Azamara Club Cruises – Uncharted Territory
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When I informed friends and family that my partner and I were taking a Mediterranean cruise, most often the next question would be on what cruise line or ship. I would answer “Azamara” and there would be a strange look or a pause, followed by “what is that” or “who are they”. Azamara Club Cruises was a bit of “Unchartered Territory” for me and I think for most people. They are relatively unknown in the cruise industry and I think brand awareness will be their biggest challenge moving forward.
For those that don't know or are curious, Azamara Club Cruises is a brand of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., who also owns Celebrity Cruises and a couple other brands based outside North America. Azamara is a boutique cruise line with just two 30,277 gt ships, small by today's standards. They are relatively young cruise line, having been formed just a few years ago in 2007. The two ships are called AZAMARA JOURNEY and AZAMARA QUEST, and for all intents and purposes they are identical although there are a few minor variations. It's sort of interesting how Azamara came to be. The two Azamara ships were operating under a Spanish cruise line called Pullmantur when Royal Caribbean purchased the line. These two boutique ships really didn't fit within the Pullmantur fleet, so Royal Caribbean decided to reallocate them to their more premium brand Celebrity Cruises. In all honesty the ships didn't quite fit within Celebrity either, so pretty much last minute Azamara Cruises was formed, later to become Azamara Club Cruises. Because of the last minute brand creation, Azamara got off to a rough start, with a rushed refurbishment of the first ship and an onboard product that was lacking. In addition those first passengers thought they were boarding a Celebrity ship and later found out they were actually cruising on Azamara. Strange to say the least! Fast forward a few years and today Azamara has it's own management team and brand identity, and some points of distinction that really set Azamara apart. Some of those distinctions include complimentary wine at lunch and dinner; sodas, water and specialty coffees at no additional charge; included gratuities; no formal dress nights; and complimentary shuttle service in many ports. Probably the main point of distinction is that Azamara is a destination oriented cruise line, offering longer stays in port and even overnights on many itineraries.
Now that you know a little bit about who and what Azamara Club Cruises is, allow me share details of my recent journey onboard AZAMARA QUEST sailing from Rome to Athens on October 8, 2011.
I'm an avid cruiser having sailed on some ninety cruises on lines ranging from Silversea to Carnival. I was a little skeptical about Azamara, mainly because I was never attracted to the class of ships they operate, even though I never sailed on one. This is the same reason I never sailed with Oceania Cruises, since they operate the same class of ship. This particular class of ship is often referred to as the “R-Class”, after their original owner Renaissance Cruises. Renaissance was very ambitious and ordered eight almost identical ships, and rather unceremoniously named them R1 through R8. These ships were designed right around the time the movie Titanic was being introduced, and Renaissance exploited that connection the best they could. The interiors were rather ornate, fussy, and perhaps overdone in an attempt to recreate that opulent feeling of Titanic. In any case Renaissance had some bizarre policies and eventually failed leaving eight almost identical ships up for sale. Today Oceania Cruises operates three, Princess Cruises has two, P&O has one, and Azamara has two. Oceania and Azamara have completely refurbished their ships, bringing them to an ultra-premium level with each line offering their own points of distinction. For my personal style, I prefer the Azamara refurbishment because they toned down that fussy style a bit, and made the ships a bit more contemporary looking. This was mainly accomplished through new carpets and upholstery, some new furniture, and contemporary art. I think the end result is quite pleasing, and to my surprise I have become quite a fan of this class of ship. The size at just under 700 passengers is perfect, as it's never crowded and there are no lines. The ship is big enough to offer many of the amenities found only on the mega-ships, such as an elaborate spa and fitness center, cabaret lounge for evening shows, and multiple dining options. Standard cabins tend to be a little on the small side, but they are very comfortable and Azamara has done an excellent job refurbishing them. Some of my concerns about the R-Class did end up being valid, and those would be somewhat limited deck space with a small pool, no open forward facing views, no way to walk the open decks from the front to the back of the ship. In addition there is no wrap around promenade deck. In the end these minor design faults certainly did not impact my enjoyment of the ship or cruise.
The itinerary for my cruise was as follows:
Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
Chania, Crete, Greece
Some of the key onboard figures were:
Captain: Carl Smith
Hotel Director: Ryszard Gusmann
Cruise Director: Russ Grieve
Guest Relations Manager: Ngawhira Fleet
Executive Chef: Fabio D Agosta
We arrived in Rome a day early and stayed at the Sheraton Medici not too far from the airport. It was fine for one night and it enabled us to become acclimated to the time change. We used RomeCabs for our transfer from the airport and then again for the 45 minute ride to the ship at Civitavecchia. They provided excellent service and we have used them before.
Boarding the AZAMARA QUEST was a breeze, with no lines for check-in or to board the ship. We were greeted with a warm welcome, music, and a glass of champagne which was a nice touch. Cabins were not ready so we were able to check our hand luggage and head up to Windows (buffet) for lunch. I believe the cabins were ready right at 1:30pm.
We resided in what Azamara calls a Club Continent Suite. Our cabin was 8044 located directly midship, port side. Soon after arriving our Butler and Cabin Steward introduced themselves. We were shown all the features of the suite and advised of their services. Our Butler quickly stocked the refrigerator with our beverage preferences and pointed out the movie menu in case we wanted to watch any DVD's. Waiting for us was a bottle of sparkling wine and four ½ bottles of complimentary liquor for our personal use. The suite was nicely laid out with a very comfortable bed, sofa, and lounge chair with ottoman. I liked the small white pillows embroidered with the Azamara logo. Nice touch! There was a large flat-panel interactive TV, a DVD player, refrigerator, safe, and plenty of closet space. The bathroom was spacious by cruise ship standards and included large bottles of Elemis shampoo, soap, body wash, and lotion as well as cotton balls and q-tips. We had a full size bathtub as well. Water pressure was adequate but not what I would call great. We had a lovely private balcony with table and chairs along with a small lounge chair. The table and chairs were perfect for enjoying room service outdoors. Being in a suite we could order room service off the dining room menus, but we never did this. The only room service we took advantage of was breakfast. It was always delivered promptly by the Butler and nicely set up with linens and full place settings on the table.