Cruising Puts On The Ritz

June 29, 2017


Irving Berlin didn’t coin the phrase, but he certainly made it famous. And now, with a potentially intriguing new take on travelling the high seas in high style, here comes the Ritz-Carlton hotel group with a major new investment in the business.

As devotees of the lavish style and indulgent motif of their hotels, we and our sun-loungers were positively agog at the news this world-famous brand will have its own ships, starting in just two years’ time. If there is one thing that pries us away from an ice-cool G&T, it is the possibility of new luxury cruise possibilities.


Here’s the basic skinny:

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will debut in late 2019 with a 24,000-ton, 298-passenger vessel (not so sure about the ‘yacht’ designation, though, for something bigger than many ships in the 1970s!).

It will be the first of three possible sisters, with Ritz-Carlton taking out an option for two additional deliveries in 2021 and 2022.

Imaginatively, it will be built, not in one of the existing (and overworked) shipyards of Germany, France, Italy or Finland, but at the boutique Astillero Hijos de J Barreras in Vigo, Spain, a complete newcomer to the cruise industry, and a welcome one, too. A little Galician empanada to add to the growing smorgasbord of sea-going choice (not to mention a few decent Albariños, we’d wager).

Lead designers will be the Tillberg marine architect company of Sweden (more of them anon), and the first ship will cost a reported $210million, not exactly a drop in the ocean but less than the $300m-plus of Seabourn’s three Odyssey-class vessels that weigh in at 31,000 tons and carry 450 passengers.

Superficially, the original sleek look is not dissimilar to Ponant twins L’Austral and Le Boreal, both of which tip the scales at a tad under 11,000 tons and are labelled ‘mega-yachts’ by their French owners.

If Ponant’s ships are ‘mega’, what comes after that? Hyper-yachts? Super-duper yachts? The mind positively boggles.

But we digress. The real interest, of course, is in the fact that Ritz-Carlton know how to do genuine luxury and, as we have said in the past, this is often the most over-used word in the cruise lexicon. If the company of Swiss impresario César Ritz know anything, it is how to do proper lavish opulence of the hotel variety, and there’s nothing we enjoy more than a superfluity of sojourning magnificence, if we say so ourselves.

It is, after all, what keeps us up at night reading the latest brochures and perusing the websites for cruise experiences that indisputably have First Class stamped all the way through them like a stick of good Brighton rock.

We do have a number of lines that already conform to that standard, of course, the likes of Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Regent and SeaDream. But there is always room for another, and the initial artist’s impressions of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection ‘fleet’ are certainly promising.

With 149 all-balcony suites and a special marina platform at the stern, there is plenty to admire about the overall look. There will be a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa, while their top chef, Sven Elverfeld from their hotel in Wolfsburg, will bring his three-Michelin-starred prowess to the cuisine.

Off the ship, the new line is working on creating “one-of-a-kind curated destination journeys,” in collaboration with local chefs, musicians and artists. Itineraries will range from seven to 10 days with seasonal stops in the Mediterranean, northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The company also promises voyages that call at ports not usually accessible to mass market ships, such as Capri and Portofino in Italy and St Barthelemy in the Caribbean.

And, when it comes to a proper sea-going look, well, Ritz-Carlton can point to its 1950s-built hotel in South Beach, Miami, with its ocean liner design by Morris Lapidus foreshadowing the balconies of modern cruise vessels.

Which brings us back to Tillberg, and the idea of proper luxury. The Swedes are a big noise in cruise interior design. Make that a Big Noise. Among their portfolio of nautical niceties are Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, the country club duo of Azamara Quest and Journey, and the delightful little Tia Moana of Bora Bora Cruises. But they are also at least partly responsible for the ghastly apparitions that are the recent Norwegian Cruise Line vessels, which would have to climb down a few notches to be merely garish.

Taking over the full design of a major luxury-orientated brand is also a whole different challenge, and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will need to be in full QM2 mode as opposed to anything Norwegian. In fact, they would do well to look at a few ‘yacht’ designs from a different source. A ‘sky yacht,’ in fact.

Our good American friend Eddie Sotto used to be a Walt Disney designer, an ‘Imagineer’ as they were termed. Now, Eddie designs aeroplane interiors. Really fancy aeroplane interiors. In fact, the kind of interiors that most millionaires can’t afford. But you will find them inside the latest breed of executive jets from the Embraer company,

“Party like its 1939!” says the slogan. And, indeed, the sumptuous style and décor of Eddie’s Sky Yacht fully echo the very best of 1930s design. Which was, incidentally, when the greatest cruise liners sailed the Seven Seas.

So, a quick memo to Tillberg Design: If you really want to impress; if you want to create the best modern impact of luxury cruise ship interiors; go get Eddie Sotto. This man really knows classic luxury interior design. Whether they can afford him is a matter for Ritz-Carlton’s deep pockets.

But Irving Berlin’s famous ditty ‘Putting On The Ritz’ was rightly famous in the 1930s. And, if that’s what they genuinely want to do with their cruise ships, it’s time to dig deep!

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