When is a luxury voyage not a cruise? One good answer is “when it’s a yachting experience.” These more intimate voyages are on smaller ships with fewer guests. The itineraries call at remote coves, secluded lagoons and ports the bigger luxury ships just can’t access, along with signature destinations. They’re not cookie-cutter in style; some are traditional luxury, others have an expeditionary feel. Some unfold on ships of up to 300 passengers, others on vessels with only a few dozen.
Boutique Yachting in Style
For those travelers eager for a Crystal Cruises ocean experience in a smaller package, the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit sails luxury yachting itineraries in the Caribbean and Adriatic Sea, while Crystal Endeavor, a new polar-class, yachting vessel, will launch in 2020. Top digs on Crystal Esprit? The 515-square-foot Owner’s Suite is twice the size of other suites. Its separate living area has a comfortable sofa, high-definition satellite TV, four-seat dining table, bar and refrigerator.
The bedroom has a king-size bed, custom-built storage bench, couch, high-definition TV and bedside iPad that — with a single touch — runs the lighting and electronics. Techies will appreciate the complimentary unlimited Wi-Fi and USB outlets. It’s easy to relax with soft robes, slippers and bath / shower amenities from Italian fashion house Etro. In addition, the Owner’s Suite bathroom exudes a spa-like vibe with its backlit mirrors, double vanity sinks, natural stone flooring, egg-shaped whirlpool stone tub with views to the sea and a separate glass-enclosed rain shower.
Yacht guests choose from a portfolio of complimentary Crystal Adventures shore excursions in every port, dine casually on Michelin-inspired cuisine at the Yacht Club restaurant and are pampered with butler service in every suite. Another pleasure for yachters is water sports play, and from Crystal Esprit’s aft water sports platform, guests can go water skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, snorkeling or wake boarding. But it’s the ship’s larger “luxury toys” that truly impress. One is a deep-sea submersible, capable of diving 1,000 feet; its certified pilot will take guests on an underwater ride to gaze at marine life and colorful corals. For a different experience, the ship’s Wider 32 speedboat will whisk guests off to remote isles or take them on a relaxing Champagne cruise.
Back onboard, we’d head for The Cove to order a hand-selected, complimentary vintage or to the Sunset Bar to lounge in a Balinese day bed or basket chair. If guests get the munchies, the Patio Café serves light fare such as salads, small plates, charcuterie, cheeses and pastries, while the al fresco Terrace is popular for morning espresso.
Ritz-Carlton’s 298-guest mega-yachts will have 149 suites. Shown here is a rendering of an Owner’s Suite.
Departing on January 27, 2019 roundtrip from Marigot, St. Martin, Crystal Esprit’s “British Virgin Islands Escape” voyage calls at Gustavia, St. Barthelemy, and multiple BVI destinations, including Anegada, Scrub Island (overnight), Great Harbor Jost Van Dyke (three days), White Bay (for the Peter Island Resort), Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda and Gorda Sound (overnight), and the exclusive Moskito Island, a 125-acre island retreat owned by Sir Richard Branson. Crystal’s guests can enjoy a private Moskito beach with hammocks, cabanas and chilled Champagne.
In Gorda Sound, another perk for Crystal’s guests is the ability to dine at the Azzurra Restaurant or enjoy a refreshment at Bar Aqua, both within the exclusive Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, a sister club to the Aga Khan’s yacht club in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. How about a signature buffalo burger with Fontina cheese or a lobster roll with truffle butter on brioche?
Putting on the Ritz
Launching in late 2019 is the first of three 298-passenger mega-yachts for the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. That’s a new business partnership between the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and maritime experts Douglas Prothero and Lars Clasen (managing directors of the new venture), in collaboration with funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management. Cruise operations are based in Coconut Grove, FL. Ritz-Carlton will provide luxury hospitality service under a long-term operating agreement.
