Cruise Adviser

Azamara goes in pursuit of loyal guests and cultural immersion

Anthony Pearce attends the christening of Azamara’s third ship in Southampton, the first modern cruise vessel to be entirely refurbished by a British shipyard    

Azamara Club Cruises officially launched its third ship Azamara Pursuit during a naming ceremony
in Southampton last month. A firework display lit up the South Coast city ahead of a short sailing to Cherbourg, France, joined by travel agents and cruise media from both sides of the Atlantic.

The ship, which previously sailed under P&O Cruises as Adonia, was sold to the cruise line in March
2018, marking the first time rivals Carnival Corporation or Royal Caribbean have purchased from each other. Larry Pimentel, the company’s CEO and president, described the event as a “special moment in the brand’s history”.

Pursuit joins Quest and Journey in the fleet, meaning that Azamara now owns three of the eight ships (numbers six, seven and eight) built for Renaissance Cruises, the now defunct cruise line founded in 1989 by Fearnley and Eger Rederi. Oceania Cruises owns four, while Princess Cruises owns the remaining ship. With a capacity of 777 guests, Pursuit is slightly larger than Journey and Quest (696 guests).

Adonia was a firm favourite under P&O Cruises, and Azamara will hope Pursuit finds similar levels of support from its guests. The vessel, which also sailed under Swan Hellenic and Princess Cruises, made history when, operating under Carnival’s ‘social enterprise’ brand Fathom, it became the first ship to sail from the US to Cuba in half a century.

Pimentel said its introduction allows the company to explore new regions (Journey, for example, will now sail to French Polynesia and Hawaii for the first time), and allow greater ‘destination immersion’ – the cornerstone of the line’s offering, which Pimentel describes as “connecting guests to local culture”. In essence, it means more overnight stays and later departures than other cruise lines.

Pursuit will call at 73 destinations, including 15 maiden ports, such as Agadir, Morocco; Antofagasta, Chile; Fowey, United Kingdom; Lima, Peru; Maceió, Brazil; Seyðisfjörður, Iceland and Spetses, Greece. It will also sail the Beagle Channel, and itineraries will include 63 overnight stays and 73 late nights.

The ship will also explore Ireland, Scotland and, in 2020, South Africa, running 10-day cruises from Cape Town, Pimentel said. He added that the line will extend its pre-and-post offering, and will look to run rail and cruise itineraries in partnership with Belmond and Rocky Mountaineer, other tours with Cox & Kings, as well target the golf and cruise market.

Refitted in Belfast by the MJM Group at Harland and Wolff shipyard by 650 staff to the sum of £50m, Pursuit this year became the first modern cruise ship to be entirely refurbished in Britain. The ship has been fitted out in the colour palette – creams, mahoganies and greys – and similar furnishing of Quest and Journey, but retains some features that will be familiar to those who sailed on Adonia; for example, Azamara has kept the Golden Era-style grand stairway and much of the layout remains the same. A new area called The Den, which at one point contained a casino, features the elegant Spirits Bar and a piano. The ship also boasts impressive new ‘spa suites’.

Pimentel said that, currently, 20 per cent of its guests are first-time cruisers, which he puts down to ‘destination immersion’ and the fact that the line tends to sail from one region to another, rather than repeat itineraries, meaning guests can combine cruises.

Carol Cabezas, COO, added that Brits feel a strong connection to the ship, given its past incarnations, and currently account for half of all bookings (across the fleet, this usually stands at about 25 per cent). while Pimentel said that travel agent bookings are up 21 per cent.

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