By Sara Clemence (Bloomberg) — Visits to secluded islands. Long, leisurely port calls. A crew that intuits whether you’re in the mood for a private tour of a nearby estate or a day of sunning on the deck.
It sounds much more like yachting than cruising—which is precisely the point.
When Ritz-Carlton, Marriott International Inc.’s flagship luxury brand, unveiled its cruise concept last year, it was clear that the hotel brand intended to take a detour from the rest of the industry. Its ships will offer luxuries largely unheard-of on cruise lines: airy, open-flow common areas, intimate restaurants that offer around-the-clock dining, and guest suites with high ceilings and twin bathroom sinks.
It’s not just design that aims to set the brand apart, says Doug Prothero, managing director of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, in an exclusive conversation with Bloomberg. It’s what guests will be able to do when they reach them. “On lots of our itineraries, you’ll only see yachts,” Prothero says. “On a lot of them, you’ll never find a larger cruise ship.”
Cruises will go on sale to the public on June 11. The still-unnamed maiden ship will ply the waters of the Southern Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Latin America, Canada, and New England starting in November 2019. Rarefied spots include Capri, the Greek isle of Kythira, and Canouan, Bequia, and the Tobago Cays in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
These port calls are enabled by the size of the line’s three future ships—190-meters-long (623-feet), with space for 298 passengers in 149 suites. They are about three times bigger than the largest superyachts, but more intimate than typically small cruise ships, which carry around 650 passengers. The Ritz’s vessels are comparable to the smaller luxury ships from Silversea Cruises.
Almost all of Ritz-Carlton’s trips last seven to 10 days. In contrast to traditional cruises, they will sail at a leisurely pace—four or five ports in a week, or six or seven stops over 10 days, Prothero says. “It’s not about racing off to the next place,” he says. “We are recreating the yacht experience in a hybrid cruise world.”
In the more popular destinations, particularly European cities, Ritz-Carlton will have an advantage when it comes to berthing locations, because of the ships’ sizes. “The idea is to get as close to the heart of the city as we can,” Prothero says.
The programming is distinctive, too. The Shore Collection, as it’s called, has five segments to cater to guests’ varying moods and tastes: Active experiences, for example, can be more physical—snorkeling, diving, mountain biking, rappelling. “In the Tobago Cays, you can go swimming with turtles,” he explained. “It’s an amazing experience you can have, whether you’re an advanced diver or a novice snorkeler.”
Others are geared toward more sensory experiences, Prothero says, from food to museums to “stepping into a field of lavender” in Provence. The Shore Concierge program caters to guests who want a completely custom-tailored journey, and can book anything from a private museum tour to a helicopter trip.
The Yacht Collection expects to draw upscale cruisers eager for a new experience, as well as travelers who wouldn’t otherwise step on a mainstream cruise—and, of course, Ritz-Carlton fans. Some of the itineraries will intersect with the hotels, but it’s not a focus. A future Great Lakes route, for instance, can be book-ended with stays at properties in Montreal and Chicago.
The routes have been mapped to facilitate back-to-back bookings should guests want to create special 15-day journeys—or decide while on board that they’d like to extend their holidays. “Throughout our itineraries, we as much as possible, try to avoid doubling back,” Prothero says. “If someone does the voyage from Reykjavik to Halifax, it would be easy for them to add on a trip from Boston.” (Few cruise lines offer this; Compagnie du Ponant does.)
A seven-day journey in the Mediterranean will start from $5,600 per person. The price covers everything but excursions, spa experiences, and dinners at Acqua, the restaurant by Sven Elverfeld, chef of the three-Michelin-starred Acqua in Wolfsburg, Germany.
The company is still figuring out answers to a nagging question. How will the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott International loyalty programs interface with the cruise line? Ritz-Carlton Rewards members will have one perk out of the gate: They’ll be able to reserve suites, starting in May.
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