Individual reservations open in May for seven- to 12-night voyages calling at Mediterranean, northern Europe, Caribbean and Latin American ports. Guests can expect a casual resort luxury and yachting product — one that definitely avoids the “cruising” label. So, these voyages will likely appeal to loyal Ritz-Carlton hotel guests who desire a similar vacation at sea, new-to-cruise guests and upscale travelers who want top-notch service in the Ritz-Carlton tradition.
Interiors for the sleek, modern ships are being created jointly by the Ritz-Carlton and Tillberg Design of Sweden. Guests can expect multiple dining venues, including a restaurant by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg. The new ships also will have a Panorama Lounge and wine bar and a Ritz-Carlton Spa. The new yachts will have an aft infinity pool plus a marina platform equipped with a speed boat and kayaks.
Each of 149 luxurious and spacious suites will have its own terrace. We can’t wait to see the ship’s two opulent Penthouse Suites, each with 1,076 square feet of interior space, an 807-square-foot private veranda and a private plunge pool. If both Penthouse suites are reserved, eight guests can relax in the ultimate private complex as the corridor between the suites can become exclusive to the two units.
Seadream guests can sleep under the stars on the Balinese Dream Beds on the upper exterior deck.
The new yachting product promises curated destination experiences and onboard programming that reflects collaborations with local chefs, musicians and artists, as well as oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society. Many guests will likely desire to couple the luxury yacht experience with pre- and post-cruise stays at Ritz-Carlton properties.
Yachting, Not Cruising
Operating the 112-passenger SeaDream I and SeaDream II, SeaDream Yacht Club is a veteran at the “yachting, not cruising” concept. Both vessels are equipped with a watersports platform and wave runners, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and other watersports equipment so guests can “play” just as they could on a private yacht. SeaDream also has a full-service Thai-certified spa. We’d opt for the 90-minute, traditional Thai massage treatment with herbs as that comes with post-massage heated Thai herbal compresses from the Royal Project in Thailand.
Gourmet meals are served with open seating in both the Dining Salon and outside Topside Restaurant. Among the ship’s creature comforts are a 1,000-volume library and a high-tech golf simulator. Travelers wishing to maintain a wellness regiment will discover a “raw food” menu and yoga and tai chi sessions that are offered daily at sunrise, weather permitting. One signature SeaDream experience? Why not sleep one night in a Balinese bed with turn-down service on the upper exterior deck? While not all guests stay the entire night (many return to their own suite after a few hours), it’s a fun, fresh-air option with great “bragging rights” when one returns home.
Both SeaDream ships have all-oceanview suites and staterooms. Top accommodations are the Admiral Suite (No. 400; AS category) with multiple picture windows, separate dining and living areas, a master bedroom, and one and one-half baths; and the Owner’s Suite (No. 315; OW category) with separate living room, dining area, one-half guest bath, plus a master bedroom suite with a full bath that has a multi-jet shower and large soaking tub.
During spring 2019, SeaDream II will sail Cuba circumnavigation itineraries that depart from Havana or Cienfuegos, and call at Trinidad, Cayo Largo, Isla de Juventud and Maria la Gorda. SeaDream’s summer 2019 itineraries to the Mediterranean often visit smaller yachting playgrounds that most large ships can’t reach. One of our favorites is Puerto Banus on Spain’s Costa del Sol, a lovely place to spot celebrities, sports cars and impressive yachts. We’d head for the Spanish Galleon-inspired Astral Cocktail Bar Marbella to check out the harbor action while sipping the bar’s signature daiquiri or another fruity concoction.
In 2019, SeaDream I will add calls to Bordeaux, France, and summer highlights on both vessels include Italy’s Amalfi Coast and Taormina, Sicily; the Adriatic, including Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and a Corinth Canal transit; Spain’s Balearic Islands; Gibraltar and Tangier, Morocco; the Greek Islands, including Hydra, Patmos and Santorini; the French Riviera, including Corsica, St. Tropez, Antibes and Cassis, plus Monte Carlo; and Santander, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Marbella, Malaga and Motril, Spain.
