In something of a surprise move, parent company Royal Caribbean International announced the formation of an all-new, deluxe cruise line in 2007. Two vessels originally slated for service in the Celebrity Cruises fleet, which were built for now-defunct Renaissance Cruises and acquired with the purchase of the Spanish cruise line Pullmantur, were the basis for the new line, Azamara Cruises. Designed to offer exotic destination-driven itineraries, Azamara Cruises presents a more intimate onboard experience while allowing access to the less traveled ports of call experienced travelers want to visit.
When a cruise line sets a course to break the mold in an industry where the product falls into traditional categories—mainstream, premium, luxury—it’s an exciting opportunity for experienced travelers who may want more than what a traditional cruise can deliver. More interested in traveling than cruising, they may still prefer the comfort and convenience that only a cruise ship can deliver in some exotic locales. Azamara Cruises gives this underserved group of travelers what they want—a cruise experience that’s a bit different. Not quite luxury but more than premium, Azamara offers a deluxe cruise with concierge-style amenities for which you’d have to upgrade to a suite on other cruise lines.
In addition, since its launch Azamara Club Cruises has added a number of more inclusive amenities to passengers’ fares, with no charge for a specific brand of bottled water, specialty coffees and teas; shuttle bus service to/from port communities, where available; house wine served at lunches and dinners; and complimentary self-service laundry.
Extensive overhauls of two ships that formerly sailed for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises have resulted in interiors that are brighter with the addition of light, neutral carpeting throughout, and splashes of bold color in the upholstery and drapes. Areas that once appeared stuffy are now welcoming, with contemporary artwork further enhancing the decor. Each vessel weighs in at 30,277 tons and carries only 694 passengers. While the size affords a high level of intimacy and makes the ships easy to navigate, there is no skimping on features normally abundant on larger ships, such as private balconies and alternative dining. Cruisers may feel that they’ve checked into an upscale boutique hotel that just happens to float.
One distinguishing feature of Azamara is a wide range of enrichment programs to accompany the destination-rich itineraries. Popular programs include guest speakers and experts on a wide variety of topics, including destinations, technology, cultural explorations, art, music, and design. Lectures might include how to get the best photos from your digital camera or the proper way to pair wine and food, as taught by resident sommeliers. An onboard “excursion expert” can not only help you select shore excursions based on your personal interests but also will serve as a destination guide, offering information about the culture and history of each port of call. Entertainment, on the other hand, leans toward cabaret-size production shows and variety entertainers in the main lounge. Diverse musical offerings throughout the ships range from upbeat dance bands to intimate piano bar entertainers.
Expect dinner favorites to have an upscale twist, such as gulf shrimp with cognac and garlic, or a filet mignon with black truffle sauce. Azamara chefs bring a fresh approach in contemporary and lighter cuisine—a reflection of what’s happening all over the United States. Even though the menus list some trendier items, there will always be classic dishes available. Prime rib and other favorites will continue to be featured on the menu.
Specialty restaurants include the Mediterranean-influenced Aqualina and the stylish steak-and-seafood restaurant Prime C. Passengers in Club Suite accommodations may dine in the specialty restaurants every night of the cruise at no charge; all other passengers pay a cover charge. Guests booked in Club Veranda, Club Oceanview, and Club Interior staterooms will be guaranteed two specialty restaurant dinners per cruise. For the remainder of the voyage, stateroom guests are welcome in the specialty restaurants based on availability. Daily in-cabin afternoon tea service and delivery of canapés is available to all passengers.
Fitness and Recreation
In addition to a well-equipped gym and an outdoor jogging track, features of Azamara’s fitness program include yoga at sunset, Pilates, and access to an onboard wellness consultant. Both ships offer a full menu of spa treatments, an outdoor spa relaxation lounge, and an aesthetics suite featuring acupuncture, laser hair removal, and microdermabrasion.
Azamara is designed to appeal to discerning travelers, primarily American couples of any age who appreciate a high level of service in a nonstructured atmosphere.
Although passengers who choose to wear formal attire are certainly welcome to do so, there are no scheduled formal nights. The nightly dress code is simply “sophisticated” casual—a jacket and tie are never required, but you may see that many men who are accustomed to wearing them will do so anyway.
Azamara Cruises is adult-oriented and not a good choice for families who depend on the availability of child care. The ships have no facilities or programs for children; older teenagers, however, might appreciate the diverse itineraries and well-stocked library.
Gracious and polished service throughout the ships is extended to every guest. Suite accommodations are served by a butler, who will assist with unpacking/packing; delivery of room service, plus afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres, and complimentary cappuccino and espresso; shoe-shine service; and booking assistance with spa, shore excursions, and specialty dining. Stateroom attendants work in teams, and routine stateroom cleaning is done by an assistant steward, much as on other cruise lines.
Housekeeping and dining gratuities are included in the fare. A standard 18% is added to beverage charges. It is recommended that a $5 per person gratuity be extended when dining in the specialty restaurants.
Once you’ve sailed with Azamara Club Cruises for the first time, you will automatically become a member of Azamara’s loyalty program, “Le Club Voyage,” and receive benefits commensurate with the number of cruises you’ve taken, including such things as onboard bookings savings for future cruises and free Internet minutes. Adventurer members have been on at least one Azamara Club Cruises cruise. Explorer members have sailed five to nine cruises and get more perks, including an invitation to a senior officer’s cocktail party, and a complimentary bag of laundry washed, dried, and pressed per week. After 10 cruises, you become a Discoverer member and can take advantage of expanded Internet minutes and other perks. Azamara Club Cruises also offers Reunion Cruises that feature exclusive members-only benefits, activities, and a private, complimentary excursion during the sailings.
Choose This Line If
Your taste leans toward luxury, but your budget doesn’t.
You prefer leisurely open seating dining in casual attire to the stiffness of assigned tablemates and waiters.
The manner in which you “get there” is as important to you as your destination.
Don’t Choose This Line If
You want an all-inclusive cruise; alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are not included.
You require the services of a butler; only suites have them.
You insist on smoking whenever and wherever you want to.
Since Azamara is a member of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) family of brands, repeat cruisers are offered reciprocal membership benefits to members of Celebrity Cruises’ Captain’s Club and Royal Caribbean International’s Crown & Anchor loyalty clubs.
You may bring two bottles of wine per stateroom aboard for free, but you must pay a $25 corkage fee if you bring your own wine to one of the dining rooms (none if you drink it in your cabin).
Smokers are restricted to one lounge and a small section on the pool deck; all other public and private areas are no-smoking.
Good to Know
Although there’s little glitz, there’s a lot of glamour to be found on an Azamara cruise. More upscale than premium lines, Azamara doesn’t quite hit the luxury mark, yet the worldwide itineraries and diverse shore experiences reflect those of a high-end product at a more affordable price. Care was taken to repurpose underutilized spaces when the ships were renovated. The addition of the Sunset Bar aft of the buffet restaurant fills a previously bleak space with a congenial gathering spot. Ingenious transformations for other areas include a deluxe boutique tucked into a corner of the lower lobby and the covered patio area near the pool furnished with comfortable, oversize loungers and other seating. Total occupancy was also cut slightly by converting 48 standard staterooms into spacious Sky Suites.