Last month, as I boarded the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s inaugural vessel, the 298-passenger Evrima, docked in Tenerife, Spain, I found guests sipping complimentary bespoke cocktails and Moet & Chandon on a platform a few feet above the water. With a DJ spinning tunes, the scene was reminiscent of a chic beach club—only better since this beach club can sail. Ultimately, this floating oasis would take the prosperous crowd all the way across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is the first of the world’s ultra-luxury hotel brands to broaden its reach to the sea, but it won’t be the last. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Aman Resorts, Hotels & Residences are developing new yacht-style offerings, too, and more hotel companies could follow suit.
For these well-recognized and -respected hotel brands, one major benefit of entering the cruise market is that they already have a huge list of potential seagoing clients in their hotel guests. Another benefit is the possibility of combining resort and cruise experiences. For instance, Ritz-Carlton expects to see pre- and post-cruise bookings as a result of the new yacht sailings. “On cruises out of Fort Lauderdale, there are five Ritz-Carlton hotels nearby,” says Chris Gabaldon, senior vice president of luxury brands for Marriott International, which owns the Ritz-Carlton collection. “Having a yacht is significant.”
Cruising the Ritz-Carlton way
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is a co-owned venture between serial marine entrepreneur Douglas Prothero’s company the Yacht Portfolio and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. And both maritime and hospitality expertise are on display throughout the 624-foot Evrima. Guests stay in sprawling suites with high ceilings and outdoor terraces and enjoy such Ritz-Carlton flourishes as marble bathrooms, fine linens, and a Ritz Spa with top-notch skincare products and services. Dining takes place in five restaurants and includes the option of paying $285 per person to eat at S.E.A. and have a culinary experience curated by chef Sven Elverfeld, who earned three Michelin stars for his restaurant Aqua at the Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg in Germany.
Passengers lounge in cushy spaces such as the Living Room, a common area that resembles a spacious resort lobby, and around an infinity pool and several dipping pools. They can also borrow kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats from the drop-down marina when the ship is anchored in sunny locales.
It’s all very impressive, but where the yacht especially shines is in service. Thanks to the Ritz-Carlton name, the brand had its pick of top talent from both luxury hotels and top-flight cruise lines. Some 50,000 people applied for about 300 jobs on the ship at a time when some other cruise lines are suffering from ongoing pandemic-related staffing shortages.
And Ritz-Carlton isn’t stopping with one vessel. It already has plans to expand with two more 456-passenger yachts that are on order from the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in France and scheduled for delivery in 2024 and 2025. As for whether these vessels technically qualify as yachts, super-yachts, mega-yachts or something else entirely really comes down to the size. According to YachtWorld, an online marketplace for boats and yachts, a super-yacht is typically more than 80 feet in length; a mega-yacht is more than 200 feet long; and a giga-yacht is more than 300 feet in length. So, at 624 feet, the Evrima is really a small cruise ship designed to look and feel like a yacht. For their part, the hotel brands launching these new vessels refer to them as yachts, super-yachts, and mega-yachts interchangeably.
So, who’s cruising with Ritz-Carlton? Based on the initial bookings for Evrima, which launched in October, most passengers are new to cruising and are members of Marriott International’s Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, says Gabaldon. A major advantage of cruising with the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is that travelers can earn Marriott Bonvoy points. They can also use points for discounts or to pay for a sailing—about 2 million points for a 10-day cruise. For those who aren’t using points, most fares start at about $7,000 per person per week.
If Ritz-Carlton sees continued success in the cruise space, Gabaldon says there are other names in Marriott’s portfolio of luxury brands worldwide (including St. Regis, JW Marriott, the Luxury Collection, W Hotels, and Edition) that could be contenders for an expansion into cruises. “We see significant growth in the luxury space in general,” says Gabaldon. “Depending on the success of the Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection in the cruising space, we’re always open to opportunities.”
As for where you can sail on the Evrima, the vessel will be in the Caribbean during the first half of 2023 and will then move to the Mediterranean for the winter. In 2024, Evrima will extend its Mediterranean season to run from April through November and will stop in 14 new ports, including Seville, Spain; Sardinia, Italy; and Monte Carlo.
Four Seasons unveils its plans for an ultra-luxury yacht fleet
Not to be outdone, Four Seasons is entering the realm of luxury cruising in late 2025, with the first of three planned 190-passenger, all-suite super-yachts to be built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri. Four Seasons Yachts, as the new cruise division has been named, is helmed by luxury cruise industry veteran Larry Pimentel, who helped launch Seabourn and Azamara, among other cruise lines.
The new cruise company is a partnership between Four Seasons and luxury shipping experts Marc-Henry Holdings LTD, founded by Nadim Ashi, who created the Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club in Surfside, Florida, and Philip Levine, the former mayor of Miami Beach and a real estate and cruise entrepreneur.
“Four Seasons Yachts is a natural extension of our brand,” Marc Speichert, chief commercial officer of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, tells AFAR, noting the company has also expanded into residences as well as private jet and luxury driving experiences.
“What makes our yachts so special and differentiated will also be the Four Seasons–trained people who will bring these experiences to life,” he says. “The vessels will have an industry-leading staff-to-guest ratio to deliver Four Seasons’ standards of highly personalized service—always with a distinctly human touch.”
Among other ultra-luxe features, Four Seasons is touting that its first 679-foot yacht will have soaring ceilings and nearly 50 percent more living space per guest than any other luxury ship currently sailing. The company says each suite will cost $4.2 million to build with “no expense spared.”
The average starter suite will have 581 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, and 60 percent of the suites will be at least 818 square feet, the company says. The big splash will be a 9,601-square-foot “Funnel Suite” on four levels, with a huge terrace, private wading pool, and dedicated spa area.
The yacht will have a spa and wellness program and five “original concept” restaurants, including a sushi bar. The pool deck will transform into an outdoor movie theater, and two marinas will serve as launch points for water toys.
“The design acumen of Four Seasons gives the project a desired bias of expansive space, privacy, comfort and innovation to the yacht guest experience,” Thatcher Brown, chief commercial officer and head of joint yacht operations for Marc-Henry Cruise Holdings LTD, tells AFAR. “It’s not a mega-yacht, it’s not an ultra-luxury cruise. It’s something unique.”
Aman aims to offer tranquility at sea
Also joining the yacht trend is hotel and resort company Aman, which announced in late 2021 its Project Sama, a joint venture with Cruise Saudi that has Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as a shareholder. The plan is a 2025 launch of a 600-foot, 100-passenger yacht, with 50 spacious luxury suites that have private balconies.
Designed in partnership with the yacht firm Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design, the super-yacht will reflect Aman’s Eastern heritage, with “serene and spacious” features, such as an Aman Spa complete with a Japanese garden, according to a statement from the company.
The yacht will have “a harmonious balance between exterior and interior spaces,” the company says.
On board will be a variety of international dining options, a club and lounge, and at the stern of the yacht an expansive beach club with direct access to the water. There will also be two helipads.
Expect “Aman’s core values of privacy, peace, generosity of space, and unparalleled service,” the company says.
According to Vlad Doronin, Aman’s chairman and CEO, “Project Sama will provide transformative experiences within the revered Aman setting and service, which is unlike any other yacht experience, ultimately creating a whole new category in on the water discovery.”