The Luxury Lineup By Paul Motter, CruiseMates Editor September 27, 2006
The luxury cruise lines are almost as diverse as the entire world of cruising. Is there a "best cruise line in the world" that we would place at the top of the luxury cruising category? Yes, but more importantly there are unique aspects to each of these lines that make each of them a favorite to their loyal patrons for distinct reasons.
Some of the ways in which five luxury lines lines we have selected vary include the dining options, whether or not tips are include in the cruise fare, whether or not alcoholic beverages are included in the cruise fare, whether they have children's programs, the size of their staterooms, the size of their ships and where they sail.
The article below is to point out the differences between the lines for comparative purposes, but to learn more about each of these lines, be sure and read our cruise line and ship reviews for each one, available by clicking on the links below.
With home offices in Los Angeles, Crystal has long been a favorite of the well-heeled west coast crowd. The formal nights are apt to be the most sequined and accessorized at sea. The spa is designed in accordance to the principles of feng shui, and the guest lecturer on board is just as likely to be an expert in buying jewelry as history. Passengers are well-heeled but gregarious enough to crave a larger ship (by luxury standards) and the broad range of activities and facilities it can offer. The two ships; the older Crystal Symphony (51,000-tons, 940 passengers) and the newer Crystal Serenity (68,000 tons, 1,080 passengers) are both very large ships by luxury cruising standards, but with a relatively low number of passengers for the size of the ship.
In accordance with the size of the ships, Crystal's dining plan is the only one in the luxury sector that does require two seating times, however the restaurants do not have assigned tables. In fairness, it is a good plan; if there is ever one thing that will cause dining problems on a luxury ship, it is when the open seating policy causes a "rush hour" glut which can slow down service. There are alternative restaurants on board, including excellent pan-Pacific cuisine (the parent company is Asian). There is no charge for the alternative restaurants, though a tip is recommended (you sign it to your shipboard account).
Crystal does not include tips in its cruise fare, nor does it include complimentary alcoholic beverages. So, considering their size and non-inclusive policies, it is the line most unlike the other luxury cruise lines. So why do we include Crystal? Because they qualify in every other sense; especially the accomodations and the service on the ships which are impeccable. The towels and linens are heavenly, the staterooms are expansive and comfortable, the bathrooms include showers, marble tubs and separate sinks, and the European stewardesses and butlers will make sure your every need and desire are fulfilled.
Crystal is highly popular with singles, albeit mostly ladies of the senior variety. Every cruise includes a slate of gentlemen hosts to dine and dance with the unescorted ladies. The line's uncommonly low singles supplement of mere 25% added to the regular cruise fare makes it highly attractive. The officers are also ready to engage in the social graces, and a single male might even be asked to dance by one of the lovely young female cruise staff - that is if he can fight off the single lady passengers.
Crystal's core following appreciates great cuisine, socializing, comfortable accommodations and lots of onboard enrichment. The focus is on luxury and pampering more so than port-a-day itineraries and active shore excursions. Crystal tends to have more days at sea than almost any other cruise line, and when one is in such surroundings, why leave the ship?
Crystal likens its onboard enrichment program to a university at sea, with a big slate of regular classes on every cruise plus special theme cruises with a unifying theme, such as Big Band Music, Food and Wine, Health and Fitness or Golf.
Crystal is offering the longest world cruise in their history in 2007 - a 109-day voyage that will include Carnaval in Rio, three days cruising Antarctica, three days in Dubai and Cape Town, and multiple African safari options.
Among the new programs, services and amenities Crystal I snow offering are a Walk on Water fitness program in conjunction with fitness expert Debbie Rocker. They have Implemented fleetwide pre-reservation of shore excursions, spa, and dining services.
More celebrity chefs, such as Nobu Matsuhisa ,have been brought in to create world-class cuisine. Crystal recently introduced a spa menu exclusively for men, and introduced its own wine label (C Wines). They recently introduced a pillow menu, offering a choice of four different pillow types (for sleeping, not for eating).
Crystal has expanded its onboard enrichment program arguably more than any other cruise line; having added stone sculpting, digital video editing, memoir writing, and college courses in computer science.
Crystal was the first cruise line to offer an excursion to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and they recently launched Crystal Private Adventures, offering guests personalized shore excursion experiences.
