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One-hundred-forty-nine suites, each with a private balcony. Experiential activities with immersive, highly curated excursions and onboard experiences. Gourmet dining, starting with a brand-new offering from Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the Michelin 3-star restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany. Glamorous destinations, many of which represent a first for luxury cruising.

If that all sounds a little too good to be true for the typical cruise, well, that’s because there’s nothing typical about what the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, a subsidiary of Marriott International Inc., has in mind for its newly announced Yacht Collection.

Envisioned as an extension of The Ritz-Carlton brand, the Yacht Collection seeks to bring to sea what luxury travelers already expect from the on-land experience. The first of the three ships is set to launch in late 2019, with reservations beginning May 2018. That gives luxury cruise aficionados — and those for whom the idea of a cruise has heretofore been unworthy of consideration — plenty of time to plan their escape.

“We anticipate this experience to appeal to existing top-tier Ritz-Carlton customers who are familiar with the brand and the type of unique and special experiences, service and luxurious accommodations The Ritz-Carlton provides,” Douglas Prothero, managing director of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, told Coldwell Banker Global LuxurySM. “We are also hoping to attract not only existing cruise customers, but also those noncruisers who would not consider a mainstream cruise but would entertain a highly curated yacht-style experience with The Ritz-Carlton.”

As final details for the collection take shape, Prothero shared with us the inspiration behind Ritz-Carlton’s expansion into sea-based travel and detailed how the collection will differ from other currently available luxury cruises. He also filled us in on the latest news, including a just-announced VIP collaboration for itinerary development and specifics about destinations and home ports for the initial three ships.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Why did you make the decision to launch The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection?

Douglas Prothero As a brand, The Ritz-Carlton has wanted to enter the luxury cruise market for quite a while, so we’re excited this dream is finally becoming a reality. Also, in the past year alone, 405,000 Ritz-Carlton guests told us they have cruised, so we know this experience will strongly resonate with our existing clientele. We also have a successful track record of brand extensions in the luxury hospitality sector, including Ritz-Carlton Reserve, The Ritz-Carlton Residences, and The Ritz-Carlton Destination Clubs, and, given that the luxury cruise market is one that is expected to grow, we saw this as a natural extension with meaningful potential within an impactful market.

Additionally, since there are currently only four small (less than 300 passengers) luxury cruise ships that remain in operation, and those ships are each 20+ years old, we saw a void in the luxury cruise market. We really wanted to bridge the gap between a yacht and cruise ship experience, and we feel like we are uniquely positioned to stand out in the ultra-luxury cruise space with top-of-the-line service, intimate and modern ship design and yacht-style itineraries.

 

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Who is The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection client? Do you expect it to be an existing Ritz-Carlton client?

Douglas Prothero Yes, we anticipate this experience to appeal to existing top-tier Ritz-Carlton customers who are familiar with the brand and the type of unique and special experiences, service and luxurious accommodations The Ritz-Carlton provides. We are also hoping to attract not only existing cruise customers, but also those noncruisers who would not consider a mainstream cruise but would entertain a highly curated, yacht-style experience with The Ritz-Carlton. And we have already seen interest from both of these groups in response to our announcement, so we really feel like we will be providing a genuinely differentiated offering that will create new areas of demand. Additionally, given that the size of the ships is ideal for groups or meetings, we also expect complete buy-outs or charter service to be a popular option.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Is there an expectation that you’ll need to overcome any objections to, or preconceptions about, cruises, or do you expect your clientele will already be familiar with other luxury lines (Windstar, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, SeaDream, Esprit)?

Douglas Prothero As noted above, we do expect to attract existing cruise customers who are familiar with other luxury lines, but we also aim to appeal to guests who would otherwise turn a blind eye to cruising. We believe the experience provided by The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will be in a class of its own and will provide a different style of cruising that will eliminate some of the gripes travelers have with more mainstream cruises. 

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury How will the Ritz-Carlton yachts distinguish themselves from these existing ships?

