Toronto's Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the high-end hotelier, has licensed a Miami partner, Four Seasons Ocean Club Ltd., to launch a vessel in the fall of next year under the Four Seasons brand.
Condo Cruise Lines International, also anchored in Florida, says it will float its first condo-carrying ship in February. Condo Cruise Lines plans to home-port one or two ships at the Port of San Francisco if a deal can be worked out.
That would bring an unspecified amount of new spending to the city. The ships are to be provisioned here, and between 400 and 500 condo owners and passengers would arrive in town and prepare to embark on what Condo Cruise Lines CEO Mark Boyd said will be around-the-world cruises sailing from the Golden Gate. It's an intriguing possibility, but far from a done deal, the company and the port agree.
Boyd, who founded privately held Condo Cruise Lines with investors, acknowledged the San Francisco home-porting plan is not battened down. His company's first ship (a floating casino in Hong Kong) will be converted into a condo boat this fall in Singapore.
Plans call for staterooms to be enlarged and remade into suites. Boyd said suites on the 560-foot-long ship are listed from $500,000 (all prices U.S.) to $1.2 million for one-room units to three-room penthouse suites.
In addition, there's a fee for a package that includes all shipboard meals, television hook-ups, a health club, housekeeping services and Internet access, Boyd said.
Many shipboard units have been sold to Californians, he said.
According to Boyd, "We get a range of buyers, from the guy who says, `When I retire, I'm going to sail around the world,' to another guy who says, `I'll never set foot on it. I can rent it for four times my mortgage, rather than two times my mortgage, as it is on land.'"
For condo owners who want to rent out their units, the company will charge a 30 per cent rental management fee.
Mixing condo owners who want to live full-time or nearly full-time aboard ship with vacationers who rent for short periods could create an uncomfortable mix, said Fitch Ratings' Michael Paladino. "There could be a difference in how people take care of the units, and you could get different types of people."
Boyd, who described himself as a consultant to Florida real estate interests, looked out to sea when available beachfront land became harder to find and fears of hurricanes dampened the condominium market on terra firma.
While Condo Cruise Lines is an unknown quantity, established companies drawn by what they think could become a lucrative niche, are getting into the floating condo market, too.
First into the water, in 2002, was Miami's ResidenSea. The company's 644-foot ship, the World, offers condos for sale and rooms for rent. ResidenSea takes pains to make clear that its customer experience differs from those of popular cruise ship lines — some geared to budget travellers — beloved by vacationers in search of groaning-board buffets and carousing nightlife.
"Ours is a quieter pace, more adventurous in our travels but more relaxed in lifestyle, in many ways quite similar to luxury yacht ownership," according to the ResidenSea website. The World, which has about 200 residents spread out over 12 decks, is staffed by a crew of 250 assigned to pamper condo owners and their pals. The units, which ResidenSea says are 95 per cent sold, list for $825,000 to $6.3 million, not including a maintenance fee, which is calculated by square footage.
Four Seasons, which operates dozens of five-star hotels in Europe, Asia and North America plans to take to the waves with its condo ship next year.
The 12-deck, 656-foot ship will offer 96 residences, according to Four Seasons Ocean Club, and will be built expressly to carry condos. All this does not, of course, come cheap. Units on board the good ship Four Seasons are being offered from $416,000 to $4.2 million, according to the company.
With prices set lower than Four Seasons and ResidenSea, Condo Cruise Lines hopes its will appeal to those who aren't super-rich.
Residential Cruise Line Ltd., based in Arizona, says it plans to launch its residential ship — called the Magellan — in 2009.
In a slick, large-format sales book, the Magellan's units are listed from $1.8 million to $8 million. The ship is expected to be an 860-foot, 15-deck vessel, staffed by 300 employees. Annual fees, in addition to purchase prices, start at $96,000 and go as high as $228,000, according to Residential Cruise Line sales materials