Why the addition of a new ship is a big deal for upscale cruise line Azamara
Editor’s note: TPG’s Gene Sloan accepted a free trip from Azamara to attend a preview event over the weekend for its new cruise ship, Azamara Onward. The opinions expressed below are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the line.
It isn't often that a long-established cruise line grows by 33% in a single day. But that's what's happening today as 15-year-old Azamara welcomes a new vessel, Azamara Onward, into its fleet.
To be christened late in the day at a ceremony in Monaco, the 684-passenger ship is a sister to Azamara's three existing vessels (Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest and Azamara Pursuit), and its arrival thus will expand the upscale line's capacity by a third.
Azamara Onward's debut is a major milestone for Azamara, which never before has operated with more than three vessels at a time. The addition of the ship essentially ushers in a new era for the brand that will see it offer a broader array of itineraries than ever before.
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"Right off the bat [the arrival of Azamara Onward] means now we can do a world cruise," the line's president, Carol Cabezas, told TPG on Sunday during a one-on-one interview to discuss the impact of the arrival of the new ship.
Speaking on board Azamara Onward during a preview of the vessel for media and travel agents, Cabezas noted that Azamara had begun selling an epic, 155-day voyage on Azamara Onward that would include a nearly complete circumnavigation of the world — a first for the line.
Kicking off Jan. 5, 2024, the world-circling voyage will be by far the longest Azamara has ever offered. Until now, the most ambitious sailing the line has operated has been a 90-day sailing from Sydney, Australia, to London that took place in 2018.
"It has greatly exceeded every metric ... since we opened it," Cabezas said of early interest and bookings for the new world voyage, which is themed around the seven wonders of the world. "Clearly, having a fourth ship has been well received by our loyal guests and new guests."
Related: The ultimate guide to Azamara ships and itineraries
Along with allowing Azamara to add world cruises, the addition of a fourth ship also means the line can offer more departures of popular itineraries in places such as the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Cabezas said.
Azamara has long offered a mix of sailings in all major regions of the world, from Europe and Asia to North America and South America. But with just three ships, the line was limited in how often it could run trips in any particular corner of those regions.
"We had to give everybody a taste of everything," Cabezas noted. "But, for example, we might be able to do some intensive Greek isles for [one] particular month but then not again for the rest of the season. Now the things that are very [popular] we can do more of than in the past."
In general, Azamara is adding more itineraries that are "a little bit more of longer duration and exotic deployment," Cabezas said.
The ability to offer a broader range of itineraries is important to Azamara, as the brand is built around the concept of offering some of the most interesting itineraries in the cruise business.
Originally created in 2007 by Royal Caribbean Group (the parent company of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises), Azamara was conceived as a small upscale line that would offer a heavy "destination immersion" focus with lots of long days in port, including overnight stays.
In contrast to Royal Caribbean Group's namesake brand, Azamara is a line that is all about the destinations where it goes, not necessarily the ships themselves.
Royal Caribbean Group never invested much money in expanding Azamara. The brand initially launched in 2007 with two vessels, and Royal Caribbean only added one more vessel to the line’s fleet over more than a decade of owning it.
But now Azamara is owned by a new company that is committed to investing in the brand for growth: New York-based private equity firm Sycamore Partners.
The addition of Azamara Onward to the Azamara fleet is a sign of that commitment, Cabezas said.
Related: What it's like sailing an Azamara ship in the Mediterranean
Azamara Onward is, notably, not a new ship. Like the line's three existing vessels, it originally was built for Renaissance Cruises, a cruise line that ceased operations in 2001. All four of the ships were part of an eight-ship series built between 1998 and 2001 known as the R Class.
Sycamore Partners purchased the ship for the Azamara fleet from the vessel's last owner, Princess Cruises, soon after taking control of Azamara from Royal Caribbean Group in 2021. It had been sailing under the Princess banner for nearly two decades as Pacific Princess. It originally sailed for Renaissance Cruises under the name R Three.
The other four R Class ships are now part of the Oceania Cruises fleet and sail under the names Insignia, Regatta, Nautica and Sirena.
In advance of joining the Azamara fleet this week, Azamara Onward underwent a major, multimillion dollar overhaul that brought new and revamped lounges, bars and eateries.
The ship will spend the next six months sailing seven- to 15-night trips in the Mediterranean before repositioning to the Caribbean and South America for the winter.
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