CHAMPAGNE FROM BREAKFAST TO BEDTIME: Putting on the Ritz (at sea)
The first member of the three-vessel Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection fleet, Evrima, finally began accepting passengers in October 2022. I was on the christening cruise, which left Lisbon Nov. 5, for Funchal, Tenerife, and Barbados. It was a 13-day indulgence, which, for some of my fellow travellers, meant sipping champagne from breakfast to bedtime.
It was an interesting crossing. I had previously crossed from Southampton to New York in October on the Queen Mary 2. That was pleasant, no rough seas and moderately warm. On Evrima’s crossing we went further south in the Atlantic so that even in November every day was in the high 70s/low 80s. Evenings we were able to dine and have cocktails outside.
What Canadians need to know is while Ritz-Carlton isn’t a Canadian brand, the idea is Canadian. The man behind the RC Yacht Collection, CEO Doug Prothero is from Port Stanley. By launching this collection, he is continuing the legacy of Canadian luxury travel innovators – like Canadian Pacific, which built the chain of chateaux that formed the basis of the Fairmont resorts; Halifax’s Sir Samuel Cunard; Four Seasons; and the Rocky Mountaineer.
The RC Yachts are the first time a major hotel brand has gone to sea. While cruise ships have always divided their personnel into sailing crew and hotel staff, none had teamed with a hotel company to operate that aspect of their business.
Inside, Evrima is like an intimate 149-suite resort. Every suite has a terrace. There are no windowless, inside cabins. Walls are panelled in walnut, ash, and leather. Baths are marble, with heated floors and towel racks. Linens are French.
Evrima’s accommodations include five styles of suites ranging from 29 to 100 sq. metres. I stayed in a two-story, 57-sq.-m. loft suite that had a powder room, living and dining room and terrace on Deck 5, with bedroom, suite-wide window, dressing area and full marble bath with heated floors on Deck 4. Some suites have a movable airwall, which allows guests to double the size of their suite.
The second RC yacht, Ilma, is larger. It has 224 suites in seven styles to accommodate 448 guests. Ilma begins sailing in September 2024 – bookings are open now.
Unfortunately, the RC yachts were delayed in launching due to financial failure of the 125-year-old Spanish shipyard building the yacht. Prothero, who has a background in marine finance, had to create a rescue plan that involved working with state, national and European governments, and private investors, to get the yard functioning again.
That accomplished, the project then faced the COVID-19 travel shut down. In a way, COVID came at the right time because Prothero’s team didn’t launch and stop, which would have impacted momentum. Instead, Evrima entered the market as a fresh, new post-pandemic product. A number of the guests I met had booked and rebooked as many as five times – with the general consensus that it was worth the wait.
There is a lot of innovation and thought behind the RC yacht collection and it is important to realize this is not the traditional cruise product. There are no Broadway-style shows, skating rinks, theme parks or buffets. Every meal is specifically prepared for that plate by the 41-member culinary team and the menus focus on being hyper local, created for the region and season.
Evrima has six bars, five restaurants plus in-suite dining, a water-level marina option available when in port, and a 15,000-bottle wine cellar. There’s also a private dining room available for special celebrations.
Entertainment is provided by musicians who perform solo and in various combinations for lunch, afternoon tea, early evening, late night, and a DJ for really late nights. There is also a visiting artist program on-board, as well as special RC-curated land excursions.
Even the ports of call are unique as Evrima’s size allows it to avoid crowds by visiting destinations that are too small to accommodate large cruise ships. For example, Caribbean ports included the Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica; Ile des Saintes, Guadeloupe; Soufriere, St Lucia; Canouan, Tobago Cays, and Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and intimate islands and beaches of the Bahamas.
And when in port, Evrima lingers longer. On a cruise ship, with thousands of guests to reboard, passengers usually have to return by 4 p.m. But Evirma stays into the evening, so if guests feel like it, they can dine ashore.
The intimate size of the yacht also means that boarding, departures, and even customs, are relaxed and line-up free.
Other amenities include a full-service spa, a 400-piece art collection with art curator, infinity pool, hot tubs, and a marina with a full complement of water toys for use when moored. There is also a boutique and a medical centre staffed with a doctor and registered nurse.
For me, Evrima’s real luxury is freedom from regime. On a large cruise ship, with thousands of people to feed, passengers have to pick between two dinner sittings and return each night to an assigned table with the same tablemates. On Evrima you eat where, when, and with whom, you want.
It is also a dress-code free experience, by which I mean no formal nights and men are spared having to don a jacket and tie. The only time men wore jackets – with an open shirt – was at S.E.A., by three-Michelin-starred chef Sven Elverfeld, who has a restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg, Germany.
Not only do guests represent the so-called 1%, so do the crew. Evrima has 250 crew for 298 passengers. Over 40,000 people applied for those 250 crew positions.
Bookings show that 75% of guests are first-time cruisers, and they are typically younger than traditional cruisers. Having said that the age range for guests on my cruise went from 30 to 90.
My fellow passengers included a 30-year-old Danish e-bike entrepreneur who brought his mother for her 80th birthday. Solo traveller Eric, late 40s, headed a Goldman Sacks wealth management team. He’s a sailor, married to a woman from Stellarton, Nova Scotia, who gets seasick, so he was on his own. The attraction for him was being so close to the water.
There was a 50-something almond farmer from near San Francisco and his school superintendent husband. He brought 42 shirts for his 18-day trip – we were all entertained by their wardrobe. There was a young couple I assumed were tech entrepreneurs because of their age and matching t-shirt collection. Another guy took early retirement from film distribution with MGM. His husband was in music, so they now live in Nashville. There were probably a dozen gay couples on board.
Another man had headed Deloitte’s Japanese business, before coming back to re-configure Walmart’s operations. One man escaped Cuba on a raft 30 years ago and did so well in America he was able to retrace some of that route on this yacht. Another passenger was a Washington-based transplant surgeon who makes regular trips to Toronto to study cutting-edge medical procedures. There was a dentist from Cincinnati, and a Florida-based OBGYN, who with her wealth manager husband, worked six months and travelled six months of the year.
A woman from Richmond, whose earring flew into my lap (“Don’t worry, it’s paste. My real jewels are home!”) complained, “They put Diet Pepsi in one of my refrigerators. No Southern woman’s lips should ever be expected to touch Pepsi.” Fortunately, there was Diet Coke in her suite’s second refrigerator. When she returned home from the cruise her husband needed to return her Porsche to the dealership. It was his birthday gift to her, but he bought a brown Porsche and, after all, “Who buys brown?” I learned from another passenger that that couple spent $1 million a year on travel.
Among the Canadians on board was a couple from Halifax/Chester and a former Mayor of Ottawa with his wife and son.
Evrima is positioned to serve the Mediterranean and Caribbean for 2023-24. However, looking ahead, its dimensions allow it to fit into the Great Lakes.
Prothero says, “Our competition isn’t another ship, it’s a villa in Tuscany.”
First published at Travel Industry Today