With a fleet of four regular ships; The Voyager (700 passengers), Mariner (700 passengers) and Navigator (490 passengers) do exotic itineraries world-wide year round. The Paul Gauguin (the smallest at 308 passengers) sails out of Tahiti fulltime. A fifth ship, the Explorer II is actually a chartered ship that will sail but two 11-night Antarctica cruises in January 2007. Mariner was the first all-suite, all-balcony cruise ship ever built. The ships are known for simple yet tasteful elegance and idyllic, personal service.
One of the big changes made by Regent Seven Seas Cruises this year was to their corporate name. They used to be Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, but the company felt the more upscale Regent hotel line (with which the cruise line is merging operations) was a better fit for the cruise line title. Plus, they didn�t have to change their web address, which is still www.rssc.com.
Although the line has always included gratuities in the cruise fare, another big change this year was implementing an all-inclusive liquor policy which includes wines and spirits at all bars and restaurants fleetwide on every sailing. Previously, they only offered this on their world cruises. Another change includes flat screen televisions in every stateroom.
One thing Regent did not change is featuring Le-Cordon Bleu chefs and sailing the world's first all-balcony ships with butler service available in the top 88 suites. From these balconies, passengers can enjoy some of the most exotic itineraries in the world including port stops not on any other line's itineraries. Indeed, as exotic and unusual shoreside experiences take center stage in the luxury cruise sector, Regent is setting the pace with tours like southern and eastern Africa for a live game drive through Amboseli in the shadow of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The world cruise, on the all-balcony Voyager, is the line's longest yet at 111 days, beginning in January of 2007. It includes a series of complimentary special shore side events: "Brazilian Celebration in Dance" in Fortaleza; "Dinner Under the Desert Stars" in Walvis Bay; Safari to Tsavo East" and "Amboseli in the Shadow of Mighty Kilimanjaro" in Mombasa; "Acrobats" in Shanghai; "Overnight in Royal Bangkok"; and "The Pyramids and a Nile View" plus "Cairo & the Pyramids" from Suez. There are six combinable segments.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises at a Glance:
Children's programs: yes
Tips included: yes
Wine & Alcohol included: yes
Onboard male hosts: yes
open seating dining: yes
large staterooms with balconies: yes
singles supplements: add 100% for named suites, 75% for Penthouse suites and 30-35% for deluxe suites.
SeaDream is comprised of but two small ships each with a capacity of 108 passengers. The ships were once a part of the Seabourn fleet, but were sold off when Seabourn operations were combined with Cunard's (which were subsequently separated once again). One of the owner's of Seadream Yacht Club is Larry Pimentel, a very outspoken and individualistic personality in the cruise business. For Mr. Pimentel, the name SeaDream Yacht Club seems most fitting as he seems to consider the line his right-sized dreamchild that allows him to do exactly what he wants to do with a cruise line. Oh, and by the way, "It's Yachting, not Cruising" is the line's motto.
The itineraries of both ships alternate between the Mediterranean in the summer and the Southern Caribbean and South America (as far south as Buenos Aires) in the winter. While the "name" ports of Monaco and Rio are always included, the focus is also on tiny, normally inaccessible ports only small ships can visit. Click on any of their itineraries at their web site and you will see names most of us have never heard of - and to carry it a step further, the line will tell that every itinerary is subject to change on the whim of the captain with the passenger's approval. Impromptu changes will be made when good fortune sends an adventure your way. The only port stops not subject to possible change are the first and last ones.
Although none of the cabins have balconies, they are a few larger suites available. Most of the cabins are 195 sq ft and include a refrigerator with soft drinks, beer and water , writing desk, personalized stationary, a couch and table, direct dial telephones, personal safe, individually controlled AC, hair dryer, fine Belgian linens and down duvets, bath amenities by Bulgari, a multi jet shower massage, choice of down or synthetic pillows, slippers and beautiful SeaDream bath robes. For entertainment there is a state of the art entertainment systems with flat screen TV, radio, CD and DVD players. The desk is internet ready and laptops are available on request. 16 of these suites can be opened together to create one large 390 sq ft stateroom. There is an owner's suite.
Most interesting, however, is that deck 6 of each ship are "Balinese DreamBeds," double sun beds raised above the sightline of the yacht's railings to provide unobstructed views. Large umbrellas are available to provide shade during the day. And should a guest prefer to sleep under the stars, SeaDream will gladly supply the pillows and a cozy duvet.
Seabourn, Like Cunard, is a small division of Carnival Corp. But unlike Carnival or Cunard, the ships are managed by an independent company that over the last few years has transformed the cruise line into something with an almost cult-like following. With but three ships, each holding a mere 208 passengers, there just isn�t a whole lot the cruise line can do to compete with the likes of Crystal for enrichment and space, but they make up for it with sheer enthusiasm.
