4 Great Ultra Luxury Ocean Cruise Lines

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Accredited Cruise Counselor

The best of the best—we would all like to be pampered on a vacation and these 4 cruise lines will provide an unmatched travel experience.  Anne is a Luxury Cruise Line Specialist, so, I thought I’d write a little about the luxury cruising experience and help you understand more about these cruise offerings.

Overview

Generally speaking, there are 4 types of ocean cruise lines.  They are mass market or mainstream, premium, luxury and ultra-luxury.  I will be the first to explain that all ocean cruise ships do not fall into a neat category—for example portions of MSC (Yacht Club) and NCL (Haven) certainly are at least in the luxury market.  A penthouse suite on any cruise line is ultra-luxury, so again it is difficult to put all into distinct categories but if you look at the overall ambience of the ship, the quality of staterooms, the number of passengers and what is included in the price, clear distinctions are possible.

So, what makes a cruise line ultra-luxury?  Key characteristics are smaller ships, fabulous staterooms, more destination oriented cruises, more all-inclusive pricing, fine cuisine, included high end beverages, and low guest to service ratios (more ship personnel taking care of you).  It is truly an elite experience.  Those who like things first class will be thrilled with any of these four cruise lines.

Maybe just looking at two differences in the ultra-luxury from luxury cruising will help you understand the reason why these cruise lines are so special.  You can certainly buy a drink package on many cruise lines, but you still have limits including having to sign each time with your key card for your drink.  On ultra-cruise lines, you never sign for a drink unless it is a rare, premium beverage.  There are no limits.  Service is another factor.  Anne pointed out to me the difference is that these lines make every effort to impart a feeling to each guest that they are the only person on the line they are serving—no request is too much, you will be pampered and you can get quite spoiled.

One last point—these exclusive cruises are in very high demand—some world cruises sell out very fast (in days)—so waiting to book is often a big mistake.  Many guests are repeat sailors, love the ambience and amenities of these cruise line and are very loyal.  They also make reservations for limited dining and tours as soon as bookings are possible.  Our advice is book 12 months out or more to get exactly what you want and use experienced, certified travel agents like us to not miss out on that dream, luxury cruise vacation.

Crystal

Crystal. WatermarkedJPG

Crystal at present operates two cruise ships, the Crystal Symphony (922 guests; 566 crew) and the Crystal Serenity (1,070 guests; 655 crew).  Of all the ultra-luxury cruise lines, the Crystal ships are the largest, but one reason guests accept the larger number of passengers is the larger array of onboard facilities and almost all reviewers agree, Crystal has been able to maintain an exceptional high level of service despite the increased number of guests.  On each cruise ship there is a casino, a spa, a salon and a fitness center.  Crystal features enrichment programs like wine tastings, art classes and musical performances and these are often the best rated programs at sea.  Crystal’s innovative Creative Learning Institute offers complimentary enrichment classes with well-known associations such as Magic Castle, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Berlitz and Yamaha.

Crystal has an all-inclusive price structure, and is well known for its fine wines and premium spirits throughout the ship, plus pre-paid gratuities for housekeeping, bar, and dining staff. – Crystal ships have consistently earned top awards.  Crystal Cruises’ affluent, multi-generational guests appreciate the renowned Crystal Experience distinguished by classic service, abundant space, fine quality, and extensive choices.  The cuisine on board is globally inspired fare, considered excellent and served in outstanding venues.  There are specialty restaurants with dishes crafted by celebrated chefs such as Nobu Matsuhisa.  A word of warning here—the specialty dining rooms are in big demand, so an early sign up is a great idea.

Crystal Adventures Shore Excursions and cruise port, security and handling fees are not included in fare.  Crystal has expanded into the river cruise market, are adding a jet and have plans for a new ocean cruise liner, but these plans have changed several times, with launch dates altered, cancelled or delayed, so at this time I cannot provide accurate news about their new ocean cruise liner.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Formerly known as Radisson Seven Seas, this cruise line is known for its small ships, great staterooms and fine cuisine.  All staterooms are suites on each of this four ship line.  It is the most all-inclusive ocean cruise line, including everything from drinks to shore excursions in every port for all passengers and round trip air (often can upgraded to business class for a reasonable fee) and transfers in the fare.  Sometimes it even includes a free pre-cruise hotel stay.  Regent features an onboard lecture program from the Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys, good production shows, musical performances, culinary demonstrations and wine tastings.  The vibe on the ship could be described as a sophisticated ambiance and an elegant casual dress code.

Regent currently has 4 ships in its fleet.  They are Seven Seas Voyager, the Seven Seas Mariner, the Seven Seas Navigator and the Seven Seas Explorer (750 guests).  In 2017, Regent will spend $125 million upgrading and refurbishing the Seven Seas Navigator, the Seven Seas Voyager and the Seven Seas Mariner.  You can cruise on Regent for 7 days or up to 128 days world cruises—these world cruises often sell out in 2-3 days!  As we found out from bookings with past guests we made, although excursions are included, sometimes there is a limit on the number who can be included on a select tour, and we would advise anyone sailing on Regent, book their tours immediately (the tours can be booked 180 days out)—trust us, the limited tours go fast once the booking window opens up.

There is excellent dining on Regent.  The main dining room is the Compass Rose, a European-influenced venue that serves three meals a day.  The specialty dining includes Signatures, a French restaurant, and Prime 7, an American steakhouse.  Other options include the Pool Grill or La Veranda for breakfast and lunch buffets.  At dinnertime, La Veranda becomes Sette Mari at La Veranda, a casual option for an Italian-inspired meal.  To let you know about the quality of the food, I have read that Regent serves champagne and caviar on Sunday brunch.  They also have a unique block party on some cruises–where passengers come out into the hallways with an empty wine glass and servers fill them with champagne as the ship’s captain, general manager, and cruise director walk down the halls for a meet and greet.  Great way to meet your fellow guests!

