When Only The Best Will Do
By Chris Dikmen
In comparison with other vacations, any cruise could be considered "luxury". Beautiful new ships offering many amenities, activities, dining and entertainment options can be enjoyed by anyone for a modest price. However, as with most every consumer-oriented industry, there does exist a handful of companies that are solely focused on providing the ultimate cruise experience to those with discerning tastes.
Today's upscale cruise afficionados demand a level of quality and service beyond what can be offered by mass-market cruise lines. Larger and more elegantly appointed staterooms and suites, quality bed linens and towels, upscale dining, personalized butler services and concierge services, and hassle-free all-inclusive pricing are just some of the features the luxury cruise lines offer their guests.
Interestingly, a luxury cruise is often more recognizable by what you don't get than by what you do get compared to a traditional cruise. For example, you will not be bombarded with ubiquitious announcements over the ship's PA system reminding you of events such as the "poolside hairy chest contest". First of all, there will not be a hairy chest contest and, second, a luxury cruise is all about relaxation and sophistication which means less intrusions, which typically translates to fewer announcements. You will not have bartenders walking around poolside hawking colorful cocktails, because your cocktails will be included in your cruise fare. Luxury cruise lines do a very good job of removing any obstacles that might get in the way of your perfect vacation.
We have always been able to meet and enjoy fellow shipmates on every cruise, regardless of the cruise line, destination, etc. However, there is a definite demographic that you will find only on luxury cruises that we have always found particularly intriguing. On a luxury cruise, you may find a number of European clientele. It is not uncommon to share a dinner table with the CEO of a major corporation, a foreign ambassador or a billionaire oilman from Texas.
Here are just a sample of what you can expect on a luxury cruise:
- Unique and exotic destinations - Many will offer world cruises of 60 days or more as well as cruises to ports that most other cruise lines ignore.
- Larger more luxurious accommodations - Most rooms on luxury ships are referred to as "suites". They are generally much larger than a typical cruise ship stateroom with larger closets, quality bedding, excellent in-room amenities and superior appointments.
- Guest lecturers and enrichment programs - You will have the opportunity to learn about the destinations to which you are sailing with a guest lecture series. You might even be able to enjoy lectures about current events or other special interests.
- Complimentary cocktails, wine, soft drinks and bottled water - A luxury cruise line (in our opinion) does not charge extra for these items. They are included in the price of your cruise fare. You can order a drink from any bar on the ship and never have to sign a ticket.
- Gratuities included - Most luxury cruise lines have included gratuities in the cruise fare.
- Excellent dining - The food quality, presentation and service on a luxury cruise line far exceeds that of a traditional cruise line. You should also be able to request a special meal with advance notice. For example, one evening on Regent Seven Seas Mariner, the Chef prepared a special Indian menu for us. On Silversea, we had an Indonesian feast prepared for a table of eight.
- Open dining - You will be able to dine when you want and with whomever you want. Luxury cruise lines do not subscribe to assigned seating arrangements and set dining times. Most offer you the ability to have full menu service in your suite.
- Personal service - The crew-to-guest ratio of luxury cruise lines is much higher than on a traditional cruise line. You can expect excellent service. Any reasonable request will be met with enthusiasm.
- Special Services - Many luxury cruise lines now offer special services such as door-to-door luggage service. Your luggage is picked up from your home before you leave for the cruise and will be waiting for you in your suite when you arrive on the ship. If you wish to dine in one of the ports-of-call, a luxury cruise line should be able to offer dining recommendations through their concierge or reception desk. Also, if you wish to hire a private car to tour a city or island, a luxury cruise line should also be able to arrange that for you.
Luxury and Value?
You may be wondering what all this extra pampering and attention to detail costs. You can expect to pay anywhere from $400 per day/per person up to $1,500 per day/per person for a standard suite on a luxury cruise line.
However, we found a 9-night Caribbean sailing on Silversea selling for $3,777 per person, or $419 per day/per person for a Veranda Suite (345 sq. ft.). A Grand Suite (387 sq. ft.) on Royal Caribbean in December can cost as much as $5,899 per person for a 7-night sailing or a whopping $842 per person/per day. So, even though the Royal Caribbean suite may be a little larger, you would still be paying for your cocktails, soft drinks and bottled water while on board. And, don't forget gratuities. So, in this comparison, you can sail on the ultra-luxurious Silversea in similar accommodations for less than half of a Royal Caribbean cruise! You can find similar"bargain" luxury offers on Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club.
