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
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
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.
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
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
Prime C Restaurant is an upscale
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
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
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.
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
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.