The Luxury Travel Bible - Q&A Larry Pimentel


Azamara Club Cruises

Luxury cruise industry veteran Larry Pimentel has held the position of President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises since 2009. With over 25 years of experience in the high-end travel industry he has served as President, CEO and co-owner of SeaDream Yacht Club and as President and CEO of Cunard Line, Seabourn Cruise Line and Classic Hawaii. Pimentel has been celebrated with awards such as Travel Agent magazine's "25 most influential travel executives of America" and the "2004 Leader in Luxury".

Azamara Club Cruises was founded in 2007 and consists of two 69-guest ships: Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. The line has been named "Best Luxury Cruise Line" by Cruise One/Cruises Inc., received the "Smart Luxury Award" from Sherman's Travel, and the "Best Premium Cruise Ship" award for Azamara Journey from Travel Weekly magazine.

You've got a long track record in luxury cruising area (SeaDream Yachts, Cunard, Seabour,). What inspired you to become part of the cruise industry in the first place?
I was drawn into the cruise business by Bob Dickinson (prior president of Carnival Cruise Lines for over 20 years, retired in 2007). Bob sat on some of the same travel industry panels as I did at the time. I was President and CEO of an upscale tour company, Classic Hawaii, and Bob said I was in the wrong industry; the cruise business was where I should be. He said it was growing rapidly and that his company could benefit from my experience in the luxury sector. And with that, I spent nearly 10 years at Carnival Corporation, leading both Seabourn and Cunard. I was then inspired to create more of a yachting experience than a cruising experience...which led to SeaDream Yacht Club. The brand's first yacht was a refurbished vessel originally built in 1984. It had very small staterooms and no balconies, but was consistently rated among the world's best, because of the luxurious experience offered onboard, and our adherence to yachting standards.

Larry Pimental

I moved on from SeaDream in December 2009, and a few months later, received a call from Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, parent company of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Cruises (now Azamara Club Cruises), and three targeted European brands. He asked me to discuss operating Azamara, which was somewhat of an offshoot of Celebrity at the time. I told Richard I wanted to experience the brand before deciding. Richard offered to book me immediately, but I said that I wanted to book and pay for it myself, to see how agents presented it to me, and to sail anonymously to experience it authentically.

When I embarked on my Venice to Rome cruise, I thought the ship was lovely, and the service was very good. But I noticed a few things that didn't add up; for example, nearly half the clientele were European, but the laundry facilities required American quarters. Few people carry US quarters on a cruise ship; particularly not Europeans. It's a little thing, but the little things count. There were several items that I thought could be easily tailored to significantly improve the quality and style of the cruise. Overall, though, I found it to be a great product that could become exceptional with some modifications.

So, I accepted the role of President and CEO, and set as my primary goal the creation of a clear identity for Azamara, with a distinct experience that would generate the all-important word of mouth recommendations from guests. The result has been fantastic. Our guests are giving us the highest ratings since the brand was founded in 2007. In fact, in a recent survey, Azamara Club Cruises registered the greatest increase in satisfaction ratings of any cruise line, and nearly at the top of all cruise lines for satisfaction. In a scenario where a rating of 300 is perfect, we ranged from 288 to 291. This is truly impressive!
What is the single most defining thing about Azamara Club Cruises?
Azamara Club Cruises is a boutique cruise line that offers a sophisticated yet relaxed experience onboard, while delivering the destination like no other line. Because of the smaller, more intimate size of our ships, we can visit destinations larger ships can't reach, and unlike many lines, which visit ports only during daytime hours, we offer late-night stays and overnight stays in some of the most exotic and captivating locations in the world, allowing our guests to not just see the destination, but to live it - and to fully immerse them in the communities and cultures we visit. Also, beginning in April of this year, we added a host of inclusives into the tariff, such as gratuities; shuttle services into city centres, where available; specialty coffees, bottled water, sodas and tea; complimentary self-service laundry; boutique wines with lunches and dinners; and, for our suite guests, true English butler service and complimentary specialty dining.
Tell us about Azamara's butlers -aren't they being sent to "British Butler" school?
Yes, our Butlers who serve our suite guests are expertly trained at a genuine English Butler school, to ensure we deliver an exceptional standard of service, while guests in other accommodations enjoy our concierge service. On several recent voyages, our guests have rated the Butlers with a perfect 300 out of 300.
What is the next big luxury cruise trend?
Destination immersion is an area in which we think other up-market lines will try to follow our lead - allowing guests to spend more time in each port. But we already offer a breadth of enticing places around the world - again, allowing our guests to not only see the destination, but to live it...and to fully immerse them in the communities and cultures we visit.

We also are thrilled to have initiated a program geared for solo travelers, offering staterooms for singles from just 125 percent of the cost per person for double occupancy, and I'm happy to report that this has met with tremendously positive response.

Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Journey
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a cruise ship is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
What constitutes luxury is somewhat based on personal opinion. But what is luxury travel today and how has it changed? That definition is changing rapidly. Today, it refers to things that are so distinguished by their inherent value and quality that they are considered worth every cent. They stand out. Their quality is so great and they command a premium price. For me, Azamara Club Cruises became deserving of the "up-market" tag, when we when we added the host of inclusive amenities and made every aspect of the cruise experience easy and seamless for our guests. Nearly every cruise line can offer high threadcount sheets and fluffy pillows and even fine cuisine, but to be truly up-market, you have to make people feel relaxed and special.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
Again, it's largely personal opinion - wonderful beds, great decor and an ideal location help - but it's also the concierge greeting you by name, and the service from everyone in the hotel that makes it a truly luxurious experience.
What are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. They deliver luxury without formality, and service without an elitist attitude.
What is your favourite port visit?
I have many favorites, but I especially love the Amalfi and Croatian Coasts. But, there also are the beautiful Greek Isles...and the magnificent Southeast Asia...and Sydney, Australia. I could go on and on!
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
elBulli in Roses, Catalonia, Spain.
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Singapore Airlines. Their business class seats are the best.
What three things do you never travel without?
My Blackberry, my Kindle and a photo of my wife.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
My stay at Amangiri - a beautiful resort in south-central Utah.
What is the most important thing (travel wise) that money CAN buy?
Extreme comfort in every respect.
What is the most important thing it can't?
100% safe travel.

pimentel's Choices

elBulli, Spain:
Singapore Airlines:
Aman Resorts:
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts:
Luxury Link:

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