Skift Take

One new ship for most cruise lines wouldn't make a world of difference, but for these niche brands, the expansion will be significant.

Two of the cruise industry’s smallest lines — the two-ship Azamara Club Cruises and three-ship Cunard Line — are getting a bit larger.

Azamara, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Cunard, part of Carnival Corp., both announced last week they are adding a single ship.

The Azamara addition, set to be delivered in March, will look familiar to fans of the boutique brand: It is a sister to the two vessels already sailing, Quest and Journey. The three were the final ships built for Renaissance Cruises, which went out of business more than 15 years ago.

Royal Caribbean bought what is now called Adonia — a 704-passenger vessel that sailed as part of Carnival’s now-defunct Fathom line from April of 2016 to June of this year and now is part of P&O Cruises — to join the Azamara fleet.

“I think the brand excitement and enthusiasm is difficult to describe,” said Larry Pimentel, Azamara’s president and CEO. “It effectively grows the brand by 50 percent. For us, it’s substantive.”

After undergoing upgrades to resemble renovations done recently on the existing two vessels in the brand, the new Azamara ship — which will be called Pursuit — is slated to start sailing in August of 2018.

Pimentel would not say how much Royal Caribbean Cruises paid its competitor Carnival Corp. in the deal.

He said the new ship will enable the brand to meet high demand; in the first six months of the year, Pimentel said, the line had just one empty stateroom and waiting lists for many trips. Having more capacity will also allow Azamara to visit new destinations, though itinerary details are not yet available.

Adonia, which once sailed for Carnival Corp.’s Fathom brand, will join Azamara Club Cruises and be renamed Azamara Pursuit.

Observers have long wondered when Azamara, which fosters a casual vibe onboard while focusing on destination immersion, might expand. Pimentel said the line has had an eye on growth for awhile.

“We have been looking at ships and we have been looking at brands in an acquisition mode waiting for what we thought was the right opportunity,” he said. “What we didn’t want to do was grow too fast and in the wrong way. This is not the wrong way.”

Pimentel said he considers the addition of Azamara Pursuit to be “a gateway to future growth” that doesn’t necessarily exclude the possibility of building a new ship at some point.

“The amount of excitement as judged by the number of Web hits, as judged by the amount of social media, is almost like I’ve announced a brand new ship,” he said. “It’s really gratifying to see the hundreds of emails from guests, from travel agents, from people in the industry saying ‘Boy, this was long overdue, you guys deserve this.’ They’re really truly excited for us.”

Unlike Azamara, Cunard is adding a new vessel. The 3,000-passenger ship is expected to be delivered in 2022, and it’s a stretched version of the platform used for Holland America Line’s Koningsdam.

Like Cunard’s other ships, it will be named after a British queen — which one has not been announced — and will hearken back to a more glamorous era.

Cunard, which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2015, is known for its British service and formal touches including afternoon tea, special onboard occasions, and dressed-up dinners.

“This is not the fourth Cunard ship, this is the 249th Cunard ship,” said Josh Leibowitz, the line’s senior vice president for North America. “You’re really coming into this legacy….There’s so much history.”

When it arrives, the new vessel will be the first for Cunard in 12 years. Queen Elizabeth launched in 2010. And 2022 will mark the first time since 1998 that Cunard will have four ships sailing at once.

Leibowitz said the new ship will allow the brand to cater more to North Americans, where demand has grown 20 percent year-over-year, and make it possible to offer additional short cruises.

In an announcement, the line said the new ship is part of “the company’s ambitious plans for the future of Cunard globally.” Though the price for the new ship was not disclosed, the line has spent more than $172 million to refurbish two of its older ships, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria.

“We’ve got a significant amount of demand for this brand,” Leibowitz said. “What we’ve been doing with the brand, you can revel in the history and revel in the future. People want to connect to the past but consider it very current.”


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Tags: azamara, carnival corp., cruising, cunard, royal caribbean cruises

Photo credit: Cunard Line will add a new ship to its fleet in 2022. Another small cruise line, Azamara, is also growing by one ship. Cunard Line

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