Not truly new to the cruise industry, the concept of yacht-style cruising is gaining steam, with several yacht-style cruise ships on order from The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Scenic, and Emerald Cruises. They join SeaDream Yacht Club and Windstar Cruises in offering a small-ship style of cruising that has more in common with private yachting than traditional cruising.
Travel Market Report reached out to some of the major players in the yacht-style cruising niche to find out how it’s different from small-ship cruising, what “yachting” implies, and whether it’s only for the ultra-affluent.
Buzz Word or True Differentiator
Is yacht-style cruising different from small-ship cruising or is it merely branding and marketing? If it’s truly a subset of small-ship cruising, then all yacht cruises should have something in common with each other than makes them markedly different from other small ship cruises and cruise lines.
“In today’s market place, the term ‘small ship cruising’ is used liberally and means different things to different people,” Adrienne D’Annunzio, manager of SeaDream Yacht Club, charity & PR. “There are cruise lines touting their ‘small ships,’ which carry anywhere from 260+ to 1,200+ people. It’s an increasingly popular style of cruising and increasingly unclear what ‘small’ means.”
As a subset of small-ship cruising, yacht-style cruising does indeed stand apart. Yacht-style cruise ships, for instance, don’t have the same size range. The largest yacht-style cruise ships carry no more than 500 people. The smallest typically carry about 100, though there are cruise lines with even smaller yachts offering cruise-style itineraries.
Because of their size, yacht-style cruises tend to go to smaller ports than even some of the other small-ship cruise companies.
“These boats are smaller, meaning you can choose to moor up in a marina and explore a quaint town or anchor in a secluded bay to experience the best of the sun and sea,” said Grant Seuren, co-founder and director of Sail Croatia, which operates a small fleet of yachts that can hold up to 40 passengers.
Windstar Cruises, which president Christopher Prelog said offers a “fleet of small luxury ships that evoke the feeling of yachts,” sails to “off-the-beaten-path and iconic destinations that large ships simply can’t access, to explore unique ports-of-call and hidden harbors…”
Additionally, yacht cruises often spend more time in a given port, with later stays and more overnights, providing more of that leisurely style of exploration that yachting is known for.
Distinct Onboard Experience
Just as important, yacht-style cruise ships tend to have a similar onboard experience.
“We view yacht cruising as a lifestyle that is incorporated into each facet of the guest experience,” a spokesperson for The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection said. “Onboard, this experience will reflect what one might find on a private yacht… no casino, show lounge or formal nights. Instead, guests will have the freedom to design their day as they wish…”
“There’s not going to be the type of entertainment that blows you away, like you get on the big lines, because that’s not yachting,” added Maggie Carbonell, vice president of marketing for Scenic.
Another characteristic yacht-style cruise ships have in common is an aft marina, something you won’t find on the vast majority of other small ships. Having an aft marina, from which cruisers can swim and snorkel, was something Carbonell said was top of mind for Scenic when designing its first-ever warm-water yachts for Emerald Cruises.
It’s something that Windstar Cruises, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, and Sail Croatia all tout as well.
While there is a tangible difference between yacht-style cruising and the rest of the small-ship segment, using the term “yacht” also helps with marketing.
“You need to be able to describe your product in a context that consumers can grasp and go, ‘I understand what that is,’” Carbonell told TMR. “Everyone knows what a yacht is,” she said, adding when she hears the word yacht, she thinks of Robin Leach and the TV show, “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
“The pinnacle of luxury is a yacht,” she said. Yachts are spacious. They have lux touches and they convey a feeling of pampering, she added.
A spokesperson for The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection agreed. “Yachting evokes luxury, exclusivity, and the freedom to explore as one wishes… Very much like super-yachts, the yacht itself is a destination.”
But “yachting” also indicates the type of destination experience someone will have.
“Yacht cruising connotes a more casually elegant, outdoor, active experience on the water,” said Bob Lepisto, president of SeaDream Yacht Club. “Whenever someone hears the word yacht, they can see themselves enjoying a luxury experience on the water visiting unique ports.”
Windstar’s Prelog echoed Lepisto. “The word ‘yacht’ defines the style of our smaller ships from a personalized service perspective, as well as the greater access to more exotic and off-the-beaten-path ports away from the rushing crowded world,” he said.
Attainable? Yes. Budget Option? No.
While travel advisors don’t need to limit their marketing of yacht-style cruising to the ultra-affluent, it is not a budget option. Prices generally start at about what you find at the upper end of the premium ocean cruise segment, at several thousands of dollars per person. You won’t find much below that.
With that said, most of the cruise executives we spoke with said the value that’s rolled up into their pricing makes it attainable for more people than you might at first suspect.
“When you consider that your accommodation, transportation between the islands and some meals are included, it’s easy to see the value for money…” Sail Croatia’s Seuren said. Other lines, like Scenic, Emerald and Windstar, which include all meals and nonalcoholic drinks, and even some alcoholic drinks and excursions, depending on the line, provide even greater value for the money.
“Chartering a private yacht is a lot more expensive per person than sailing with Windstar Cruises,” Prelog said. “Don’t forget, cruises include accommodations, all meals, nonalcoholic beverages, visits to ports, free watersports, etc.”
Lepisto said almost the same thing. “If you compare a SeaDream voyage price to what it costs to charter your own private yacht, it is incredibly great value. Yes, our pricing is higher than the big cruise ships, however based on the fact it is so highly inclusive the value is exceptional.”