Look for Azamara Club Cruises to become an even more formidable cruise competitor, as it adds a third boutique-style ship, Azamara Pursuit, to its fleet.
As Travel Agent reported earlier today, the new ship will allow the line to add 61 new destinations including many destinations in South America, Greece and other off-the-beaten-path spots across the globe.
Cruise Editor Susan J. Young spoke today briefly with Larry Pimentel, the line’s president and CEO, and here are highlights:
Beloved R-Class Ships: As agents know, Azamara's third ship is one of eight former R-class ships of the now defunct Renaissance Cruises, which built a modern fleet extremely quickly and suddenly ceased operations after 9/11.
Pimentel says Azamara Pursuit is the former R-8, the newest of those ships. Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest are the former R-6 and R-7. "Guests love the size of those ships because we’re not too small and not too big,” says Pimentel.
Ship Updates and Pricing: Recently, Azamara updated and sizably renovated/refurbished its two existing ships, stern to bow, including all staterooms and suites.
Pimentel says the ships were, in many ways, reconstructed. “It’s been exceedingly well received," he says. That type of updating is also planned for the third ship.
One gleaning about the post-update opportunities? "Our price point has increased by over 100 percent," he says.
Right-Sized for More Destinations: Now with a bigger fleet and the opportunity to create a global footprint, “we’re sitting in the right spot – our sweet spot,” he notes, as the ships can go to many destinations bigger ships can’t.
Highlights of the new itineraries include the line’s first voyage to Peru with an overnight experience to Machu Picchu, in-depth exploration of smaller Greek isles, and where Pimentel himself is eager to go to -- Iceland, with its fire and ice attractions.
The brand’s own sister lines, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, can’t go into 50 percent of the new ports that Azamara is adding, he says.
That could be because of the ship's draw, lack of port infrastructure and docking facilities, not-as-well-developed ground operations to handle thousands of guests or navigation issues.
The Draw of Programming: But Pimentel says it’s not just the ship, its size and the ability to effectively navigate into off-the-beaten-path ports. “What we do with the ship when we get to the destination, that’s what makes this product ‘hum,’” says Pimentel.
He gives the example of the special Cuba night experience at the Tropicana and says the line stays in Havana for three days.
Azamara's "Cruise Global, Connect Local" programming includes everything from AzAmazing Evenings, more overnights in port, late night stays in port, shore experiences with an authentic component, and overnights off the ship in certain destinations.
The addition of Azamara Pursuit will create 48 new late-night experiences, 19 new itineraries and 15 maiden calls. Pimentel says his guests are collectors – collectors of not just countries, but also ports, noting that one can visit the U.S. but going to Los Angeles and going to New York are two different experiences.
In addition, with 50 percent growth in guest capacity, it opens up more revenue opportunities for both agents and the line. He said the line is very full, often "heavily wait listed, so the addition of this kind of capacity is amazing."
Destination Immersion: Pimentel told Travel Agent that Azamara recently received official government licensing for use of the phrase “destination immersion," based on the line’s longer stays, more overnights and night touring all over the world.
Boomers Rule: Pimentel says there’s a media fascination and focus on Millennials, but “our average guest is 64 and it’s a Boomer audience.” He says they have more time and more money than any other sector.
That said, Pimentel himself has five Millennial children. and he says “they love the Azamara experience, they love getting off and exploring at night." They also like to take the biking tours.
He said most of the line's Millennial guests book shorter voyages, such as the four- to five-night cruise from Miami to Havana.
One plus for agents? Twenty-two percent of Azamara’s guests are either ‘new to cruise” or “new to the brand,” so plenty of opportunities for moving land-based guests to sea, or selling up from a contemporary or premium brand.