There are cruise lines, and then there are cruise lines. Luxury cruise lines involve more than just a boat trip. These are services designed to create unique experiences, with an eye to personal service, luxurious detail, and in most cases, exclusivity.
What to Expect From a Luxury Cruise Line
The general boat cruise market is a personal treat. Disney, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean are just a few cruise line names that cater to the general market. In general, these larger ships are designed for families or at least cater to a broad range of ages.
Premium and luxury cruises tend to focus on a more adult market. The boats, ships, and yachts generally have smaller capacities, gourmet and Michelin-star cuisine options, and luxury level accommodations.
In some cases, the vessels are also smaller, allowing them to visit places that larger commercial ships cannot. Some luxury ships advertise one crew member for every two passengers. That’s a focus on attention.
Another difference in detail is the itineraries. Luxury and premium lines may offer more detailed and longer itineraries – a lot like luxury train lines – and even curated excursions as part of the packages. Here are the best of those lines, in no particular order.
SeaDream Yacht Club
Yacht life is a more minor, more intimate experience, catering only for a maximum of 112 guests at a time. With a crew of 95, you’ll be well looked after on board.
But the experience is also different in terms of location – these smaller boats can go where larger ones can’t. This all-inclusive yachting experience includes all gratuities, dining and complimentary shore-side activities.
Depending on the time of year, SeaDream yachts are either on Caribbean or Mediterranean cruises. So you can explore a small island, drop off the back of the yacht for a swim, go for a cycle, or join the regular champagne and caviar party on the beach.
Founded in 1840 by Samuel Cunard, this iconic cruise line established the first regular transatlantic steamship service. The three Cunard ships are named after English Queens – so you’re getting the royal treatment off the bat.
The fleet includes the legendary Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria. An additional ship is being built in Italy at present, with input from some of the best interior designers in the world.
The Cunard Grill Suites are the last word in luxury, with floor to ceiling windows, a personal butler, Champagne and chocolates and access to exclusive dining venues. There are also gastro pubs and steakhouse eateries onboard. Afternoon tea is a lovely tradition on board the Cunard fleet, served by white-gloved waiters.
Pamper yourself in The Mareel Spa by purchasing a single or multiday pass. There’s a spacious thermal suite, hydrotherapy pool and relaxation area.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
The Paul Gauguin Line demurely places its flagship – the titular Paul Gauguin – as the background for its destination. It believes that the real draw of cruising with this luxury cruise ship is the French Polynesian islands. You’ll enjoy gourmet food and exceptional service on board.
There is no better way to experience Tahiti, Fiji, and the South Pacific. Beyond the outstanding spa and relaxation options, guests can also engage in rich cultural tours and Polynesian-focused activities, for the cruise of a lifetime.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The smallest of the Regent vessels carries 490 passengers, and the largest accommodates 750. These luxury cruise liners focus on relaxation, with world-class spa facilities as part of the all-inclusive offerings onboard.
A new addition to the fleet, Seven Seas Grandeur will take its place alongside popular liners such as the Seven Seas Splendor and Seven Seas Explorer in 2023.
Regent packages include flights, shore excursions, and activities as unusual as glass-blowing lessons. They also offer additional value with what they call behind-the-scenes activities – showing you how things are done. It’s a curious travelers’ dream!
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
Scenic offer a wide range of all-inclusive ocean cruises, river cruises and also land journeys. They refer to their vessels as space-ships to give you an idea of the space they provide.
Scenic Eclipse is the flagship vessel, billing itself as the world’s first discovery yacht. With a maximum of 228 guests and 114 luxurious suites, this is a true bucket list experience.
Another of the delightful extras on Scenic’s cruises (besides the amazing gourmet foods sourced from the destinations) is the ability to use a provided e-bike when on a shore excursion.
Alternatively, you can simply take your path with a Freechoice tour. The onboard experts can provide you with all the info you need to make your own choices.
Holland America Line
This premium line has options for both elegant upmarket dining and casual dining – both are highly rated. Aside from what one might expect from a top-class cruise line, there’s a telling statistic here.
Most of Holland’s staff are long-term members of the crew. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience about the ships and the destinations, and the fact that they stay with the team so long indicates absolute job satisfaction.
All accommodations on Seabourn cruises are suites. This makes an ocean-facing luxury experience a guaranteed item on your checklist. There’s also a particular focus on providing ample deck space and top-class food in elegant dining rooms.
Seabourn also prides itself on the age of the fleet – this is one of the most modern, youngest fleets in the sector. The new ships all feature private suite verandahs.
These luxurious cruise ships are known for their guest speakers and lecturers who include renowned chefs, artists, scientists and explorers.
This award-winning small-ship ocean cruising line has a fleet of over 70 vessels. In 2022, Viking are launching new expedition voyages to the Arctic, Antarctica and the Great Lakes of North America. They will also offer Mississippi River cruises on board the Viking Mississippi, the company’s first custom vessel.
The jewel in the options crown with Viking is the 93-day cruise from Auckland to Vancouver, which visits 13 countries along the way. There are few better ways to see so many sights around the world.
The unique appeal of Silversea is the inclusion of unusual destinations like Russia, West Africa, and Bangladesh. Like all the other luxury lines, the service is top-notch, with a loyalty program that encourages return guests.
Regular cruise lines are available, though you may want to try something off the usual track via Silversea Expeditions.
Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara is a perfect example of smaller ships offering specific advantages. The shore excursions feel a lot more personalized with this cruise line.
Azamara prides itself on its patented Destination Immersion program. This is where certain activities are included or complimentary. Imagine experiencing the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra free of charge!
There are currently four cruise ships in their luxury fleet: Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, Azamara Pursuit, and the latest addition, Azamara Onward. These intimate ships can dock at locations that large ships can’t reach.
If you’re specifically into top-class food, Oceania has a focus on creating incredible culinary experiences. Their food workshops and food-focused shore excursions are exemplary.
Four of the six ships also only take 684 passengers at capacity – the remaining two can hold 1250. This low-capacity policy means that there’s a specific and personal service focus once again.
The company is based in Miami, with trips to Australia, Africa, Europe, the South Pacific, and the Americas ranging between 10 and 195 days.
Crystal’s remarkable ability seems to be the ability to exceed the 1-2 ratio of staff to passengers. That means that, for the most part, there’s one crew member for every guest. This is a six-star VIP level offering, with activities and excursions designed to be unique and activity-based.
Crystal offers ocean and river voyages and includes the Crystal Mozart, reportedly the most spacious river ship in Europe. Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony have spacious suite accommodations, such as the Crystal Penthouse with Verandah. Measuring 1,368 square feet, it features a Swarovski chandelier, his and her walk-in closets and a personal butler.
Packages are all-inclusive and feature free Wi-Fi, unlimited wines and spirits, 24-hour room service and twice-daily housekeeping with a nightly turn-down service.
Note: Looking for a great river cruise? Try a Bangkok River Cruise next time you’re in Thailand.
The Last Word on Luxury Cruise Lines
These cruise lines offer Michelin-star level cuisine, suites and spacious standard cabins, and excellent person-to-person service. Most have all-inclusive fares, high staff to passenger ratios and outstandingly curated excursions.
If luxury cruising is on your radar, these are all great options. Take a look at this in-depth look at the Scarlet Lady cruise ship for more.
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