The price point and even the phrase “luxury cruising” may be intimidating and may make guests think that the whole idea of a luxury cruise may be too stuffy and snooty for them, but this year my husband and I, who usually cruise on premium lines, had the opportunity to take a luxury cruise on Silversea and Seabourn, and we found the whole experience to be beyond what we imagined. A luxury cruise is nearly all inclusive with some lines like Regent and Silversea even including air and shore excursions, but it is much more about an intimate, hassle free vacation, with no “upsell” to things like drink package, specialty dining, art actions, or other extras. It is all about making your vacation seamless and hassle free. There are no worries when you are onboard a luxury cruise. While the price of a Ultra Luxury cruise is 2 to 3 times higher the price of a standard balcony cabin on a premium ship, is it worth the extra? I say if you can easily afford it, it absolutely it is.
Intimate Ships –
The most important reason to cruise on a Luxury brand like Silversea, Seabourn or Regent is the intimate small ships. Some of their ships carry under 300 guest, and others just under 700, but compare that to the trend in the mass market or premium lines. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have ships that carry 4000 to 5000 guests. Premium Lines like Holland America and Celebrity have ships with around 2500 more or less passengers and Princess has the largest ships in the premium sector with 3600 guests.
Amazing Crew, Officers, and Entertainment Staff
The staff to guest ratio tends to be about 1 to 1, which means that the staff is not over burdened. They can get to know you personally by name and have the time to do so. We were amazed on both of our ultra luxury experiences that many of the staff greeted us by name the first time we met them on embarkation day. How do they do that???? We found the staff on our luxury cruise to be friendly, professional and most of they were folks that really loved what they are doing. We found the service to be extremely attentive and at sometimes almost invisible as a glass of water or wine is refilled with out having to flag someone down or even ask.
One aspect the we loved about the Seabourn cruise was that the entertainers and officers invited us to join us for dinner several times during the cruise. With such a small ship and intimate setting, it really made it fun to get to know the singers and officers while on board, learn their stories, about how they got started in their fields and where they want to go in the future.
Hassle Free On and Off
One of the areas where intimate size of the ship also makes a huge difference is in the embarkation, going ashore and debarkation process. If you have a cruise that is very port intensive and you don’t want to queue up to get on and off the ship, or have to stand in long lines, deal with large crows, a luxury line is certainly worth the extra price for those who can afford it. While premium cruise lines often try to mitigate those crowds for their suite guests with special priority access, there still is that feeling of being on a large ship with large crowds.
Interesting Itineraries and Different Ports
The third area where the size of the ship comes into play is access to ports. Silversea, with their small ships, can take their ships up the Thames and sail under the Tower Bridge. Large ships must dock over an hour away in Southampton. Small ship cruise lines can dock right in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia right across from the Hermitage museum. Being right in the heart of the destination port and access to smaller more intimate ports where the larger ships can’t go is certainly and advantage of these ultra luxury small ship cruises. The ships also tend to offer different and unique itineraries. Realizing that they are appealing to a more upscale audience who may have “Been There and Done That” you will often find that these luxury lines seek to provide more variety and offer different and unique ports such as Manaus, Brazil in the Amazon, or the actual heart of the city of Bordeaux. Some of these lines have even launched expedition ships that take guests to remote areas of the world like Galapagos and Antarctica (with landings ashore). We enjoyed our Silver Sea cruise so much that we booked their 2024 World Cruise for the unique ports and on board experiences it will offer.
Trade-off For Smaller Size Ships
There are some tradeoffs with the small size of the ship, but I think they are well worth it. For example, the highest end suites on large ships will be more spacious at a similar price point than the standard suites on these small ship luxury lines, but the smallest suites on these luxury lines at around 324 sq ft tend to be about 100 sq feet larger than standard non suite cabins on premium and mass market lines. The biggest difference is the generous seating area, walk in closets and large bathrooms.
