On the 623ft Evrima, which can host nearly 300 people, the vibe is more hotel than cruise line
by FRAN GOLDEN
ON BOARD a 12-day transatlantic sailing of the new 298-passenger Evrima, which is the first ship from the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Harry Collins was sitting at a cool, white-marble bar near a gorgeous infinity pool. He was sipping a beer and tasting an Aperol Spritz, because the bartender had made a couple of extra cocktails and offered him one.
“This is my bucket list,” 75-year- old Collins, an obstetrician from Savannah, Georgia, said gleefully. “And I get Marriott Bonvoy points for it.”
“It’s like we’re living at the Ritz,” says Jenna Knight, 35, Harry’s interior-designer girlfriend. They met about four years ago at the Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta.
To those who may have thought that a yacht bearing the name Ritz-Carlton would be stuffy, overly formal or filled with people who want to be left alone, it’s not. The 623ft Evrima, currently sailing from Lisbon to Barbados, is more like a luxurious oceanside beach club where everyone knows your name.
Cuisine and service are over the top. Complimentary Moët & Chandon and other drinks flow like water.
Not A Cruise Ship
Evrima, co-managed by Yacht Port- folio and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co, a subsidiary of Marriott International Inc, delivers a lot of people’s idea of perfection. Just don’t call it a cruise ship.
“Our competitor is a villa in Tuscany or a safari, not a cruise,” says Douglas Prothero, founder and CEO of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and Yacht Portfolio. Surveys on the early sailings, he adds, have shown that nine in 10 guests have never been on a cruise.
“This is a yachting lifestyle,” Prothero adds. “We are not trying to be a cruise ship. If you’re a cruiser, we apologise now for the differences and ask you to embrace those differences, because we are proud of them.”
Evrima has no buffet, casino, hokey theatre shows and activities, or frequent public address announcements. What it has is a lot of class — from the spacious, hotel-like suites with “terraces” (balconies) and marble bathrooms with porcelain sinks, to the kind of outdoor spaces that will allow you to fulfil any private yacht fantasies.
You can dine outdoors while staff deliver constant treats, jump off the back of the yacht for a swim when it’s at anchor and always find a cushy sun bed when you want to work on your tan. Lounging at the Spa Terrace with a heated dipping pool all to myself, I found myself daydreaming that I was movie star taking a relaxing break before having to deal with pesky paparazzi on shore.
Knowing How to have Fun
There is more at play than fantasy. When I walked into the palatial multi-windowed space aptly called the Living Room, with its high ceilings, custom-made contemporary décor and works by contemporary European artists, I could tell this yacht was a Ritz-Carlton property. I went around touching fine things: Velvet and silk and buttery leather upholstery, cool marble and chrome, plush carpet under my feet.
Ritz-Carlton’s floating immersion includes old-school afternoon tea, and you will recognise familiar products at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, where I indulged in a moisturising body and face treatment that involved Celestial Black Diamond products that contain real diamond dust (US$385 or RM1,745).
With 253 crew members catering to about 220 guests on my sailing, Evrima was about good times and social experiences. At midnight we were dancing to YMCA and other dance hits spun by the resident DJ in the windowed Observation Lounge. Some guests still were hanging out after 2am in the leather comfort of the Humidor, stocked with complimentary Davidoff cigars and single-malt Macallan.
During the winter Caribbean season, the DJ action will move outdoors. The yacht has its own chic club in the Marina Terrace, a lounge hovering only a few feet above the sea. Milder pursuits include cool jazz, performed live in the Living Room, where you’ll also find a duo whose female singer nails hits by Adele.
With most fares in the US$7,000 to US$25,000 range per person for a seven-night sailing, Evrima is populated by a well-heeled crowd. On my sailing, guests included wealth managers and other finance types, doctors, lawyers, business owners and couples celebrating significant anniversaries.
Most were American, many in their 50s and 60s, and Marriott Bonvoy members. In addition to collecting points, you can also use about 200,000 points a day to pay for your cruise. Some passengers own their own boats.
If you looked closely, you could see that some guests were dressed from head to toe in designer clothes, but no one looked too dressed up. “It’s come as you are, but come fancy,” says Knight.
By day, there was no shame in walking to the pool in the soft Frette bathrobe provided in your suite. And if you wanted to stay in your Hawaiian shirt and shorts for dinner, this was as acceptable as wearing a long, flowing dress.
The Crew Knows You
In staffing the ship, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection sought what the hotel company calls “ladies and gentlemen” (crew) with either luxury hotel or luxury cruise experience. The company had some 50,000 applicants for 300 jobs.
The ship’s hotel director Marie-Elise Lallemand was previously hotel director at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park and had never walked on a ship before. “I feel I am running a luxury hotel at sea and not just another cruise,” she says.
Crew is trained on Ritz-Carlton’s 12 values for customer service — which include knowing guests’ names and fulfilling their needs before they anticipate them — that they carry in their pockets and review at daily meetings. “You can create the most beautiful ship or hotel in the world, but that’s meaningless if you can’t deliver service,” Lallemand says.
Dining Goes Overboard
The ship’s four complimentary restaurants were all impressive, with carefully choreographed menus and service. In addition to the pan-Asian Talaat Nam with its sushi bar, I particularly enjoyed dining outside under space heaters at Mistral — even if my waiter caused me to overindulge by bring- ing me three New England lobster tails because “they’re small”.
Dedicated gourmands will want to try S.E.A. (Sven Elverfeld Aboard), its chef having earned three Michelin stars for his restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg in Germany. It’s the only restaurant with an additional cost: A Michelin-precious, seven-course meal comes to US$285 per person, with wine pairings that starts with a single caramelised kalamata olive stuffed with goat cheese and anchovy.
Complimentary wine flows at all meals. If you don’t care for one varietal, ask for another; there’s a vast cellar. Besides dining and drinking, activities on the yacht are kept at a minimum, which is how most passengers seem to like it. Find a social scene at the infinity pool, where you can stay all day with lunch at the Pool House, or curl up with a good book in a nook in the Living Room.
Stare at the sea from your suite, which in my case was a lavish two-storey loft affair with a living room on the top level and views very close to the waterline from the executive-size desk in the bedroom.
Everyone onboard is assigned a personal concierge, with each covering several suites. Raj, who previously managed a palace for the royal family of Qatar, made sure I had dinner reservations and otherwise treated me like royalty.
Fares cover practically everything, including basic WiFi; you can upgrade to a premium package for US$39 per day. Every time I ordered complimentary room service for breakfast, I mused on what it would cost at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. You do have to pay extra if you crave, for instance, caviar.
Some guests got so caught up in the hotel-like experiences that they seemed surprised when we encountered some rolling waves as we headed from Lisbon to Madeira and on to Tenerife (where I disembarked). I thought the yacht, with its stabilisers, handled the waves surprisingly well — better than I expected from a ship so small.
At the coast of Tenerife, Roxanne Denoyer of Utah, celebrating her 45th anniversary with husband Mike, who owns a Grand Canyon rafting business, says they came onboard hoping for “something special right out of the box”. Her conclusion: “That’s a hard nut to crack, and they are doing it.”
Brian Arnds, 51, a human resources executive in Nashville, had a different perspective: “Money can buy happiness, or at least a Ritz-Carlton cruise.” — Bloomberg
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition