to say Kotor! Firstly the sail in is simply spectacular, the town itself is beautiful, and if you can manage the hike to the top of the fort, the view is worth much more than the effort!

Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor, Montenegro

Coming all the way across the Atlantic now, my favorite call in the Caribbean & West Indies has to be St Barts. The whole island is beautiful, and whether you want to explore, have a delicious lunch, relax at the beach, or all of the above, it’s all within close range. Also, being anchored there for New Years, seeing 140 Private Yachts was quite a site!

Ross in St. Barts
Ross in St. Barts

Travelling further West, my go-to places along the Mexican Riviera would be Huatulco, Zihuatanejo & Loreto for relaxing days by the beach or pool (as many resorts offer Day Passes) & Cabo San Lucas offers the adventure and thrill.

Huatulco, Mexico
Huatulco, Mexico

Out of this whole run, I must say one of my favorite days was in Quepos, Costa Rica. Our crew were invited to spend a day at this resort a little out of town. We found our way there, paid a small fee for a day pass, were escorted to the plaza which had a beautiful pool, sun loungers, a restaurant and bar of which the food was included in the day pass, and it all backed down onto a stunning beach. I almost didn’t want to leave!

Quepos, Costa Rica
Quepos, Costa Rica

Saying that I’m a city boy at heart was never truer after our recent three day visit to San Francisco. It was my first time there, and it was a wonderful three days. It was such a nice city to just “be” in, that I didn’t even do any of the touristy things. I didn’t do Alcatraz, I didn’t do the Golden Gate Bridge (other than sail under it twice), I didn’t do any of the museums. I simply enjoyed being in a beautifully diverse city for three days, and would happily go back given the chance.

Ross and a friend bundle up for the nighttime sail out of San Francisco
Ross and a friend bundle up for the nighttime sail out of San Francisco

Phew. I told you I couldn’t just pick one place!

You take great Instagrams and also tweet frequently from @AzamaraQuest . Are your friends back home jealous of all your travels?

Who wouldn’t be jealous! When you say it simply, I’m being paid to do what I love and wake up somewhere different every day. I applied thinking “what have I got to lose”, got the job straight away, and was flying to Venice 3 1/2 weeks later! I look back to all the places I’ve seen already, and can’t believe why I even hesitated. I’ve been very fortunate to have friends and family cruise with me several times this contract alone.

Ross and a friend in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Ross and a friend in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Personally, I believe in creating memories in each place I visit.It doesn’t actually matter how I spend the time, as long as I remember it, and I believe that photos play a big part in memories; of the places I’ve seen, of the people I’ve met, of the experiences I’ve witnessed.

You perform onboard as a pianist. What are your other roles onboard the ship?

Well as you said, my main role onboard is the orchestra pianist. This keeps me busy enough with production shows, guest entertainers, jazz sets, church services, deck parties, etc. Being the only pianist onboard that sight-reads music, I do all the extra little bits basically. I’m also the step-up Musical Director onboard, so I cover when my boss goes on vacation. This obviously involves a lot more paperwork as it’s a managerial position, but one that I love doing, and find that I excel at.

I’ve kept myself very active this whole contract with the Crew Welfare Committee, making sure that our crew have the best possible time during their contract. We plan events, activities, parties, tours, the lot.

I’m also now the official iPad Tutor onboard! We run three group classes, as well as private sessions too, and these so far are proving very popular. So many guests travel with their tablets and cell phones now, but don’t necessarily get the most out of them, so I’m the one to the show them how!

What’s up next for you, Ross?

Next for me? Well I have 3 1/2 cruises left of this contract, which will take me back to Europe, and then I go home for a much-needed vacation! No doubt I’ll run around England trying to see family and friends for the entire six weeks, maybe even cramming a little work in there if possible. I then return to Quest after six weeks, just in time for the Grand Prix Gfor a four-month contract during the summer, taking me through the Mediterranean to the Greek Isles and the Black Sea, somewhere I’ve not been in several years, so I’m looking forward to it.

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  1. Ross are you able to play any Ludovico Einaudi? A tough call I know. Will be on the Quest for the 8 night Nice – Rome from 22 April.