Accustomed to the finer things in life? There’s a wide range of ships that focus on luxury and pampering.
The popular image of cruising may be of large, mass-market ships with bustling pool decks and glitzy shows. But that’s only one side of the business. Just as with resorts on land, there are a wide range of alternatives to the Big Boys of the industry, including a number of more intimate (and more pricey) upscale ships geared toward a luxury-loving crowd.
If it’s a Four Seasons-type experience you want, there are four major lines catering to North Americans that offer true luxury at sea: Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line. Each of them offers a slightly different personality and, just as notably, a different size of ship. With two vessels that carry around 1,000 people each, Crystal offers the biggest luxury ships and, thus, the broadest on-board experience (there’s room for a large, pampering spa, for instance, and a full showroom). Would-be cruisers looking for a more intimate experience might consider Seabourn, which operates ships in the 208 to 450 passenger range. Silversea’s largest vessel can hold 540 passengers, while the biggest Regent Seven Seas ships carry 700.
In addition to the big luxury operators, there are a number of other niche players in the luxury market, including sailing ship line Windstar and small ship operator SeaDream Yacht Club (the latter operating yacht-like vessels that hold around 100 people). Meanwhile, several of the biggest mass-market lines increasingly have been targeting the luxury crowd with the addition of upscale “ship-within-a-ship” private suite areas atop their newest mega-vessels. The latest Norwegian Cruise Line ship, Norwegian Epic, for instance, has a private, two-deck enclave called The Haven that boasts dozens of upscale suites, a private pool area and sundeck, a private restaurant and bar, and a dedicated concierge. Like other mass-market lines adding more upscale suites and private enclaves, the line is catering to a growing market of wealthy vacationers who (maybe because they have the kids along) would rather sail on a big, bustling ship with lots of activities than a smaller luxury vessel.
A warning on luxury cruise pricing: At first blush, the rates offered by such brands as Regent Seven Seas and Crystal can seem sky high. But before you succumb to sticker shock, keep in mind that luxury lines “throw in” a lot more than mass-market lines in their base fares, so while you’ll pay more up front, you’ll pay less in extras once you’re on board a ship. On most luxury vessels nearly all drinks, including fine wines with dinner, are included in the base fare, as are gratuities for the staff (no added “service charge” on your bill at the end of your voyage). Some luxury lines also include many shore excursions in their base fares, a night or two in a hotel before or after the voyage, transfers to and from the ship, and other extras that quicky would add up on a pay-as-you-go mass-market brand.
On most luxury ships, you’ll also find yourself with more space than you would on a mass-market ship, as the “space ratio” — the volume of space as measured in cubic feet per passenger — is much higher on lines such as Silversea than on, say Carnival. Silversea and Seabourn also operate all-suite ships that feature unusually large-for-the-industry cabins (stocked with all the accoutrements of luxury from Frette linens to terry robes, often with a butler always on call).