Condos at Sea: A World Apart (part 1)

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

Editor's note: This series of article covers a new trend in cruise ships, condo ships where the staterooms are more akin to apartments owned by the residents. Only one ship is currently sailing, The World from the company ResidenSea, but two other ships are in the development stages and both promise to be beautiful ships, The Magellan, a project with the ship currently construction, and a ship from the Four Seasons hotel company.

When I first set eyes on The World, a condominium ship with just 165 luxurious residences, I was tendering from the Queen Mary 2 to shore in Ensenada last year. QM2 was anchored in the Mexican port for just a day, while The World was docked for several days.

The contrast between the two ships' pace and style of cruising were evident as the day evolved, particularly as I chatted with passengers from The World at spots along our tour route.

A World of Difference Hundreds of QM2 guests were up early to disembark for shore trips. We were whisked away on an excursion with multiple stops, spending 20 minutes here, an hour there, 40 minutes at another spot and so on, before heading back to the ship before she sailed. It was a typical shore experience in length and a whirlwind day.

The World's residents and guests awakened with a different mindset. Some slept in. Many enjoyed a leisurely breakfast they prepared themselves in their floating homes. They walked off the ship mid-morning without the crowds. And they controlled their own daily schedules as they headed out for golf, shopping or wine tasting.

At a vineyard near Ensenada, I encountered a few World guests who had rented a car for a leisurely day in the countryside, an overnight off the ship, and a trip across the U.S. border, with a return the next day. While we checked our watches as the bus was due to leave in 10 minutes, The World's guests were still savoring the vintages.

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The World   of ResidenSea

When our tour bus dropped us off in town for 45 minutes of free time, I zipped in and out of as many shops as possible before returning to the tender point. But the World guests I met downtown weren't in a hurry. Two ladies said they were shopping and would meet their husbands later in a local seafood restaurant -- for drinks, dinner and then on to local entertainment.

They could do so because The World's average port stay is 2.5 days -- far longer than most cruise lines'. In 2007, the ship sails to 36 countries in multiple regions - from Antarctica to Spain, from the Baltic to a New Year's Eve Gala in Funchal, Madeira.

"They have the ability to stay in port for several days and really explore the area," said Sally Goldwasser, owner and president, Unique Travel, Delray Beach, FL. "They also go to areas of the world where things are happening such as The America's Cup."

Living The World

Managed by ResidenSea, the 43,524-ton World is the only condominium ship currently sailing, although several others are on the horizon (See our upcoming Part 2 of this series).

This 12-deck ship was launched in 2002 and purchased by its residence owners in 2003. At any one time, the World carries just 150-200 residents and guests. They're served onboard by an international crew of about 250.

While the vessel is completely sold out, prices for re-sales range from $825,000 to $7.3 million or so. That does not include an annual maintenance fee determined by each unit's square footage.

Don't have the bucks to buy? No problem, just rent. While some of The World's owners live full-time on board, others rent out their luxurious accommodations. Think of it as renting a luxury condo at Miami Beach or Hawaii, except these accommodations float and sail!

The World boasts 106 two- and three-bedroom apartments (ranging from 1,106 to 3,242 sq. ft.); 19 one- and two-bedroom apartments (ranging from 674 to 1,011 sq. ft.); and 40 studios (averaging about 337 sq. ft.). The World's minimum rental for studios and apartments is six nights.

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Bedroom - the World Apt. 801   Lobby - World of ResidenSea   Living Room - Apt 801

Many people routinely opt for a two- to four-week stay. And some stay onboard for months. You may stay as long as you want, as long as you meet cabotage rules -- if you sail between U.S. ports, your itinerary must have at least one foreign port call.

Pricewise, The World is in luxury territory with fares from $1,300 to $4,800 per night per residence (double occupancy). Three or more guests are charged a $350 per person, per night fare, regardless of category or season.

Included in the fare are accommodations; meals and select beverages (in both the restaurants and for room service); port charges; gratuities; and some shipboard services such as daily housekeeping and luggage handling.

Not included are the usual: air tickets, ground transfers, optional tours, meals ashore, accommodations while ashore, casino gaming, laundry or valet services, onboard shop purchases, child care, spa treatments, hair styling or other personal items or services.

The ship's studio and apartment accommodations vary widely in design and scope. Several designers created décor schemes that many residents selected for their homes: London-based Nina Campbell created "traditional comfort;" J.P. Molyneux of New York designed "classic European;" Rome-based Luciano Di Pilla offered "classic contemporary;" and Yran & Storbraaten's Maritime design reflected a "clean look." In addition, Hirsch Bedner & Associates created décor with soothing neutral tones, rich woods and elegant furnishings.

Seeking to book a specific residence? ResidenSea assigns studios and studio apartments 45 days prior to the voyage. Two- to three-bedroom apartments (Categories A-E) are assigned at the time of booking.

While the ship is marking its fifth birthday this year, "we just went on a site tour of The World yesterday, and it looks better then ever," Goldwasser told CruiseMates in late June. Goldwasser specializes in luxury travel and inspects ships regularly so she can report back to her high-profile, upscale customers.

The World's studios offer sitting areas, entertainment centers, and marble bathrooms; many have private verandas. Among the one- and two-bedroom apartment perks are kitchenettes, two spacious bathrooms and private verandas. Two- and three-bedroom apartments feature fully equipped kitchens, multiple bathrooms, living and dining room areas, verandas with optional whirlpools and advanced audio and video equipment.

