Luxury Travel Options Widen | WilmingtonBiz

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On July 2, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas was scheduled to depart Miami, one of the first departures from a U.S. port since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic navigation ban was issued. imposed on the cruise industry 16 months ago.

Freedom of the Seas cruise to the Bahamas marks the return of commercial vacation travel on the high seas.

But as the industry returns to normal, it finds itself in increasing competition with other forms of high-end travel, largely feeding off pent-up demand for crowd-free, personalized, and seen as breakthrough entertainment. in luxury.

In late May, the 191-foot superyacht Skyfall docked at Wrightsville Beach Marina. While not as large as one of Royal Caribbean’s ships, it represents a more exclusive model of water travel for those who can afford it.

The yacht, with its James Bond-inspired name, is owned by Roy Carroll, President and CEO of The Carroll Companies, the real estate company developing The Avenue, a more than $ 200 million mixed-use project planned for Military Cutoff Road.

“There are more and more people in North Carolina who own these boats,” said Sam Clary, the marina’s dockmaster. “There are probably 10 or 12 with local ties over 100 feet that frequently come to visit.”

When Skyfall is not in use by Carroll, it is available for rental by other families, groups of friends and businesses. Carroll, who owns the Cayman-flagged vessel and uses a charter broker to book crossings, is demanding background checks of all of his guests.

The superyacht stays in shape thanks to an international crew of 14 who serve up to 12 guests per sailing. It includes a master bedroom and cabins, a large living room including a dining area, temperature-controlled cabinets for 1,000 bottles of wine, Wi-Fi, a desk for remote working, an entertainment system, a elevator, a second living room, a large open on the deck of the bridge and a solarium with two whirlpools. Other amenities include a motor boat, jet skis, bobsleds and snorkeling gear.

Skyfall cruises the Mediterranean in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter for around $ 500,000 and $ 350,000 per week, respectively, including fuel, food and tips.

Unlike river cruises, which are growing in popularity, Carroll says renting a superyacht allows customers to change their travel plans on a whim.

“You and the captain have set your route. You are not on time, ”he said. “You decide what you want to do, where you want to go and exactly what you want to eat. “

Before boarding, a preference list is presented to guests asking questions such as “What time do you want your coffee?” Or “How do you like your cooked salmon?” Carroll added.

“Vacationing is expensive, but it’s the ultimate vacation luxury,” said the Greensboro-based real estate developer.

In June, Skyfall was heading to Croatia, Albania and Montenegro, a departure from the usual superyacht schedule.

“Usually the West Med is the hot place to be… but those areas haven’t fully opened up,” Carroll said.

Ocean and river cruises

Unlike Skyfall, “a lot of cruise lines aren’t ready to go yet,” observed Jeff Roberts, owner of Leland-based Wilmingtontravelandcruise.com.

With the green light from the CDC for Royal Caribbean’s July 2 cruise, the industry giant has recommended that passengers get vaccinated. “Those who are not vaccinated or who cannot verify vaccination will have to undergo testing and follow other protocols,” a June 4 statement said.

“I think there is going to be a slight reluctance until the cruises start, I would say a month, until people see the comments,” said Roberts.

Such reluctance can prompt couples or groups who move away from mega-ships – but also find superyachts too expensive – to embrace river cruising. But they can still be denied entry to some ports as authorities continue to monitor local health conditions.

Most people who go on river cruises experience a number of mainstream cruises and “then they’re up for something a little different,” said Roberts. While the entertainment might not be as memorable and the menu somewhat limited, river cruises carry far fewer passengers than big-box ships and offer a front row seat on the landscape. he declares.

As river cruises and to some extent superyacht charters make inroads into the cruise industry, the Royal Caribbean and Princess lines of the world are declining.

Royal Princess, for its part, added private cabanas and secluded dining options before the pandemic. “They create niches for the most luxurious travelers,” Roberts explained.

But at the end of the day, escaping a one-year lockdown can still get expensive.

According to River Cruise Advisor, in October 2018, a 7-day ocean cruise cost as little as $ 900 per person, while a 7-day river cruise cost $ 2,500, but with companies offering inclusive pricing, extras or special offers in both market segments. which determined the final price of the vacation.

“This remains a fair assessment” of prices during the ongoing pandemic, said Ralph Grizzle, founder of Asheville-based River Cruise Advisor.

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