The line says it spends more time in port than any other cruise brand. // © 2017 Azamara Club Cruises
Feature image (above): Azamara anticipates that its 2018 Iceland sailings will be highly popular. // © 2017 Azamara Club Cruises
Eight years after taking over as president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, Larry Pimentel has complete validation of the approach he espoused from the beginning: Find a clear niche, and pursue it. His recipe for slower, destination-immersive cruising has been so successful that Azamara, with its two ships filled and waitlisted, is now adding a third vessel and spreading into a host of new ports. Pimentel believes it is vital for a cruise line to have a distinct identity that enables an agent to qualify clients correctly; the burden can’t rest entirely on the agent’s knowledge of the consumer.
“Others have copied our approach — and they should, because it’s very successful,” he said. “We had only one empty cabin in the first six months of this year. What got us to this point is making sure that guests have access to experiences you can’t just find on Google, where they have time to really explore the destination by day and evening. We spend more time in port than any other cruise line, period.”
The line’s newest ship, Azamara Pursuit, will visit 61 ports where the other two ships aren’t sailing; 15 of these are in destinations never visited before by Azamara: Agadir, Morocco; Antofagasta, Chile; the Chilean Fjords; South America’s Beagle Channel; Fowey in the U.K.; Laguna San Raphael, Chile; Lima (Callao), Peru; Maceio, Brazil; Monemvasia, Greece; Pisco (San Martin), Peru; Salaverry (Trujillo), Peru; Samos, Greece; San Antonio, Chile; Seydisfjordur, Iceland; and Spetses, Greece.
Pimentel says Azamara is especially focused on its Greece and Iceland sailings, which are both popular destinations with travelers and have a number of ports that have little visitation. Pursuit, an exact sister ship to Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey — down to its Club Spa Suites — is small enough to sail into the two destinations and, as on other itineraries, will provide a complimentary AzAmazing Evening shore excursion. For example, in Rhodes, Greece, passengers will attend an exclusive performance of Sophocles’ "Antigone" at the ancient marble Tafros Theater.
Future deployment will mix regions on all three ships rather than specialize in particular destinations.
“We do this as much for the crew as for the guests,” Pimentel said. “We find that when we go to more places, the crew extend their contracts. When someone leaves, their skill set leaves with them, and we have achieved very little turnover, including in senior management.”
Pursuit’s former life was as Adonia, the last of Renaissance Cruises’ R Class ships. Although Azamara will take delivery of Pursuit in March, it will undergo an extensive refurbishment directed by Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president of newbuild and innovation for Royal Caribbean Cruises, and his team before debuting next August. The group was responsible for last year’s updates of Quest and Journey, in addition to masterminding everything from Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice-class ships to the upcoming Celebrity Edge, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class and much more.
Pimentel says that while Pursuit will sail South America’s Beagle Channel, its technical updates will not include ice class. The emphasis will instead be on the ship’s reconfiguration of accommodations and public spaces. Azamara also plans to bring onboard some of its most experienced crew to ensure that clients can expect the same standard of service.
Azamara may well be the culmination of Pimentel’s rich career as the former president and CEO of Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club and Cunard Line. With Azamara, he is taking his understanding of the market and creative branding to an even higher level, and he is by no means finished with his work.
“We are doing very well, but I want us to go further, to push the envelope hard,” he said. “The world is three-quarters water, and I have a lot of creating left.”