By Paul Motter
This is one of those rare moments when I get to write my newsletter from a sailing cruise ship. I am aboard Azamara Journey, immersed in learning about new details from the cruise line as I also enjoy doing next to nothing.
Azamara Club Cruises, the smallest brand under the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. umbrella, has been making wonderful changes it is now eager to show the world. The idea is to give "upscale" cruisers a new cruise experience immersive with unusual destinations and at a price point that spells REAL value.
Just last July, 2009, cruise industry veteran, Larry Pimentel, took over Azamara Cruises. The following September Larry brought in his favorite second in command, Edie Bornstein, who formerly served with Larry at both Cunard and Seabourn, where she developed partnerships with brands like Canyon Ranch, Hermes, Dunhill, Waterford, Wedgwood, Veuve Cliquot (champagne) and Todd English.
Edie is a very dynamic cruise executive, the perfect counterpart to Larry's imaginative side. With both fully focused on Azamara, I see a cruise line suddenly differentiating itself by creating a brand with distinctive appeal to certain kind of cruiser on a very personal level.
Larry and Edie had no interest in making Azamara "all things to all people" as so many lines do. Instead, after they each sailed upon the ships, incognito, they poured over the customer comments from each cruise. They discovered a number of trends their customers did not particularly like about cruising in general, and they set about addressing those concerns.
Edie says, "When our economy had a global meltdown in 2008, many people, especially those who still had some money, started thinking far differently about how they wanted to spend that money. First of all, they wanted true value from a cruise purchase, and not suddenly discover a number of hidden charges they never expected. Secondly, they wanted to find cruises where just the right things were included in the cruise fare, but not too much to drive the cost higher - and not too little where they felt they were getting "nickel and dimed."
They looked at the incentives many of the luxury lines were giving; so-called "free airfare," along with "free" hotels, shore excursions, liquor all day long etc. Their studies showed that many people did not want to be paying for all of those so-called "included" costs - although some were welcomed.
Azamara decided to include wine with lunch and dinner. They now present a selection of various "boutique wines" that are appropriate to the current itinerary and offer those as complimentary with each meal. The oenophile who wants to spend more can always order another selection.
In the suites, Azamara decided to offer to full liters of hard liquor of the choice of the cruiser in the stateroom at no extra cost, along with free bottled drinking water and free soda from the mini-bar all day long.
In the bathrooms comes wonderful products from Hermes; hair dryers, bathtubs, bathrobes and slippers, binoculars and umbrellas. All of these things are included in the price.
Azamara no longer wanted to be identified with the its so-called "deluxe cruising" category, but it also didn't want to be in the luxury category either - where the number of things "included" in the fare had driven prices to up to unrealistic levels. So Larry and Edie coined a new niche for Azamara; saying it belongs to the "up-scale" market.
It has taken almost a year for "upscale" to define itself on Azamara, but we predict that as the word gets out in 2011 - corresponding with the same time the new itineraries designed by Claudius Docekal, previously with SeaDream Yacht Club, start to dominate the brochures, that Azamara will be known as a very special and elite cruise line where repeat passengers become good friends. This was also the reason Larry added the word Azamara CLUB Cruises to the name. He felt strongly that the feeling of "belonging" to the cruise line as a club means something to Azamara cruisers, and now that I see it in action I agree.
From what I have seen of Larry, Edie and Claudius, this is the kind of cruise line where you can put your trust in management and feel confident that any itinerary you book will be special. This line now feels like a family, and once you get on the ship you never want to get off.
Another new slogan at Azamara is "You'll Love the Places We Take You." And that corresponds to the idea that a two-ship cruise line should be able to offer you world experiences like Carnival in Rio, the Grand Prix auto race in Monte Carlo, New Years Eve at the Sydney Opera House and the famous film festival in Cannes, France. Those are the kinds of destination experiences Azamara has in store for you in 2011 and beyond.
With "destination immersion" as the new byword at Azamara, the average time in port has been expanded by over 50% per cruise. There are more ports per cruise and longer stays in port. Says port planner Claudius Docekal, "we even want to give you special nighttime experiences." For example, there will be an after-dark musical concert conducted in the ancient city of Ephesus as well as nighttime stays in famous resort cities like San Tropez, France."
All in all, I have always been a fan of destination-focused cruise lines, and Azamara is giving me exactly what I want in a cruise - great travel experiences with spectacular cuisine at a convenient and affordable price. This is one very special cruise line that I predict you will be hearing a lot more about.
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