Size and Scale of Entertainment
Another tradeoff with the intimate ships tends to be the scale of entertainment, but not the quality. While big ships have multiple venues, large casts and grand productions, these smaller ships emphasize talented vocalists in intimate venues. The vocalist we heard on Silversea and Seabourn may have been some of the best we’ve heard at sea. We also found the activities, though similar to those on bigger ships, like trivia and putting tournaments, to be more enjoyable because of the smaller atmosphere where you got to know the other players and hosts.
Very little if any up sell on board
Because all guests on a luxury lines are sailing under all inclusive pricing, there is very little, if any up-sell on board. Even if you are in a top end suite on mass market or premium line line you still are probably going to subject to the ship’s photographers trying to take your picture, a restaurant staffer trying to sell you a specialty dining package, or a big jewelry or spa event that is really just a sales pitch for the product there-in. An ultra luxury ship doesn’t rely on these types of revenue generating centers for profits, their profits are already built into the price you paid for your cruise. It was nice to be free from having to say the polite “No, thank you” to these up-sell offers from the crew and staff when we sailed on our two luxury small ship cruises this year.
Fellow Guests – Friendly, Happy and Interesting
I don’t know what we were expecting in terms of fellow guests, maybe some sort of snooty country club elite, or someone like Charles Emmerson Winchester III from “Mash”, but what we found were some of the friendliest and most interesting fellow guests. Most of the guests we met were extremely friendly, well traveled and all had interesting stories to share from their past cruises. One lady was always smiling and looked like she was having a great time and always said “hello” whenever I passed her on the walking track on in the hallway. It turned out the stevedores at the port of Seattle had dropped her suitcase into the water and most of her clothes and things got soaked with salt water. The ship had laundered and dry-cleaned most of her stuff, but some of her items were ruined, and she and the ship were working out her compensation. Yet, without knowing this situation, my husband and I always commented when we saw her that she was always smiling and having a great time. I have seen and heard of others on other lines in the same situation who did nothing but complain and walk around with a scowl on their faces the entire cruise.
With so few fellow guests on luxury small ship cruises, we felt like family by the end of the cruise. One of the most popular activities on both cruises was team trivia, which was hosted by the cruise directors almost every day and created quite a fun rivalry between teams. And there was no cheating, because the cruise directors came up with different questions for each and every cruise and trivia session. I have heard of guests on other cruise lines who are on back to back to back cruises cheating by writing down all the answers and knowing them ahead of time during the next trivia session. Other ways that we got know our fellow guests were both through dining opportunities with shared tables and through the shore excursions. On the Silversea’s cruise it really felt like a big family by the end of the cruise.
Neither of our luxury cruises in 2022 was as stuffy and sedate as I might have imagined, but featured very social and engaging fellow guests with interesting back grounds who were ready to engage in conversation and get to know others on the cruise.
An On Board Atmosphere for Every Style
Whether you want to dress up every night or stay smart casual, there is a luxury line for every style. Silversea is a bit more dressy requiring jackets for men on the formal optional nights, but there were several dining venues where guests could remain in casual attire, and these weren’t just tucked away buffet areas, but full service sit down dining with a unique menu. We did dress up for these nights and ate in one of the main dining rooms. For the men, ties were optional, even in the main dining venues. On Seabourn, we chose to dine al fresco on the formal night and it was more based on the fantastic menu that was offered that night, rather than the ability to forgo the jacket for my husband. I would recommend that gentlemen plan to pack at least a sports coat for a ultra luxury cruise, but suits and tuxedos are appropriate if guests want to dress up a little more. Ladies have a lot more freedom and on those dressier night wore everything from designer evening pants suits to formal gowns.
A Luxury cruise can be fun too! We had late night parties in the disco or up on deck on our luxury cruises that we really enjoyed. The bands and DJ’s were great!. Guests were ready to have fun, and with just the right amount of adult beverages, ready to enjoy some dancing. We had one night where it was all request, and we kept requesting goofy songs that had a meaning to one party or another on the cruise.