By shopping around and using the right cruise professional, odds are you can get as good or better deal on a luxury cruise line as you can a large suite on a mass market cruise line.
As editors for CruiseReport.com, we have been fortunate over the past eight years to experience several of the world's finest luxury cruise ships. Below, we have listed a few of our favorite luxury cruise lines.
We should mention that while there are other cruise lines that consider themselves to be in the luxury category, we have not personally sailed with them, and therefore, we do not feel comfortable recommending them to our readers.
Crystal Cruises (click for more information)
- Large ship with small ship service
- Excellent itinerary choices
- Unique stateroom design, tons of storage
- Lots of dining choices, all of them good
- Best room service in the industry
- Now offers complimentary cocktails, wine, beer and gratuities (starting Spring 2012)
It took nearly ten years for us to get to sail with Crystal Cruises, but our 11 nights aboard Crystal Symphony revealed that it was well worth the wait. Now we know why Crystal has racked up so many awards and accolades and enjoys such a loyal following. Our 367 sq. ft. Penthouse w/Verandah stateroom was a marvel of design and decor with a ridiculous amount of storage space (ridiculously good
that is). Dual sinks in the bathroom and a separate shower and tub means two people can easily get cleaned up at the same time. But our favorite feature was the butler service. Make sure to stay in at least one night and enjoy the excellent room service. Penthouse guests can order from any restaurant menu on the ship!
Crystal becomes an even greater value when you factor in the new "all-inclusive" features they are adding in 2012 (Spring). Now your cruise fare will include all gratuities for dining room wait staff, butler service and stewardess. All wine, beer and cocktails are complimentary throughout the ship as well under this new policy. So, it has never been a better time to book a Crystal Cruise!
|The Bottom Line
|If you are looking big ship amenities and entertainment with small ship luxury service, Crystal is an excellent choice.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (click for more information)
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (formerly Radisson Seven Seas Cruises) is the only luxury cruise line to offer a variety of ship sizes and configurations. While the line's smallest vessel with 330 guests, the Paul Cauguin (leaving the RSSC fleet in 2010), sails the waters of French Polynesia year-round, their other vessels sail to virtually every corner of the world. We have had the pleasure of sailing with Regent to the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Transatlantic, Mediterranean and the Panama Canal. It seems that each cruise has been better than the last, even though all were excellent. We continue to be impressed with how this cruise line is able to maintain such a high level of service while tending to the needs of 700 guests (Mariner and Voyager).
- Small-ship service with large-ship amenities and entertainment
- Great itineraries and world cruises
- Excellent guest lecturer programs
- Best-in-class accommodations (Mariner and Voyager)
- Editor's Choice - Best Large Ship Cruise Line
Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager are the line's two largest vessels and are nearly identical. There are some differences, however. The slighly older Mariner features massive Penthouse Suites with huge balconies and walk-in closets. The Penthouse Suites on Voyager are slightly smaller, but no less accommodating. Without question, Regent has the very best accommodations of any cruise line we have sailed. The closets are spacious, the marble-lined bathrooms are elegant and roomy, and the European bedding is excellent.
All Regent ships feature multiple dining options with Mariner and Voyager offering four separate restaurants. Evening dining can be formal or "country club casual", depending on your comfort level. Lavish breakfast and lunch buffets are offered every day as well as menu service in the Compass Rose restaurant.
Regent has recently introduced an "open-bar" policy with complimentary beer, wine and cocktails throughout the ship. In our opinion, this was the only obstacle keeping Regent from being a completely "hassle-free" cruise experience, so we are very pleased to see this new policy in place. Guests in Butler Suites also enjoy a complimentary bar setup in their suites.
|The bottom line
|If you are looking for luxury and pampering and enjoy the amenities offered on larger ships, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is an excellent choice.
Silversea Cruises (click for more information)
- Small to medium-size ships with 286 to 382 guests
- Excellent itineraries and world cruise
- World-class sophistication and service
- Editor's Choice - Best Small Ship Cruise Line
Year after year, Silversea is our number one pick for the World's Best Small Ship Cruise Line. We are not alone. For the ninth year, Silversea was named "Number One" small-ship line in the 2005 "Readers' Choice" survey conducted by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. For the sixth time, Silversea was selected "World's Best" small-ship line in the 2004 Travel + Leisure readers' poll.
