pimentel.jpgThe phone call from Royal Caribbean chairman Richard Fain came from out of the blue, and it must have seemed like a dream come true for Larry Pimentel (left). “How would you like to run a cruise line?” Richard asked Larry. It wasn’t the whole of RCCL, mind you, but the infant Azamara, whose two ships are a tiny fraction of the entire fleet, which also includes the Celebrity brand.
“I want you to create an upmarket space,” said Fain. And he had come to the right person. During his career, Pimentel has been in charge of Cunard, Seadream Yacht Club, and Yachts of Seabourn.
Azamara was founded in 2007, using two of the 694-passenger ships which had once been part of the now-defunct Renaissance Cruise Line. Three of their sisters now form the core of the Oceania fleet, and another – currently sailing as Royal Princess – will next year join P&O as Adonia.
As the Azamara Quest and the Azamara Journey, they were not earning as much as Fain had hoped. It’s Pimentel’s job to change that, and he visited London a few days ago to explain to travel agents how he proposes to do it.
The first step has already been taken, with a small, but apparently significant change of name to Azamara Club Cruises, and a decision to include a number of extras, such as gratuities, house wine, bottled water, and shuttle buses, in the fares instead of charging extra.
More significantly, itineraries have been tweaked and cruises have been slowed down, so the ships will spend more time in ports such as Istanbul, Sorrento and St Petersburg. As Larry put it: “Most ships spend the day in Nice and leave in late afternoon. What’s the point, when the town only comes alive at night?”
Some overnight excursions are planned, including a tour from Bangkok to Laos, and a Grand Egypt tour featuring the best of Luxor and Cairo. When Azamara Journey visits Greenwich for three nights in June, Rod Stewart will be on stage at the O2 arena, and I’m sure nothing would please vice president of sales Edie Bornstein more than to take a party from the ship – except perhaps if Rod were to decide to have a party on the ship.
About 14 per cent of Azamara’s passengers are from the UK, and the plan is to increase that to 25 per cent – about 12,000 people a year.
They can expect an “upmarket” experience – Larry refuses to allow the ships to be described as “luxury” because of the connotations of conspicuous consumption.
He can’t deny that there will be plenty of consumption on board, whether it will be what Edie describes as “decadent dining experiences” or by passengers spurning the free house wine in favour of a selection from the 8,000-bottle cellar on board. They’ll just have to do it inconspicuously.
If Larry gets it right, he’ll be able to fulfil another ambition, and order a new-build ship to add to the fleet.