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Guide To Luxury Cruising
If youíve ever glanced through a cruise brochure or watched cruise commercials on television, you have probably seen or heard the word "luxury" and "pampered." Every cruise line proudly states how it pampers its passengers in luxury, regardless of budget or expense.
Though these words are overused, cruising is now well established as one of the most service-intensive vacations in the world - with ever more incredible state-of-the-art vessels being built each year. For most cruisers, "pampered in luxury" accurately describes the cruise experience.
In the "Guide to Luxury Cruising," we have chosen to focus on "six-star" rated ships (on a scale of I to 6, 6 is the highest). This is an arbitrary distinction. For example, the 1,101 square-feet Penthouse Suite aboard Celebrityís ship, Mercury, is the epitome of luxury with a price tag of about $6,495 USD per person for 7-days, not including airfare. Overall, however, the Mercury is a "five-star" ship and therefore not considered in this guide.
The Cruise Experience - A brief description for the first timer
If you have never been on a cruise, we would like to introduce you to the world's best vacation value. Here are just a few of the unique features that a cruise vacation can provide:
Cruising offers multiple destinations without the hassles of packing and unpacking. The cruise ship is your floating resort. This can be particularly attractive in destinations that lack high quality hotels or "creature comforts."
Cruising is one of the most service-oriented and service-intensive vacation experiences in the world.
The cruise ship is a destination in itself, with features and amenities comparable or superior to land-based resorts.
While all modern cruise ships have state-of-the-art telecommunications equipment, including in-cabin ship-to-shore phones, life at sea feels secluded and "out of time." You have the illusion of getting away from it all.
Cruising is remarkably affordable. Here is what is typically included in the cost of your cruise, at a price that is generally lower than a comparable land-based vacation:
- Round-trip airfare.
- Transfers from airport to ship and from ship to airport.
- Three main meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Special children's menus are available if you are cruising with a child.
- Three buffet meals per day (breakfast, lunch and midnight). Some ships add a fourth buffet for late-nighters at around 1:30 a.m. Many ships also have afternoon snacks or traditional high teas.
- 24-hour Room service on many ships. Some new ships are adding 24-hour pizzerias.
- All shipboard facilities, including: casino, pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym, on-board lectures, card rooms, an unending variety of organized games and contests and more...
- Supervised children's activities offered on a daily basis. Good to know if you are bringing along a child.
- All entertainment, including Broadway and Las Vegas-style shows, lounges, nightclubs, movies, dancing and more.
- Visits to three or more ports of call (depending on length of cruise).
Finally, the experience of being at sea has attracted adventurers and travelers from time immemorial. There are few experiences that compare to a pristine sunrise or sunset from the deck of a ship, the curative fresh sea air, the seemingly endless canopy of stars, or the sense of wonder as one sails into a new land for the first time.
A flawless combination of service and amenities
When you step up to luxury cruising, you are in the rarified world of nearly telepathic service, where crew and staff are highly trained to anticipate your every need and respond quickly and courteously to every request. Luxury brochures describe it as "an uncompromising commitment to flawless service."
In addition, the staff to passenger ratio is exceptionally high on luxury cruise ships. Regent's ship, the Seven Seas Voyager, carries only 700 passengers but has 445 staff onboard.
Did you order decaf cappuccino on your first night out? It will be there without asking at your next meal. Would you like six pillows instead of three? No problem. Do you want to be met by limo in port? Done. ltís what cruise industry insiders call "software."
"Hardware" is the term used to describe the cruise ship and its amenities. On a luxury cruise ship you find rare woods, fine fabrics and leathers, expensive art, Lomoges, Villeroy or Boch china, Christofle silverware, Frette linens, hand-cut Hadeland crystal, expansive wine cellars, down pillows and comforters, personalized stationery, fully stocked in-room bars (on some vessels), well-appointed public areas and larger than average accommodations or suites.
While it is commonplace to find excellent service (software) and exceptional facilities and amenities (hardware) aboard most cruise ships, what sets luxury cruising apart is an almost mystical fusion of the two. It's the difference between a Hyatt and a Ritz-Carlton. Recently, cruise guide books by Frommer, Berlitz and Fielding have awarded the top Luxury ships with "six-Star" ratings, where "5-Stars" had been the highest rating.
