Opulence on the ocean28 April 2023
The ultra-luxury market is on the rise as the cruise industry sees a triumphant return to the seas for eager travellers. While established cruising companies are constantly looking for ways to up their game, luxury-hotel groups are also taking increasing interest in the cruise business. Brooke Theis speaks to Christopher Prelog, president of Windstar Cruises, and Luigi Matarazzo, general manager of the Merchant Ships Division at Fincantieri, to hear more.
Creating the ultimate luxury travel experience is about more than suites, style and service. The best trips provide unparalleled access to awe-inspiring scenes while catering to guests’ every whim. Escapism is key: while all the little worries of the day are taken care of you can immerse yourself in the journey. But integral to this experience is a fleet of sleek, state-of-the-art ships that provide modern conveniences of the highest standards, with attentive staff to ensure guests don’t need to lift a finger.
Although Four Seasons hotels are well versed in the art of hospitality, its latest venture has taken it to uncharted waters: building a 207m yacht with Fincantieri, one of the world’s leading shipbuilding groups. Due to set sail on its maiden voyage in 2025, the 14-deck custom-designed vessel will have 95 cabins that will be decorated glamorously by Tillberg Design of Sweden, and guest areas will be conceived by the world-renowned London-based studio Martin Brudnizki.
“The Four Seasons brand itself represents the quintessence of relaxed luxury and flawless service,” says Luigi Matarazzo, the general manager of the merchant ships division at Fincantieri. “The growth of the luxury segment has been the main trend of the cruise industry lately, with new vessels ordered for the traditional cruise brands, new brands established, and new cross-over concepts conceived to fill the gap between cruising and yachting.”
Matarazzo notes that Four Seasons is perfectly positioned to lead in this latter sphere, prioritising guest experience over all else in the design of its boat. “The limited passenger numbers lead to an exclusive yacht-cruise experience, the cabins are exceptionally large and passengers will enjoy the high space ratio.”
“Cutting-edge technology, timeless design and flawless service are the prerequisites for an exceptional long-lasting success.”
At a cost to build of $4.2m a suite, no expense is being spared when it comes to design. The most expansive residence, the Funnel Suite, will be four levels comprising 890m2 of living space. The restaurants and spas on board will reflect the toptier standards Four Seasons hotels are known for, and naturally, that signposts what guests can expect from its cruising endeavour.
The build cost per suite on Four Seasons’ new luxury yacht.
“Fincantieri has focused all the know-how and resources for translating such concepts into a real vessel,” notes Matarazzo, who explains that a canoeshaped stern will house a wide pool deck and the swimming pool will have a moveable bottom, and the aft of the vessel will have an open marina spanning the entire width of the ship where guests can sunbathe, have a dip in the water or enjoy a range of aqua toys.
The living space in the Funnel Suite on the Four Seasons’ new luxury yacht
Additionally, the lifeboats and tenders will be designed as premium-luxury boats and will be partially hidden when stowed by special moveable shell covers. With the option from Fincantieri to add two further vessels to their fleet, Four Seasons is clearly confident in its ability to deliver exceptional itineraries to match the quality of the boat. “Cutting-edge technology, timeless design and flawless service are the prerequisites for an exceptional long-lasting success,” says Matarazzo.
Meanwhile, the 1984-established luxury small-ship cruise line Windstar Cruises has recently renovated its three all-suite yachts – Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride – which sail all across the world, including the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and North America. Each boat was lengthened with 50 new suites to bring their capacity to 312 passengers, equipped with deluxe bathrooms filled with L’Occitane products. Two speciality restaurants were added, as well as a brand-new spa and fitness centre with an array of treatments – plus more efficient engines have been installed.
The company also partnered with Ray Chung, the director of design at The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry in New York, to create modern and inviting design aesthetics for the new public spaces and suites. Chung’s goal was to keep the best elements and designs from the vessels and re-envision them for modern guests, consciously creating an effortless sense of flow through the ship.
“The team came together with a thoughtful plan to add amenities, upgrade existing spaces, incorporate new design elements and enlarge many public areas,” says Christopher Prelog, the president of Windstar Cruises, explaining that every area on each ship was considered during the project.
“We wanted to meet our guests’ expectations for a true luxury ship and experience, and for us that also meant upgrading our interactive TV system with hundreds of movie and entertainment options, and making our pool area more relaxing.” It was important to Prelog that once the renovation was complete, there would be no discernible difference between the existing and newly added sections of the ship, so that levels of excellence were seamless throughout.
Bucket list destinations from the comfort of a cabin
In recent years, an expectation for grander and lengthier cruises has evolved in the luxury space, so Windstar now offers an “85-day grand European bucket list” cruise, taking guests on an extraordinary voyage that traverses 22 countries. The itinerary reflects a growing demand for extravagant voyages from a travel-starved cruise audience following the pandemic, who are eager to book a once-in-a-lifetime trip – which is facilitated, says Prelog, by the cruise line’s small-size fleet.
“All of our itineraries are designed to take our guests to undiscovered places where bigger ships can’t go,” he says. To enhance their experience, Windstar staff will accommodate late-night or overnight visits to such destinations, allowing guests to fully immerse themselves in the place they are visiting.
Part and parcel of discovering new cultures is trying local cuisines – but variety is essential to ensuring the palate of every guest is catered to. As such, the new culinary experiences conceived by Windstar provide a wide range of plates for passengers. “We’ve certainly upped our culinary game by adding new chefs to the team and new dining options, to bring it in line with fine-dining expectations,” says Prelog.
As part of Windstar’s partnership with the not-forprofit culinary organisation, the James Beard Foundation, the line hosts three cruises a year with different chefs across various regions of the US, whose recipes then become part of the restaurants’ regular rotation. For Prelog, the focus has to be on quality over quantity when it comes to creating a luxurious experience. Chefs shop in local markets where possible to serve fresh, authentic flavours, and always strive to provide healthy options such as plant-based dishes (Windstar’s vegan menu will be launched this year). As he says, “Fine dining to us isn’t caviar service and champagne – it’s delicious meals served in inspiring environments by friendly staff.”
The company looks to create a more casual and customisable experience than other lines might, with an elegant ambiance in the evenings but no formal dress nights. The ships have also introduced a new Star Grill by Steven Raichlen for barbecue aficionados, making creative use of recipes from across the globe as well as signature sauces; while Cuadro 44 by the Michelin-starred chef Anthony Sasso serves vibrant Spanish plates. A chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen enables diners to observe the cooking process and a Spanish-centric wine and cocktail list completes the experience.
More than hospitality
Special requests for meals are happily fulfilled by chefs, and guests can expect a highly personalised, intuitive service from staff, who Prelog says will know their names and preferences before the first day is over.
“Our service is friendly and approachable. Of all the things that make Windstar 180° from ordinary, the most exceptional may be our crew. To them, hospitality is not just a job, it’s a calling, and the more you enjoy your voyage, the more they enjoy serving you. They notice things others might not – your preference for turn-down chocolates, for instance, resulting in extra sweets magically appearing on your pillow. Our crew remembers our guests and it’s like a reunion when they return to sail again. We uphold it by hiring genuinely kind people who are masters of hospitality.”
As a result, guests return time and again to Windstar, and many of them form lifelong friendships with people they meet on board, says Prelog. But despite the intimacy of small-ship cruising, it isn’t about forced interaction or having to sit at a table with other cruisers if guests prefer not to – it is about the freedom to choose how you want to sail. Passengers can relax in their suites and order room service, spend time by themselves or loved ones or they can meet and mingle with a community of like-minded people. In any case, they will be welcomed and pampered, and immersed in the destination as they experience the world by water.
“Of all the things that make Windstar 180° from ordinary, the most exceptional may be our crew.”
As the demand for luxury experiences at sea continues to grow, so too will a flourishing market of cruise companies competing with each other – and themselves – to be the very best. What Prelog and Matarazzo both confirm is that discerning travellers are certainly in for a treat.