Warning — Once you try a luxury cruise, you might be hooked. Vacations on the top premium cruise lines cost more to get on the ship, of course, but you might be surprised with how competitive they can be when compared with more budget options when you consider all the inclusions you get with your cruise fare. It is not hard to get hooked on this type of travel experience. Many folks insist a luxury cruise is worth every penny and even make the case that the pricing is more similar than you would think to the a la carte style of cruising that you get with the mass-market lines.
If you feel comfortable budgeting $300 and up per day per person with inclusions, look to the luxury cruise players such as Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line (grill class), Paul Gauguin, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club and Seabourn.
Actually, though these cruise lines command higher fares than other cruise lines, luxury cruises can be a greater value. For luxury cruises usually operating midsize or small ships for 450 to 750 guests, they provide an experience where the central theme is luxury. Suites with a verandah are the standard, many including shower/bath combos, upscale toiletries, butler service, daily canapes, stocked minibar, in-suite dining (24 hours), enrichment programs, laundry services and daily fruit baskets.
On board, personal service standards contribute to a vacation that is truly a relaxing escape from the rigors of everyday life. The food is gourmet, the spa is exquisite, and all the details of travel are taken care of unobtrusively.
Everything is included. Well almost. Luxury lines like Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises and Silversea Cruises offer all-inclusive cruising, which means that your fare includes gourmet dining, fine wine, cocktails, beers and other beverages like bottled waters and premium coffees. Your fare also likely covers gratuities, specialty restaurants, airport transfers, fitness classes, WiFi and 24-hour in-suite dining. It also might encompass excursions (though certain enhanced shore excursions may incur added fees) and flights, depending on the cruise line. You pay extra for goodies like massages and other spa and salon services.
Luxury cruise vessels also offer higher “space ratios” than do large ships. A measure of cubic space per passenger, space ratio is derived by dividing gross tons by the number of passengers, double occupancy. The greater the space ratio, in theory, the less crowded the ship feels. So if you want a ship that does not feel crowded, choose one with a generous space ratio. On the other hand, if you’re worried about feeling all alone, choose a ship with a smaller space ratio.
These are our best luxury cruise lines that offer fantastic sailing experiences, so you can see the world in style, some for only slightly more than the mass-market cruise lines.
Crystal Cruises – Crystal is known as a luxury cruise line with two ocean ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, as well as its five new luxury river cruise ships and expedition yacht Crystal Esprit which carries its own submarine. Sailings feature high-class touches like afternoon tea service, live music performances all over the ship throughout the day and gourmet dining, of course, with up to eight specialty dining options in the ocean ships. (The line even has a partnership with chef extraordinaire Nobu.) Crystal is also well known for its focus on enrichment, bringing on board expert speakers to talk about the destinations you are visiting. Fitness classes, gratuities, drinks and activities like dance lessons are included.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises – The line debuted what it proclaims as “The World’s Most Luxurious Cruise Ship,” Regent Seven Seas Explorer in 2016. This flagship, however, is just the newest among the line’s five luxury ships that all offer all-inclusive cruises with unparalleled extravagances (marble finishes, rare art pieces and glass and chandeliers throughout). These are the most-inclusive cruises you’ll find, with unlimited shore excursions, all drinks, gratuities, airfare, Wi-Fi, transfers and gourmet dining in specialty restaurants. The largest ship carries up to 750 passengers in all-suite accommodations with a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1.5 to 1.
Sailing to more than 300 ports around the world, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ three ships are elegant, but not stuffy, with an informal dress code that invites guests to dress smartly, but comfortably. While most passengers are wealthy travelers in their 50s and 60s on up, the shorter routes attract a broader demographic, with some younger couples during summers and holidays, and even a few families in the mix when there are supervised activities offered for ages 5 plus.
Silversea Cruises – This ultra-luxury line has a nine-ship fleet that sails to all seven continents and more than 800 destinations with its small vessels (100 to 540 passengers), which include four expedition ships. The ships are gorgeous, with sleek modern designs throughout. All cabins are suites, with butler service, and drinks (including a mini-bar in your room), gratuities and select shore excursions included in your fare. Silversea’s cruises offer gourmet fine dining at a range of specialty restaurants, most of which are included in the price of your cruise.
SeaDream Yacht Club — The phrase “casually elegant” gets thrown around a lot, but those words are truly right on the mark when it comes to describing the two intimate 112-passenger ships of Seadream Yacht Club which have watersports marinas.
The mostly 40- and 50-something couples who make up the bulk of their guest list appreciate the finer things in life — sans stuffiness. Dress codes are smart casual even at dinner and when not in port, daily life mostly revolves around hanging out on the mini cruisers’ open decks as the ships make their way to off-beat ports in the Caribbean and Europe.
The expansive open decks sport queen-size sun beds, a pool and a hot tub, the latter a great place to enjoy a complimentary order of jumbo shrimp cocktail and a glass of bubbly. All you have to do is ask. You can sleep under the stars in your pajamas that have been custom embroidered with your initials, a nice touch. The room stewardesses prepare a beautiful bed with crisp linens and a bottle of champagne. Truly romantic. The doting crew of 95 is there to please.
Paul Gauguin — Custom-built in 1998 to sail the waters of Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific, from the beginning the elegant 332-passenger Paul Gauguin has been the longest continually operating year-round luxury cruise ship in the region. Formerly a part of the Regent Seven Seas fleet, today the ship is operated under the name Paul Gauguin Cruises and is owned by a company that also operates luxury hotels in French Polynesia.
