Azamara Club Cruises
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OnboardAzamara Cruises' fleet -- Journey and Quest -- serves up a delightful ambience that's a hybrid of luxury and big-ship cruising. The ships, which hold only 694 passengers, offer a superb blend of amenities (multiple dining venues, a casino, plentiful balcony cabins, and a quite generously-sized fitness facility). Yet they are small enough to feel friendly and cozy. Their size allows them to call at smaller, more offbeat ports and dock closer to cities that, in many cases, require larger vessels to tie up in outlying cargo ports.
While Journey and Quest are by no means new ships, they've aged beautifully. Credit Azamara's parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., for making a significant investment in refurbishing the vessels when it acquired them. There has also been an ongoing effort to keep the ambience fresh and contemporary. As recently as November 2012, Quest was in for an eight-day dry-dock that, in addition to a new paint job on the ship's hull, provided updates to soft furnishings in public spaces, a new steam room in the fitness center and a new caviar and champagne bar in onboard for-fee eatery, Aqualina.
Under the stewardship of Larry Pimentel -- former chief of Cunard and SeaDream, who joined the line a few years ago -- Azamara has blossomed. It has earned outstanding marks by Cruise Critic members for dining, service, decor, shore excursions and value for money. The line, already more inclusive than most other non-luxury cruise companies, offers complimentary house wines at lunch and dinner, specialty coffees, bottled water and soda. It includes gratuities in cruise fares. Beginning spring 2013, it plans to ramp up its value quotient by adding newly inclusive extras; it will feature free standard wines, international beers and spirits during all bars' opening hours. It also will launch a new program of "52 Destination Events," a free, special-event shore excursion available to all passengers.
Azamara's dining is one of its standout features. Each ship has four restaurants, and all are open-seating. Discovery, the main venue, is open for breakfast, lunch (while at sea) and dinner. Prime C, the steakhouse, and Aqualina, with a Mediterranean influence, are dinner-only. These two restaurants are the only to levy a fee: it's $25 per person to dine in Prime C and Aqualina, unless passengers are booked in suite cabins, in which case it's free.
Windows Cafe, the well-designed, compact buffet venue, offers casual cuisine (and occasionally a theme-oriented repast, such as freshly prepared sushi). Other venues include the pool grill for sandwiches, the Looking Glass Lounge for afternoon tea and the lovely Mosaic cafe coffee bar with its included-in-the-fare snacks and beverages.
Travelers on Azamara will easily find healthful food options that range from sushi to smoothies, as well as fitness options like personal training and healing spa treatments.
The line, which favors destination-intensive itineraries over long cruises with lots of sea days, is gradually improving its enrichment programs, choosing primarily to focus on lecturers with expertise in the history and culture of the region in which ships are traveling. You can also find activities on improving computer skills, organized Bridge, recipe demonstrations and wine-tasting. A casino is located smack in the middle of the ship; you can't miss it.
In the evenings, Azamara offers a range of options, from music revues in the Cabaret Lounge, its main theater, to dancing to live bands in the Looking Glass, its secondary venue. The can't-miss event on any Azamara cruise is the once-a-journey pool party, weather permitting (our favorite: The White Party).
The dress code is resort casual.
About Azamara Club CruisesAzamara joined the industry ranks in 2007 when Celebrity Cruises, also part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. family, announced its newly refurbished Celebrity Journey would become the flagship of Azamara Club Cruises (then called Azamara Cruises). Azamara Quest joined the fleet not long after.
Celebrity took on Journey and Quest after RCCL acquired the Spain-based Pullmantur. It originally had planned to fold these 30,777-ton, 694-passenger boutique ships into its Celebrity Xpeditions subbrand -- but changed its mind. "We learned that these ships don't just constitute a slightly more upscale product than Celebrity," RCCL Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said at the time. "They are so distinct they deserve a line of their own."
The modest size and high crew-to-passenger ratio of the Azamara twins produce a more personalized and attentive level of service than their larger Celebrity cousins.
Azamara Club Cruises competes primarily with Oceania Cruises, and the travel agency community bills both as "deluxe" cruise lines. (Typically, cruise fleets are described as bargain, mass-market, premium or luxury; deluxe fits in between premium and luxury.) At Cruise Critic, we define this category of cruises as "luxury lite": upscale service and food, small ship coziness and unusual itineraries, such as Asia, the Middle East and South America -- at a value price point.
During its fledgling existence, Azamara struggled to make its mark in the deluxe cruising niche. In 2009, luxury cruise industry veteran Larry Pimentel -- an executive with 25 years of experience working with lines such as Cunard, SeaDream and Seabourn -- took the helm. Pimentel has introduced a raft of changes with an emphasis on creating more immersive itineraries and, in a nod to the true luxury players, making the overall product more inclusive.
Azamara Club Cruises FleetAzamara's two-ship fleet, which is comprised of Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, started life as Renaissance's R6 and R7, respectively. In the mid- to late-1990's, Renaissance Cruises had embarked on a major expansion plan, building eight nearly identical "R-series" ships. After the company went out of business in 2001, a variety of cruise lines acquired the ships -- and today they're operated by lines such as the U.K.'s P&O, Oceania Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd and, of course, Azamara.
At this point, there are no plans to expand the fleet beyond Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest.
Fellow PassengersAzamara attracts an older (but active) well-traveled group looking for port-intensive itineraries that include both marquee cities and offbeat places. Different itineraries will attract different demographics; for instance, the line's shorter Caribbean sailings will skew slightly younger. Overall, Azamara's passengers come from all over the world, are primarily English speaking and are particularly based in North America, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.