Cathy reports from the Official Naming ceremony for Azamara Club Cruises third ship, the Azamara Pursuit.
Two have become three. Boutique cruise line, Azamara Club Cruises have added a third ship to their fleet and Silver Travel Advisor MD, Debbie Marshall and I were lucky enough to be invited on board for the official naming ceremony and accompanying two-day mini cruise celebrations.
Bagpipes, bubbles, fanfares, spectacular fireworks and not one but, two glamorous Godmothers ensured the naming ceremony itself was a 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. Among them, Silver Travel Advisor members Rose Pratt and her husband Steve and their cousins Liz and Malcolm Bryant. Rose got hooked on cruising when she won a holiday prize in a Silver Travel Advisor competition. She then went on an organised Azamara ship visit and has been on no less than 16 cruises with them.
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 had 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 exactly 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 from some really interesting itineraries designed to maximise time in port including overnight stays where possible and varied, well considered 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 2-night 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’ 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 musicians and stilt walkers and plenty of samples of local cheeses, breads, chocolates and patisseries and naturally, champagne and wine. This was followed by a wonderful exclusive cabaret performance of some French classics. This little montage gives a taste of the experience.
Our cruise came to a conclusion all too soon with another of Azamara’s signature on board events – their famous White Nights deck party. Even the weather played ball to provide a clear, dry night for guests to eat, drink and be merry.
It was the perfect way to end our Azamara taster cruise and to toast Captain Carl Smith and his crew as they sail away to new global adventures.
To get the full picture on the Azamara Club Cruises experience, check out Cathy’s video review of a Med Cruise on board sister ship, Azamara Quest.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.