French Style, Expanding Fleet
The French small ship line, Ponant, offers a luxury yachting and exploratory experience on the 264-passenger Le Boreal, Le Soleal, Le Lyrial and L’Austral, and several other vessels. This fall, Le Soleal will sail a 12-night “Jewels of Latin America” itinerary, departing October 22 from Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala to Callao, Peru. Complimentary excursions are included to such archaeological hot spots as the Mayan site of Tikal, Guatemala; the ruins / monuments of La Antigua de Guatemala; the Chan Chan archaeological site, home to the largest adobe citadel in pre-Colombian America; and the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu.
On the ship’s Guayaquil, Ecuador port call, guests can choose to visit Cuenca or Quito, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We particularly like this itinerary’s port call at San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, at which Ponant’s guests will travel to Granada — at the base of the Mombacho volcano — to view Moorish, Andalusian, Baroque and neo-Classical architecture.
Ponant moves into an even more adventurous mode this year, as it launches the first two of four Ponant Explorer vessels — the 184-passenger Le Lapérouse in spring and Le Champlain this fall. Sisters Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d’Urville will follow in 2019. They’ll be expeditionary in nature but yacht-like in service and features. Highly anticipated is this ship’s Blue Eye, a multi-sensorial underwater lounge designed in collaboration with architect Jacques Rougerie; lounge guests will see, hear and feel they’re a part of the underwater world.
Ponant’s Le Soleal will sail a 12-night “Jewels of Latin America” itinerary this fall, during which guests can savor French cuisine at the Gastronomic Restaurant.
For repeat Europe cruisers, Le Champlain offers an in-depth, seven-night “Treasures of Sicily” itinerary roundtrip from Valletta, Malta, on October 4, October 11 and also July 6, 2019. Circumnavigating Sicily, this itinerary has calls at Palermo (overnight), Taormina, Trapani, Porto Empedocle and Syracuse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, plus Mgarr on Gozo, Malta. On Gozo, we’d sample traditional sheep milk cheeses or miniature Maltese pastries (pastizzi), or pop into the Gleneagles bar, adorned with fishing nets and equipment; it’s a popular social spot for fishermen, locals and tourists alike. While ashore, one small gift to buy for family or friends is the famous Gozo sea salt.
Separately, Ponant just announced that it’s building a new luxury expedition ship that’s an icebreaker and runs on LNG. It will have 135 staterooms and suites.
Yachting With an Expeditionary Flair
This summer, high-end luxury is being coupled with an expeditionary yachting experience as the new 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, Scenic’s first “Discovery Yacht,” launches on August 31. One robust Western Hemisphere option is the eight-day “Panama & Colombia Discovery” itinerary, departing November 9 from Cartagena, Colombia to Guayaquil, Ecuador with a Panama Canal transit.
What’s special? On day five, Scenic Eclipse’s guests will visit Colombia’s off-the-beaten-path Utría National Park on the Pacific coast. They can soar over the park’s jungle by helicopter, paddle a kayak or take a Zodiac ride through the tropical eco-system, view marine life such as whales or fish from the ship’s submarine, go scuba diving or snorkeling, or just relax on a beach with a chef-prepared picnic. An exclusive Scenic Enrich event is a private concert of Afro-Pacific music and dances by local El Valle residents.
Scenic Eclipse has 114 all-verandah suites, all with butler service. For the very best, though, choose an Owner’s Penthouse Suites (OP category, No. 901 or No. 902) on the bow. They offer a separate living room, dining area and a master bedroom with a 60-inch flat-screen TV, a fully adjustable, king-sized Slumber bed, sofa and chair. The master bathroom has a dual steam shower with light therapy and therapeutic spa bath. Other OP features include a guest powder room, library (including Kindle library), spa day bed (each guest in this suite receives a complimentary, one-hour, in-suite spa treatment) and a curved private terrace with whirlpool, outdoor lounge and sun loungers.
Guests in these OP suites also receive unlimited complimentary laundry service, guaranteed specialty restaurant dining, VIP bookings for spa treatments and helicopter / submarine trips, plus a guaranteed preferred choice of shore excursions. Travelers can also reserve the Owner’s Penthouse Suite coupled with an adjacent Spa Suite to create a two-bedroom, 2,660-square-foot suite.