Over the last couple of years, everything the passenger touches has been upgraded, including the bedding and the fabrics. But most importantly, the human touch is as good as it. Individual service is the focus, and don�t be surprised if you are known by name by every crewmember by the second day. They will anticipate your every little desire often before your think of it yourself. Suppose you order a taste of Osetra caviar at 4:00 on Monday afternoon with a chilled vodka or Brut. Don�t be surprised if your butler shows up unannounced on Tuesday with a tray of the same.
While the staterooms do not have balconies, they do have what the line invented and calls "French Balconies," which are large windows in the staterooms that open to the outside, but there isn't really enough rom to walk outside. Nevertheless, they provide all the refreshing air and ability to change the climate on a whim and hear the sea rushing by that a standard balcony provides.
No, there isn�t much to do, except for the dedicated water-sports deck they open in warmer climes for off-deck scuba and snorkeling. But a new comradely kinship of Seabourn devotees has sprung up lately, and they are rumored to have turned afternoon trivia into a "blood-sport."
In other recent changes, the line cites the following:
They no longer have dance hosts on board as the new passenger mix tends to be middle-aged couples. To accommodate these younger cruisers, the new assortment of shore excursions includes cycling, hiking, rafting, and zip-line canopy tours.
Most cruise experts agree that one must place Silversea at the top of the top. Though some of the other luxury lines might frown, it is hard to argue with reputation. While they used to be the most expensive cruise line in the world their prices tend to be more competitive (on the luxury scale) today, But back then, they became known as the line for people who are willing to pay any price the get the best there is; a reputation that has stuck. Another reason is their solid devotion to a concept in cruising they rightfully lay claim to - allowing the guest to define his or her own experience.
Back in the "day" when lines like Silversea were new, the concept of an onboard concierge who could arrange anything for you came up. Silversea's clientele conjured some very unusual requests, like, "we want a private plane to fly us to this ancient ruin, we'll need a car and driver, and a hotel. Expect us back on the ship the next day" that the line rightfully concluded that such combinations of cruising and "experiences" were something their clientele wanted, and could afford.
In truth, maybe the line tried a little too hard for a few years and struggled, but like any new business concept, all that was needed was some fine-tuning and now they are back, stronger than ever. And the concept of offering not a cruise but an experience is a reality.
The ships are the two pairs of sisters; Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, and the two larger sisters Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper. The names of these larger sisters fit, because when you are on a Silversea ship you feel like you are not in this world, you are somewhere it can't see you, while you observe your surroundings through a special lens.
The "Personalized Voyages" program, introduced in 2003, allows voyagers to design their own itinerary and vacation experience by electing to embark and disembark on any days they choose. Guests can select voyages that are 5, 7 , 10, 12 days and longer. Any extra time onboard is charged at a per-day rate dependent on the ports and the stateroom category chosen. All cabins are suites, three-quarters with their own verandas, all gorgeously appointed. All gratuities and beverages, including select wines, champagnes and spirits, are included.
As for how the line has changed in the last few years; the average age is now in the 50s, similar to other luxury lines, with the medium age on summer Mediterranean cruises dropping into the 30s and 40s. More of their cruises now offer extended port stays, including overnights in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and London, and multiple days in St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong.
Probably the most unique thing about the line is their unprecedented focus on multiple hotel night stays and overland excursions as a part of their cruises. These can be pre or post-cruise options, but in many cases these overnight excursions, involving plane lifts, private guides and overnight hotel stays are being offered in the middle of the cruise as a part of the package.
New specialized dining options include the first-ever Relais & Chateaux wine-themed restaurant at sea. At night the Terrace Cafe restaurant becomes the "La Terrazza," an Italian-themed nighttime dining venue. This is the restaurant for guests who want a more relaxed dress code at dinner.
A new "Wellness Program" fully integrates classes in nutrition and exercise, fitness activities, spa therapies and healthy dining options. The goal is to create the opportunity for a "complete rejuvenation of mind, body and soul while at sea."
New onboard and shoreside enrichment programs involve famous chefs, politicians, writers, and explorers. Expanded Internet and WiFi capabilities, we've recently launched a service that allows guests to use their cell phones and PDA devices while at sea.
Silversea Cruises at a Glance:
Children's programs: no
Tips included: yes
Wine & Alcohol included: yes
Onboard male hosts: no
open seating dining: yes
large staterooms with balconies: yes
singles supplements: range as low as an additional 10%, up to 100%, depending on cabin selection and saildate.