Orient Express cruises to set sail on world’s largest superyacht

A view of the inside of the dining carriage of the Orient Express before the train’s departure from Victoria station, in central London, on May 26, 2005. Picture: Andy Shaw/Bloomberg

A view of the inside of the dining carriage of the Orient Express before the train’s departure from Victoria station, in central London, on May 26, 2005. Picture: Andy Shaw/Bloomberg

Published Jan 18, 2023


By Lebawit Lily Girma

If riding on the original, redesigned Orient Express train in 2025 and staying at an Orient Express hotel top your bucket list, make room: The Orient Express Silenseas, an opulent 722-foot-long (220-meter-long) ship with three masts towering at over 300 feet high, is set to be the world's largest sailing yacht - and superyacht, period - and will ply Mediterranean and Caribbean routes starting in spring 2026.

It will offer 54 suites, accommodating 120 passengers. Reservations will open as early as 2024.

The Orient Express Silenseas is global hospitality giant Accor's first entry into the cruise industry, in partnership with French shipbuilding company Chantiers de l'Atlantique.

AccorHotels shared details about its future cruises with Bloomberg, ahead of its public announcement this week. Two yachts will be built, with the second delivery scheduled for the first quarter of 2027.

“We're trying to go back to the best ever years of ship makers between 1934 and 1938, extremely innovative at the time,” said Sébastien Bazin, chief executive officer of AccorHotels.

Bazin recalled the scenes of the French Riviera, St Tropez and Cannes – a time of music, philosophers and art. It would mean “going back in history but with a modern design”, he said.

The project will be financed 70-80% by commercial banks, with the remainder provided by a consortium of equity partners in which Accor will have a minority stake.

Accor declined to disclose the cost of building this ship, but for reference, Jeff Bezos's almost half as large, 416-foot luxury sailing yacht, also with three masts, is estimated to cost more than $500 million (about R8.5 billion); Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov's impounded 512-foot superyacht was valued at $600m to $750m.

A steward sets a table on the Orient Express before its departure from London on May 26, 2005. Picture: Andy Shaw/Bloomberg

Apart from its made-in-France design and craftsmanship, Bazin said his goals for the Orient Express Silenseas were two-fold: offering the best in terms of luxury, experience and design, and being guided by sustainability and protecting the planet.

The cruise industry is the travel sector that's the least known for its ecological or climate sensitivity and lags severely in efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The Orient Express Silenseas will run diesel-free and use a hybrid propulsion system with wind as its primary source of energy, weather permitting.

The ship's name hints at the fact that you'll be gliding silently across the seas thanks to three rigid sails, made of glass polyester panels, and a 16 145-square-foot unit wind propulsion system, all designed by Chantiers de l'Atlantique.

“We may not stop when we are meant to stop because the wind is too strong and that's the way I want it,” said Bazin.

But since this is a cruise line with scheduled routes that will probably begin in the Mediterranean, the ship will also be fitted with an engine that runs on liquefied natural gas (LNG) which, according to the company, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% compared to using diesel.

(Note that there is at present no such thing as an emissions-free ocean cruise and LNG is a type of fossil fuel, albeit less polluting).

Bazin said the Orient Express Silenseas would also be built ready for green hydrogen use when legislation authorised it in the future, which could happen by the time the ship launched, Bazin said.

Additional greening ambitions include the use of shore power, which allows the ship to plug into electricity once docked rather than running its engine, and a sonar system to detect sea mammals on its route to avoid collisions.

Taking the Orient Express to sea will undoubtedly mean offering the mystique and luxurious comforts that the brand is known for.

Renowned French architect Maxime d'Angeac whose projects include the future Orient Express train, the Guerlain store on the Champs-Elysées, and the Orient Express Hotel in Rome, leads the interior design, which is meant to evoke the French Riviera.

“The experience on board is extremely similar to the experience we give at Raffles in Singapore within and outside the hotel,” said Bazin. “Orient Express as a luxury brand is not a product, it's a feeling.”

Stewards await diners on the Orient Express before departure from London on May 26, 2005. Picture: Andy Shaw/Bloomberg

According to Bazin, it will be much more luxurious than the Ritz-Carlton superyacht – and twice as costly, too. The latter ship, although nearly as long, accommodates double the amount of passengers.

Fares on the 623-foot Evrima, which can host nearly 300 people, range from around $7 000 to $25 000 per person for 7-night cruises.

Suites aboard the Orient Express Silenseas will average a roomy 750 square feet, (about 70m²) which is about the size of an average New York one-bedroom flat.

Six suites on the top deck can be combined into a 15 230-square-foot presidential suite with private 5 700-square-foot terrace.

Guests aboard the Orient Express Silenseas will also find two swimming pools, including a lap pool, two restaurants, an oyster bar, a speakeasy bar, a spa, an amphitheatre cabaret and a private recording studio for people ready to get creative at sea.

Shore excursions will focus on cultural and nature experiences.

Another distinguishing feature of the Orient Express Silenseas: It's designed to be chartered by private businesses and for events about a third of the time.

The boat might be used for the Festival de Cannes, for Paris fashion houses' shows on board, for the Grand Prix in places like Dubai or Monaco, or for private anniversary celebrations where you invite your 50 best couple friends.

When the first cruise launches, it will be a full circle moment for the Orient Express brand's original muse: the sea. Belgian civil engineer Georges Nagelmackers's transatlantic luxury ship voyage in 1867 from Europe to America is what inspired him to launch the famous train in 1883.

“The one thing we still don't know is if we should have black tie on board,” Bazin said.