The difference between a mainstream cruise ship and a luxury cruise - by Kuki
The unofficial cruise line categories are budget, mass market, premium and luxury. Additionally, there are smaller specialty categories like sailing ships, exploration cruises, river cruises, etc. But the vast majority of cruisers travel on lines that fall into those first four categories.
Most of my cruises have been on budget, mass market, and premium cruise lines, with a couple of past luxury cruises. Having just completed a cruise on the new Radisson Seven Seas Voyager, I thought I'd try to explain in my own way what you might expect on a luxury Radisson Seven Seas cruise, and what our experiences were.
The most obvious thing you'll notice by the end of first day is the quality of the toilet paper. Rashes will not be tolerated for luxury cruise passengers.
Wet Seat Syndrome is common on luxury cruises, and was evident on our Voyager cruise. The staff is professionally trained to kiss your derrieres throughout your cruise. While staff on the "regular" cruise lines, are often almost as good at this, there really is an easily noticeable difference on the luxury lines.
The check-in and embarkation process is certainly more efficient and less stressful on a luxury cruise. One contributing factor to this is simply that luxury ships handle smaller numbers of passengers; thus the process should be much better, and generally is.
On less luxurious cruise lines, you may or may not be greeted by white gloved attendants who offer you a glass of champagne and escort you to your cabin. On a luxury cruise, it would be expected, and someone would be in deep trouble if it didn't happen. Personally I found it a bit awkward to have a staff member half my size struggling to lug our carry-ons through the hallways. I was tempted to pick her up with the carry-ons, and carry them both.
Since this was my first Radisson Seven Seas cruise, I wasn't sure what/who to expect for fellow cruisers. There was a surprising, very broad cross-section of age groups, with the average age not noticeably different than we've seen on Celebrity, Princess, or even RCI and Carnival. The only exception, we saw only 15-20 kids under 18.
The people we spoke to seemed like a very well traveled group. And they are not just cruise enthusiasts. They seemed to love travel of any kind, and most were very travel savvy. They appeared to be well-heeled, and likely held a comforting expectation that being on a luxury cruise, they were in the company of their peers -- though you never know, as I was hiding in their midst.
One might imagine a bit of a pretentious crowd on a luxury cruise, but this was not apparent to us at all. Most everyone seemed friendly and more than willing to chat at every opportunity. It was common to be greeted by fellow passengers at all times, whether passing in a hallway, or sitting at tables near to each other in a lounge.
I became friendly with a fellow passenger from Rome, who insisted next time we're in that city that we call, and he'd send his car for us. I really wanted to know more about this type of car, because, I explained, my car won't go anywhere without me driving it.
Heading out on a luxury cruise on Radisson Seven Seas, our expectations were admittedly high. Considering the relatively high cost of such a cruise, I believe such expectations are justified.
It was a nice treat to find that our shipboard charge card stayed in our pockets most of the time. Sodas and bottled water are complimentary throughout the ship, both in the cabin mini-bars, and all of the lounges and public areas. House wines are complimentary at dinner, in all dining venues, as are a number of after-dinner drinks. Two bottles of your choice of alcohol are complimentary for your in-suite bar.
About the only time one had to pay for liquid refreshments was for the odd cocktail at the ship's bars and restaurants. The oddity in this policy is that there is a charge for wine during lunch in the dining rooms and restaurants.
Mrs. Kuki and I only rarely drink alcohol, so this policy did not affect us directly.
Another nicety occurred on a sea day, when there was a German-themed buffet at poolside. The buffet had an extensive selection, with complimentary German beer served throughout lunch. In fact, the Food and Beverage Manager was pouring the beer, and the Executive Chef was manning the Grill.
On another occasion there was a "Martini Night" in one of the lounges, and everyone present received a free martini.
Radisson Seven Seas features onboard self-serve laundries, with complimentary detergent automatically dispensed. These laundry rooms were, surprisingly, very busy. I guess I didn't expect members of this well-heeled crowd to be doing their own laundry on a cruise, but I was wrong. (This did put a crimp in our onboard revenue, as we normally take in laundry to help pay my casino tab.)
