Adding a new category to the brand differentiation among cruise lines, Azamara Cruises is the name of a new brand launched by Celebrity Cruises. Designed to be deluxe, Azamara will be a notch up from Celebrity, according to Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, parent company of Celebrity and Azamara. He said the new brand will be between premium and luxury.

With two 710-passenger ships, the Azamara Journey and the Azamara Quest sailing mostly longer cruises, the estimated annual passenger capacity will be in the range of 35,000 in 2008 when both ships will sail for the full year.

Azarnara will offer exotic destination-driven experiences, with a more intimate onboard experience "for the travel enthusiast who appreciates what a cruise vacation has to offer, but is looking for something a little more different, a little more special," said Dan Hanrahan, president of Celebrity, who is also president of Azamara.

Having launched service in early May, the first ship, the 30,277-ton Journey, was originally intended to be the Celebrity Journey, before the new brand was announced. The Journey is the former Blue Dream of Pullmantur and was built in 2000 as the R6.

Presented at Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey, on May 4, the Journey was still some ways from being completed, but sailed her first revenue cruise two days later.

According to Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president maritime, the Journey started from Santos on April 8, sailing to Trinidad, where new bathrooms were loaded and the demolition material of the previous cabins were unloaded.

The Journey then spent 10 days at Grand Bahama Shipyard to complete the work and for bottom painting, before departing for Cape Liberty on May 1.

Kulovaara explained that Grand Bahama did the shipyard work, while Royal Caribbean and Celebrity managed the overall revitalization process "by ourselves as we have done in all our revitalizations," Kulovaara said. Almaco did the cabin work and Danish Interior the public areas.

Forty-eight staterooms have been converted into 32 suites. The dining area was refurbished to create two new specialty restaurants. Additional work included new carpeting throughout, new exterior decking, an expanded spa, new paint schemes, and all new "soft goods," including plush bedding, new drapes and table linens. The cost of the makeover was $19 million.

The Journey will be sailing seven-day Bermuda cruises during the summer, followed by 12- and 18-day South America voyages.

Second Ship

Joining the line in the fall will be a second ship, the Quest, the former Blue Moon, which was built as the R7 in 2000, and will be sailing 12- and 14-day Panarna Canal and Caribbean cruises during the late fall and winter. She will also be undergoing an extensive drydock before entering service - "most likely in Northern Europe where she will be finishing her European season," according to Kulovaara.

In 2008, both ships will be deployed on 14-day programs in Europe, and during the winter 2008-2009, the Quest will sail in Asia.

A world cruise is planned for 2010.

Sister ships to the fleet of Oceania Cruises, the two Azamara ships are also painted white, and the logo on the funnel resembles Oceania's as well. The so-called deluxe market may also be where Oceania is designed to be.