Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection cancels cruises just months before inaugural sailing — and it could be a logistical nightmare
With only four months until the first vessel from the new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection was to set sail, the luxury cruise line announced this week its lavish new ship won't be ready in time. All 14 voyages scheduled between Feb. 5 and June 13, 2020, have been cancelled.
"Challenging circumstances with the shipyard have caused us to extend the construction delivery timeline of our inaugural yacht," read an email sent to travel partners and travelers booked on those sailings.
Among those disappointed customers was TPG's former chief of staff, Adam Kotkin, who planned to sail on the first transatlantic voyage from Bridgetown, Barbados, to Lisbon, Portugal, in March 2020.
For Kotkin, the trip was meant to be a 40th birthday celebration — in style — with friends.
Even noncruisers were compelled to book a sailing on the first all-suite superyacht from the luxury hotel chain, which promised to reinvent cruising with elegant, spacious cabins with a distinctly residential aesthetic; frequent overnights and longer stays in ports; and exceptional cuisine, including a restaurant by chef Sven Elverfeld, of the Michelin-starred Aqua in the Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg, Germany. Other highlights include a striking infinity pool, a marina and oceanview accommodations for all.
In May, Kotkin booked the Terrace Suite (think: double vanities and a nearly 70-square-foot veranda) for his husband and himself for $10,400.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection has given him the option of booking the same itinerary in 2021, at a 30% discount from the future cost of the trip -- but that isn't working out to be much of a deal. The same room and itinerary he originally booked on the inaugural sailing now has a rate of close to $14,060, up $3,500 from what he paid for the 2020 sailing.
With 30% discount, the total drops to $9,842 — better, but not much of a difference from what he originally paid.
Right now, Kotkin says he remains undecided.
"I think, based on the way the current situation is being handled, that Ritz may not live up to my expectations that the majority of their properties have provided in the past," Kotkin explained. "[I'm] going to sit and wait. In the meantime, I am pricing a Viking and Seabourn cruise, both with similar itineraries and dates to the Ritz's [sailings]."
According to a statement from the yacht collection's public relations team, "The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is extending voyage fare savings when guests rebook their future voyage or full reimbursement for our guests’ paid cruise fare and airfare and hotel change fees."
Guests will receive savings up to 30% off a future sailing if booked before Oct. 31, 2019, the offer Kotkin is considering. Voyages rebooked by March 31, 2020, are eligible for 25% savings, and voyages rebooked by Sept. 30, 2020, are eligible for savings of 20%.
Although the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection promises to reimburse airfare or hotel change fees, the email does not say anything about covering potential cancellation fees.
The only airfare Kotkin had booked was a flight to Barbados (BGI) via JetBlue, but he was able to easily cancel that, thanks to his JetBlue Mosaic status. One of Kotkin's friends, however, had booked a one-way, nonrefundable ticket on United from Lisbon (LIS).
It's also unclear how travelers affected by the four-month cancellation could all get cabins on the remaining 2020 voyages when a good number are likely already approaching capacity. A sales representative for the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection told Kotkin that three of the voyages that were cancelled were completely sold out.
A quick look at the website shows 24 available cruises from June 2020 to December 2020, but cost and availability are not being publicly advertised.
When Kotkin spoke with a sales representative from the yacht collection about potentially rebooking, he was told availability for the 2020 sailings was slim and 2021 would likely offer more availability for his preferences. The only other transatlantic option available within the year was from Nova Scotia to Iceland — a much different (i.e., colder) experience than his planned voyage from Barbados to Portugal.
In fact, bookings for the 2021 season have not yet been opened to the public or travelers affected by the cancellations, and there hasn't been any mention of giving preference to those booked aboard the cancelled vessels.
I called the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection to inquire about the impact of the cancelled voyages, and I was met with similar uncertainty and zero clarity.
When we asked Kotkin how Ritz could make this right, he said, "I would imagine that a lot of people that registered for this cruise are Ritz-Carlton lovers. Maybe a couple of free-night weekend certificates to be used worldwide would show some love for the canceled itineraries and plans that many of us have been looking forward to for nearly a year. I also think they should lock in the 30% discount to what people paid and offer the [same] cruise in the future. Additional or fewer days would be prorated on that rate. What they should not do is tell me I am getting 30% off and then tell me there is dynamic pricing. It almost feels like this was a marketing scheme."
Rumors of the ship not being ready in time for the inaugural trip surfaced almost two months ago, although the delay was not formally announced to passengers until this week, giving them less time to make alternative vacation plans.
The experiences of excited Ritz-Carlton cruisers prove that problems can plague even the priciest of bookings and there is always underlying risk in booking something that is not yet ready for primetime.