It’s always good fun to play the game of “If cruise line X was a supermarket, which would it be?” Or if cruise ship Y was a car, what model would it be?”
We can all come up with the floating equivalents for Aldi or Waitrose, and it doesn’t take long to match the vessel to a Volvo estate or a Golf hatchback.
Cruise lines often like to compare themselves to hotel chains like Four Seasons, or boutique establishments hidden in the countryside. In some people’s minds, one in particular – Crystal Cruises – bears a close affinity (spiritually, if not commercially) to luxury hotel group Ritz-Carlton.
But now the luxury chain is turning the tide by planning to launch its own fleet of custom-built luxury yachts. At 190 metres, the first of a potential three vessels – each accommodating up to 298 passengers in 149 balcony suites – will take to the seas before the end of 2019.
One of the restaurants on board is being developed by three-star Michelin chef Sven Elverfeld, from the Aqua Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Wolfsburg, Germany, and other amenities include an extensive spa.
Voyage itineraries – on sale from May 2018 – are still being determined, but a Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman said they will include “compelling locations” in the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Canada and New England, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
The second vessel is likely to include summer cruises in the American Great Lakes, while the third will probably be directed towards the Asia-Pacific region.
“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, Capri, and St Barths, creating truly unique experiences for our guests,” she added.
Ritz-Carlton has been looking at the possibility of entering the cruise industry for more than 12 years, and claims that 405,000 of its guests said in 2016 that they had taken a cruise.
“There is a huge opportunity within our current customer base, and there is a real opportunity within the luxury cruise market which is expected to continue to grow.
“We are also hoping to attract those that are new to cruising, guests who would not consider a mainstream cruise but would entertain a highly-curated yacht style experience with Ritz-Carlton. We anticipate interest from the US and European markets right away, and will also focus on attracting guests from China and Japan.”
Ritz-Carlton’s announcement is likely to be looked at closely by competitors such as Regent, Silversea and Seabourn – who all have new ships on order, or are considering whether to add to their fleets.
And it won’t have gone unnoticed at Crystal, whose ambitious expansion plans to build expedition yachts as well as larger 1,000-passenger vessels have been subject to repeated delays and deferments. If they don’t move fast, they could find themselves being left high and dry.
The yachts will not be Ritz-Carlton’s first encounter with ocean-going travel. Together with master chef Auguste Escoffier, founder César Ritz set up Ritz-Carlton restaurants on ocean liners of the Hamburg-Amerika Line in the early 20th Century, although they ceased operation at the start of the First World War.
The two men had originally managed the Savoy Hotel in London. Ritz-Carlton currently operates about 90 hotels in 30 countries – although London’s Ritz hotel is only a partner property, along with The London Edition, and the Bulgari Hotel.
The company no longer owns the Ritz Hotel in Paris, which was bought by former Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed in 1979. London’s Carlton Hotel was demolished in the late 1950s; the site, at the corner of Haymarket and Pall Mall, is now the New Zealand High Commission.