Worth the splurge: the two-story Grand Wintergarden suite on Seabourn Venture. Courtesy of Seabourn
While the term “luxury” is often thrown around and overused, the top-end luxury cruise lines really do deliver a five-star experience that’s akin to staying at a grand hotel—with the added bonus of all-inclusive pricing and a ship that brings you to multiple destinations during your stay.
When you book an ultra-luxury cruise, you can expect a carefully curated travel experience. Having sailed on dozens of luxury cruises the world over, I can attest that on these best-of-class vessels, you’ll enjoy high-quality design details, fine artwork, and all-you-can-consume champagne and caviar between visits to tony and lesser-known destinations. In addition, luxury cruise lines also focus on providing immersive and enriching programming that offers a more meaningful and richer understanding of the places and cultures you are visiting through expert-led lectures and guided tours. And the crew to passenger ratio is often as high as one crew member to every two guests, ensuring an elevated level of service.
For years the ultra-luxury end of cruising was limited to a small selection of top brands: Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Crystal, to name a few. But that’s changing. New brands are emerging such as Scenic and the newly launched Explora Journeys, each with their own nuances and expertise. (Scenic is making a name for itself in the expedition cruising space, for instance, while Explora promises a beautiful boutique cruising experience on a 900-plus passenger ship.) Luxury hotel companies are also getting in the game, with such well-recognized names as Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Orient Express, and Aman all recently unveiling plans to offer a luxury cruise product to guests.
How to pick the luxury cruise line that’s best for you. A luxury cruise should be a carefree vacation experience, given all the inclusions. But there are nuances—between cruise lines, types of accommodations, and even what is (and isn’t) included in the “all-inclusive” pricing (for instance, certain more exclusive excursions might be extra). This is where working with an expert comes in handy. Think about using a Travel Advisor.
The best luxury cruise lines
Luxury ships vary in size and destinations they visit as well as other factors such as what’s included in the cruise fare. For instance, is your transportation included? Wi-Fi? Are there any upcharges for specialty dining? Will you pay extra for excursions? Will you have a butler? Every brand has its bragging points.
The resurrected Crystal Cruises, now owned and managed by high-end tour operating company Abercrombie & Kent and known simply as Crystal, consists of two ships, the 740-passenger Crystal Serenity and 606-passenger Crystal Symphony, both with complimentary Nobu restaurants aboard.
Regent Seven Seas
Regent Seven Seas Cruises differentiates itself by including a lot in its fares—such as business-class airfare and unlimited shore excursions—on ships ranging from 490 to 750 passengers. The line will launch a new ship, the 750-passenger Seven Seas Grandeur, the latest of what Regent calls its “world’s most luxurious” ships, in November.
Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection
The famous hotel brand launched its first cushy yacht last year. Aboard the 298-passenger Evrima, attractions include hotel-like suites and bartenders who are whizzes at creating personalized concoctions. The 456-passenger Ilma follows in September 2024.
The Seabourn fleet, with ships ranging from 458 to 600 guests, features complimentary steakhouses with menus by renowned chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame). The brand’s two expedition ships are outfitted with 24 Zodiacs and kayaks for exploration led by a 24-person expedition team, plus a six-passenger submarine for undersea views.
Australian expedition line Scenic has as many as 10 dining experiences onboard its intimate vessels and toys that include an eight-passenger submarine and state-of-the-art Airbus helicopters aboard its two 228-passenger expedition yachts.
Silversea ships range from 254 to 728 passengers, plus two smaller expedition ships, the 132-passenger Silver Explorer and 100-passenger Silver Origin. The line’s S.A.L.T. program focuses on local dining and drinking experiences, and all guests get butler service—– on ships that include the recently launched 728-passenger Silver Nova.
Don’t forget about the land-based experiences
Once you decide on a destination and what cruise line you want to try, and you book your suite, it’s important to start thinking about what land-based experiences you’d like to have at the various ports of call.
An advantage of cruising is that your cruise line will provide a selection of carefully curated choices for exploring the ports, for those who prefer not to do independent exploration.
And think about whether you want to extend your stay whether in your embarkation city or your final destination and whether the cruise line might be able to help with that. It’s not uncommon for cruise lines to offer pre- and post-cruising packages.
And once you have put those final pieces into place, are booked and ready to go, we’ve also put together a guide on whether or not you should consider cruise insurance, our essential cruise packing list, and the ultimate guide to tipping on cruises—so that you can check off everything you might need (and need to know) before you sail away.