A Quest for Change

Azamara sets a course to break from stereotypes

By: Linda Coffman

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Plush padding tops poolside
loungers on Azamara Quest
Do you really think these ships belong with Celebrity?”

That was the question posed by Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines when faced with integrating two newly acquired medium-sized ships into the Celebrity Cruises fleet. Obviously, the answer was a resounding “no” and the result is Azamara Cruises, an entirely new cruise line and deluxe cruising concept.

In an industry where the product falls into three traditional categories contemporary, premium, luxury when a cruise line sets a course to break out of these stereotypes, it’s an exciting opportunity for travel agents. While experienced travelers aren’t always adverse to the idea of cruising, they often want more than what a traditional cruise delivers. More interested in the travel aspect than the cruise, they want the comfort and convenience that only cruise travel can deliver. Azamara Cruises has recognized this under-served group of travelers and intends to give them what they want a cruise experience that’s a bit different. The nightly dress code is simply sophisticated casual a jacket and tie are never required.

Azamara Cruises is all about visiting far-flung destinations that your clients have only dreamed about and getting them there on exclusive ships where they’ll enjoy superior cuisine in a pampering atmosphere. Not quite luxury, but more than premium, Azamara offers a deluxe cruise with concierge-style amenities you would pay extra for by upgrading to a suite on other cruise lines.

Azamara Quest
Formerly christened R7 for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, Azamara Quest is the ideal size for her new role. At 30,277 tons, she carries only 694 passengers. While the size affords a high level of intimacy and makes Azamara Quest easy to get around, there is no skimping on features normally abundant on larger ships, such as private balconies and alternative dining.

Azamara spent nearly $20 million on Azamara Quest’s makeover and it shows. My initial impression was that the ship looked like it should have when it first sailed in 2000. Where it once appeared stuffy, it’s now welcoming. Azamara has hit a home run in terms of comfort and style. Interiors are brighter with the addition of light, neutral carpeting throughout and splashes of bold color in the upholstery and drapes. Contemporary artwork further enhances the decor.

Forward and high atop the ship, the observation lounge is more open and airy; the casino has been expanded without totally diminishing the appeal of the adjacent lounge with its faux fireplace; an all-new Mosaic Cafe is a natural fit for the upper lobby; and the Sunset Bar aft of the buffet restaurant fills a previously underutilized space with a congenial gathering spot. Ingenious transformations for other under-utilized spaces include a deluxe boutique tucked into a corner of the lower lobby, the covered “patio” area near the pool furnished with comfortable oversized loungers and seating, and the relaxation area forward of the spa that also includes thickly padded loungers and seating, plus a thallasotherapy pool. There is a $99 per cruise charge for un-limited use of the relaxation area and therapy pool.

Worthy of note, as expressed by Cruises, Inc. agent Amber Blecker of Aurora, Colo., is that “this is essentially a non-smoking ship. No smoking is allowed in cabins, on balconies or most areas of the ship except the aft portion of the Looking Glass Lounge on the port side and the starboard side of the pool deck. That means you aren’t walking through a smoke-filled casino on your way from dinner to the Cabaret Lounge. It also means the Luxe Casino Bar is a good place to gather in the evening for drinks and conversation.”

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Prime C Restaurant is an upscale steakhouse
with a premium wine cellar
Elizabeth Blau, a major player in the Las Vegas food revolution, is at the helm of Azamara Cruises’ dining program. She brings with her a fresh approach in contemporary and lighter cuisine a reflection of what’s happening all over the U.S. Even though the menus list some trendier items, she assured us that there will always be classic dishes available. Prime rib and other favorites will continue to be offered. While Celebrity Cruises has long had a reputation for fine dining, Azamara’s food costs are 40 to 50 percent higher than Celebrity’s and account for its superior quality.

Discoveries, the main dining room, serves meals in open seatings. With distinctive menus for 14 days, passengers on lengthier cruises will have more options, and less repeated dishes.

Specialty restaurants Prime C and Aqualina require reservations. Guests accommodated in staterooms receive one night of complimentary dining and suite guests receive two nights of complimentary dining. On those nights, the reservation fee is waived. Prime C has a $25 per person reservation fee (includes gratuity, but excludes alcoholic beverages). Aqualina has a $20 per person reservation fee (includes gratuity, but excludes alcoholic beverages). For Aqualina’s Tastings menu, the fee is $50 per person (does not include gratuity but includes wine). Note that the complimentary nights exclude the Tastings menu at Aqualina, as the $50 fee covers the wines that are included.

Mosaic Cafe offers specialty coffee and tea, a selection of pastries and savory items by day and tapas by night. Certain items are complimentary; others incur a modest charge. The extensive buffet includes pizza and sushi and offers seating either indoors in Windows Cafe or outside in Breeza. The Pool Grill, as the name suggests, is where burgers, hot dogs, fries and items from a small salad bar are served poolside. Room service is always available from a set menu, however, during regular dining room hours you can order from the Discoveries menu.

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Guestrooms Azamara Quest’s casual dining
options include Windows Cafe.
Total occupancy was cut slightly by converting 48 standard staterooms into spacious Sky Suites and updates throughout feature all new carpets, wall coverings and upholstery. Staterooms have a fresh boutique hotel look with deep-toned drapes and bed coverings. Beds are plush European-style mattresses piled high with duvets and pillows. Added amenities include a small refrigerator, Elemis toiletries and such extras as a bottle of Evian water, stationery, tote bag, slippers, fresh flowers, fruit basket and the use of robes, binoculars and an umbrella.

All accommodations are served by a butler, whose services include assistance with unpacking/packing; delivery of room service, plus afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres and complimentary cappuccino and espresso; shoeshine service; and booking assistance with spa, shore excursions and specialty dining.

So, is the butler simply a glorified cabin steward? Well, that depends on individual expectations and whether guests want the butler to do things they would normally take care of themselves. Azamara strives to offer passengers pampering and personalized service and they are certainly off to a good start.

While 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.


After a winter season in the Caribbean, Azamara Quest will sail to Europe offering Mediterranean cruises; and Azamara Journey will spend the winter in South America and Antarctica before setting sail for Mediterranean and Baltic cruises in Europe. In 2010, Azamara Journey will explore over 50 ports of call in more than 25 countries in 112 days during Azamara Cruises’ first world cruise.


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