A new ultra-luxury, small-ship venture is on the horizon. In late 2019, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, a new luxury yachting and cruising brand, will launch with the first of three 298-passenger ultra-luxury yachts. A second yacht will set sail in the first quarter of 2021, a third in early 2022.
This new small-ship brand – with all-suite, all-balcony vessels – is a creation of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC, part of Marriott International, Inc., and maritime experts Douglas Prothero and Lars Clasen, in collaboration with funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management, LP.
The Ritz-Carlton will provide luxury hospitality service under a long-term operating agreement. General reservations will open in May 2018.
“The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will have a distinctive personality and the vessels are sure to be true stand outs in some of the most glamorous ports around the world,” said Herve Humler, president and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC. “This unique combination of yachting and cruising will usher in a new way of luxury travel for guests seeking to discover the world in a relaxed, casually elegant and comfortable atmosphere with the highest level of personalized service.”
Ready-Made Luxury Market
Recent research from The Ritz-Carlton’s data base reveals that 405,000 Ritz-Carlton hotel guests have taken a cruise in the past year. Humler expects the new yachting brand will eventually welcome 36,000 luxury guests annually.
So he’s confident the brand can effectively market to clients who already are both loyal to The Ritz-Carlton and are past luxury cruise guests. “That’s a position we want to be in,” he emphasizes.
Why is an iconic luxury hotel brand heading to sea? “Maybe I should have started 20 years ago” given the strong consumer interest, says Humler, but he insists: “It was important to find the right ship and the right partner who totally understands luxury.”
He believes The Ritz-Carlton has found that in Prothero, who is the new managing director, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Humler and Prothero have been working together for more than four years to develop the luxury cruise yacht concept.
“The Ritz-Carlton is known for its legendary service and high standards,” said Prothero, who stressed that the hotel group’s Washington, D.C. staffers and the cruise collection’s veterans in Miami are collaborating as a team on the new brand development.
Prothero also told Luxury Travel Advisor that several senior management appointments for the new brand – well-respected cruise industry veterans – will be announced soon.
Clasen, the other managing director of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, is a veteran cruise industry executive formerly with AIDA Cruises and a co-owner of A-Rosa Cruises.
“We are delighted to collaborate with The Ritz-Carlton as our hospitality operator in offering the most exclusive yachting experience to be found at sea,” said Clasen, noting that the venture “will give new meaning to curated luxury travel.”
Humler says he does nothing at The Ritz-Carlton without both customer and travel agent feedback. Top luxury travel advisors provided input about the top features, best design and amenities desired by their upscale clients for any new yachting product.
Look for itineraries that combine the lifestyle of The Ritz-Carlton’s luxury resorts and the casual freedom of a yachting vacation. The first ship’s itineraries are expected to be seven- to 10-day voyages and mostly point-to-point.
While specific itineraries weren’t public at press time, Humler stresses that the 623-foot-long vessels will be able to call at ports that larger ships can’t. The first ship, depending on the season, is expected to cruise the Mediterranean, northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Whether the yacht is calling at Capri or Portofino in Italy, St. Barths in the Caribbean or the old town of Cartagena, the new brand says its guests will enjoy a relaxed pace that includes both overnight and day-time ports of call and a uniquely curated destination experience.
The ships will also have an aft marina or watersports platform. Pre- and post-cruise stay options will be available at The Ritz-Carlton’s properties across the globe.
In addition to individual guest bookings, the brand expects to accept many full-ship charters, which Humler indicated will be an important part of the business. He also said reservations for meeting planners and corporate/charter operators will open a bit earlier than general reservations.
As for ambiance, luxury guests can expect an onboard product that’s casual but “I’m not going to dictate to the customer,” Humler says. “You can have it any way you want.”
His perspective? “If you want to have breakfast at 1 p.m., we’re going to create it for you. We’re always going to make sure the guest is always very comfortable.” And of course, impeccable service in The Ritz-Carlton tradition is a given.
The Suite Spot
Each vessel will have 149 luxurious suites with modern craftsmanship and interior finishes jointly designed by Ritz-Carlton and Tillberg Design of Sweden.
Given the brand’s luxury clientele, “I need to have the largest accommodations,” Humler stresses, noting that even the lead-in category of accommodations -- 90 Veranda Suites on Decks 5 through 8 - will have a minimum of 312 square feet.
Many of the luxurious accommodations, though have much more space including 12 Veranda Duplex Suites on Decks 4 and 5 (700 square feet); 23 Superior Suites on Decks 6 and 8 (nearly 475 square feet); four Special Superior Suites on Deck 7 (570 square feet to 620 square feet); and 18 Signature Suites on Decks 7 and 8 (635 square feet). Balconies for all those add additional square footage as well.
For guests desiring the ultimate in luxury, two lavish, 1,000-square-feet-plus duplex Penthouse Suites (shown in the photo above) are aft on Deck 7, with almost 662 square feet of balcony space. Each can accommodate four guests.
If both Penthouse suites are reserved, they can serve eight guests and the corridor between the two penthouses can become exclusive to the two units. Each of these two Penthouse Suites also has a private plunge pool.
Cuisine and Style
Dining-wise, “we will have five food and beverage outlets, some that are small – for example, one with 15 tables, another with 20 tables, but really catering to the luxury market,” says Humler.
He absolutely didn’t want fixed dining with set times, and an experience where guests felt rushed, stressing: “Let the guest decide where, and when, and what [they] want to eat.”
One dining stand-out is sure to be the restaurant by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg.
The vessels will also have a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa, as well as a Panorama Lounge and wine bar, offering varied onboard entertainment.
Style-wise, look for an upscale product, a small-ship, high-end experience, but not an expedition product.
That said, the new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection won’t simply “transplant” its hotel brand onto a ship and call it a yachting experience. The yachts will offer one-of-a-kind curated destination-focused experiences (both onboard and ashore) through collaborations with local chefs, musicians and artists.
Both Humler and Prothero stress that the new brand will couple Ritz-Carlton’s guest service standards, dining excellence and pampering amenities with professional maritime and cruise operations. So, yes, the yachts will have some activities and features that veteran cruisers expect -- such as dedicated cruise directors.
But what will absolutely spill over from the hospitality side is the Ritz-Carlton commitment to top-notch service, “the heart and soul of the brand that is our people,” says Humler. “That isn’t going to change, it’s going to amplify.”