Where other lines cite security reasons for not allowing passengers to visit the bridge, on Voyager the bridge had an open-door policy for guests on sea days.
In contrast to this, in the casino, I noticed all bills larger than $20 denominations were checked with a special pen to make certain they weren't counterfeit.
So if you were a passenger you weren't considered a security risk if you entered the bridge, but you could be the head of an international forgery ring.
Mrs. Kuki and I were invited to dine with the Captain -- a very gracious and friendly host, and an evening we enjoyed. There were a couple of things that surprised us about this evening.
We were instructed to meet the social hostess outside of the Compass Rose Dining Room so we could be escorted in. In our past experience, an invitation to dine with the Captain is "an event." Meeting in the hall, rather than in a lounge for a pre-dinner drink, minimized the event, in my view.
Radisson Seven Seas makes it clear that tipping is not expected, and is included in the fare. However, we noticed that on the last night of the cruise the cabin stewards were conveniently available in the hallways. We were happy to reward our steward team with an extra tip, as they had supplied us with extraordinary service. I carry a thermal cup with me, for a huge supply of morning coffee, and each evening, besides a clean cabin, I found my cup washed as well.
This is an area of personal taste, so it's wise to keep in mind that these are my thoughts. Your own opinions may vary.
The menus in all dining venues are fairly exotic. However, I found the selections to be somewhat limited: perhaps three appetizers, two salads, one pasta, and three entree choices. In addition, there were "always available" choices of a steak, fish, and pasta.
Fish and seafood lovers would probably be most satisfied with the menus. As a meat-and-potatoes guy, I faced more of a challenge. My personal tastes run to beef, veal, pork, chicken, and pasta. I was surprised how often I had to revert to the "always available" section of the menu. And frankly, I found the steak on that portion of the menu less than exceptional.
Presentation, on the other hand, was very artful. Everything always looked great, although the taste occasionally didn't match that standard. This was particularly true with desserts. They looked so fabulous, I certainly never passed on the chance to taste them.
One thing you can do on Radisson that you can't on the more mass-market cruise lines is this: With 24 hours' notice you can pre-order pretty much anything you want for dinner the next evening, whether it's on any of the menus or not. The limiting factor, of course, is whether the ingredients are onboard.
The Cordon Bleu restaurant onboard is Signatures. This is a reservations-only restaurant, but there is no extra charge. Both food and service here were fabulous. Signatures has a set menu that does not change throughout the cruise. They do, however, offer several choices for each course. But I'm inclined to think that on a luxury cruise, an alternative restaurant should simply be a different choice -- not an entirely different, higher level of service and food quality from the other dining venues.
The ship offers two other restaurants. Latitudes had only one set seating each night, and the menu, though with changing themes nightly, was a set menu. You can select one of two entrees but the rest of the menu -- appetizer, soup, etc. -- is set. Your choice is simply yes or no. Still, the restaurant is cute, with an open galley where guests watch the chefs prepare the meal.
The final choice is La Veranda. The ship's buffet area during breakfast and lunch becomes a "Mediterranean Style" bistro in the evening. It's quite comfortable, casual and relaxed compared to the other dining venues onboard.
This area also has space outside, on the stern, with tables and chairs for al fresco dining, but the weather on our trip was a bit cool to take advantage.
Voyager is an all-suites, all-balconies ship, with standard suites measuring 305 sq. ft., plus a 50 sq. ft. balcony. These cabins have spacious walk-in closets and bathrooms more luxurious than my own at home. Full-size bathtubs and separate free-standing shower stalls are standard, as are marble flooring and wall treatments throughout.
Except for the small balcony, there's not much more one could want in ocean going accommodations.
The first day onboard, as we checked out our suite's amenities, I was startled to hear the doorbell ring. I've never had a doorbell on a ship before, and when it rang the first time I put on my life vest and prepared to head to the muster drill.
When "regular folks" get the opportunity to board a luxury vessel, perhaps we do so with overly high expectations. I have to admit being picky became part of the persona I thought would be expected of me, if I was to cruise on a luxury line and had to act like a grown-up.