With Its New Yacht Collection, Ritz-Carlton Is Successfully Converting Those Who Are New to Cruising

One year after launching its first super-yacht, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection unveils further expansion plans as it lures its loyal resort guests out to sea.

A rendering of the pool deck on the forthcoming "Ilma" super-yacht, surrounded by empty lounge chairs at dusk

A rendering of the forthcoming Ilma super-yacht, which will be the second vessel in the rapidly expanding Ritz-Carlton fleet.

Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

A year ago, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection (RCYC) officially entered the cruise business with the launch of the 298-passenger super-yacht Evrima, making a splash for the luxury hotel brand while promising to attract new travelers to the high seas. One year later, the cruise line is now talking about growing the fleet to as many as 10 new ships.

A separate company that licenses the Ritz-Carlton name from Marriott International, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is even considering going public in about three years, according to Jim Murren, the brand’s executive chairman and CEO and previously CEO of MGM Resorts.

“Cruising is something brand new to high-net-worth individuals,” Murren tells AFAR. “I think you will see this trend [of new-to-cruise luxury travelers] continue.”

Speaking at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique, a shipbuilder in Saint-Nazaire, France, where the line’s newest ship, the 448-passenger Ilma, hit the water for the first time—in a ceremony known as a float out—Murren says he sees a big potential market for converting hotel guests to cruisers. “We can’t build ships fast enough,” he says with a laugh. For now, Ilma is scheduled to debut in 2024, and a sister ship, Luminara, will follow in 2025. But it appears that many more vessels could eventually be in the works if the new business continues on its current upward trajectory.

Exterior of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's "Evrima" super-yacht

Vessels in the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection all take on the sleek exterior of super-yachts, which is a big part of the appeal.

Courtesy of Jack Hardy/Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

The Ritz-Carlton version of cruising

Currently cruising the Caribbean during winter and the Mediterranean in summer, the Evrimawhich I experienced last November during a sailing from Lisbon to the Canary Islands—has thus far been a hit with guests. Murren says it’s among the highest rated products in terms of guest surveys within the Marriott International brands.

Onboard the 623-foot ship, complimentary Moët & Chandon flows, there’s a friendly social scene, and guests can choose whether they want to do dinner in the more formal main dining room, be served sushi at the Asian restaurant Talaat Nam, or grilled steaks alfresco at Mistral—that is, when they’re not lounging around various intimate pool areas, dressed in casual designer wear, perhaps pretending they are on their very own private yacht.

Families are welcome, with a Ritz Kids program that provides for-a-fee activity sessions for children ages 4 to 12, and just like at the Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts around the world, the onboard Ritz Spa offers completely over-the-top treatments, like some that incorporate diamond dust, with prices to match (a luxurious black diamond facial will set you back about $400). The ship’s higher-than-normal ceilings caught my attention. In public spaces such as the Living Room, a hub for relaxing and socializing, you might imagine you were in a hotel lobby.

We can’t build ships fast enough.
Jim Murren, CEO of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

At the shipyard and touring the 790-foot Ilma, wearing a hard hat and toe-protecting boots, with wires hanging and ceilings missing, I found it hard to imagine the final product, though there is an overall feeling of spaciousness. The new ship is an evolution from Evirma’s design with more square footage, including more outdoor sunning areas, more open-air dining, and more upper-end suites, all based on customer demand. There will be eight Owner’s Suites, the largest a sprawling 1,033-square-foot space with a 721-square-foot terrace complete with whirlpool and outdoor shower.

The result will feel even more resort-like, something guests have said they want, according to Murren. From the outside, the profile is the same—a sleek, modern yacht that looks classy from the get-go.

Significantly, Ilma and Luminara will be powered by dual engines that run on liquified natural gas (LNG), considered the cleanest burning fossil fuel. When sustainable bioLNG or synthetic LNG become more readily available, the engines will convert, Murren says.

Interior of gray and white Asian restaurant Talaat Nam on Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's "Evrim," without people

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection prides itself of providing the level of service guests expect at its land-based resorts, including in onboard restaurants such as Talaat Nam on Evrima.

Courtesy of Jack Hardy/Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Attracting first-time cruisers

These days, most cruise lines are trying find ways to convert travelers who are new to cruising to expand their customer base. Murren says the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is succeeding. About 50 percent of those who have booked Evrima are new to cruising, according to the executive, and 75 percent are members of the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, which has some 177 million members. As at hotels and resorts, cruise guests can use points for discounts when they make bookings and accrue points when they travel.

While Ritz-Carlton was one of the first major luxury hotel brands to enter the cruise market, over the next few years, it will start to have some company, including from Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Orient Express (owned by Accor), and Aman Resorts, which have all announced plans for their own new cruise product in the coming months and years.

And if they’re following how things have been going for Ritz-Carlton thus far, the results have been promising. This past summer in the Mediterranean, Evrima sold at average fares of $1,500 per person, per day. “We were sold out of summer sailings,” Murren says. Top suites are selling for $18,000 per accommodation.

Families are onboard, as well as couples and solo travelers in their 30s and up. The average age of passengers is 53, with most guests hailing from North America. “They are younger, they are more adventurous in general and a very discerning customer,” says Murren. “They have an affinity to the Ritz-Carlton brand and therefore have an expectation of Ritz-Carlton service, which we deliver on.”

The cruise line curates destination-focused itineraries with time in port to enjoy local nightlife and some tie-ins with Ritz-Carlton hotels, such as exploration topped with a visit to a land-based spa at a Ritz-Carlton property. There’s also the opportunity to extend sailing journeys with time spent at Ritz-Carlton resorts either before or after the cruise.

Aerial viewpoint in rendering of the forthcoming Ilma super-yacht sailing

A rendering of the forthcoming Ilma super-yacht, slated to launch in 2024

Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

The future for the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

According to Bloomberg, Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is seeking $400 million in financing for a fourth and fifth ship. Those ships will introduce a completely new design including new sustainability features, says Murren, declining to give details. The company aims to build the ships at Chantiers de l’Atlantique, he said at the float out ceremony.

With a five-ship fleet, and especially with faster ships, the line can expand to destinations such as the Pacific (where ships need to sail longer distances between ports), Murren says.

Later, Murren would like to introduce additional Marriott luxury brands into the mix, hinting of the possibility of floating versions of, say, the Edition or Bulgari brands. And he’s not committing to the same super-yacht design as the fleet expands. “We may get into expedition, larger ships, or even smaller ships,” he says.

Someday, Ritz-Carlton ships might go to places where there are no Marriott luxury hotels at all—such as Antarctica and the Arctic.

In that case, though, there might be missing one of my favorite Ritz-Carlton yacht features: the Marina, with its terrace right above the waterline. By day, this is where you launch a paddleboard or dive off into the sea. At night, it transforms into a dreamy night club at water’s edge.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.
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