If there is one sector of the travel industry that has enjoyed astonishing growth in the past 12 months, it’s luxury cruising.

Whether it’s revenge spending for the pandemic years, pent-up demand and high savings or a desire for more space and fewer crowds, there is no doubt that demand for the finer things in life is growing.

So, what are the hallmarks of a luxury cruise?

Firstly, size matters. Five-star lines operate smaller ships carrying few than 1000 guests per vessel. The surrounds are elegantly plush, the well-appointed suites are spacious with a balcony. There will be art on the walls, branded coffee makers, a bar fridge replenished daily with your favourite champagne and spirits, and luxury bathroom amenities such as items by Bulgari.

The public spaces will be spacious and regally fitted out with chandeliers, more artworks, and attendants discreetly on hand in case you need something. Like a glass of champagne.

Plenty of plush seating and nooks and crannies for reading books and magazines or just chatting with fellow guests.

Secondly, service. Some lines think you can commoditise great service with electronic gadgetry. You can’t.

I’ve watched the art of great service many times – the careful memorising of faces and tastes, so they can be remembered throughout the voyage.  The anticipation of a guest’s demand before it is even uttered. There are certainly things that make life easier but, believe me, a robot will never replace a great barman who intuitively knows your tastes.

In your stateroom, your attendant knows when you need your laundry, anticipates a special occasion and spots that you are running out of toothpaste. Of course the crystal glasses are always on hand, but it’s wonderful to watch how they turn up the dial on the things you like and dial back on what you don’t touch.

A bartender on a Scenic cruise mixes drinks.
Five-star Scenic service.

Butlers, stewardesses and crew members of luxury lines have been specially trained in the fine art of intuition, so that they can gauge what the guest wants before being asked. So if the shoes or the sunglasses need to be cleaned, it just happens. In a world ever more complex – choices of premium coffee, flat white with oat milk, or Earl Grey tea with a slice of lemon – great service is a joy to behold.

Thirdly, fine dining options are a must. Speciality restaurants can be booked in advance without a surcharge, and wine pairings and top shelf brands are always available.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, for instance, allows you to indulge in classic French fare at Chartreuse with the ambiance of a chic restaurant on the Champs-Elysees; or visit Pacific Rim for Asian fusion cuisine; to enjoy luscious US steaks at Prime 7. Seabourn has celebrity chef Thomas Keller at the helm of The Grill, while Scenic’s Gastronomic Bordeaux river cruise showcases chef and author Raymond Blanc who will share his culinary skills at a cooking demonstration.  

Fourthly, cultural immersion and destinations where larger lines can’t venture – Portofino and Capri in the Mediterranean, for instance, or Abidjan on the Ivory Coast in Africa and Komodo Island in Indonesia. Shore excursions are also included – and, sometimes, so is a complimentary pre-cruise stay in a luxury hotel in the embarkation city.

In the UK, lifestyle bible Frommer says there is a thriving luxury cruise trend where the onboard experience is more like a private club where guests trade tales over a chilled glass of champagne or G&T and then continue their conversations over Mediterranean, French or Asian fine dining in restaurants which often rival what is served on shore. 

Frommer says these well-heeled cruisers choose itineraries that avoid megaship ports – preferring avant-garde destinations such as St Barts, Bequia and Jost Van Dyke. 

For wealthy Australian cruisers, the Med is still the number-one destination but increasingly more are cruising to Antarctica or the Arctic – two of the most popular bucket-list destinations. 

Luxury lines also offer specially curated excursions where guests can immerse themselves in the local culture, taste the local cuisine and perhaps enjoy exclusive entertainment events on shore.

And, last but not least – all of the above is included. Leave your wallet in the safe, you won’t need to spend another dollar once you have paid your fare.

There is an old adage:  if you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it.  But we think luxury cruising, when compared with the alternative of a holiday on shore with hotels, food and transport, is excellent value.

We love the line (it will remain nameless) which used to offer free caviar night and day, but charged for the wi-fi.  Luxury cruising is all about getting your priorities in perspective: the line’s president told us he believed guests didn’t want to be disturbed by the outside world of the internet while they were on holiday.

A smiling Regent Seven Seas couple.
A smiling Regent Seven Seas couple.