If you enjoy staying at four- or five-star hotels, consider sailing with a cruise line that specialises in offering a premium product. Words: Toni Eatts.

A premium style of cruise ship combines the personal service and intimate spaces of a small ship with the choice of facilities offered by larger ships. Generally, premium ships are classed as small, meaning they carry between 200 and 600 passengers, or mid-sized, meaning they carry up to 1,600 passengers. Some premium cruise lines, however, operate larger vessels and are still able to deliver the same standard of service as is found on smaller ships.

For example, Celebrity Cruises’ latest offerings, Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox, were joined in April 2010 by a new sibling, Celebrity Eclipse. Each of these ships carries nearly 3,000 passengers and offers an extraordinary range of facilities. These include several restaurants, numerous bars, a huge spa and a real grass lawn on which you can play bowls or croquet, or improve your putting skills in preparation for your next round of golf. In keeping with other cruise lines offering premium experiences, however, Celebrity Cruises’ passengers can enjoy sleek and stylish décor, dine on gourmet food and expand their knowledge by attending cultural enrichment programs.

Meanwhile, Cunard’s new ship, Queen Elizabeth, is launching in October 2010 and will carry on the line’s tradition of providing grand interiors and modern glamour. Queen Elizabeth will carry 2,092 passengers who can enjoy public areas such as the ballroom-like Queens Room, the Garden Lounge (which features a vaulted glass ceiling inspired by the glass houses of Kew Gardens) and the Art Deco-style Britannia Restaurant, which has an elegant, sweeping staircase that allows you to create an eye-catching grand entrance.

Holland America Line is also launching a new ship this year, the 86,000-ton MS Nieuw Amsterdam, which carries about 2,000 passengers. Like her sister ship MS Eurodam, MS Nieuw Amsterdam features a collection of stunning artworks and a choice of restaurants, bars and activities, including a pan-Asian eatery, a premium wine-tasting lounge and the innovative Culinary Arts Centre where master chefs provide cooking demonstrations in a state-of-the-art onboard show kitchen. Passengers can also book spa staterooms, which offer additional spa amenities as well as easy access to the ship’s spa.

This combination of accommodation choices, remarkable interiors, specialty fine-dining restaurants and imaginative onboard activities and entertainment has become the hallmark of premium cruising. On premium ships, standard cabins feature panoramic windows or balconies while larger suites may include brand-name toiletries, flat-screen TVs and European-style bedding. At the top end of the range, butler service may also be offered.

Premium cruise lines also pay special attention to dining. Tables might be set with Wedgwood china, Riedel crystal and Christofle silverware, and the main dining room will serve better food than you’ll find at equivalent meals on larger or mid-range ships. You may also find alternative fine-dining venues on premium cruise lines’ vessels. These are often overseen by celebrity chefs and are well worth trying, as you can sample gourmet food for a fraction of the cost you would pay for its equivalent on land.

Premium ships pride themselves on offering sophisticated choices. Some use ports of call as themes for activities that encourage you to sample local cuisine and wine. Others invite master chefs to sail with you to present cooking classes or sommeliers to hold wine-appreciation classes.

‘Enrichment’ programs can range from beginners’ course in foreign languages to series of lectures given by internationally respected figures of politics, history, business or the arts. In the evening, entertainment is typically provided in the show lounge and might include cabaret-style performances, stand-up comedians and Las Vegas-inspired shows.

Premium cruise lines generally offer world-class spas that offer treatments ranging from the usual massages to teeth whitening and deluxe facials using exotic ingredients.

This style of cruising may be aimed at the sophisticated traveller but families are welcome and many ships provide a range of kids’ clubs. Most also pay a good deal of attention to their itineraries and shore tours, seeking out unusual events and sights for passengers. Several lines offer world voyages and, while a cruise on a premium ship will cost more than one on your average liner, it is worth considering if you intend spending a few weeks at sea – especially if you enjoy the finer things in life.

In a nutshell

Ships are 4* or above.
Reasons to choose a premium cruise:

  • Friendly and efficient service
  • Elegant, luxurious décor
  • Public spaces featuring original artworks
  • Good-quality bed linen and plush furnishings
  • Gourmet cuisine and/or alternative restaurants
  • A choice of activities such as ‘enrichment’ programs
  • Fascinating destinations and shore excursions