TOP LUXURY CRUISES

Are They Worth It?

In this article you will find:

A

Traditional Cruises Versus Luxury Cruises

A

Luxury Enclaves on Large Ships

A

Best Luxury Ocean and River Cruise Lines

A

Comparative Costs - Is Luxury All That More Expensive?

Most people love cruising in luxury, but not everyone understands the true value of such cruising nor do they feel they can afford luxury prices. So, let’s examine luxury cruises: What are they? Who operates them and where? What makes luxury cruises different from traditional cruises? Are they worth the extra money? 

In many ways luxury cruise ships are different from traditional cruise ships. You need to know about these differences, especially if you are an older (senior) cruiser in search of a special not-too-youthful cruise experience.

Traditional cruise ships, which transport 90 percent of all cruisers, tend to emphasize:

  • Budget or “affordable” mass cruise travel. An ostensibly inexpensive advertised base price may get your initial booking attention, but the real cost of cruising may balloon once you get sucked into the ship’s major profit centers and indulge in 5 budget-busting activities — casinos, spas, drinks, wi-fi, and shore excursions. A cheap $100-a-day advertised Caribbean cruise, for example, could easily become a $500-a-day cruise if you don’t carefully watch your onboard spending around these profit centers!
  • Diverse mix of passengers by ages, incomes, occupations, interests, travel styles, and cruise behaviors. An easy way to determine the class-orientation of fellow passengers is to ask them what cruise lines they’ve cruised with before – one of the most frequently asked questions when meeting strangers. You’ll quickly identify whether or not your current cruise is a step up or a step down for such passengers.
  • Large ships (1,250 to 5,000+ passengers). Remember, this is mass cruising for people who tolerate big crowds and long lines as well as welcome many dining, entertainment, and activity options.

Traditional Cruises Versus Luxury Cruises

  • Offer numerous 24/7 fun activities for families and young people.
  • Popular ships for multigenerational and reunion cruises.
  • Include popular spectator and participant (thrill-seeking) activities, such as rappelling wall, rock climbing, ziplining, roller coasters, go carts, games (try walking the plank), bungee trampoline, aqua park, and a variety of simulators (sky diving, surfing, Formula 1).
  • Offer multiple dining options with popular buffets; specialty dining usually costs extra.
  • Crowded pool and deck areas.
  • High-octane professional entertainment that may continue late into the night and early morning.
  • Non-inclusive cruising – must pay for many extras centered around the cruise ship’s major onboard profit centers (most drinks, including bottled water, specialty dining, gratuities, exercise classes, late night room service, shore excursions, upgrades, wi-fi, and more). Some of these profit centers, especially drinks and wi-fi, are borderline rip-off operations.
  • Stop at popular cruise ports and private islands capable of accommodating huge ships and thousands of disembarking passengers on short-term visits.
  • Offer a disproportionate number of short cruises (3 to 10 days) to popular destinations such as Alaska and the Caribbean.

On the other hand, luxury cruise ships tend to emphasize:

  • High-end travel with similar class of well-educated and seasoned travelers drawn from a variety of professional backgrounds (doctors, lawyers, CEOs, financiers, technologists, educators). Ask about their previous cruises and you’ll get a quick snapshot of their class and interests.
  • High staff-to-passenger ratios — similar to exclusive resorts.
  • Exceptional service, including private butlers and room service, with great attention to detail and customer satisfaction.
  • All-suite accommodations with balconies.
  • Child-free (no one under 18) and adults only (over 25) environments.
  • Small- to medium-sized ships (under 1,000 passengers) that can cruise to less crowded destinations.
  • Adult- and senior-friendly activities that especially appeal to older passengers (retirees, seniors, wealthy professionals) rather than active young adults, children, and families.
  • May include some special high-end thrill-seeking activities, such as helicopter explorations, submarining, kayaking, and water skiing. 
  • Popular enrichment programs presented by a cadre of international specialists.
  • Inclusive cruising (everything included) – free drinks, specialty dining, shore excursions, prepaid gratuities, and wi-fi. Some luxury cruise lines also include free roundtrip air.
  • Specialty dining in 5-star restaurants, many branded as well as supervised by top international chefs.
  • Ships regularly updated to maintain a tasteful up-to-date look of luxury and freshness. 
  • Some luxury ships have eliminated traditional buffets, casinos, and children. 
  • Fun and socializing tends to end early in the evening – after the 10pm show and a nightcap at the piano bar. Many are quiet ships where not much goes on after midnight.
  • Disproportionately visit smaller cruise ports that traditional cruise ships.
  • Offer special expedition/exploration yachts with fewer than 200 passengers.
  • Include off-the-beaten-path and exotic destinations as well as polar explorations.
  • Offer longer cruises (7-120 days) that traditional cruise ships
  • Next cruise preference for fellow passengers is likely to be an expensive luxury or exploration cruise than an inexpensive traditional cruise.