What's Onboard - Dining and Amenities

While many guests may dine en-suite, preparing their own meals or, at times, asking the ship's chef to prepare a meal in their own kitchen, The World also boasts four restaurants. "Portraits" prepares haute cuisine with changing menus that reflect the ship's ports of call. "The Marina" is the place for seafood, steak and rotisserie specialties. "Tides" serves up Mediterranean cuisine with a northern Italian flair. "East" offers Asian cuisine and a sushi bar. A deli and pool grill are also available. Guests may order light options and put in special requests tailored to vegetarian, kosher and diabetic diets.

What's to do onboard? The ship's hottest new amenity is a new 7,000-square-foot World Spa by Banyan Tree, the latter's first spa at sea. It just opened this summer. With a "Sanctuary of the Senses" philosophy, the spa offers body massages, facials and body scrubs in eight treatment rooms.

The new spa menu offers pampering 45-, 60- and 90-minute massages, including Scent-sational, a jet lag remedy created for tired bodies; and Synergies, a combination of Thai and Swedish therapeutic techniques. Either is available for 60 minutes at $100 or 90 minutes at $140. A 45-minute Indian Head Massage, based on the ancient healing system of Ayurveda, is designed to help with insomnia; it costs $80. Guests might also enjoy "The World," a 90-minute signature full body massage at $160.

Guests can also book several types of facials, myriad body scrubs, waxing, paraffin hand and foot treatments, and hair styling. Those booking spa treatments will savor a complimentary 30-minute "calm time" in the spa, featuring a soothing foot bath and herbal drink.

The World also offers a fitness center with exercise classes, personal trainers and gym equipment, as well as saunas. Guests also may access two swimming pools, a full-size tennis court, paddle tennis court and a retractable marina for water sports fun.

Other amenities include several gift boutiques (including the only House of Graff jewelers at sea); six lounges; a casino; gourmet grocery and deli; library; business and conference center with several boardrooms; and a chapel.

Palette's, The World's supervised children's program, runs from June through August. Costing $25 per child per day, it includes such supervised activities as swimming, arts and crafts, books and games, educational projects and seasonal festivities. A children's "Dinner and a Movie" is offered in the evening for $7.50 per child. Babysitting is available by advance reservation.

For golf aficionados, the ship's Country Club is an onboard golf club with three artificial grass greens, a sand bunker, sophisticated simulator that portrays 52 famous golf courses, and the services of golf pros who offer clinics as well as individual and group lessons.

New this summer, The World is rolling out two-week Golf Voyages, combining those onboard golf activities with multiple rounds of golf on renowned courses. For example, a Dec. 4-20 voyage features play on multiple courses in Palma de Mallorca; Malaga, Spain; and Casablanca and Tangier, Morocco. Prices start at $12,350 per person based on double occupancy.

Important Differences in Cruising Style

Just as The World's pace of travel differs from a traditional cruise, so does its onboard ambience. Expect a quieter ship with fewer organized group activities and more intimate entertainment than you'd find on a mainstream, big-ship cruise or even some smaller luxury lines. For example, you might watch a comedian or cabaret act onboard but not a lavish production show.

Based on her recent inspection of The World, Goldwasser also said "residents now realize they have to get the renters more involved." She also said the ship's staff is working to create more entertainment and activities onboard. That said, she doesn't expect extensive changes.

Yes, the World has good onboard facilities and, on occasion, offers classes in dance, navigation, language, cooking, arts and crafts, music, computers and photography. But the reality is that it's tough for any ship that serves just a few hundred passengers to corral enough people onboard to participate in lots of organized group activities or to put on lavish production shows. The numbers just aren't there.

So what won't you find on The World? Don't expect large entertainment groups; rock climbing walls, skating rinks, extensive water parks with slides, or tons of onboard classes or organized pool game tournaments. If you want those, head for a more traditional cruise line.

What you will find on The World is upscale, exclusive access to customized services for high-end residents and guests through several of the ship's alliance partners. These include Marquis Jet for jet services; International Associate Clubs Ltd. for entry to 250 exclusive clubs worldwide; and PrivatSea, a premium yachting club with access to private villas, residences, clubs and invitation-only events.

Onboard, you'll also access onboard laundry and dry cleaning services, concierge services, 24-hour room service, and - while hopefully the following is not needed -onboard attention by a doctor and nurse 24 hours a day.

If You Decide to Sail

If you rent a home on The World, remember that many fellow travelers are resident owners. So they're "home," not necessarily "on vacation" (although some are). Their laid back mindset is clearly different than that of condo renters who may arrive for a week's vacation eager to socialize and party hearty with fellow guests.

Travel agents also report many of The World's rental guests are actually friends of the residents. So these guests may socialize as much in the owners' residences as they do in the ship's public areas. For some renters, this low-key onboard aura (compared with a normal cruise experience) is a plus. For others, it's not. It simply depends on your taste.

To reserve your rental vacation, a 10% deposit of the total fare is due within seven days of the reservation date with the balance due no later than 90 days prior to embarkation. Special payment terms apply for bookings made within 60 days of embarkation.

Cancellation charges range from 10 percent of the fare if you cancel 90 to 61 days out, to as much as 100 percent if you cancel within 14 days. Before you book, make sure you understand all rules and restrictions. Remember, The World isn't a typical cruise ship; it's more a residential experience.

As we sailed out of Ensenada on that day in 2006, leaving The World behind, I was envious of those World guests I had met along the way. They were sailing the world, living in luxurious accommodations and enjoying a slow-paced itinerary that allowed them to linger. They could just immerse themselves in the local culture, go with the flow and savor the moment. If you have the bucks and the time, it sounds pretty dreamy.

For More Information For residential sales, call 305-264-9090. For rental information, call 800-970-6601 or 305-779-3399. Visit www.aboardtheworld.com.

go to Part 2


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