The May christening of Azamara Cruises’ 684-passenger Azamara Onward is more than just a new ship being added to the line’s fleet. It’s a celebration of the company’s independence. Once part of the Royal Caribbean portfolio, the company was sold to Sycamore Partners with plans to leverage the small cruise ship company’s destination-focused approach over flashy onboard amenities as an independent niche player in the cruise industry.
It competes within the same space as other upscale lines like Oceania Cruises, but was not growing at the pace it would have liked under its previous ownership. President Carol Cabezas shares her thoughts on the company’s growth plans, its major expansion with a fourth ship and potential plans for its popular, yet small, loyalty program.
Newly independent, where will Azamara be in ten years?
Azamara is still searching for its “end point.” We’re taking things slowly to make sure growth is strategic, especially as things transition out of the pandemic. There will be more ships, but there are no plans to announce just yet. While some things may change, the focus on destination immersion remains the same. This includes staying longer in each port than many other cruise lines, hosting more overnight port calls and the company’s famous Azamazing Evening experience (a complimentary gala event for all passengers in an iconic location on each sailing).
A major push right now is reviewing plans for pre and post-cruise activities. These land-based trips are part of Azamara’s portfolio, but often involve iconic destinations near our ports of call like Machu Picchu in Peru or add-on safaris in parts of Africa. The company had planned an entire catalogue of trips that were sold just before Covid-19, but nothing ever happened due to the pandemic. At the moment, the company is looking at ways to restart those offerings in a way that is relevant to the new way that people are traveling.
How do you decide what onboard changes to make?
Azamara teams think long and hard before changing anything when a new ship is added to the fleet. This is part of an overall strategy to appeal to a broad, but loyal, audience and increase engagement on board. Azamara Onward features the new Atlas Bar, in place of the library, that is drawing rave reviews. The head of hotel operations came up with the idea after seeing something similar in New York. The craft cocktail bar serves dramatically prepared drinks with light bites. Its sleek design with large windows overlooking the pool and surrounding scenery is a huge hit and is complimentary for people purchasing the premium beverage package. Depending on how guests respond, the concept will be expanded to other ships.
Azamara Onward will also feature four new signature shows, a new chef’s table in one of the signature restaurants and an expanded onboard orchestra.
Is Azamara looking at expanding its destinations?
Yes. Few cruise lines were sailing to West Africa before, and it is one of our highly popular itineraries with intrepid and worldly guests now. It sold out quickly. Adding a fourth ship is important for Azamara not for expanding destinations as much as it is for increasing the frequency of our existing itineraries. Adriatic and Mediterranean sailings are in huge demand, and now there can be more of these each season in each destination.
Azamara has the largest number of unique ports in Greece of any cruise line in the industry, and this helps draw a lot of business. The itineraries go beyond the standard ports of Santorini or Mykonos and visit smaller islands that many travelers have not visited. Having more time in port in unique cruise destinations draws a lot of travelers to Azamara.
During the Grand Prix in Monaco this year, Azamara had two ships and was the only cruise line to do so. It gave guests an easy opportunity to be a part of this major sporting event without having to pay for a hotel. It fits well with Azamara’s focus on destination immersion.
How does the world cruise sell?
That has exceeded every metric, and it was unclear how popular that would be coming out of the pandemic. The only previous blueprint to follow was the world journey from 2018. Compared to that, four times as many guests are joining Azamara’s next world cruise for the entire 155 days than in 2018. The company has also opened up individual segments for sale, and that has sold very well with people wanting to do a few weeks of the world cruise.
Will there be major changes from Sycamore Partners?
No, they have been clear that they want to maintain and grow this niche in cruising. Small ships and more time in port are what keep bringing people back. The newest addition to the fleet, Azamara Onward, has more Ocean View staterooms. The familiar “white night” party on every sailing will remain, too, with an extravagant buffet on the deck with live entertainment. Self-service laundry, included gratuities, and complimentary house spirits, soft drinks, beer and wine (two white and two red changing daily) will also remain as popular perks.
What changes are coming to the loyalty program?
There will be some changes to it as the company transitions off the same platform that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity was using and builds its own. This means the reciprocity in elite benefits will not continue, but it also gives the brand a chance to create a new program from scratch. Recognizing that the company is smaller for loyalty program members (with no more exchange perks on other lines), Azamara Circle members can expect some new perks that they can enjoy on Azamara sailings. These are still in the works.
People are staunchly loyal to Azamara, and they will not lose any points they have accrued. In fact, there is one British couple who has sailed over 500 nights just with Azamara and attended the christening ceremony of Azamara in Monte Carlo. To draw such fans, the company must be doing something right.