Cruise numbers are rising as US port strengthens its position as a homeport and destination city
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Author: Susan Parker/Wednesday, February 27, 2019/Categories: Interview, Cruise news
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Doug Prothero, CEO at The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, is full of passion and enthusiasm about bringing a new brand to the cruise market. The company is building three 26,500gt, 298-passenger yachts at Hijos de J Barreras in Vigo, Spain, with the float out of the first due in October. This ship will enter service in early 2020.
Over the past six years, Prothero has worked closely with Marriott, to get everything right. “I presented this idea in 2012 and so we have spent a number of years working through what type of cruise would work for the investor, for The Ritz-Carlton and for everyone involved,” he says. “We worked on the initial design of the ship and had discussions with the shipyard. We then had to raise the equity. We looked under every rock and were very fortunate to find Oaktree Capital which has 300 cargo ships in its portfolio, as well as shipbuilders and operations. It was a recipe for success.”
Having the backing of The Ritz-Carlton has been a major asset. “It is a lot of hard work to make sure that the The Ritz-Carlton experience can be taken to sea successfully,” Prothero says. “Probably the most challenging thing is the expectation of service.”
In order to deliver, everyone in the organisation is focused on the guest experience – including the engineers and the shipyard. “Every decision starts with the question: ‘What will that feel like to experience?’ so the guest experience is everywhere – and it is our job to keep it there,” Prothero says.
Barreras was chosen to build the vessel after discussions with many yards across Europe. “In the end what we were looking for was highly rated, custom-build and we knew Barreras for having very robust owners, Pemex of Mexico,” explains Prothero. “The shipyard has built more complex ships than ours. The work is very high quality.”
The main area that needed some serious thought was the luxury outfitting. “You need to bring it in from a compelling source,” Prothero says. “As a result, we encouraged the shipyard to bring in Interior Promo of Austria, which is well known for project management and outfitting of superyachts. Outfitting subcontractor Martínez Otero, who has Prada stores and luxury hotels in its portfolio, has also been taken on, as well as interior designer Tillberg Design of Sweden.”
Tillberg Design of Sweden is no stranger to The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s parent company Marriott, having designed hotels for the group. “We were comfortable from the beginning,” said Prothero. “It has been a very productive, friendly partnership. It is a collaborative effort between everyone, including the Marriott design team which brings its hotel experience to the project.”
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is not taking any chances when it comes to making sure it does everything to deliver the first ship to its exacting start. While delivery of the first ship is due in late 2019, the first cruise is in February 2020, so there are two lead times built in – and plenty of time for shakedown cruises.
This project will mark The Ritz-Carlton’s first foray into all-inclusive. There are five dining rooms, including a three-star Michelin concept restaurant, a The Ritz-Carlton spa, a marina aft and a pool or plunge pool in every outdoor public space. The smallest suite is 379 square feet including private terrace. Prothero comments: “In the ultra-luxury sector, it is a unique size. We don’t expect to see many new players doing what we are doing with this size of ship.” However he adds that there is a lot of space per passenger: “More space, we think, than on any vessel built.”
All of the entertainment is tied into the shore collection, whether taking the passengers to the destination or bringing the destination alive onboard. “Our art programme, for example, which we will roll out later this year, will involve us working with local artists,” says Prothero. “We will be interfacing with the art community in all its forms. Our guests are well-travelled and looking for genuine experiences.”
As well as having local partners from Marriott luxury properties, the brand is focusing on individual shore excursion operators who specialise in the destinations where they reside. “We are deliberately avoiding tour operators in regions as we want to know who we work with,” says Prothero. “We will be sending members of our own teams out with the shore excursions.”
With service being key, a brand and yacht collection team has been working on sourcing and training crew well in advance. “We plan details of every deliverable and how we do that,” notes Prothero. “We have a road map and an unusual amount of shakedown time. The Ritz-Carlton has years of luxury in-house experience. Anybody wanting to work onboard will have had to have worked in cruise before.”
Environmental sustainability is very important to The Ritz-Carlton and the yacht collection. Prothero is keen to emphasise that it takes effort and investment. “We will do everything we can,” he says. “In terms of emissions, we only burn marine gas oil, we don’t have the capacity to burn heavy fuel. It was a deliberate decision to be well ahead of regulations. We are working to eliminate plastics onboard as much as possible. Our itinerary style means we consume less time at sea. The yachting lifestyle works well in that regard.”
Prothero’s concluding remarks are positive: “Our aim is not to shake up the cruise world, it is just to do our thing.” Doing its thing, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is certainly an exciting development in the industry.
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