The announcement was made today by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman Richard Fain while on Celebrity Journey, which just arrived at the New York area's Cape Liberty Cruise Port after a massive -- and intense -- four-week refurbishment at Freeport's Grand Bahama Shipyard.
Celebrity, which took on Journey and Quest after parent company RCCL acquired the Spain-based Pullmantur, had originally planned to fold these 30,777-ton, 710-passenger boutique ships into its Celebrity Xpeditions sub-brand -- but it changed its mind. "We learned that these ships don't just constitute a slightly more upscale product than Celebrity," Fain said. "They are so distinct they deserve a line of their own."
Company executives have been frank about the fact that Azamara will compete primarily with Oceania Cruises. Celebrity President Dan Hanrahan told the assembled throng of travel agents and media in the ship's Cabaret Theater today that this style of cruising would be unlike anything ever offered by the line. As such, it not only deserved its own moniker but also would carve out a new cruise category: Azamara will, he said, be a "deluxe" cruise line (typically, cruise fleets are described as contemporary, premium or luxury; deluxe fits in between premium and luxury).
Azamara's distinctions from Celebrity Cruises include:
The line will be operated by its own team of onboard and corporate executives and hotel directors; some of them come from Oceania.
Azamara will, however, share a sales staff (and travel agency base) with Celebrity. It has also pulled its workforce from Celebrity's other ships....
Totally new innovations include all open seating dining and a pair of new alternative restaurants -- Prime C, a steakhouse; and Aqualina, featuring Mediterranean cuisine.
All cabins will have butler service and receive "concierge class" extras (on Celebrity, butlers and concierge class benefits are limited to higher priced categories).
In contrast to other lines -- where shore excursion personnel typically exist to sell, well, shore excursions -- these two ships will feature "excursion experts" who will offer more comprehensive information about ports of call.
Journey and Quest are both part of the R-series family of cruise ships. These ships comprise eight nearly identical English country house hotel-style vessels, which are operated under the auspices of Renaissance Cruises. When that line went bankrupt, the ships were sold to a variety of cruise lines, including Oceania, Swan Hellenic, Princess and Pullmantur. As a result of consolidation, the eight ships are now owned solely by Princess, Oceania and Celebrity/Azamara.
After a maiden season of New York-based cruises to Bermuda, Azamara Journey will embark on pathfinder type voyages to more off-the-beaten-track ports of call. In fall and winter, the ship will cruise to South America. Upon its debut, Azamara Quest, which will undergo a similar massive refurbishment, will sail exotic Caribbean itineraries; Quest will be in Europe in 2008.
The line is planning to introduce its first world cruise in 2010.
For more details on the ship's refurbishment, check out our Shipyard Snapshots: Celebrity Journey.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Image appears courtesy of Carolyn Spencer Brown.