pool on top deck of a virgin voyages vessel

Expanding Horizons: Is Cruise the Next Step for Hotel Brands?

Few hotel and resort brands boast a global presence. Even fewer provide their offerings at sea. The gap between hotel and cruise is bridging. These two markets often share designers and suppliers, and even take inspiration from one another. However, in more recent years, a growing number of industry giants have begun entering the cruise market. These brands are redefining the way we see cruises, introducing first time and younger passengers, their own existing customer base, new design styles, and an increased focus on luxury.

These vessels are far more than ‘floating hotels’. They are dedicated cruise brands providing a luxurious experience at sea that is simultaneously synonymous with their brand and a bespoke experience unique to that found in their land-based locations. Read on to learn more about the pioneering hotel brands venturing into the cruise industry.

Virgin Voyages

The first non-cruise brand to enter the market was Virgin Voyages back in 2019. Since its first vessel, Scarlet Lady, debuted in 2021, Virgin Voyages launched a second ship, Valiant Lady, in 2022. This year, this game-changing cruise line will be launching her third and fourth vessels, Resilient Lady and Brilliant Lady. Virgin Voyages revolutionized the cruise industry with its adults-only cruises providing a fun and flexible alternative to cruising for millennials. Ditching the buffet, its vessels instead provide 20+ eateries offering a range of around the world cuisine and unique dining experiences inside instagrammable spaces. Virgin Voyages also promised to provide its sailors with a luxury experience like no other.

The vessel’s interiors are adorned with Virgin’s signature color, especially found in its vegetarian restaurant Razzle Dazzle. This features a red and white ‘dazzle’ camouflage décor and a scarlet bar area. These stunning spaces were designed by a powerhouse team including Dee Cooper, previously Senior Vice President of Design at Virgin Voyages, and Callie Tedder-Hares of Volume Creative.

Glamorous suites

Whilst her spaces encompass the brand’s flexible and leisurely attitude, they also exude luxury. Glamour can be found in the brand’s VIP suites, which feature brass accents, stunning marble bathrooms, spacious stargazing terraces, champagne tables, and exclusive sailor treatment. Sailors can also find the perfect mix of sophistication, nostalgia and cool in The Wake – a steak and seafood restaurant. The centerpiece of this design is the restaurant’s grand staircase at the entrance, enhanced by the venue’s opulent gold accents.

Virgin Voyages showed the cruise industry that they can do it all, marrying sophistication with cool and fun. The brand brought a new generation of cruisers with its revolutionary designs, including the first tattoo parlor at sea! The brand also revolutionized cruise dining with the erasure of a cruise classic, the dining hall buffet.

Ritz Carlton

The first hotel group to launch a superyacht, Ritz Carlton, entered the cruise industry last year with the debut of its first luxury ship, Evrima. A luxury brand rooted in service excellence, Ritz Carlton’s new superyachts offer an opulent cruise experience. At 623 feet, Evrima’s smaller size works to her advantage. It allows her to offer a luxurious experience with some of the largest guest to space and crew to guest ratios at sea. For added luxury, Evrima’s interiors are decorated with exquisite marble and neutral color palettes, with occasional splashes of calming blues.

First-rate dining spaces

Transforming the traditional cruise experience, no buffet can be found on board Evrima. Instead, the vessel offers five restaurants. One of which, SEA, is a specialty dining experience offering an inspired European tasting menu in a sophisticated setting with a contemporary feel. To allow passengers to enjoy the vessel’s stunning destinations, two of its restaurants offer open air dining with a view. The ship’s 149 suites are also built to enjoy the spectacular views through private terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Last year, Ritz Carlton announced the expansion of its fleet with the addition of two newbuild superyachts: Ilma and Luminara. These will be designed by cruise architect AD Associates in collaboration with award-winning lighting designer D.P.A. Finland-based yacht stylist Aivan developed the newbuild’s exterior design, taking inspiration from the elegant aesthetics of private yacht designs. The specially designed superyachts will feature the highest space ratios at sea, with 228 suites, each boasting its own private terrace. They will also offer a high percentage of larger suites, with two new, spacious upper suite categories. These measure up to 1,076 square feet in size.


In 2021, Aman announced “Project Sama,” a luxury yacht developed in partnership with Cruise Saudi. Cruise Saudi is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Designed in partnership with Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design, Project Sama will bring the spirit of Aman to sea in 2026. The vessels’ designs will pay homage to Aman’s eastern heritage and feature a design philosophy familiar to the hotel’s sense of style.

Defining a whole new category in water exploration, the 600 foot luxury yacht will feature 50 opulent suites, an informal all-day restaurant, plus international dining options and a relaxed club and lounge. To unwind, Project Sama will offer a serene and spacious Aman Spa, complete with a Japanese garden. The vessel will also provide opportunities to explore the water with two helipads, plus the expansive Beach Club. This will offer guests direct access to the water at the yacht’s stern.