Scenic Eclipse has 10 different dining experiences, multiple lounges and bars, a Spa Sanctuary, fitness area, indoor and outdoor pools and a marina deck. This yacht also will carry two helicopters and a submarine, so guests can head out with an expert captain to explore from the air and under the sea.
Scenic also announced earlier this year that it’s ordered a second sister vessel to debut in 2020; both ships have an Ice Class 1A (Polar Class 6) rating, ensuring the safest navigation through polar waters. Scenic Eclipse II will sail an Athens-to-Lisbon maiden voyage and then operate voyages to the European and Russian Arctic, including Russia’s remote White Sea and the Northwest Passage, as well as southern Greenland, the Bering Sea, coastal destinations in Canada and the U.S., central and South America; a Cuba circumnavigation and more.
Yachting With Casual Elegance
Windstar Cruises’ 212-passenger Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend, the former Seabourn yachts, are casually elegant vessels with a relaxed onboard aura, no formal nights, and highly personalized service. All three vessels have been updated and refurbished over the past few years. Just recently, Star Legend completed an extensive dry dock in Singapore with updates throughout the ship and retrofits in preparation for Windstar’s new Signature Expeditions program in Alaska. That included upgrading of public restrooms, refreshing of the infirmary, extensive teak deck work, resurfacing saunas and refreshing steam rooms in the WindSpa, installing equipment for Zodiacs and kayaks, and gift shop remodeling.
Windstar’s Star Pride is seen in Mayreau, the smallest inhabited island of the Grenadines. The ship will sail a 14-day Caribbean itinerary in early 2019.
On August 6, Star Legend departs Seward (Anchorage) for a 14-day voyage to the Kenai Fjords National Park, Sitka, Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), Haines, Juneau, Tracy Arm / Endicott Arm Wrangell, Misty Fjords, Ketchikan, Metlakatla, all in Alaska, plus Prince Rupert and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. While guests on larger ships typically transfer to tour boats to cruise Misty Fjords and Kenai Fjords, Windstar’s guests enjoy a front-row seat from their own suite or a public space perch.
Top digs on the motorized yachts are two 575-square-foot Owner’s Suites (OW category) with a private veranda, separate living room and dining area, bedrooms with queen bed, full master bath with granite countertop, tub and shower, plus a separate powder room. While that category showed “call for availability” at press time, space was available in the next high-end category, Classic Suite (CS category); forward-facing CS accommodations are 400 square feet while mid-ship CS suites have more space. All suites pamper guests with luxurious linens, waffle-weave robes and slippers, a flat-screen TV with DVD player, minibar / refrigerator, safe, L’Occitane bath amenities, fresh flowers and more.
In early 2019, Star Pride sails a 14-day “Star Collector: Comprehensive Lesser Antilles” voyage, a Caribbean itinerary roundtrip from Bridgetown, Barbados. Calls include Bequia, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines; Castries and Pigeon Island, St. Lucia; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; San Juan and Vieques, Puerto Rico; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Little Bay, Montserrat; Roseau, Dominica; St. George’s, Grenada; and Les Saintes, Guadeloupe.
One highlight for shopping enthusiasts is St. Barthelemy, home to many boutiques and designer branded shops. We’d browse the casually elegant, Bohemian-chic dresses, blouses and kaftans at Vanita Rose on Gustavia’s Rue Oscar II. Parisien model Valerie Bourdin started this fashion line on St. Barths in the early 2000s. For cruisers who love high-quality clothes in vibrant colors, textures of silk, linen, cashmere or Calais lace and unusual prints, it’s definitely worth a look around.
Bigger Space, Pampering Style
Certainly at the upper end, size-wise, for a “yachting” vessel but with elements of that experience is Silversea Cruises’ luxurious 296-passenger Silver Wind. It offers a relaxed ambiance with the space / amenities afforded by a bit larger vessel. Sister Silver Cloud became an expedition ship last fall after a multimillion-dollar refit and the addition of an ice-strengthened hull, but Silver Wind continues to sail for the line’s classic fleet and was refurbished in 2017.
