Boutique cruise line, Azamara have added a third ship to their fleet and I was fortunate enough to be invited on board this week for the official naming ceremony and accompanying two day mini cruise celebrations.
I’ve never been to a ship naming ceremony before but bagpipes, bubbles, fanfares, spectacular fireworks and, not one but, two glamorous Godmothers ensured it was a suitably grand and memorable occasion.
Assembled guests included members of the press and travel trade luminaries but more importantly, a high proportion of loyal and highly valued past guests. This ‘Little Line’ as President and CEO, Larry Pimentel likes to call it may only be 8 years old but wins over new fans with every cruise – I spoke to several guests on board who had each notched up well over 20 cruises. Clearly they have found a winning formula.
Azamara Pursuit will add much needed capacity to the fleet but is not about to break the mould. She comes from the same stock as sister ships, Quest and Journey – the 690 passenger series of ‘R-class’ ships, all built between 1998-2001. In the intervening years, she has been through a number of owner and name changes but now, fresh from an extensive refit in Belfast, she slots perfectly into the Azamara family. If you’ve cruised on either of the other ships, you will instantly feel right at home. The decor, neutral colour schemes, brass stair railings, dark wood panelling, carefully curated art, quality furnishings and cabin design are practically identical across the ships. The only slight tweak on the Pursuit is that the Casino has been sacrificed in favour of The Den, a stylish and spacious mid ship cocktail lounge. There are also a few changes to some of the cabin configurations – the addition of two beautiful Club Spa Suites and 16 Continental Suites which are bigger than the Veranda Suites and with a 50% larger balcony.
More than the nuts and bolts of the ship itself though, it is the Azamara cruise experience that gets people hooked. Azamara Club Cruises can justifiably call itself a boutique cruise line with ships large enough to offer all the facilities you could want on board, but small enough to access ports and moorings inaccessible to the mega liners. That makes for some really interesting itineraries designed to maximise time in port including overnight stays where possible and varied, imaginative excursion options which offer authentic and memorable experiences.
When they first started, this focus on so called ‘destination immersion’ was a unique selling point but the competition has hotted up since and now the challenge is keep innovating to stay ahead of the curve. A trend of cruise and land combination packages is now emerging. This coming winter, Azamara Pursuit will be in South America and offering a series of cruises which offer the possibility of combining the cruise with 4/5 night extensions to Iguazu Falls and Macchu Picchu. After a summer in the Med she will then be heading to South Africa and the African continent opening up exciting possibilities for cruise and safari combinations. It makes perfect sense – whilst there are obvious benefits to exploring a country from its coastline, if you are investing in a long haul trip you don’t want to miss out on those truly iconic inland experiences.
Back on board, our mini cruise may have only been across the English channel but gave enough time to showcase one of Azamara’s signature cruise experiences. Almost every cruise (with the exception of transatlantic crossings) features an ‘Azamazing’ event – a unique ‘immersion’ (that word again!) experience designed to showcase a cultural aspect of the destination. The ferry port of Cherbourg must have had the creative team scratching their heads for inspiration but they rose to the challenge in style. The baggage hall of the rather beautiful Art Deco cruise terminal was transformed into a lively representation of a French Market, complete with flowers stands, musicians, stilt walkers along with samples of local cheeses, breads, patisseries and chocolates all washed down with champagne and a selection of fine wines. This was swiftly followed by a lively and exclusive cabaret performance of some French classics. This little montage gives a taste of the experience…
On our final evening the celebrations continued with another of Azamara’s signature events – the famous White Nights deck party. The late August, northern France climate proved a little challenging in the sartorial department (an all white dress code is so much easier when it’s balmy) but proceedings soon warmed up with the live band and ship’s singers doing a great job of getting everyone on to the dance floor. The drinks flowed, steaks and lobster sizzled away on the barbecue – what a fabulous way to toast a new ship! And there is only one appropriate toast – God bless her and all who sail in her 😉
To find out more about the Azamara cruise experience, check out my video review from a Med cruise last year on board sister ship, Azamara Quest.