Even for skeptics, the appeal of a luxury cruise vacation is undeniable: refined accommodations, elevated cuisine, exotic locales and, above all else, stellar service. But not all cruise lines are created equal. While almost any new ship will have modern luxuries, only a handful excel at going beyond buffet lines and beach excursions.
“People throw around the word ‘luxury’ too much,” says Mary Jean Tully, chairman and CEO of The Cruise Professionals, a travel agency that specializes in top-of-the-line cruises. “True luxury is no crowds, not searching for an available deck chair, not standing in a buffet line. Luxury is about service and attention to detail, in addition to accommodations and food.”
With the arrival of new ships (13 were introduced in 2011, according to Cruise Lines International Association), there are more luxury options to choose from. Our Startle.com editors found over-the-top cruise experiences that offer personal service, exceptional shore excursions, fine cuisine and all the luxurious trappings you’d expect from a luxe, landlubbing hotel.
This luxury cruise line has six ships in its fleet, each with ocean-view suites, Bvlgari bath products, Egyptian cotton linens and butler service. The smaller boats mean most ports (however far flung) are open to Silversea. Worldwide destinations range from standard Mediterranean cities (Venice, Barcelona) to locations in Africa (Namibia, Cape Town).
Trip to Book: The 115-day 2013 World Cruise starts in Los Angeles and ends in Fort Lauderdale. You’ll see Tahiti, Hong Kong, Barbados and dozens of destinations in between. The cruise runs from January 5th to May 1st, 2013. Rates start at $49,999 a person.
Known for its consistent top-flight service, Crystal Cruises trains its crew to anticipate your needs and remember your preferences. Fresh flowers, nightly turndown, Frette bathrobes and room service are some of the standard on-board perks. Both of the two Crystal ships offer enrichment programs—language classes, golf lessons from PGA pros and wellness seminars sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic.
Trip to Book: Spend 98 days exploring the Pacific Rim, visiting native temples, touring cities and spotting wildlife. The cruise starts in Auckland, New Zealand and hits Sydney, Bali, Hong Kong and Alaska (among others) before anchoring in Los Angeles. The voyage begins on January 29th and returns May 6th, 2013. Rates start at $33,135 a person.
With 104 to 225 suites on board, this line’s six ships are relatively small compared to those of the mammoth cruise lines. Each room’s minibar is stocked with water, spirits and wine that match your preferences before you board. Shore excursions are outstanding, with options such as elephant rides in Thailand, guided walking tours of the ruins of Pompeii, and horseback riding in Chilean Patagonia.
Trip to Book: The 32-day Asia, India and Arabia voyage ventures to places most cruise lines don’t. It starts in Hong Kong, travels through a several port cities including Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and Mumbai before it lands in Dubai. Beginning March 4th, the cruise ends April 5th, 2013. Rates start at $10,116 per person.
The line’s three mid-sized ships (carrying about 500 to 700 guests each) are tricked out with Canyon Ranch SpaClubs, L’Occitane bath products, private balconies and several restaurants. Book a concierge-level suite or higher and you’ll get extras such as an hour of free Internet service, discounts on top-shelf liquor and priority dinner reservations. Guests in penthouse suites have personal butlers, use of in-room iPads and Hermes amenities.
Trip to Book: The four signature Grand Crossing cruises all journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The 18-night Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro cruise hits Africa, then spends three days at sea before its next stop in Recife, Brazil. Board November 20th and disembark December 8th, 2013. Rates start at $8,299 per person.
By Jaydine Sayer