A brand-new cruise line joined the industry ranks in 2007 when Celebrity Cruises announced that its newly refurbished Celebrity Journey would become the flagship of Azamara Club Cruises (then called Azamara Cruises). Azamara Journey was soon joined by Azamara Quest.
Celebrity, which took on Journey and Quest after parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. acquired the Spain-based Pullmantur, had originally planned to fold these 30,777-ton, 694-passenger boutique ships into its Celebrity Xpeditions sub-brand -- but changed its mind. "We learned that these ships don't just constitute a slightly more upscale product than Celebrity," said RCCL Chairman and CEO Richard Fain 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 both are billed 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 -- a man with 25 years of experience working with lines like 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's approach -- smaller vessels with personalized service and an atmosphere more like an actual ship than a palatial resort -- is becoming an endangered species nowadays. The ships offer a superb blend of big-ship features (multiple dining venues, a casino and a quite generous fitness facility) in a size that contributes to a cozier, more social cruise experience.
The cruise line's upgrades to the original R ships include the addition of 32 "Sky Suites" on Deck 8, and improvements across the spectrum of cabin categories, such as new linens, carpeting, artwork, and in-suite televisions and programming.
Cruise fares include house pours of wine with lunch and dinner, specialty coffees, bottled water and sodas, basic gratuities, self-service laundry, and coach shuttles in some ports.
Dining is all open seating in the main "Discoveries Restaurant," and a pair of alternative restaurants -- Prime C, a steakhouse; and Aqualina, featuring Mediterranean cuisine. Both alternative restaurants levy a surcharge of $15 per person.
Travelers on Azamara will easily find healthful food options that range from sushi to smoothies, as well as fitness options, such as personal training, and healing spa treatments. The line is also increasingly featuring active shore options, such as cycling and kayaking, on its tour menus.
Azamara's on-shore immersion offers cruise travelers more in-depth port opportunities. For instance, some itineraries include overnight stays in places like Ho Chi Minh City, Livorno (for Florence), London, St. Barth, St. Tropez, Warnemunde (for Berlin). Shore tours have also been enhanced, with new excursions created for passengers with specific interests. For instance, the line added a Ferrari driving tour in Civitavecchia, Italy; Croatian liquor tasting in Zadora; and an Imperial Russian Court evening at Tsarskoye Selo in St. Petersburg. As well, multi-night tours will take passengers into non-traditional cruise territory. Options include a two-night trip from Bangkok to Laos; an overnight visit, via bullet train, to Hiroshima and Osaka; and a three-night journey from Mumbai to the Taj Mahal.
Dress code is resort casual.
The line has done away with the confusing "every cabin comes with butler" feature it introduced in the early days. (The general verdict was that these butlers were little more than glorified cabin stewards.) Now, Azamara butlers, who only serve passengers in suite accommodations, receive formal training at an English butler school.
Azamara attracts an older (but active) well-traveled group looking for what are for them hitherto unvisited ports of call. Different itineraries will attract a different demographic; for instance, the line's shorter Caribbean sailings will skew slightly younger. Overall, Azamara's passengers represent a roughly even split between North Americans and "other," other being comprised of a healthy serving of Brits and smaller contingents of Europeans and Australians. Again, the breakdown of nationalities will be somewhat dependent on itinerary.