U.S. News

Boutique Ships Aim to Tap Growing Travel Segment

Ryan Ruggiero|CNBC.com

For those who want to live the high life on the high seas but find most cruise ships too big, a new line of boutique ships from Azamara Cruises could be just the ticket.

Azamara, which launched in May, is a joint venture between Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited and Celebrity Cruises. The luxury line’s two 710-passenger vessels, Journey and Quest, aim to raise the bar on personalized service and attention, while simultaneously tapping a growing segment of the industry.

The cruise industry is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry according to the Cruise Lines International Association. And the number of cruisers is expected to expand exponentially in the coming seasons. So will these new ships have any impact on increasing cruise travelers?

“[We] created Azamara Cruises to target an area of the market that we believe is underserved, and an area this product is ideally suited to fill,” Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said.

But Robert  LaFleur, a cruise industry analyst with Susquehanna International Group,  said he does not expect  Azamara to “move the needle all that much” when it comes to profits for Royal Caribbean.

So, while it may not be your investment of choice for the year ahead, if you’re a traveler wanting some serious comfort and pampering in a relaxed environment, Azamara has what you’re looking for.

On board these floating palaces there are no formal nights -- the dining rooms are open seating.  But each stateroom comes with butler service, fresh-cut flowers, fresh fruit, Elemis toiletries, complimentary use of Frette cotton robes, two complimentary pairs of slippers, plasma TV’s and European bedding. As an added perk, guests are invited to a complimentary dinner on each cruise in the ship’s two fee-based specialty restaurants.  Passengers have a choice of the Mediterranean-influenced "Aqualina" and the steak and seafood restaurant, "Prime C."  Both feature commanding views of the ocean. 

It’s the details on these “deluxe” cruises that put them a notch above premium lines such as Carnival’s Holland America and the Princess ships.

Planned itineraries for the remainder of 2007 include Bermuda, Panama Canal and South America. Voyages for the 2008 season include Asia, the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Around-the-world voyages are scheduled to begin in 2010.