Earlier this month, I had the thrill of gaining firsthand cruising experience with the newly launched Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, venturing aboard their premier smaller-sized ship (a.k.a., mega-yacht), Evrima, on a delightful 7-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary out of Bridgetown, Barbados. This trip was an all-adult family adventure for us, allowing me to experience Ritz-Carlton’s foray into the cruising business as a paying customer, rather than an industry insider/Virtuoso travel advisor. Hence, I was flying a bit “under the radar” on this journey and that allowed me to retain an objective point of view. I feel this unbiased and real-world experience gave me unique insights about what cruising with Ritz-Carlton would actually be like for my clients.
Ritz-Carlton’s plans to take their legendary service and ultra-luxury, land-based hotel brand to the sea have been in place for several years now, but the COVID-19 pandemic and a myriad of supply-chain delays postponed launch until late 2022. Adopting a smaller ship approach allows the brand to offer an intimate, less crowded and more relaxed sailing experience compared to the mega-ship cruise lines. It also affords access to lesser-known, smaller ports and, according to Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection founder Doug Prothero, grants license to at least the possibility of altering itineraries on the fly, which perhaps is the quintessential definition of the so-called “yachting lifestyle”. In fact, our cruise had an itinerary/port change shortly before our sailing date. With their emphasis on smaller ships, the company takes aim at comparable ships by Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, and Crystal, perhaps even taking their game plan a step further by downsizing another notch or two with their first commercial sailing vessel, the 298-passenger, 624-foot yacht, Evrima.
Despite its smaller size, there are plenty of amenities aboard Evrima to keep things interesting and active, including five dining options, six lounges, two pools and several hot tubs, live entertainment, the Ritz Kids program, a spa and beauty salon, fitness center, cigar humidor, and the Marina, a platform at the rear of the ship on Deck 3 (a.k.a. the “beach”), where guests can indulge in sun loungers, water toys, and direct seamless entry into the sea while anchored (although the latter diversion is contingent upon favorable weather and current conditions). A variety of curated shore excursions were offered at an additional cost at most ports. We also experienced some unexpected delights that did not cost extra (e.g., a chocolate tasting on board before leaving the port in Granada, one of the world’s finest artisanal chocolate producers). Each of the 149 suite-style cabins aboard Evrima has its own private balcony, a dining table, a king bed, a full tub, separate shower, and double-vanity in the bathroom (as well as a third hand-washing sink in the enclosed toilet area in our suite). This was, without a doubt, the most impressive and spacious mid-level stateroom I have set foot into on a cruise ship. If cabin space is your priority, you will not go wrong with Ritz-Carlton.
The booking process and pre-cruise interaction via the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection website needs some improvement. In particular, even the initial step of establishing an account and login credentials was cumbersome and confusing. Nearly all of my family members had trouble with this process and I had to intervene. Once that obstacle was overcome (or simply dropped by some of us), things did improve. The check-in and boarding process was a well organized and smooth process, and made everyone feel like a VIP — precisely what the Ritz-Carlton brand is known for. Every suite on Evrima is assigned a personal concierge available at your beck and call during your cruise to help with any dinner reservations or special requests. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Journeys app (downloaded to your phone upon arrival) is designed to be your conduit for personal concierge access, but this app still has some kinks to work out as well, so WhatsApp messaging was summoned into service for this purpose and it worked efficiently and satisfactorily.
The passenger to crew ratio aboard Evrima is nearly 1:1, so the staff and service were responsive, courteous, well trained and generally what you would expect from Ritz-Carlton’s world-renown reputation for service excellence. We encountered several staff who were especially friendly and personable, perhaps less formal than what we expected, which was a welcome and pleasant surprise. Our family totaled a party of 11 on this sailing, which presented its own set of unique challenges, particularly in the area of dining together, but I would have to give the Evrima crew solid marks for their efforts to accommodate our group and keep everyone happy.
