Agents applauded Azamara Club Cruises’ new series of signature night excursions, saying they will help the two-ship line stand apart from its competitors.
Azamara recently announced it will include at least one complimentary ship-wide nighttime shore event on every cruise, starting in 2013.
The line will also make standard beers, wines and spirits complimentary. In anticipation of the increased costs, higher cruise fares will go into effect Nov. 1, but passengers can book 2013-14 cruises that include the evening events and complimentary beverages at current prices through the rest of October.
The night excursion concept has been tested four or five times this year, including a trip in Tuscany to the Castle of Verrazzano that featured a private opera concert.
Azamara said its two 700-passenger ships can comfortably handle a shipwide disembarkation for the tours.
Bonnie Buchanan, a CruiseOne agent in Tucson, Ariz., said the evening concept isn’t new and has been done on Regent Seven Seas world cruises, for example.
But she said it offers something of value to the customer.
“The Azamara passengers are seasoned, veteran cruisers who are looking for something different than the big megaships,” Buchanan said. “So many times, they want to go out in the evening but are not comfortable going out on their own.”
Sharon Burnhardt, co-owner of Westside International Travel in Los Angeles, agreed, saying, “This is something that the customer wants.”
While it is still putting together the details of many excursions, Azamara released some examples, ranging from a private ballet performance in St. Petersburg, Russia, to a sherry-tasting and equestrian show in Jerez, Spain.
“Some of these were expected, but some of the other ones are out of the ordinary,” said Eli Castanon, branch general manager for Worldview Travel in Coral Springs, Fla.
Emilio Freeman, who oversees shore excursion development at Royal Caribbean Cruises, which owns Azamara, said night excursions extend the line’s already strong focus on destination and longer port stays.
“We were looking for something where our guests will be able to participate in a showcase event and include a little bit of the local flavor, such as beers, wine and food, all within the evening,” he said.
To drive home the message, Azamara has developed a six-word marketing tagline: “Longer stays. More overnights. Night touring.”
Azamara competes most directly with Seabourn, Silversea, Oceania, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas. Some agents said it holds its own within that set, while others describe it as an also-ran.
The two ships, the Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, will be drydocked for refurbishment late this year and early next.
After being spruced up, they start a new season of European cruises. The new night programs will start March 27 on the Quest and May 15 on the Journey.
At the same time, Azamara will drop its Land Discoveries Savings program, a 50% discount it has offered on shore excursions.
To keep the costs manageable, guests who sign up for the complimentary events but change their plans and do not inform the shore excursion desk face a cancellation fee of $100 to $200.