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Wednesday, 13 March 2013 11:55

Luxury Cruises

Written by  Lillian Africano

Luxury, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. This is especially true for luxury cruises, when it’s the client’s wish list that decides which cruise is truly “luxurious.” Is it all about service that begins before the guest even arrives at the dock, that allows easy crowd-free boarding and proceeds with a glass of champagne and a personal escort to the stateroom? That means a small ship carrying relatively few passengers. 

Does “luxury” mean casual elegance, with wine and beer and gratuities included - and where black tie is never required? That means a small ship with the personality of a private yacht, where passengers don’t expect wall-to-wall entertainment - and might instead take a bike ride with the captain. On the two 110-passenger SeaDream vessels, food and service are flawless and the accommodations are elegant without fuss. Though there are no balconies, passenger can relax on Balinese beds on the deck. A good example of the SeaDream philosophy of relaxed elegance: the signature “Champagne & Caviar Splash” - a gourmet barbecue served on bone china on a sandy beach that takes place during Caribbean voyages. 

Does the client wish for sumptuous interiors, elegant staterooms, formal evenings with champagne, lots of better-than-average activities (everything from instruction in computers and languages to wellness and dance) and several venues for fine dining? Then the choice may be the ships of Crystal Cruises (960-1,100 passengers), which offer extravagant shows, Feng Shui-inspired spas and over-the-top penthouse suites that come with butlers. 

Clients who are comfortable on ships where English is the second language and where most of the passengers speak German might favor the luxury of the Hapag-Lloyd ships, the Europa (400 passengers) and her soon-to-launch sister, Europa 2. The suites start at 291 square feet, with marble-tiled bathrooms and 80% have private verandas. Champagne is offered daily at breakfast and caviar is often served by the well-trained European wait-staff. (The entire young European crew is multi-lingual.) Everything about the Europa is top shelf and it is often cited as the world’s highest-ranked luxury cruise ship. As Hapag-Lloyd has announced its intention to increase market share in English-speaking countries - particularly with the Europa 2 - by increasing tours offered in English and other strategies, more American clients may find it appealing.

Close on the heels of the Europa in the luxury rankings - and more relaxed in style and atmosphere, are the yachts of Seabourn (210-450 passengers), where the staterooms are spacious and well-appointed and the list of activities includes lectures by well-known authors, film personalities, chefs, wine experts, etc. There is casino gambling as well as entertainment (musicians, comedians, etc.) in the main lounge. Food and wine offerings are excellent in the main restaurants; all Seabourn ships offer a Restaurant 2 alternative. The newer and bigger (450 passengers) Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest have a younger vibe and feature balconies, multiple dining options, and a fully-developed spa and fitness center.

Silversea Cruises has five luxury ships carrying between 296 and 540 passengers and one luxury expedition ship (132 passengers), the Silver Explorer. Refined elegance prevails here, and includes the services of a butler. Personalization comes in the form of a nine-option pillow menu and an aromatherapy fragrance menu for the suite; 85% of the suites have a private teak veranda. 

Activities include language and computer instruction, wine tastings and golf instruction; guest lecturers - historians, chefs, authors, often discuss the cruise ports and surrounding areas. Silversea ships feature the only wine restaurants by Relais & Chateaux at sea. The Le Champagne restaurants serve creative seasonally-inspired dishes; each dish is accompanied by fine wines and champagnes selected by experts from Relais & Chateaux. 

Regent Seven Seas is one of the world’s premier luxury lines, with excellent accommodations and service ratios. Two of three medium-size (490-708 passengers) ships, the Mariner and the Voyager are all-suite and all-balcony; The Navigator is all-suite, 90% with balconies. Many come with butler service. Dining has a French flair at Le Cordon Bleu’s Signatures, while steak-and-more are served at the Prime 7 restaurants. Activities include enrichment programs led by guest experts; Cordon Bleu workshops (on select sailings) and bridge instruction.

When “luxury” means a cruise in romantic French Polynesia or the South Pacific, then Paul Gauguin Cruises’ m/s Paul Gauguin is the logical choice. The 332-passenger ship, which features spacious staterooms (many with verandas) features fine food, service and amenities. In design and furnishings, it reflects the destination -- and so do the activities: windsurfing, waterskiing, kayaking, snorkeling and a PADI diving program. 

For the most part, you’ll see few children aboard the small or mid-size luxury ships. However during summer and select holiday sailings, some ships will provide some type of program or child care. Regent operates its Club Mariner program; Crystal also offers a supervised children’s program when bookings reflects a substantial number of children.

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