When it debuts, Project Sama will offer a pioneering superyacht travel experience with Aman’s core values of privacy, peace, generosity of space and unparalleled service at its heart. Its official name will be announced closer to the vessel’s launch in 2026.

Four Seasons

Following the launch of these two brands, Four Seasons announced its new business venture, Four Seasons Yachts, in 2021. This venture is the result of a collaboration with Nadim Ashi and Philippe Levine, luxury entrepreneurs and bold visionaries. They will be joined by Larry Pimental, a veteran of luxury cruising. The first vessel is slated to be built by Fincantieri with an expected delivery date of 2025.

Award-winning design firm Tillberg Design of Sweden (TDoS) will be at the helm of this vessel’s designs, under the creative direction of Prosper Assouline. TDoS will be responsible for the design of the exterior and suites, while London-based Martin Brudnizki Design Studio will be the visionary behind the ship’s spectacular guest areas.

Industry first suite designs

The Four Seasons Yacht will offer 95 suites, each with a build cost of $4.2 million. Their designs will provide the comforts of a luxury hotel, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, high ceilings over eight feet in height, and access to spacious terraces. At the top of the yacht, guests can stay in the funnel containing an astonishing four decks of suites consisting of combined indoor and outdoor living space. In total, these equal 9,600 square feet. These villas on the sea offer a luxurious experience, providing a private plunge pool and spa area.

Offering an experience far from traditional cruising, veteran luxury travel industry expert Larry Pimentel describes Four Seasons Yachts not as a cruise line, but an “unprecedented luxury lifestyle project”. The vessel’s interiors and many amenities reflect this.

The vessel’s restaurants, lounges and bar concepts will celebrate the excellence and creativity that have been the hallmark of Four Seasons’ history of culinary innovation and attention to guest preferences. The yacht will also be equipped with a spa, lounge, and wellness program as well as a swimming pool. This transformative space becomes an outdoor movie theatre in the evenings, with the sunset serving as the perfect backdrop.

Orient Express – Accor

140 years after the launch of its first luxury trains, the Orient Express legend will continue with the unveiling of the world’s largest passenger yacht, Orient Express Silenseas. This was announced at the start of 2023. Setting sail in 2026, Orient Express Silenseas is the result of a partnership between world hospitality leader Accor and global shipbuilding leader Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

Orient Express Silenseas brings together the best of French talents. Renowned architect Maxime d’Angeac will design the cruise interior layout and decor. The exterior architecture of the vessel will be designed by the Nantes-based design agency Stirling Design International.

Inspired by the golden age of the French Riviera, Orient Express Silenseas will pay homage to the glorious era when writers, artists, painters, sovereigns and movie stars spent time travelling between the Monte-Carlo, Saint-Tropez, Cap d’Antibes, Cannes and its Croisette. Her dreamy designs will be the quintessence of luxury and absolute comfort.

Orient Express Silenseas will feature 54 suites measuring on average 751 square feet, including a monumental, 15,230 square foot Presidential Suite (including 5,700 square feet of private terrace). Guests will also be treated to two swimming pools including a lap pool, two restaurants and a speakeasy bar.

Seaside Collection

But it’s not just ocean cruising, hotel brands are also expanding into river cruising. Last year, German hotel group Seaside Collection entered the luxury river cruise market as Riverside Luxury Cruises after acquiring Crystal Mozart. The newcomer later acquired Crystal Cruises’ entire fleet of river ships. Two of these will set sail in 2023 with the following three slated to set sail in 2024. This exciting venture will begin with Riverside Mozart, launching in Spring 2023.

Designed to cater to the rising demand for river cruising amongst luxury travelers, Riverside Mozart boasts the largest average suite size across European river cruises. The double wide vessel (75 feet) will carry up to 150 guests in all-suite accommodations across Europe’s most breathtaking rivers. Striving to attract passengers in their 30s and 40s, she will offer a luxurious wellness space, several bars, an indoor pool, and a fitness center. The refurbished designs of this opulent vessel will feature vibrant pops of color. Her kitchen is vast, double the size of other river cruises. This allows Riverside Mozart to provide plenty of culinary options in her four restaurants and pop-up rooftop grill and bar. Riverside Mozart will not include a buffet like the other vessels launched by hotel and resort brands.

This piece was originally published on the Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo blog.

Want more of this?

Check out the Hotel & Resort Design South blog for more design insights and the latest industry updates. Hotel and Resort Design South is a hotel product-sourcing and networking platform for those involved in the design of hotels and resorts in the South and LATAM regions. The next event will be taking place on 6 – 7 June 2024 alongside Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo Americas at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

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