Azamara's Larry Pimentel Talks New Ship and Future Plans

October 20, 2017
Azamara Pursuit

Much to the delight of the line's loyalists, Azamara Club Cruises recently announced that it had purchased P&O Cruises' Adonia and will transform the ship into Azamara Pursuit, the third identical ship for the line.

We spoke with Azamara president and CEO Larry Pimentel about the decision, what to expect from the new ship and the future of Azamara.

Cruise Critic: What's the story behind buying Adonia?

Larry Pimentel: We wanted to grow but wanted to do it the right way. We hold ourselves to the high standard of satisfying guests in a way that is financially smart. Having a ship is a business endeavor. We need the corporation to want to put money in smaller ships. The acquisition is a validation of the brand. RCCL has great ships from Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Azamara wants to be in the same arena when it comes to return on investment.

We're very excited. This offers promotions for the crew, and 50 percent more product for guests. We can go places we haven't gone and return to places we haven't been in a long time.

CC: How did you come up with the name, Azamara Pursuit?

LP: We grinded over the name. Our one objective was to find a name that was not in use on another ship that suggested our core brand's DNA. We're satisfied with the name [and don't have plans to change it.]

CC: Azamara Pursuit will spend months in dry dock. What kind of work will you do to the ship?

LP: We're going to reimagine Pursuit like we did Quest and Journey last year. It'll be like several dry docks put together [because Journey and Quest underwent several refurbishments between the time Azamara purchased them until the most recent upgrade]. We will have to reconstruct part of the ship to add Club Continent Suites.

We receive the ship mid-March in the Bahamas. We'll do statutory and class inspections of the hull and gear equipment. Then we'll take it to Europe for a dry dock -- likely a wet dock then a dry dock as the shipyards are not immediately available [part of why the refurbishment will take so long].

Ninety percent of the work will be in public facilities; the ship will look brand new [when the work is done]. There will be some technical things -- they'll work on the air-conditioning, pipes, etc. But it's not an overwhelming amount of work because R8 [Pursuit started life as Renaissance Cruises' R8] was delivered during the bankruptcy and sat unused for two years. It's way younger than her sisters [both because it was built later and because it spent more time sitting, not using its engines].

Azamara Journey pool deck

CC: With lots of luxury and upscale cruise lines announcing new ships in the coming years, are you concerned at all about filling the ship -- especially since you're increasing your capacity by 50 percent?

LP: I'm not worried about filling the ship. We had one unsold stateroom in the first six months of 2017. We've increased our tariff [ie, cruise fares] over 100 percent since I came to the company. A third ship is the validation of the brand's ability to make money. We now have more product, which is what the guests wanted.

CC: With a third ship, Azamara now has the ability to cruise to more destinations. Where will Pursuit go?

LP: On October 25, we will publish our new deployments. The disadvantage is that we usually publish itineraries two to years in advance. In October, Pursuit will have 100 percent of capacity for sale; by that time, we're usually 70 to 80 percent sold.

On the other hand, we can look at hotspots, competitors' itineraries, places where we haven't covered well or where we've covered but have sold out, so we have an advantage there [for creating desirable itineraries that will sell quickly]. We just have to check if there's room at the ports.

Expect new cruises to South America, South Africa, the Indian Ocean, more product in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. Over time, we'll wander into the Pacific and find more opportunities for Asia, the Orient, and country-intensive voyages.

CC: What else is in Azamara's future?

LP: New destination immersion plans are to be revealed. Stay longer and experience more. Look for more collaborations with named companies, such as our exclusive partnership with Perry Golf.

We're also developing rail-and-sail opportunities with Rocky Mountaineer, Orient Express and others. They'll be pre/post tours but sold as one price like cruise tours.

CC: Are you considering buying another former Renaissance cruise ship, such as Pacific Princess?

LP: I have a prejudice toward the R class; we now have R6, R7 and R8. It's all about timing and the right opportunity and financial metrics. I'm very interested in another R class ship under the right metrics, whether Princess or others.

CC: Azamara is so focused on destination immersion, would you consider branching into expedition cruises?

LP: We like where we're at but we do love the expedition space. There are mainly small operators in that space so it presents opportunities. I wouldn't mind looking at Azamara Expedition if we thought we could satisfy guests and make money -- but I'm happier to have our identical third ship.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor