A Wave of Luxury Superyachts Offer a More Intimate Way to Cruise

Beloved hospitality brands like Ritz-Carlton and Aman are setting sail with new yachts where the five-star treatment travels from port to port.
An aerial of cruise ship at sea.
Jack Hardy

Virgin took a gamble when it entered the cruise space in 2021, but it clearly paid off: Virgin Voyages ranked as your No. 1 Large Ship this year, thanks to its sultry Roman and Williams–co-designed interiors and memorable touches like an onboard tattoo parlor. Now other beloved hospitality brands are following its lead in smaller spaces, transporting their signature amenities and distinctive design ethos to more intimate mega-yachts on the high seas.

Take the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection (No. 11 in Small Ships; see complete list here), which debuted Evrima in October 2022. Once aboard, Ritz-Carlton loyalists are surrounded by familiar details like sleek design and mindful spa therapies. The yacht's 149 staterooms have the same cloud-like Frette linens found in the hotels, and the double-vanity bathrooms are stocked with Diptyque toiletries. Restaurants also pay homage to the brand's celebrated culinary offerings: The menu at S.E.A., for instance, is masterminded by chef Sven Elverfeld, who helms the three-Michelin-starred restaurant at Germany's Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg. A second yacht, Ilma, will launch next year, followed by another in 2025.

Last year, Virgin Voyages brought its unique brand of onboard entertainment to a second vessel, Valiant Lady.

George Lozada

While Belmond has long been a player in the river-cruise space with its Les Bateaux Belmond boats in France (a swish new barge, Coquelicot, A Belmond Boat, began plying waterways in Champagne this summer), Ritz's venture is transforming the ocean-travel experience, allowing guests to feel as if they're holidaying on a private vessel. Voyages call upon fewer ports—guests jaunt through yachting playgrounds like Bodrum, Turkey; Malta; Dominica; and Guadeloupe—but linger in each setting. These slower-paced routes are a fresh way for hotel groups to expand to destinations where a property doesn't already—and may never—exist, giving guests access to new regions with all the hospitality of the brand they love.

And there's much more to come: Four Seasons Yachts sets sail in 2025 with 95 suites; the largest, at 9,600 square feet, will have a spa and a wading pool. In 2026, all eyes will be on Aman as it launches a sleek seafaring extension of its tranquil resorts in the form of a vessel that, for now, is being referred to by only the intriguing moniker Project Sama. The 50-suite yacht will accommodate just 100 guests and have a Japanese garden, a swim club, and—of course—a luxe spa.

What matters most to discerning travelers is that these yachts are as exclusive and bespoke as their favorite properties on shore. No detail is too niche for private concierges to tackle with aplomb—whether it be unpacking your suitcase just so or making sure your favorite cocktail magically appears in your suite. The amenities extend to land, with customizable excursions awaiting guests in port—though no one would blame them if they ended up choosing to stay onboard.

This article appeared in the November 2023 issue of  Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine  here.