On Friday, I’ll be posting an interview with Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, about how Azamara is defining its niche. The following post describes Azamara’s journey, after being launched in 2007.
To know the history of Azamara Club Cruises it helps to know the history of Renaissance Cruises. Originally founded in 1989 by a concern in Oslo, Norway, Renaissance Cruises was later purchased by Edward Rudner, founder of Alamo Rent A Car.
The pride of Renaissance fleet was eight brand new 684-passenger R-Class ships named R One, R Two, R Three, R Four, R Five, R Six, R Seven and R Eight — all built between 1998 and 2001.
Even as it continued to build new ships, however, the company struggled, and shortly after the September 11 attacks on the United States, Renaissance Cruises ceased operations.
The R-Class vessels, however, still had a lot of life in them, and they were highly desirable following Renaissance’s bankruptcy. Three of the eight vessels went to Princess Cruises, and three more were snapped up by Oceania Cruises. Azamara’s parent company, Royal Caribbean, purchased the ex- R Six and R Seven.
Initially, Royal Caribbean planned to roll these small vessels into the fleet of its upscale subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises. But company execs quickly realized (almost overnight) that the new vessels afforded them an opportunity to create an entirely new cruise line, one that would provide an upgrade path for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity guests who were looking for a more premium experience than the company’s current vessels could provide — and compete head on with Oceania.
When compared to Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises today, Azamara offers more intimate experiences aboard its smaller Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. When compared to Oceania, Azamara distinguishes itself by emphasizing — and delivering — destination-immersive experiences.
Inclusive & Immersive
One of the line’s best — and most distinguishing — features only came about this past year when the company created new, complimentary adventures ashore, dubbed AzAmazing Evenings, offered on every voyage. These special events take advantage of the line’s numerous late-night and overnight port stays.
AzAmazing Evenings kicked off in the spring of 2013 with a special event in Seville, Spain. During the complimentary excursion, guests visited the Andalusian capital of Semana Santa before continuing on to the Rock of Gibraltar to watch the Royal Gibraltar Regiment Band play at the renowned St. Michael’s Cave. Guests could choose between two concert times (5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.). Azamara even provided local canapés and cocktails, free of charge.
The second AzAmazing Evening was kicked off by Azamara Club Cruises’ President and CEO Larry Pimentel and his wife Sandi. The event took place in Sete, France, where guests watched the centuries old sport known as “Sete Joutes,” which dates back to 1666. Akin to water jousting, ten oarsmen climb into two boats for an all-out duel. Similar to the Gibraltar event, canapés and local French wines were available to guests.
The AzAmazing Evenings has become one of Azamara’s signature features. Other core concepts include continually creating opportunities for guests to experience cultural immersion, destination enrichment and night tourism. All Azamara sailings include either late-night or overnight port stays, some of which can span as many as three days.
At the start of the European season in 2013, Azamara began to include complimentary standard spirits, wines and international beers throughout the ship’s bar during regular opening hours.
Additionally, Azamara Club Cruises spent — and continues to spend — substantial sums in continually refitting its two ships, which are noted for their sweeping, Titanic-esque Grand Staircase and well-appointed staterooms. In fact, both ships were recently given an entirely new livery that has them looking better than ever: featuring dark, royal blue hulls with accented cheatlines.
Even with only two ships, Azamara sails to an astonishing number of destinations. The company offers itineraries in Northern and Western Europe, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Panama Canal, South America, the Amazon, Asia, Dubai, Transatlantic Crossings, and even voyages that explore the wonders of Antarctica — territory normally visited by expedition and some ultra-luxury vessels, such as Seabourn Quest. In 2015, Azamara Club Cruises will visit Australia for the first time.
Since its beginnings in 2007, Azamara has received accolades from top travel publications for its intimate ships, destination programming, and award-winning cuisine and service.
The company that was created almost overnight seems to have finally hit its stride in 2013. The little touches like the recent change of livery, the introduction of complimentary beverages and, of course, the AzAmazing Evenings program as well as a focus on destination immersion are key components that differentiate Azamara from its competitors.