Douglas Prothero In comparison to other intimate luxury cruise offerings, our yachts will offer guest amenities, suite size and sea access that are unlike anything else available. In addition to offering a higher percentage of larger suites than any competitor, our ships include several innovative duplex suites, unique offerings that are ideal for in-room entertaining. Certain suites can also be combined into larger rooms through soundproof, blind doors, giving guests more flexibility and options when it comes to their accommodations. For charter service, this also allows for the ship layout to be modified to suit the purpose of each voyage. The yachts will also feature a “marina-style” platform that gives guests direct access to the water, turning the ocean into their swimming pool. The first ship will feature an à la carte restaurant from Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the Michelin 3-star restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg, and a spa space designed and operated by The Ritz-Carlton.

We also plan to offer one-of-a-kind curated destination journeys through collaborations with local chefs, musicians and artists, allowing guests to experience the locations in unique and experiential ways, both onboard and ashore.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury What are some of the unique challenges involved in taking The Ritz-Carlton mystique from land to water?

Douglas Prothero It was important to us to maintain the feel and expectation of The Ritz-Carlton while at sea, and, as such, we have designed the onboard experience to reflect the sublime comforts of The Ritz-Carlton and our unparalleled level of individualized guest service. Throughout the journey, guests will also find a cruising style that is intimate, relaxed and unmatched in the ultra-luxury cruise and private yachting sectors, much like they will find at Ritz-Carlton properties on land.

The Ritz-Carlton has a successful track record with creating new brand extensions. As with any new launch, there is always risk, but we feel that we have done our homework and are ideally positioned to succeed. The team has worked closely with some of the nation’s top travel agents, who have provided their input and feedback every step of the way. This feedback has been incorporated into the yachts in more ways than one, and therefore, we expect the product will match the needs of their businesses and consumers.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Can you expound on the “destination-based activities with local chefs, artists and musicians” that will be offered?

Douglas Prothero Exact itineraries are still in development, but the yachts will open up a whole new world of opportunities for The Ritz-Carlton, both on land and at sea. We envision being able to create pre-and post-voyage opportunities to link the sea with shoreside Ritz-Carlton properties to offer guests a new and complete brand experience. Additionally, as with our land-based properties, we are excited to announce that we will be working with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society to develop programming for the yachts — another unique feature of our itineraries that will further connect our guests to their surroundings.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Have the home ports for the ships been determined?

Douglas Prothero Exact destinations are still being determined, but the first yacht will cruise in a wide variety of compelling locations, including the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, and, in the United States, the New England area. The intimate size of our yachts will give us the ability to access and explore smaller ports that larger cruise ships can’t access, such as Portofino, Cartagena (in town), Capri, Mykonos, St. Barths, etc., creating truly unique experiences for our guests.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Any more information you can give us about the destinations?

Douglas Prothero Yes, we expect the second vessel to focus on similar destinations, but our hope is to be able to deploy some additional summer voyages to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes area as the fleet grows. We plan for the third vessel to be focused more on destinations in Asia Pacific.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Beyond the three bespoke yachts that are being built initially, are there plans for more in the future?

Douglas Prothero We plan to start with three ships and then evaluate from there. However, we do feel that this design and product concept can sustain a larger fleet. What is particularly exciting about this is that cruise ships are essentially floating, redeployable resorts, and there are not the typical constraints on growth that exist with hotel development, such as limited site options, existing competitor locations, market saturation, etc.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury What does it mean to have Tillberg Design on board (literally)?

Douglas Prothero We are excited to partner with Tillberg Design of Sweden and utilize its extensive design and ship expertise for The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Together with the shipyard and a host of leading specialty firms, Tillberg’s design for the yachts will be instrumental in positioning our yachts in a class of their own.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Will there be other restaurants beyond the one from Sven Elverfeld of Aqua?

Douglas Prothero Yes, the first yacht will feature four other dining venues where an innovative, top-caliber food and beverage offering is all-inclusive to all guests. The venues will be composed of an Asian fusion restaurant; a main restaurant that will feature international cuisine; a poolside grill that is centered on fish and steak; a lounge area with international offerings; and 24-hour, in-room dining service. The second yacht will have similar offerings, and the dining venues for the third yacht are still in design.