The Ritz Carlton has long been synonymous with luxury and style when it comes to travel. Now, the brand is making efforts to be the leader in ecotourism, too. At three of the brands properties, oceanographic explorer, environmentalist, educator, and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau has developed a total immersion and experiential program called Ambassadors of the Environment to provide guests the opportunity to learn more about the diverse ecosystems and cultural traditions that exist around the Ritz Carlton’s hotels and resorts.
“I was lucky enough to be thrown overboard at 7, with a tank on my back and an ocean to explore.” Jean-Michel Cousteau is appreciative about the way his father, famed environmentalist Jacques Cousteau, taught him to dive. “I fell in love. Now, I help other people fall in love with the ocean, too.”
Cousteau spent a long weekend at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman property to unveil the newest addition to the destinations; program – a glass bottom mini-yacht tour that takes hopeful divers and snorkelers over the stunning caribbean coral reef. Once there, guests have the chance to dive in, literally, and explore the USS Kittiwake – Grand Cayman’s most impressive shipwreck – as well as get up close and personal with local marine life. The program is actually perfect for Grand Cayman property. Since its opening on Seven Mile Beach, the luxury resort has led the way in delivering an insider’s look at the culture, heritage and natural history of Grand Cayman. There is an art walk showcasing local Caymanian artists, island-based treatments at the resort’s La Prairie spa, and a culinary workshop called The Cayman Experience dedicated to preparing creations with locally-sourced catches, fruits, vegetables and spices.
In addition to the boat voyage, Ambassador guests can immerse themselves in several other unique Caribbean eco-tours in Grand Cayman where the islands’ ecological resources become a natural classroom and living laboratory. During a guided kayak tour through the treasured mangroves known as “the forests of the sea”, guides are able to locate marinelife for the ultimate sensory experience and back at the Ambassador’s house, a kids’ focused day camp allows little explorers to focus their energy on environmental studies while their parents enjoy dinner at Eric Ripert’s exclusive Blue restaurant.
“The kids love it here, and the parents love dropping them off. But when they come back to pick them up – WOW! They want to stay, too,” says Cousteau. Kids, he explains, are the way to change the world. “The children are sponges, they see and absorb everything. Help them love the ocean and they will protect it.”
Naturalists at the Ambassadors program say they are in a unique position to be working directly with the kids staying at the Ritz Carlton. “These kids are in a position to be leaders of companies, industry and even the world one day. Being able to immerse them in this program to share and education them on the significance of environmental conservation is amazing.”
Specially curated experiences are on offer at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Hawaii, also, where guests join Cousteau-trained Naturalists on an intimate hike through the rainforests or to help gather wild plants to feed the endangered Blue Iguana. They can also snorkel among Maui’s beautiful coral reefs and participate in private underwater photography sessions.
The Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico is a secluded property set on 1,400 acres of natural wonders – the perfect place to explore natural wonders both on land and sea, such as snorkeling, hiking and exploring an archaeological site directly on property. Also featured in the program is the historic Rockefeller Trail originally conceived by Laurance Rockefeller in the 1950s to create a walkable, open-air sanctuary through the resort’s surroundings.
The Ritz Carlton is even taking the eco-conscious concept inside and has committed to going more globally conscious in their restaurants. “Jean Michel, it is because of you we changed to paper straws and more changes are coming,” said Marc Langevin, the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, at the screening to celebrate “Secret Ocean,” Cousteau iMax film celebrating the water world. These changes, though, are not at the expense of the luxury and comfort of the guests “This is the Ritz Carlton, it will always feel like one.”