Luxury Enclaves on Large Ships

More and more traditional cruise lines have carved out special “luxury enclaves” for their VIP passengers. Catering to a special class of passengers, who value exclusivity and privacy in huge cruise ship settings, these enclaves are often located on special floors or sections serviced by private elevators, butlers, restaurants, and health and wellness centers. The emphasis is on luxury services, exclusivity, and privacy. These VIP passengers are largely segregated from the huge (4,000+ passenger) general cruise population. Cruise lines focused on embedding such luxury elements in their large ships include:

 

Best Luxury Ocean and River Cruise Lines

The most popular luxury cruise lines for ocean cruising include:

The most popular luxury cruises for riverboat cruising, which are much smaller and have fewer luxury amenities than ocean cruise ships, include:

Two ocean cruise lines, which boost a modest fleet of small cruise ships (600 to 1,200 passengers), are increasingly viewed as upper-premium or luxury-light. As such, they incorporate many elements of the all-inclusive luxury brand cruise ships, or they offer all-inclusive options. These companies appeal to many traditional luxury cruisers:

 

Comparative Costs – Is Luxury All That More Expensive?

Just how much more expensive is a luxury cruise versus a traditional cruise? It depends on how you work the math and what services you would normally pay for on a traditional cruise ship. For example, if you’re a big drinker and must spend $80 a day on a drink package, the all-inclusive liquor deal on many luxury cruises is a good deal. The same is true for shore excursions. If you’re spending $250 a day on port excursions during a port-heavy cruise, the all-inclusive port excursion deal on luxury cruises may save you $1,000-$2,000 per person. The same is true for roundtrip air, gratuities, laundry service, airport to ship transfers, and a host of other onboard services. 

The cost question is always about value – what are you getting for your luxury versus traditional cruise dollar? Regent Seven Seas, which is reputed to be the world’s #1 or #2 luxury cruise line, addresses this question of value head-on with a series of interesting charts for anyone wishing to compare inclusive and non-inclusive cruises for several different destinations – a very useful exercise in understanding the differential cost of traditional versus luxury cruises:

www.rssc.com/experience/value-comparison 

In the case of Regent, their prices include:

  • Free round-trip business air
  • Free 1-night pre-cruise hotel package
  • Free unlimited shore excursions
  • Free unlimited beverages
  • Free open bars and lounges
  • Free specialty restaurants
  • Free transfers between airport and ship
  • Free prepaid gratuities

These “freebies” translate into real money – maybe as much as 50 percent of the total cruise cost, which are included in the overall advertised cost of the cruise.

Regent’s conclusion from this type of comparative analysis — a traditional cruise may be just as expensive – and sometimes more — than a luxury cruise, minus all the luxurious extras.

Whatever your cruising preferences, you are well advised to identify your preferred cruising style and then do your research. Don’t automatically dismiss the so-called luxury cruise lines because of their luxury labels. In the end, cruising is all about travel lifestyle and value. In that sense, luxury cruises have a lot to offer and should never be dismissed out of hand because they initially appear to be expensive.