Our previous guests really liked Regent.

Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Watermarked

Seabourn operates three 450-passenger all-suite ships, which have a yacht feel, and just launched its newest ship on January 9, 2017, the Encore, a 600 passenger vessel.  They are known for gourmet cuisine, white glove service and great staterooms—each stateroom features a tub and a shower.  On board, guests are served by an award-wining crew, hand-picked and extensively trained to deliver Seabourn’s signature style of thoughtful, personalized, and heartfelt hospitality. 

Seabourn is a member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, which means they offer exceptional cuisine.  They serve complimentary fine wines and open bars throughout the voyage and complimentary champagne and in-suite bar stocked to the guest’s request.  Seabourn is a more formal cruise line and most wear tuxedos and evening gowns on formal nights. 

According to Seabourn, the reason for the larger size of the Encore is to offer more features on the cruise ship—especially dining venues.  The big news is the addition of The Grill is an evening-only restaurant created by US Chef Thomas Keller (the Napa based French Laundry owner and chef), which serves hearty steaks and seafood.  Chef Keller’s The Grill will be added to all other ships in the fleet.  Also added on the Encore, is Sushi, a Japanese restaurant, where diners can watch specialist chefs prepare sashimi, nigari and sushi.  All the 300 cabins on the Encore are suites with balconies, walk-in wardrobes, and bathrooms with marble sinks and separate baths and showers.

Seabourn is famous for its caviar and champagne served in the surf in the Caribbean.  Fully decked out waiters (yes gloves, tails) stand in waist deep water holding caviar on a surf board and providing all the champagne and caviar one could desire.  Anne told me she could not imagine a more perfect pairing or serving idea—decadence beyond belief!

In 2018, Seabourn will introduce Seabourn Ovation.  Like her sister ship, the Seabourn Encore, the Ovation will be a beautiful all-verandah ship.

SilverSea Cruises

SilverSea Watermarked
SilverSea Silver Spirit

Stairway ArtArt Work

We sailed on SilverSea in Europe in 2015.  The company is family owned, based in Monaco and was started in 1994.  The line has eight ships.  They range from an expedition ship, smaller 296 to 383 passenger ships and the 540 passenger Silver Spirit, the ship we sailed on in 2015 in the Mediterranean.  This was an awesome luxury cruise where we got to experience great wines and food, stay in an elegant balcony cabin with a bath tub and a walk-in closet, and have a butler to attend to all our needs.  There is an in suite bar and we could request our preferred beverages.  A true high light was a hot bubble bath that our butler had prepared and waiting for Anne after a long day of touring—true luxury!

Cabin 809
Suite 809–our luxury room

Walk in closet & bathtub in our luxury suite

SilverSea is an all-suite cruise line and each suite has a butler.  The cruise line is all inclusive.  At least one shore excursion (usually more), gratuities, room service, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, are all included.  I was told there were at least 50 wines and champagnes that are included in your fare—amazing! 

Wine Service in the main dining room

The complimentary 24-hour room service includes dinner served course-by-course. 

Room Service Suite 809
Room Service Breakfast

They also have Culinary Arts theme cruises, which feature acclaimed chefs of Relais & Châteaux.  It is an elegant cruise line but not snobby—the staff was pleasant but not overly formal, our fellow passengers were social, and the service was superb! 

Shipboard dining include the main restaurant, La Terrazza, an indoor/outdoor for buffet style breakfast and lunch, the Stars Supper Club, an art deco inspired dining venue that served small courses. 

The Stars Supper Club

The pool side grill serves usual burgers and pizza.  At night, this area is transformed into The Grill—an al fresco eatery which featured a Hot Rock Dining Experience—a preheated volcanic rock allows you to cook your meal tableside.  It was cool!  All food was excellent and we enjoyed each venue. 

Lava Rocks Meal
Hot Lava Rocks–grilling prawns!
The Grill
The Grill at Night

For an extra fee, there was Seishin that featured fusion cuisine, Kobe beef and spider lobster.  This Asian restaurant has a 4 course menu (at our sailing $20 fee per person) or an 8 course menu ($40 fee per person).  Our biggest disappointment was not being able to dine at Le Champagne by Relais & Chateaux—again the limited seating was all booked up and if you want to eat at these exclusive venues, you must book as early as possible.

Onboard SilverSea, they had a specialty shoe kiosk by the pool, where you could have sandals hand made to your specifications and personally fitted to your exact foot.  Custom shoes—this is the lifestyle—hard to imagine you could get this level of pampering!  Anne said they are a wonderful reminder of the cruise and she is ready to go to Capri for any future adjustments!  That’s my girl—back to Europe—I’m in 100%.

Anne’s Custom Made Sandals

The focus of this cruise line is getting to great destinations in style and they delivered.  The included tours were very good or you could just wander off on your own (our usual touring method) and meet up with the group to return to the ship if transportation to return was required.  While we almost always picked the included tour, we selected an optional tour in Portofino that required a fee.  Portofino is a tender port (small boat to get you ashore from the ship) and we went to a wine tasting led by Guido Porrati.  It was outstanding, memorable culinary and wine-tasting event, well worth the price! 

Picture5
Guido Porrati was our wine & food host

SilverSea was a really good experience and we would encourage all to try this line.

Final Thoughts

Once you have tried traveling in style, you will want to go again.  The experience is so good and memorable that once is not enough.  We would love to help experience this level of excellence.  Please call Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

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