What’s special itinerary-wise? Certainly, many luxury travelers love London, and a series of Silver Wind voyages in summer 2019 depart directly from London’s Tower Bridge, a major plus for travelers who don’t want to make the trek to / from Dover or Southampton, where the larger ships must dock. The luxury ship operates both one-way voyages between Tower Bridge and Copenhagen, Denmark or Reykjavik, Iceland, or roundtrips from the bridge.
Seadream guests visiting Taormina, Sicily will be enchanted by the picturesque Mount Etna towering behind the Greek Theater ruins.
On May 16, Silver Wind departs from Tower Bridge to St. Mary’s, Isle of Scilly; Waterford and Dublin, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Tobermory, Isle of Mull (think dolphins and sea eagles); Stornoway, Isle of Lewis; Lerwick, Shetland Islands; Kirkwall, Orkney Islands; Invergordon; and Leith (Edinburgh), all in Scotland. At Invergordon, cruisers can choose from many Silversea tours including “Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle,” a distillery outing or a more lofty outing, “Tea with the Chief at Foulis Castle,” in which cruisers will meet Hector Munro of Foulis, the 33rd hereditary Clan Chief, or another family member. They’ll tour the castle, enjoy tea and refreshments and hear stories about the castle and the clan’s history.
Silver Wind’s Owner’s Suite is a stylish 587-square-foot (including private veranda) one-bedroom apartment with separate living area, dining area, writing desk with personalized stationery and flat-screen TVs in both the living and bedroom areas. The master bedroom’s queen bed is convertible to two twins and outfitted with Pratesi bed linens, down duvet covers and a choice of pillows. We’d opt for Suite 737, if travelers desire a marbled bathroom with full-sized whirlpool tub and separate shower; Suite 734 has the marble but a tub / shower combination. With the addition of the adjacent Vista Suite, with a separate living area, bedroom and bath, guests can also create a two-bedroom, 827 square feet (including private veranda) Owner’s Suite complex.
One savory Owner’s Suite perk is an included dinner for two, one evening per voyage in La Dame, the line’s Relais et Chateaux restaurant. Other suite perks also include a Bang & Olufsen audio system; radio / alarm with iPod docking station; Illy Espresso machine; a refrigerator and bar setup; robes and slippers; European bath amenities; free Wi-Fi; laundry service; afternoon canapés and much more.
Whether travelers prefer a traditional luxury small-ship experience, a casual yachting product or a pampering expedition focus, the boutique ship approach is on a growth track. Increasingly, luxury at sea comes in many packages.
Upscale travelers can expect luxurious, all-suite accommodations on Celebrity Cruises’ new Galapagos ship, the 100-passenger Celebrity Flora, sailing year-round from Baltra, starting May 26, 2019. Look for new dining venues, an open-air stargazing platform, a marina accommodating three Zodiacs simultaneously, and The Vista, an open-air hideaway with 360-degree views, cocoon-style loungers and private cabanas. Top digs? Two spacious Penthouse Suites have separate indoor and outdoor living areas, customizable lighting and shades, and a telescope for stargazing or sea lion-peeping.
London’s Tower Bridge will see a series of Silver Wind voyages departing in the summer of 2019.
In addition, Tauck has added Silversea Cruises’ Silver Galapagos to its global portfolio of luxury voyages, while Pandaw’s oceangoing Andaman Explorer, a classic 1960s motor yacht lovingly restored / refurbished by the line’s founders, Paul and Roser Strachan, is adding a second Mergui archipelago option; its new, 10-night “Burma Coastal Voyage” option departs from Yangon on November 5 and November 18, and, early next year, January 5 and January 18.
Launching in 2020 is the first of three new 126-passenger polar vessels for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. With a cutting-edge design, the sleek ship will offer a main restaurant, outdoor barbecue, bistro area, multiple observation decks inside and outside, new “observation wings,” a spa / fitness area and two infinity whirlpools. Expect private balconies for 75 percent of accommodations.