How much will it cost?
If the above sounds expensive, it's all relative. Per diems can be significantly higher on a luxury cruise, ranging from $300-$2,000 USD per person per day, depending on the ship, length of cruise, destination and type of accommodation. Obviously, luxury cruising is not for everyone!
Keep in mind that many luxury cruises are truly all-inclusive, meaning that roundtrip airfare (economy), gratuities, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, meals, entertainment and even some shore excursions are provided.
Expect the best of everything on a luxury cruise - the best caviar and scotch salmon, the finest champagnes, the best service, the most exotic and unusual destinations and itineraries, internationally recognized on-board lecturers and gourmet cuisine.
When you put all of the ingredients together, luxury cruising can be a real value, -especially compared to land based resorts. In fact, luxury cruising arguably offers far more than a land-based resort. For example, on a recent check, a deluxe suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Bali, Indonesia, was $1537 USD per person per day, with five "meal presentations," but no entertainment, gratuities, drinks or activities. At the Regent in Hong Kong, a deluxe suite was $862 USD per person per day with no meals, entertainment, gratuities, drinks or activities. Standard rooms at the Regent were $309 USD per person per day. Hotel rates quoted are double occupancy and include applicable taxes.
The good news is, there are ways to save money - even on a luxury cruise. This is our specialty, as our cruise consultants are highly trained to know where the best bargains are at any given time.
Who travels on luxury cruises?
Success is the common denominator in the luxury cruiser. Whether it is "old" or "new" money, an active entrepreneur or retiree, or someone who has saved well for the trip of a lifetime - luxury cruisers are successful people who have planned well to enjoy an unparalleled cruise vacation experience.
Another common denominator is a taste for the finer things in life. Luxury cruisers know what they want and, if they have cruised before, they know that a luxury cruise will exceed their expectations.
How to Choose the Right Luxury Cruise?
The choices in luxury cruising are relatively small, with each and every ship providing an exceptional cruise experience. Still there are some questions to ask yourself, and some distinctions between the various lines.
Big ships or small?
Ultra-deluxe ships come in all sizes - from Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Pride at 10,000-tons, (each are 208-passenger vessels) to Cunard's Queen Mary 2 at 150,000 tons and 2620 passengers. Smaller ships are, of course, frequently more intimate, informal and service-intensive. Larger ships like Crystal Symphony, Crystal Harmony, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 offer more variety in dining, entertainment and onboard activities. Smaller ships like the Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend, offer a more private, yacht-like experience.
Choices in accommodation also vary according to the size of the ship. The Crystal Harmony, for example, offers 10 cabin categories, ranging from inside stateroom to Crystal Penthouse with veranda. Silver Sea's most modern vessels Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow offer some of the most spacious accommodations afloat with a passenger space ratio of 73.
While even the smaller luxury cruise vessels have state-of-the-art design and stabilizers, if you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to consider a larger vessel. The Regent Diamond may be another good alternative. Although she carries only 350 passengers, her unique twin-hull design makes her particularly stable in rough seas.
Luxury cruise ships literally span the globe. Many go to ports that are not visited, or rarely visited by other cruise ships. Throughout the year, youíll find extensive itineraries in the Far East, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Africa (including African land safaris) and the Caribbean. The Mediterranean is a favorite destination during the summer months.
Like mass-market and premium cruising, luxury cruise pricing is a function of ship, length of cruise, destination and accommodations. While price may not be an obstacle for some in this category of cruising, there are many options available in terms of rates and accommodations - and also many ways to save money. Of course, the longer the itinerary, the more distant the destinations, and the more extravagant the level of accommodation, the more expensive the cruise.
The ship as destination
Finally, many people today consider the ship itself to be the destination. Onboard facilities such as spas, pool and open deck areas, Jacuzzi, lounges, casino, shipboard activities, spacious accommodations and legendary service make the ship a great place to relax, retreat, rejuvenate and play. The Seabourn Pride, Legend and Spirit as well as several Regent Seven Seas ships have platforms that drop off the back to create a private watersports area when the vessels are at anchor.