Marriott International’s luxury brand Ritz-Carlton announced its first foray into the cruise industry in June, revealing a series of three small cruise ships that aim to challenge the traditional cruising experience.

Created in collaboration with maritime experts Douglas Prothero and Lars Classen, the custom-built trio of vessels, named the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, plans to take to sea in late 2019, with reservations opening in May 2018.

Measuring only 190m in length, each ship will accommodate a total of 544 people, including 298 passengers in 149 suites and 246 crew members.

“The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will have a distinctive personality and the vessels are sure to be true standouts in some of the most glamorous ports around the world,” said Herve Humler, president and chief operating officer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. “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 personalised service.”

In 2016, the global cruise industry welcomed more than 24 million passengers worldwide and generated revenues of approximately $35.5bn, according to Statista. The sector is forecast to reach $57bn by 2027.

A bespoke experience, on-board and ashore

Ritz-Carlton’s luxury vessels aspire to blur the line between luxury accommodation, yachting and cruise vacation. According to the brand, itineraries are being developed with the intent to combine “the lifestyle of the Ritz-Carlton’s luxury resorts and the casual freedom of a yachting vacation”.

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Voyages will last between seven and ten days, with both overnight and daytime ports of call in the world’s most popular destinations, such as the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Due to its size, the yacht will be able to call at unique locations typically not accessible to large cruise ships, from Capri and Portofino to St. Barts and the old town of Cartagena. Each journey will be planned in collaboration with local chefs, musicians and artists so guests will be able to “experience the locations in unique and experiential ways”.

Diverging from the beaten path of popular tourist destinations, as well as lowering the number of passengers on board, are smart moves from the luxury brand, as over the past few years a number of flagship European cities such as Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik have issued bans on large cruise ships docking on their shores.

On board, an open-air penthouse space with a retractable roof and panoramic views of the sea will serve as an al fresco lounge by day and as a nightclub in the evenings.

Each guest will be housed in a suite (as opposed to a ‘stateroom’, as they are known on traditional cruise ships), each with its own balcony. While most cruise ships offer a combination of 80/20 standard to premium accommodation, the Carlton cruise yachts will have a 60/40 mix.

The vessels, which will also be available for private charter, will feature restaurants by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, The Ritz-Carlton’s three Michelin-starred restaurant, a spa, and a Panorama Lounge and wine bar, as well as on-board entertainment.

Hi-tech propulsion keeps passenger comfort in mind

Spanish shipyard Astillero Hijos de J. Barreras (HJB) was announced as the winner of the contract to build the first 24,000gt cruise yacht of the range. Although no price was officially disclosed for the new builds, the cost of the first ship is estimated at approximately $210m.

In an interview with Seatrade Cruise, Classen revealed that the ships will run on marine diesel, as opposed to LNG. The “proven technology” behind diesel electric propulsion with common rail fuel injection is thought to provide better efficiency at various navigational speeds.

Multinational companies MAN Diesel and ABB were also chosen as partners for the project. ABB will be fitting each ship with two Azipod D gearless propulsion systems, a popular choice in the passenger segment, featuring electric drive motors in a submerged pod outside the ship’s hull.

The Azipod range has been on the market for over 25 years and today is used for LGN carriers, merchant ships and icebreaking vessels around the world. According to ABB, the system improves safety, efficiency, and the comfort of passengers on board, with lower vibration and noise levels. In addition, it enables the vessel to be remotely monitored from shore and eases access to ports without tug assistance.

“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 in a venture that will give new meaning to curated luxury travel,” Classen said.