The Luxury Lineup Part 1 By Paul Motter, CruiseMates Editor September 27, 2006
In this article we look at Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises as part 1 of this three-part series. In the next article (part 2) we will cover SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn and Silversea Cruises. In part 3 we look at the three lines that are unique enough to have a category of their own; Cunard Lines, Oceania Cruises and Windstar.
The luxury cruise lines are almost as diverse as the entire world of cruising. Is there a "world's best cruise line" that we would place at the top of the luxury category? Yes, but more importantly there are unique aspects to each of these lines that make them favorites for their loyal patrons.
Some of the differences among the five lines we put in the luxury category include their dining options, whether tips are included in the cruise fare, whether alcoholic beverages are included, whether they have children's programs, the size of their ships, and where they sail.
To learn more about these lines, read our cruise line and ship reviews for each one by clicking on the links below. This article attempts to point out the differences among the lines for comparative purposes.
Based in Los Angeles, Crystal has long been a favorite of the well-heeled west coast crowd. Crystal's formal nights are apt to be the most sequined and accessorized at sea. The spa is designed in accordance with 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 relatively large ship and the broad range of activities and facilities it can offer. The line's 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 by luxury cruising standards, but with a relatively low number of passengers for the size of the ship.
Given the size of its ships, Crystal's dining plan is the only one in the luxury sector that requires two seating times, with assigned tables and waiters. In fairness, it is a good plan for a ship this size; one thing that will cause dining problems on a luxury ship is an open seating policy that results in a "rush hour" glut, which can slow down service. There are alternative restaurants onboard, including excellent pan-Pacific cuisine (Crystal's parent company is Asian). These restaurants have open seating and there is no service charge, though a tip ($6 per person) is recommended and you sign it to your shipboard account.
Crystal includes neither tips nor alcoholic drinks in its cruise fare. Considering the size of its ships and the non-inclusive pricing, it is the line most unlike other luxury cruise lines. So why do we include Crystal? Because it qualifies in every other sense -- especially the accommodations and service on its 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 25% 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 staffers - if he can fight off the single lady passengers.
Crystal's core following appreciates great cuisine, socializing, comfortable accommodations and lots of enrichment classes and lectures. The focus is on luxury and pampering more 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 an extensive slate of regular classes on every cruise. It also schedules special 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 its 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 from Crystal is a Walk on Water fitness program in conjunction with fitness expert Debbie Rocker. The line also now offers fleet-wide pre-departure reservations for 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, as well as its own wine label (C Wines). The line has also created a pillow menu, offering a choice of four pillow types in passenger cabins.
Crystal has expanded its onboard enrichment program arguably more than any other cruise line; it recently added stone sculpting, digital video editing, memoir writing, piano lessons and college-level computer science to its roster of classes.
Crystal was the first cruise line to offer an excursion to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and recently launched Crystal Private Adventures, offering guests personalized shore excursions. One of its most unique new shore adventures is flying a Russian MiG fighter jet over Moscow. The tour includes air from St Petersburg to Moscow and then a ride to the airbase where you board the MiG, with a trained pilot, and jet over Moscow at 700 mph and then perform "aerial manuevers." Bring your camera! says the tour information, and I would recommend some Dramamine as well.
While Regent Seven Seas Cruises has the ships that approach the size of Crystal's, that is about the only similarity. Regent has a fleet of four regular ships. The Voyager (700 passengers), Mariner (700 passengers) and Navigator (490 passengers) follow exotic itineraries worldwide year-round. Mariner was the first all-suite, all-balcony cruise ship ever built. The Regent ships are known for simple yet tasteful elegance and fantastic personal service.
Two big changes have been made by the company since 2007. It used to be Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, but the company felt the more upscale Regent hotel line was a better fit for a luxury cruise operation. The line didn't even have to change its web address, which is still www.rssc.com. The cruise line was then sold to Prestige Holdings, the same parent company that owns Oceania Cruises and is primamry controlled by the Apollo Management Group, founded by Leon Black and also owners of the AMC Entertainment, Harrahs Entertainment and half of Norwegian Cruise Line.
Although Regent has always included gratuities in the cruise fare, another big change this year was implementing an all-inclusive liquor policy that covers wines and spirits at all bars and restaurants fleet-wide on every sailing. Previously, Regent only offered this on world cruises. Another change was the deployment of flat-screen TVs in every stateroom.
One thing Regent did not change is its Le Cordon Bleu chefs, and its all-balcony-cabin ships (with butler service available in the top 88 suites). From these balconies, passengers can enjoy some of the industry's most exotic itineraries, including ports not visited by any other line. Indeed, as exotic and unusual shore-side experiences take center stage in the luxury cruise sector, Regent is setting the pace with tours like live game drives through East Africa's Amboseli reserve, in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
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.
In the next article (part 2) we will cover SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn and Silversea Cruises. In part 3 we look at the three lines that are unique enough to have a category of their own; Cunard Lines, Oceania Cruises and Windstar.