Cruising the New Azamara

Butlers, inclusive fares transform journey By: Gigi Ragland
Azamara Club Cruises now offers butler service // © 2011 Azamara Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises now offers butler service // © 2011 Azamara Cruises

The Details

Azamara Club Cruises
www.azamaraclubcruises.com
In this era of cruising, the client has many new choices to consider, from vast mega-ship communities and innovative design and ship engineering to creative signature chef restaurants and exemplary itineraries for both big and small ships. So, what more could a well-traveled, cruise-happy customer want? Enter: Azamara Club Cruises.

Since the 2009 appointment of cruise industry veterans Larry Pimentel as president and CEO and Edie Bornstein as vice president of sales and marketing, Azamara underwent a branding and product enhancement makeover. Pimentel pinpointed the strengths and weaknesses of the brand by going straight to the source. He found out what Azamara guests really wanted by polling agents and cruise passengers, in addition to reading every guest comment card.

Now, gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff are included in the fare. Bottled water, sodas, specialty coffee and boutique red and white wines are included at lunch and dinner, as well as free laundry service and shuttle bus service at the ports. Meanwhile, feedback paved the way for creation of more destination immersion itineraries, including more overnight and late-night port stays. Success came quickly; since incorporating the added amenities and incentives the line has seen a significant increase in bookings.

Even though Azamara increased pricing with its rebranding, Bornstein maintains that the cruise line is still 30 percent lower and more inclusive of amenities than the closest competitors' whom they consider to be Yachts of Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Crystal Cruises.

A recent cruise on the line's Mexican Sea of Cortez itinerary onboard the Azamara Journey brought home the message. Upon entering my 266-square-foot Club Continent Suite with a veranda, I was greeted by my personal English butler, a feature in all suites. More than 85 percent of these butlers have trained at the Triple S Consultancy company that specializes in butler service training. Mine anticipated my needs and assisted me with restaurant and excursion reservations, bringing breakfast at the same time every day, offering afternoon tea daily and more.

Moving about the elegant 694-passenger ship was easy and, apart from the very popular Mosaic cafe (serving specialty drinks and sweets), without lines. I would often take my cap-puccino and homemade biscotti to the elegantly appointed library to read or check e-mail. Another temptation was the Looking Glass Lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows and a sumptuous afternoon tea buffet.

Azamara scores big in dining with its five restaurants, including the main dining room. For more casual fare, I dined at Windows Cafe for the lunch or nightly buffet and, after visiting Mazatlan, the chef brought in spectacular fresh shrimp and seafood to the pool deck for a Mexican-themed dinner buffet, complete with Mariachi band. The ship's Prime C steakhouse and Aqualina's Mediterranean seafood dishes gave us all a variety of tastes and atmospheres to choose from and, even though I was a solo traveler, I never felt alone, and I was often invited to join groups for lunch or dinner.
Azamara's two ships, Journey and Quest, will sail in 58 countries with 187 ports in the line-up. Many of the 2011/2012 itineraries offer one-of-a-kind experiences such as excursion packages to the Circuit de Monte Carlo car race and the Cannes Film Festival. 
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