Silversea's ship ambiance can best be described as "understated elegance". The public rooms are spacious and well appointed, the staterooms are comfortable with exceptional linens and large walk-in closets. The feeling onboard is somewhat European and very sophisticated. In the evenings, gentlemen will typically be seen wearing sportcoats and ladies elegantly attired in cocktail dresses or dressy slacks. On formal evenings, most still wear tuxedos, but you will see a few suits and sportcoats. During the day, however, eveyone dresses casually. Jackets are required in the lounges after 6:00pm.
Dining on Silversea is always a welcome event. Evening meals are expertly prepared and presented by a polished staff. Not to be missed are the deck barbeque dinner and a galley luncheon where the galley is transformed into a lavish buffet service. If there is something that you would like for dinner that is not on the menu, simply ask the maitre 'd and, odds are, you will get exactly what you ask for.
Good cruise lines respond to your needs but excellent cruise lines anticipate them. Silversea's exceptional staff does just that.
|The bottom line
|Silversea offers the ultimate in personal service and pampering in a more intimate, albeit formal, environment. The ships and clientele have a very European feel.
SeaDream Yacht Club (click for more information)
- Small yachts with 110-guest capacity
- Casual yet sophisticated "yacht-like" atmosphere
- Complimentary use of bicycles when in port
- Best-in-class food service
- Ships offer water sports marina platform
With SeaDream Yacht Club, less truly is more. When we first sailed with SeaDream in 2004, we were apprehensive about being on such a small vessel for a week. That apprehension soon evaporated and, by the end of the cruise, we could not wait until our next SeaDream Yacht Club adventure! The company likes to emphasize, and rightly so, that this is "yachting" and not "cruising". When on a SeaDream sailing, you truly feel like you have your own private multi-million dollar yacht at your disposal. This is as close to living a billionaire lifestyle as you can get without going out and spending millions on your own yacht.
As you would expect, the service on a SeaDream yacht is second to none. Every staff and crew member will call you by name, even the head housekeeper! It truly is amazing. On our second sailing with SeaDream, the Chief Purser surprised us at dinner the first evening with a special appetizer of bruschetta. The reason? I had mentioned on our last sailing a year earlier how much I enjoyed it. Now that's impressive!
The small yachts were originally built before balconies were being designed into cruise ships. However, the suites are spacious and well appointed. Besides, this is a yacht so you are never more than a few steps from the beautiful open teak decks. Who needs a balcony? Over the years, we have recommended SeaDream Yacht Club to literally dozens of our friends and associates and everyone agrees with us. SeaDream Yacht Club is something that everyone should experience at least once. But beware, once you taste the yachting lifestyle, you will be hooked.
|The bottom line
|SeaDream Yacht Club is perfect for someone looking for a casual yet elegant cruise vacation. The emphasis here is on personal service, pampering and immersing yourself in the destination.
The Yachts of Seabourn (click for more information)
- A fleet of smaller, 204-guest yachts + a new fleet of larger "mega" yachts
- Excellent itineraries and world cruises
- Superior dining
- Ships offer water sports marina platform
We have had the privilege of sailing with Seabourn twice and both were memorable experiences. We were impressed when a white-gloved, tuxedo-clad gentlemen personally escorted us onboard from the pier check-in counter where we were greeted by a welcoming committee with glasses of champagne. Every room on Seabourn's three smaller yachts is a suite with large picture windows (some with step-out balconies), large bathrooms and walk-in closets. Even though the "yachts" are a little older (1988, 1989, and 1996), they all underwent refurbishment in 2005. And, Seabourn's newest and largest ship is already under construction.
Seabourn's newest vessel, Seabourn Odyssey is three times larger than her smaller sisters and can carry up to 450 guests. Nevertheless, Seabourn has managed to maintain the "yacht-like" feeling of casual elegance. Seabourn is currently building two additional Odyssey-class vessels bringing the fleet to a total of 6 yachts by the end of 2011. With the smaller "legacy" yachts and the newer "mega-yachts", Seabourn offers its clientele a choice of amenities and worldwide destinations.
Seabourn has been in the luxury cruise business since 1987 and they have racked up an impressive list of awards and accolades over the years. They more than made up for it with a great guest lecture series and shipboard activities.
You can read our review of Seabourn Odyssey or our daily blog.
|The bottom line
|For casual luxury Seabourn is an excellent choice. Less formal than Silversea and Regent with a more "yacht-like" feel, but no less luxurious. For ultimate intimacy, choose one of the three smaller yachts, for larger "ship" features, choose one of the newer, larger yachts.