Luxury hotel brands say they're creating a whole new cruise category: Travel Weekly

DeeAna Archer, owner of Sugar Land, Texas-based Archer Luxury Travel, is pumped about sailing on the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s first ship.

She booked the Owners Suite on the sleek, 298-passenger Evrima for a Bahamas cruise in February and can hardly wait to post photos on Facebook. 

Those posts, she said, will undoubtedly lead to a spike in her luxury clients booking the hotel brand’s cruise line. Her evidence? She booked two staterooms on the Evrima after only posting that she’s sailing on it. And thus far, most of her clients who are booking these yacht experiences have never been on a cruise.

“They want a more personalized luxury experience, and currently the Ritz-Carlton yacht is providing that,” Archer said, adding that those clients also want to experience cruising without “all the people.”

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, which just put its first ship into service Oct. 15 after nearly two years of delays, is one in a cadre of luxury hotel companies turning their attention to the sea. 

Four Seasons became the latest, announcing late last month that it is launching a yacht line starting with a 190-passenger ship. Aman will also enter the cruise industry; it is building a 100-passenger yacht in a joint venture with Cruise Saudi called Project Sama. Both hotel brands plan to launch these ships in 2025. 

A common thread among the entrants is that none use the word “cruise” in their name, and at least two are actively distancing themselves from the concept.

Aman Group CEO Vlad Doronin said Project Sama is “ultimately creating a whole new category in on-the-water discovery.” Is it a cruise? “No,” he said, instead calling the product “akin to a private superyacht.” He said he expected the yacht product would attract those who want to “see the world from this new perspective,” including those familiar with Aman. 

Four Seasons Yachts was announced at the Monte Carlo Yacht Show on Sept. 27, purposefully at a yacht event, not a cruise conference, said Larry Pimentel, CEO of the new venture and a longtime cruise industry executive who was last at the helm of Azamara.

“We may be cruising, but we’re not a cruise line,” he said. “There’s so many differences, whether it’s the design or it happens to be the way we’ll go to market. It’s a hybrid design. It takes the best of passenger shipping and the best of yachting and combines both elements in something that has created, really, a genre, perhaps even a niche, that … doesn’t have an equal.” 

Four Seasons Yachts’ first ship will cost $4.2 million per stateroom, Pimentel said. For comparison, the Crystal Endeavor expedition ship (soon to sail for Silversea as the Silver Endeavour), said to be one of the most expensive expedition cruise vessels, reportedly cost just under $2 million per berth. 

An element that sets the Four Seasons product apart from even luxury cruise ships, he said, is its space per passenger. Compared with luxury ships of similar size, like the 32,000-gross-ton, 458-passenger Seabourn Quest, Four Seasons Yachts’ vessels will be about 33,000 gross tons and hold 190 passengers. 

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is not averse to using the c-word in its marketing, but it has made clear that it’s not a traditional cruise, with its brand release proclaiming it is “paving the way for a new era of yacht-style cruising.”

Reinventing the wheel? Not quite

Not everyone thinks that as these hotels brands take to the sea they should distance themselves from the products that have already found success there. 

Eric Goldring, a luxury specialist and the owner of Goldring Travel, based in Truckee, Calif., said the biggest issue he sees with these brands is that they are hotels venturing into a business they don’t know and would be wise to bring in seasoned cruise executives who don’t try to create a “floating hotel.”

“It must be a cruise line first and operated with those who can do that,” he said. “In other words, it is great to say, ‘That’ll be cool,’ but you need to know it can be built and has legs to endure over time.”

Goldring said his clients have asked about these sailings, including the Evrima, which just debuted on a sailing from Barcelona to Rome. “I have told all my clients that there is no benefit being the first while [the hotel cruise lines] figure things out,” he said. “My job is to assure my clients’ desires are exceeded, not frustrated.”

Steve Orens, president of Plaza Travel in Woodland Hills, Calif., has booked a sailing on the Evrima four times, all but the last canceled due to construction delays or Covid. He is sailing on the ship in December and is eager to experience the product and Ritz-Carlton’s service at sea. But like a new restaurant, he wants to give the line time to show how a hotel company runs a cruise ship before he gives it a review. 

“They do a great job of running a hotel, and [cruise lines] always have a hotel director on cruise ships,” said Orens. “We’ll see how they can duplicate or deliver that experience at sea.” 

Christian Sauleau, the retired former executive vice president of operations for luxury brands, including Silversea Cruises, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas, said running a ship is different from a hotel. For example, the crew lives on a ship, which requires a different team effort and care for employees. 

While these brands have the leverage of a well-known name, they will still have to work out the kinks of their new products, he said. 

“The thing is, the expectation [from guests] will be higher. Their expectation is the Four Seasons,” he said. “If it’s a new brand, you can have some excuses. If you’re the Four Seasons, we expect you to deliver right away.”

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