Sea Cloud Cruises is sailing into the U.S. market

A year ago, the 44-year-old, Germany-based Sea Cloud Cruises was on the brink of being sold to an upstart luxury cruise company.

But after rejecting that sale, the tall-ship line is looking for a fresh start in a new market: North America.

This summer, the cruise company installed two new executives in South Florida who are spearheading the company’s reintroduction to travel advisors in the U.S. by focusing on the brand’s storied ships that range from a more than 90-year-old vessel to a ship launched in 2021.

One of these executives is Mirell Reyes, the former president of Star Clippers Americas, who in August became president of Sea Cloud overseeing sales, marketing and communications in North America.

“It’s a very emotional product that kind of grabs your heart,” Reyes said of Sea Cloud.

Proposed sale fell through

Yacht Portfolio, a maritime investment company led by Douglas Prothero, had signed a letter of intent to acquire the three-ship line in early 2022. The portfolio’s sole brand, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, launched its first ship last year. At the time of the offer, Prothero called Sea Cloud’s “environmentally friendly experience” a fit in a portfolio envisioned to include niche luxury brands.

By the end of 2022, Sea Cloud’s shareholders pulled out of the deal. 

Reyes said that Sea Cloud was “looking for a strategic partner to get into the U.S. market. It didn’t work out the way [shareholders] wanted it to work out.”

Before the abandoned sale, the small-ship line had nearly doubled its capacity with the addition of the 136-passenger Sea Cloud Spirit, a newbuild ship introduced in 2021. The Spirit joined a fleet consisting of the 64-guest Sea Cloud, built in 1931, and the 94-passenger Sea Cloud II, built in 2001.

Although a few cruise brands, including Club Med, Star Clippers, Windstar Cruises and Ponant, offer sailing ships, Reyes contends that Sea Cloud’s biggest differentiator is that it preserves an original style of sailing. For instance, the Sea Cloud offers a mix of original and modern cabins, and the masts are raised and lowered by hand.

“When you go on board, you still feel the history, and you see it,” Reyes said.

Sea Cloud ships sail in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean and also cruise through the Panama Canal. The line made its first call in Miami last year and plans to offer more departures from there next year, creating opportunities to introduce agents to its ships before pivoting to departures from San Juan in 2025.

Sailing ship selling point

Mitch Krayton, a small-ship cruise expert from Krayton Travel in Aurora, Colo., recently registered to do business with Sea Cloud. He said it’s rare that clients ask specifically about sailing ships, mainly because they are not widely advertised.

He finds sailing ships tend to be quieter during the day because they’re wind-powered, although they tend to have more motion than a motor vessel and require a more adventurous client who knows that going in, he said.

Because Sea Cloud is a German company, he said he expects it may take some time for the line to translate its materials into English — for example, it has a 40-page image brochure that needed to be translated.

They also have to find a travel agency or franchise to give them a presence in the U.S. But that shouldn’t be a barrier to success, he said, pointing to MSC having been virtually unknown in the U.S. several years ago and growing rapidly there now. 

“I don’t see why Sea Cloud couldn’t have a small piece of the niche,” he said. 

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