New Ships for Azamara Club Cruises?

February 4, 2011
Azamara-Club-Cruises-Ship (12:28 p.m.) -- Could the analysts be wrong? A week after Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain quelled rumors at the company's earning call that it was thinking of selling Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara's president Larry Pimentel announced that the luxury-lite cruise line could begin expansion plans as early as next year.

According to TTG Live, Pimentel told a U.K. audience that a year from now, Azamara could be announcing either the building of new ships for the line or the acquisition of existing ships to bring into the fleet. “We have support from the chairman, the board, and the enormous giant that is Royal Caribbean, so yes to expansion plans," the publication quotes him saying. Currently, the Azamara fleet consists of two ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, both former Renaissance cruise ships.

Royal Caribbean confirmed that Pimentel spoke with the media during his U.K. visit, and, according to company spokesman Harrison Liu, "he did say that growth was in order for the brand should he and Azamara continue to achieve successes, and historically, Larry has been a catalyst for growth."

An expansion plan would also be in keeping with Fain's optimism about the brand, which has struggled to find its identity, changing from Azamara Cruises to Azamara Club Cruises in 2010 and adding more luxurious touches and inclusive elements to its cruise experience. "We are not interested in selling either the brands or the ships," said Fain during the earnings call. "Azamara has actually had probably the biggest increase in our fleet in terms of both passenger satisfaction and of pricing (percentage-wise)."

And in fact, Royal Caribbean is focusing again on new-builds, revealing that it's working on a new series of ships, although no deal has yet to be signed. Plus, one of Azamara's competitors -- luxury-lite line Oceania, which also has a fleet of former Renaissance vessels -- is launching its first-ever new-build, Marina, this weekend (Cruise Critic will be on hand for the christening). So it's clear that expansion is on the minds of many in the industry.

We'll keep you posted.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor