Cruise editor Johanna Jainchill recently spent 10 days aboard the Oceania Insignia on a Mediterranean cruise. The following is the second of three reports on her observations and experiences.
By the time I got to Livorno, I began thinking that the Azamara Quest was following me.
I first saw the ship in Kusadasi, Turkey, while I was on the Crystal Serenity. The Quest was docked right next to us.
And there it was again about a week later, in Sorrento on Italy's Amalfi coast, this time shadowing me while I was on the Oceania Insignia.
When the Insignia arrived in Livorno two days later, I almost expected to see the Quest parked right next to us. And there it was.
While Oceania has publicly ignored the birth of Azamara, it must feel like it is being shadowed by the brand.
Sitting next to each other in port, the Quest and Insignia look almost identical. They are the same colors, both are R-class ships and both are descendents from the defunct Renaissance fleet. One passenger aboard the Insignia even asked an Oceania employee if Oceania owned Azamara.
Oceania, a 5-year-old line, became known for selling out cruises quickly. Sensing an opportunity, Celebrity Cruises created an offshoot called Azamara and acquired an R-class ship from sister line Pullmantur.
Azamara made an unabashed declaration that it would not only compete with Oceania but would be somewhat modeled after Oceania.
So far, Oceania has kept its prices well above Azamara's. While Azamara has endured some well-publicized growing pains in its first year of existence, Oceania was bought by private equity group Apollo Management and has two new ships on order.
With passengers onboard the Insignia saying they had to book a year in advance to get the cabin categories they wanted, it is clear that Oceania's model, and a ship of this size on these itineraries, are very popular.
So a successful Azamara would be good for cruise passengers. But in an industry that can't afford to become commoditized, an Azamara that distinguishes itself as something unique from other lines, including Oceania, might be even better.