All food and beverages are included in the cruise price aboard Ritz-Carlton’s Evrima, with elevated options available at an additional charge for those who wish to experience superior selections, for example wines from their extensive reserve list or a collection of high-end spirits. The seven-course tasting menu (with wine-pairings) available at the Michelin-star S.E.A. restaurant is also extra at $285 per guest, and requires advance reservations. The other four standard restaurants include: the Evrima Room (main dining area), Mistral (an open-air dining option featuring Mediterranean-inspired dishes), Talaat Nam (creative Southeast Asian cuisine and a sushi bar with indoor or outdoor seating), and the Pool House (more casual dining in an open air space and a popular spot for breakfast). The meals at all four regular dining venues were quite good overall, prepared with care and attention to detail. Most dishes were outstanding, and we never met a salad or starter dish we didn’t enjoy, but there were a couple of entrée miscues, leaving some room for improvement.
We had a similar experience with the inclusive wine list — thoroughly enjoyable for the most part, but not without some room for improvement. Granted, wine tasting is a subjective experience, so to each his own. There were plenty of wines to choose from, including an expansive international selection, but we were a little disappointed with the French red selections and gave the reds from Spain mixed reviews. Nonetheless, we had no trouble finding enjoyable wines from the inclusive list — for example, the wines from Argentina were surprisingly good and the domestic and Italian selections were just fine. Our perception was that the sommelier could have made better selections for some regions, though perhaps our expectations were a bit lofty due to the notoriety of the Ritz-Carlton brand.
The name of our Ritz yacht, Evrima, is derived from the Greek word “discovery,” and discovering is a good way of describing what we did on this adventure! We took advantage of the embarkation from Bridgetown by arriving a couple nights prior to our cruise and explored the beautiful island of Barbados. During the cruise, we stopped at some Caribbean ports never encountered before, including St. George (Grenada), Canouan (where the Ritz crew sponsored an all hands-on-deck beach party barbeque excursion at a private beach club inviting all passengers to enjoy some beach time and great food for the afternoon), Bequia Saint Vincent (Grenadines), Fort-de-France (Martinique), Terre-De-Haut (Guadeloupe), and Soufriere – Saint Lucia (Guadeloupe). The last stop in St. Lucia, where several outstanding Virtuoso resort properties with which I am quite familiar are located, was perhaps the highlight of our journey. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to visit them all, but we did take the opportunity while in St. Lucia to hire a water taxi and visit Sugar Beach, arriving at the resort by boat on the beach between the two visually impressive Pitons (twin mountainous volcanic spires soaring out of the sea), which added to the excitement. My contacts at Sugar Beach rolled out the red carpet, on short notice I might add, and gave us a fabulous tour of the property. (I’ll save any further commentary on Sugar Beach for another day after I’ve had more time there to fully experience that gem of a destination in the Caribbean.)
It seems as though smaller ship sizes, with a more relaxed and intimate vibe, larger crew to passenger ratios, smaller crowds and no lines are the current rage and capturing the ultra-luxury cruise market. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection has two more super-yachts in the works: Ilma slated for launch in September of 2024, and Luminara coming in 2025, each with a slightly larger 452-guest capacity, but still a fraction of the size compared to the mega-cruise ships. Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection just recently announced the opening of reservations for Luminara, which will debut in the Mediterranean in July of 2025. Also recently announced, Ilma will sail in Northern Europe in the summer of 2025, a first for the cruise line, offering ports of call in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Reykjavik, Belfast, Bergen, Antwerp, and more. Although Ritz-Carlton is the first luxury hotel brand to take to the sea, Four Seasons plans on getting into the action with a similar-sized vessel, due to launch in late 2025. So there will be plenty of options for travelers and more competition to keep all involved on their toes, driving the standard of excellence even higher in this market.
The final verdict for our Evrima sailing: The cruise was a dreamlike experience none of us will not soon forget! Was it worth it? A resounding “Yes”! However, at this price point, which approaches the upper echelon of the cruising market, comes lofty expectations. So in short, while we were utterly blown away by this fantastic cruising adventure, there are still a few rough edges that need polishing. But rest assured, Ritz-Carlton has the recipe down, and we are confident they will perfect it. I look forward to a return expedition with Ritz-Carlton cruising and we at Avant Travel look forward to assisting our clients who wish to experience cruising at a whole new level! Feel free to watch the video below to get a little taste of Evrima and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection vibe, and whet your appetite for their two new super-yachts which will be sailing soon and the exciting new itineraries just announced!
Co-Owner, Travel Advisor