Azamara Club Cruises
Cruise Reviews by Cruise Critic
Azamara joined the industry ranks in 2007 when Celebrity Cruises, also part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. family, announced its newly refurbished Celebrity Journey. 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. The line was re-branded and became Azamara Club Cruises in April 2010. It competes with other up-market cruise lines such as Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises. 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. When the line first entered the market, 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 has also promoted Destination Immersion, which translates into longer stays, more overnights and night touring. With more time in port, Azamara passengers often have time to visit nearby towns and countryside, and have dinner in local restaurants (an idea the line promotes through its "Cruise Global, Dine Local" initiative). The line also offers options for overnight excursions to inland cities like Berlin, Madrid and Moscow, and trips to UNESCO World Heritage sites like Bagan and Angkor Wat that require full days or longer. Azamara's shore excursions focus on arts and culture, food and wine, guided historic tours, hiking, kayaking and biking, often in small groups; visits to homes, estates and farms are often offered. "Nights and Cool Places" are small-group tours that highlight arts, architecture and scenery after nightfall, perhaps as part of a private river tour or museum tour. The line's Cruise Global, Eat Local program guides passengers to enjoy dining where the locals eat.
Azamara's two-ship fleet, which comprises Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, started life as Renaissance's R6 and R7, respectively. In the mid- to late-1990s, 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. There are no firm plans to expand the fleet beyond Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest.
Azamara Club Cruises Fleet
Azamara Club Cruises' fleet ? Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest -- serves up a delightful ambience that's a hybrid of luxury and destination immersive cruising. The ships, which hold only 686 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 Azamara Journey and Azamara 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. In 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 in 2009 -- 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, select standard spirits, international beers and wines, gratuities, bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas, self-service laundry, shuttle service to and from port communities, where available and Concierge services for personal guidance and reservations. Suite Passengers also receive English butler service, complimentary Internet minutes, one free bag of laundry service, as well as other perks such as free dinners in the specialty restaurants and afternoon tea service. The line also holds AzAmazing Evenings event on most voyages. 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 contemporary Italian cuisine, 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 included. 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.
Azamara attracts a baby-boomer customer, who is active and well-traveled looking for port-intensive itineraries that include marquee cities and offbeat places. About 45 percent of Azamara's passengers come from North America, about 20 percent from the U.K., 10 percent from Australia and the rest from the rest of the world.
Quest and Journey ply the waters of Europe (Eastern and Western Mediterranean, and Northern Europe's Baltic and Norwegian Fjords) during warm weather months. During the fall and winter, the ships wander the globe, sailing to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Panama Canal, South America (including the Amazon River), Asia and the Middle East.