There are several cruise lines that specialise in offering all the high-quality creature comforts you need.

Superb surroundings, the finest of foods, impressive wine lists, unique shore excursions and exceptional personalised service – these define the luxury cruise experience. According to the cruise industry’s bible, the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2010, of the 75 cruise lines operating internationally, only eight offer luxury cruising. Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa tops the list with five stars plus.
The other ships to be awarded the coveted five stars are:

  • Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony (Crystal Cruises)
  • Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, Grill Class only (Cunard Line)
  • Hebridean Spirit (Hebridean International Cruises)
  • Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Voyager (Regent Seven Seas Cruises)
  • Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit (Seabourn)
  • SeaDream I, SeaDream II (SeaDream Yacht Club)
  • Silver Cloud, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, Silver Wind (Silversea Cruises)

With the exception of QM2 and Queen Elizabeth, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, which carry about 1,700 passengers each, the ships listed are mid-size, small or boutique. This is because smaller vessels are better able deliver the personal service that’s essential to creating that superb five-star experience for every passenger. However, familiarise yourself with these cruise lines and their vessels because there is a wide range of offerings within this select group.

For example, some have crews that are trained in delivering a European hotel style of service (Europa, QM2 and Queen Elizabeth Grill Class); others pride themselves on their fine dining (Silversea, SeaDream, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony); some have formal nights (Silversea Cruises, QM2, Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony and the Regent Seven Seas ships); others stipulate ‘country club casual’ (SeaDream vessels). Generally, however, each vessel is designed to ensure that it never feels crowded due to the generous ratio of space per passenger.

These cruise lines are also launching new ships to cater for the increasing number of passengers seeking luxury, while others, such as Regent Seven Seas, are increasing their allure by refurbishing vessels and including extras such as shore excursions in fares. Inclusions such as these are well worth noting, as paying for shore tours or the drinks you order at the bar can add significant costs to your cruise.

An indication of the innovations can also be seen in Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit, which was launched in late 2009. Displacing 36,000 tons, she carries 540 passengers in the largest suites of Silversea’s fleet and 95 per cent of those suites feature private verandahs. The public spaces are inspired by Art Deco design and the ship has six dining venues. As on all Silversea ships, wines and the majority of alcoholic beverages are included in the fare, though you can buy premium and vintage brands for an additional charge.

To give you an example of the variety of ships available in the luxury segment, Silversea also offers Prince Albert II. Carrying just 132 guests, this vessel has an ice-strengthened hull, is designed to transport passengers to remote areas of the globe in complete luxury, and boasts gourmet cuisine and personalised service.

Another ship to watch out for is Seabourn Sojourn. She offers her 450 passengers four dining venues, six bars and lounges, and a two-deck spa.

So as the competition increases, passengers are being wooed by stylishly decorated public rooms, fine dining with all the trimmings and outstanding wines (along with experienced sommeliers to advise you) and suites that offer the highest quality linens, each with a fully stocked bar or fridge. Even standard suites on a luxury ship have ocean views and many have balconies.

Cruising, however, is also about destinations, and luxury cruise lines specialise in calling at ports and islands that larger ships are too big to access. They also organise tailored experiences such as concerts in historic venues, picnics on glaciers and private viewings of great works of art.

This emphasis on memorable experiences means that many luxury ships host guest experts and celebrities who give lectures. In fact, onboard entertainment can range from such educational pursuits through to production shows or cabaret performances, depending on the size of the ship. The crews of many smaller vessels, meanwhile, work hard to create a friendly environment, knowing that the good company of fellow guests is all the entertainment most passengers require.

In a nutshell

Ships are 5* or above. Reasons to choose a luxury cruise:

  • Beautiful and spacious public areas
  • Exceptional personal service
  • Quality furnishings, bed linen and toiletries
  • State-of-the-art equipment as TVs, DVD players and sound systems
  • Fine-dining cuisine and the best wines and spirits
  • An enticing range of destinations
  • Exclusive shore excursions
  • Fare inclusions such as wines with dinner, shore excursions and gratuities