As a year-round mainstay in French Polynesia and the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin is in the unique position to treat its guests in all aspects of the gorgeous islands, atolls and lagoons and their stunning sea life. The crew is intimately knowledgeable about the region and a local group of Tahitians, affectionately called the Gauguines, serves as cruise staff, entertainers and storytellers.
Programs custom-designed to get passengers up close and personal with French Polynesia include expert lecturers who speak on topics from the history of the South Pacific to conservation, dolphins, coral reefs, and more. Learn from and mingle with the likes of marine biologists, anthropologists, naturalists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, professors, artists and experts on Paul Gauguin himself. Several times a year, oceanographer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, sails on board to meet guests, give lectures and lead dives. The Gauguin’s retractable watersports marina unfolds at the ship’s stern right at sea level, providing easy access to windsurfers, kayaks and Zodiac boats used for optional diving excursions.
The ship’s small footprint means the Paul Gauguin offers an intimate experience that feels more like a private yacht than a cruise ship. The passengers are well-traveled mostly American adventurers in their 50s plus, though there are also a fair number of younger honeymooners on board as well, who are attracted to the region’s excellent diving and snorkeling, but appreciate the posh surroundings and amenities of the ship. Paul Gauguin’s pricing is all-inclusive, with fine wines, spirits, soft drinks, bottled waters and coffees complimentary throughout the ship. Gratuities are included as well.
Cunard — Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth are feats of modern technology while at the same time, their décor and vibe are infused with plenty of old-worldliness, from art and antiques to deco ball rooms and old-fashioned multi-class segregation of passengers according to their level of cabin accommodations. Passengers are assigned to one of the three reserved-seating restaurants according to the cabin category they’ve booked. Suite-and-above passengers dine in the Queens or Princess Grills, while everyone else eats in the grand and sweeping Brittania Restaurant, the only one of the three with an early and a late seating.
All serve tasty continental fare, from fowl and steaks to seafood, pasta and lighter spa fare, with the Grills restaurants also offering the option of diners making whatever special meal requests they desire. There are also burgers and hot dogs up on deck and of course a traditional afternoon tea is served daily and accompanied by a string quartet.
The Cunard trio is big enough to offer plenty of entertainment options, from plays featuring graduates of Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (on QM2) to standard song-and-dance revues, various kinds of live music and ballroom dancing as well. By day, besides cruise ship standards like wine tastings, bingo and bridge, Cunard has extensive lecture and workshop offerings on par with what Crystal Cruises offers. Professors, authors, celebrities and other learned people speak about all kinds of things from ocean-liner history to music, architecture, science tops and so much more.
Seabourn – Seabourn features cruises to exotic destinations on its fleet of five intimate ships. Ships carry between 458 passengers – Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn – and 600 passengers on the flagship Seabourn Encore and brand-new Seabourn Ovation. There are two crew members for every three passengers, and the level of service is reflected in this ratio. Cruisers make their home in well-appointed staterooms, and programming includes festive deck parties with free-flowing drinks and amazing food spreads highlighting flavors from the regions in which you sail. Live music is a highlight, and the ships also offer sports marinas that allow you to have fun kayaking and paddleboarding in exotic locales. A highlight is the included dining venue The Grill, a creation from Seabourn’s partnership with Chef Thomas Keller.
Uniworld – A standout among the river cruise lines, Uniworld offers elegance on its ships that you won’t see on other river lines, like bold chandeliers as the centerpieces of the lobby area. Even the beds are handcrafted for Uniworld by Savior of England. The ships are individually decorated to offer unique artwork, antiques and design flourishes. Uniworld cruises all over Europe, as well as Russia, Asia, India and Egypt. Ships offer butler service, and cruise fares include Wi-Fi, gratuities, unlimited drinks, airport transfers, excursions, and L’Occitane toiletries in your cabin.
Ponant — Ponant is in the midst of an expansion to its luxury expedition and cruising fleet. By 2021, the French brand will have its sailing ship, four Boreal-class vessels, six new Explorer-class vessels, and the world’s first ice breaking luxury cruise ship. Ponant’s allotment of capacity is notably highly varied. While four ships are in Antarctica in the height of the season, there are also significant deployments in tropical and sub-tropical areas. The new Explorer-class ships will join the fleet in pairs — two this summer, and an additional two in 2019. These 180-passenger ships will be highlighted by the Blue Eye Lounge, an underwater lounge with large windows. Combining a near 20-year expedition history with a diverse product portfolio other companies can’t match, is the perfect channel for the brand.
Ponant Explorer-class expedition ship and Ponant Le-Soleal
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection — Three yachts under this brand are scheduled to begin sailing in 2020. The itinerary for the first scheduled sailing on February 1, will sail round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale on an 8-night cruise to Bimini, Bahamas, and Key West, Florida. The Collection will offer 40 different voyages and experiences will include a renowned winery in Bordeaux and baby oysters being grown on a farm in Sete, France. Shore excursions will be grouped into five categories — Iconic Sights (art and culture); Stirring the Senses (wellness); Cultural Connections (wildlife); Active Explorations; and Epicurean Experiences. Each yacht will have 149 suites with a private terrace and can accommodate 298 passengers.
All photos/renderings courtesy of their respective cruise line
Don’t be fooled by the sticker price. Do the math, consider the value-added extras and the intangibles such as space ratio, and you may find that those pricey luxury cruises are a better value than you initially imagined. The chart below compares a Regent Mediterranean cruise to the similar Premium class ship’s costs (e.g.Celebrity or Holland American line) with additional a la carte items added to their base fare.
We at Getaway Dreams Come True Travel will assist you in selecting the appropriate cruise line and ship, along with the itinerary. You may wish to view additional blog posts below: