Which cruise is right for you? Part 3: Luxury Cruising

TakeOffeh guide to cruising

Take off presents Part 3 in our Guide to Cruising. Previous installments have examined Mainstream and Premium Cruising. This week we’re diving into the cream of the crop: luxury cruising. Next week we will round out the series with River & Specialty Cruising.

Is there nothing you hate more than packing and unpacking? No problem; let the butler do it. Feel like having dinner à deux this evening, gazing out at the sea from your private verandah? Simply summon a steward, and a 5 course gourmet meal will be brought to you, course by course.

There’s no doubt about it: luxury cruises are exceptional in every way, and offer a stylish, sophisticated level of pampering rarely replicated on land. Your fellow passengers will be a much smaller group than those carried on today’s contemporary megaships, certainly less than a thousand, and often not much more than one hundred. There will likely be almost as many crew as there are guests, and they will know you by name.

Luxury cruising is much more inclusive than its mainstream and premium cousins. That means things like an in-room bar stocked with your favourite bottles, vintage wine with dinner and an open bar throughout the ship. It means afternoon hors d’oeuvres delivered to your cabin and no additional charge for ‘alternative’ dining. It also means tipping is included, and you’ll revel in a level of service that rarely dips below extraordinary. Some luxury lines even include a selection of shore excursions in the cruise fare.

Your cruise will pause at intimate ports less frequented by larger ships. Your ocean-view cabin or suite will usually feature a private balcony and be finely appointed with the latest electronic entertainment, premium soft goods and spa-level bathroom amenities. The onboard ambience is relaxed and less activity-oriented. The entertainment ranges from a classical piano recital to a Broadway-worthy musical. When it comes to onboard enrichment, you might enjoy a lecture from a former head of state, prominent journalist or academic. You can take courses too, in everything from cooking to computers.

Luxury Cruise Lines: A Breakdown

Crystal Cruises
With its two ships carrying close to 1,000 passengers each, Crystal offers luxury on a larger scale. It does this through plenty of staff and lots of personal space – Crystal is an industry leader in both these areas. While Crystal ships aren’t small enough to get into all ports, they make up for this with a huge range of destinations on all seven continents. Crystal features many of the activities and amenities available on newer mainstream and premium ships, but its service and dining take it to the luxury level.

  • Kids Welcome: Best children’s program among luxury brands
  • Tends toward the formal with two dinner seatings in main dining room; alternative options fill up quickly
  • Excellent enrichment programs
  • Unlike most luxury lines, gratuities and alcohol are not included
  • Low single supplement of 25%

Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The three ships of RSSC provide the ambience of a floating luxury resort, attracting mostly well-travelled, 40-plus professionals and retired couples. Service is superb, with a high staff-to-guest ratio and very large standard suites. The line recently announced that Canyon Ranch will operate spas on each of its ships, and entertainment and enrichment programs offer similar levels of quality. Travel agents have voted RSSC ‘World’s Best Luxury Cruise Line’ for five consecutive years.

  • All balcony staterooms: 3 ships offer all-suite accommodations
  • Open seating dining and choice of alternative restaurants
  • Exotic itineraries feature unusual stops: 300 different ports for 2010
  • Gratuities and beverages included, in-suite bar setup provided
  • Some excursions included — in 2010, all cruises will include excursions

Seabourn Cruise Line
When Seabourn unveiled the 450-passengerOdyssey this year, it marked the first luxury new-build for the industry in six years. Sister ships will arrive in 2010 and 2011, joining the three original — and nearly identical — 208-passenger Seabourn vessels, Legend, Pride and Spirit. The line refers to its fleet as ‘The Yachts of Seabourn,’ and many of its guests would feel right at home in a yacht club. Client expectations are high, and often exceeded.

  • New all-suite Odyssey is three times larger than Seabourn’s original ships, carries just over twice as many passengers
  • After their first cruise, return passengers can save up to 50%
  • ‘Personal Suite Stewardesses’ cater to guest needs
  • All liquor, wine at dinner, gratuities included
  • One free excursion on each sailing
  • Roving masseurs offer massages on the sun deck
  • Ships have marina off stern from which complimentary kayaks, pedal boats and windsurfers are launched

Silversea Cruise Line
Considered an ‘ultra-luxury’ cruise line, Silversea operates a fleet of six ships. Its older vessels carry 300-400 passengers, while newest fleet memberSilver Spirit will host up to 540 after its launch in December. The ships are Italian-built, as are the owners and officers, and crews are European. About half of the passengers hail from North America, while the rest are wealthy travellers from around the world.

  • Traditionally the most expensive of the luxury brands, but prices have become more competitive
  • “Personalized Voyages” – passengers design their own itinerary, getting on or off at a variety of ports
  • All gratuities and alcoholic beverages included
  • Unique land excursions – multi-night stays, even in the middle of a cruise
  • Prince Albert II is Silversea’s 132-passenger luxury expedition ship exploring the world’s most remote regions
  • All-suite ships – butler service being rolled out for all categories

Windstar Cruises
Windstar Cruises stands out because it offers something unique: an ultra-casual yet pampered experience aboard sleek masted sailing ships with computer-controlled sails. On a Windstar ship you can do what you want, when you want, with no line-ups, few organized activities and little focus on entertainment. The fleet is among the oldest at sea, but millions have been spent to keep facilities up to date.

  • Three sailing ships carrying 148 to 312 guests
  • No charge for alternative dining
  • Water sports platform on each ship offering complimentary snorkeling, paddleboats, windsurfing, even water-skiing
  • Unique itineraries featuring intimate ports of call in the Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Caribbean and Costa Rica/Panama Canal
  • Appeals to active, well-educated travelers of all ages
  • Liquor and gratuities not included

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