‘Destination Immersion’ Azamara refreshes its grande dames

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Larry Pimentel can be forgiven for mixing metaphors when he chats about Azamara Club Cruises, the Royal Caribbean brand that recently underwent a fleet-wide makeover.

In Azamara’s case, “fleet-wide” is two ships.

As the cruiseline’s president and CEO, Pimentel affectionately refers to it as “a very interesting jewel in the Royal crown” while “we are so small that we’re about a dot on a gnat.”

“So we are punching well above our weight.”

Early reviews of the refreshed ships – Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest – are better than anticipated for a project that risked jangling the Old World charm of the 15-year-old ships and the guest loyalty it has engendered. Instead of the five or six point uptick in guest satisfaction that was anticipated, the scores were twice that. There’s even a rumor that the project is being considered for an elite design award.

“We were not looking for splashy, not looking for Las Vegas,” Pimentel says. “We were looking for a sense of refinement. It’s allowed the ships to be small, intimate, elegant and something that appeals to this global citizen that we seem to handle with quite a good amount of success.”

The reason Pimentel and his team were looking at all was that the two Azamara ships were visibly tired, particularly when compared to the spectacular newness of RCL’s most recent fleet additions, Harmony of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas.

For two years, Azamara and its designers and architects pored over every inch of both ships, comparing samples of paint, carpet, linens, furniture, fixtures, lighting, cuisines – everything in every place, before making their choices and sending each ship to dry dock earlier this year.

Although publicly referred to as Reimagine Azamara, in house such updates are referred to as “revites,” short for revitalizations. Each one took only two weeks to produce the “fresh, elegant and contemporary style” that was the goal.

This included building two new spa suites on each ship that offer private access to the revitalized spa and exercise center. Throughout, color palettes included creams and muted browns and greens and other earth tones, while lighting was brightened, such fixtures as bathroom sinks were contemporized, and what are now travel requisites – reliable Wi-Fi and all the plug sockets needed for today’s personal electronic devices – were installed.

Pimentel explains that while Azamara’s journeys are all about Destination Immersion – giving guests more time in port to spend with locals, to explore and to get a better understanding of other cultures – the time had come to consider the ships themselves as destinations, just like Royal Caribbean’s newest ships.

One of the biggest tricks, Pimentel says, was coming up with revites that would appeal to the truly international clientele Azamara attracts – just 43 percent from the U.S. and the majority from a wide variety of countries.

“We have to be in a bit of a centrist position with respect to appealing to all of these different nationalities,” he says. “That’s an art form.

“So there is at Royal, I think, products for everyone, and that’s not an insignificant notion. The notion is recognition that all guests are not created equal, and neither are all cruise lines.”