Azamara Going All Inclusive in 2013

| 10.02.12

The "upscale" cruise line now includes on-shore adventures, beverages and gratuities in the cruise fare.

Azamara will include beverages and gratuities in the cruise fare

On the same day when its closest competitor, Oceania Cruises, announced upgrades to its "frequent-cruiser" program to include pre-paid gratuities and discounts on drink packages for guests who have already sailed at least 110-days cruising, Azamara Cruises answered the challenge with an upgrade to its entire cruise offering for everyone from the first day.

Beginning with the first European voyages in 2013 Azamara cruises will come with the following benefits for everyone on the cruise:

  • Pre-paid gratuities included in the cruise fare.
  • Complimentary alcoholic beverages like wine, beer and spirits, as well as soda, bottled water and specialty coffees will be available throughout the ship during bar hours. Dinners (and lunch) will come with an added selection of special international wines and beers.
  • Each cruise will now include a special event dubbed the "AzAmazing Evenings,"on one evening during the cruise for all guests onboard. Examples of these special events include a night at the ballet in St Petersburg, Russia, or a polo match in St. Tropez, France.
  • Free shuttle services will be provided in every port of call where needed to reach the nearest place of interest.
  • Butlers will be provided in all suites, and every guest will have access to concierge services throughout the cruise to arrange special dinners, shore tours or rental cars, for example.

Are you a fan of Azamara Cruises? Tell us here: Azamara Cruises

What This Means

If you are not a regular cruiser you may not realize that in the past only the most exclusive cruise lines have included gratuities and alcoholic beverages in the cruise fare. This level of inclusiveness has been the reserve of the "luxury" category of cruise lines which typically cost as much as $500 per day per person; such as Seabourn, Silversea, Regent and Crystal Cruises. In fact, even Crystal only went fully inclusive as of 2012.

Taking this step towards inclusiveness has Azamara drawing a sharp line between two distinct approaches to cruise offerings;

  1. Mainstream cruise lines where the cruise fares have been kept down but more and more onboard offerings now come with an added service charge.
  2. More inclusive cruise offerings like European river cruises, which tend to include wine with dinner and all shore tours in the cruise fare, have become some of the most successful and profitable sectors in the cruise industry.

Competing with Oceania

What is interesting about the two cruise lines that mostly comprise the "upscale" cruise category; Azamara and Oceania, is that both lines sail the exact same model of cruise ships, the former "R-Ships" that were originally built by Renaissance Cruises in the 1990s. There are eight of these ships in service all together with Azamara having two, Oceania having two, Princess having two (plus one transferred to P&O) and one now sailing for Hapag Lloyd.

But competitor Oceania now has the advantage of having two beautiful, brand new ships (Marina and Riviera) to compete with Azamara. Oceania also just announced upgrades to its loyalty program on October 1st, 2012, just hours before this new Azamara announcement was made.

Both cruise lines specialize in port-intensive itineraries including overnight stays in many ports of call, as well as gourmet cuisine and personalized services onboard like butlers and concierges.

But the bottom line is that while the "hardware" on Azamara is not as attractive as what Oceania can offer, the "software" (defined by cruise lines as the onboard service amenities) is now arguably more attractive than the amenities Oceania includes in its cruise fare for every guest.

Bordering on Luxury

In the case of pre-paid gratuities and alcoholic beverages included in the cruise fare Azamara is now offering a cruise experience that includes many of the amenities offered by what have been traditionally considered luxury cruise lines. But the one area where Azamara cannot truly compete with luxury cruise lines is in the level of solitude and space offered on luxury cruise ships.

Most luxury cruise lines have ships with standard staterooms large enough to qualify as "suites" on Azamara. The former R-ships were not built to be luxury ships, they carry close to 700 passengers on ships of about 30,000-gross tons. Most luxury cruise ships of about 25,000-tons only carry about 250 passengers, or else they are larger at 50-60,000-tons and they carry roughly 600 to 900 passengers. In any case, the point is that while Azamara is offering luxury cruise style services and amenities, the actual vessels are slightly less impressive than typical luxury cruise ships.

But the value proposition for Azamara, which was already very competitive with luxury cruise ships, is now to the point where Azamara stands to see a migration of many luxury cruisers to its ships. When luxury cruisers are asked why they are willing to pay extra for the "lux" experience, a very commonly cited reason is the "freedom from having to sign for things." The inclusive nature of the cruise experience is far more important than the floor plans of the vessels.

Azamara is taking a clear step towards a far more upscale experience, but it remains to be seen whether Azamara will raise its cruise fares to cover the cost of what it now includes in its cruise fare - although it seems logical that this should happen, in fact cruise pricing is a very competitive and sensitive area so one should not be assume this is a certainty. The line will not raise fares if it has a negative effect on cruise sales.

Bottom Line

Although Azamara sails older ships with smaller staterooms, the inclusiveness of amenities it will begin offering with 2013 cruises will be greater than its competitors. I believe this will be a very successful strategy for a cruise line that is already known for its high value and quality of service.

Are you a fan of Azamara Cruises? Tell us here: Azamara Cruises

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