“The food was beyond belief, the service unimpeachable, the shore excursions and shipboard activities organized for maximal stimulation down to the tiniest detail. The ship was so clean and white it looked boiled. The western Caribbean’s blue varied between baby-blanket and fluorescent; likewise the sky. Temperatures were uterine. The very sun itself seemed preset for our comfort. The crew-to-passenger ratio was 1.2 to 2. It was a Luxury Cruise.” -David Foster Wallace, Shipping Out
After examining the amenities and comforts afforded to guests on some of the top luxury cruise lines in the world, one can easily draw the conclusion that the word “luxury” is used far too generously in our everyday lives. Merely stepping aboard one of these angelically white crystal palaces inspires the realization of never having truly known the meaning of luxury. The standards of the world’s greatest cruise lines far surpass anything in the pedestrian world. Aboard these ships, luxury is defined as a condition of such abundance, ease and pleasure that the annoyances and mundane problems of everyday life are completely eliminated, where one can literally float away, as if on a cloud, from the stresses and demands of quotidian landlocked real-world life.
If you are one of the lucky and divinely opulent who decide it’s time to float away on a cloud for awhile, you might as well know where to get the biggest pillow mint. There is a majority consensus on many websites (including Forbes.com, Hillmanwonders.com and Cruisecritic.com) that the top five luxury cruise lines, currently afloat, consist of: Crystal Cruises, Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and SeaDream Yacht Club.
“It’s Crystal Clear”
Crystal Cruises is the epitome of luxury, and is comprised of two angelically white beasts and holds the title for biggest ships with luxury class status. Even with the larger scale, at almost 1,000 passenger capacity on each ship, Crystal Cruises not only maintains quality service but exceeds the industry standards. Crystal has the highest passenger-to-staff and passenger-to-space ratios, and has one of the most loyal repeat passenger bases afloat. With an activity schedule as grand as the scale of the ship, Crystal Cruises provides guests with more activities, entertainment, casinos, spa and fitness, and enrichment opportunities than their smaller luxury brethren. It’s like a giant luxury toy box…that floats! This cruise line come highly recommended from readers of Condé Nast Traveler, who voted Crystal Cruises as the Best Large-Ship Cruise for 16 years, and from readers of Travel and Leisure who voted Crystal Cruises as World’s Best for 16 consecutive years.
“Seven Ships. Seven Continents. Infinite Possibilities”
Juxtaposed to Crystal Cruises grand scale, Silversea Cruises focuses on a smaller more intimate experience. Nevertheless, they maintain the largest variety of activities among any luxury ship of comparable size. Silvesea gathers a variety of artists to perform nightly. Folkloric entertainers, classical concerts, magic shows, and talented singers and musicians will all tickle your fancy and enhance your cultural experience aboard. Guest lecturers are featured on nearly every cruise. The true essence of Silversea is its maxim of personalization. You can expect the highest level of doting possible. One may want to avoid insisting on carry their own bags while aboard Silversea, or you’ll be putting the sweet steward in a customer service conundrum of “the customer is always right” versus “the customer should never carry their own bag.”
“The Seabourn Difference”
Are you more of an independent traveler? Then Seabourn Cruise Line is where you’ll be most comfortable. Recognized as a leader in small scale luxury cruises, they cater to the more independent traveler who can take care of themselves but likes to do so in a luxurious way. They allow their guests freedom and space, but cater their service to the individual. The greatest charm of Seabourn is their ability to bring you a range of experiences. If you don’t want to lift a finger, you won’t have to. They will even arrange for your luggage to picked up at home and delivered to your cabin, if you so desire. However, if you prefer you can go about your business in a completely independent manner, without any disruption. Seabourn likes to surprise their passengers with unexpected delights. One night a movie under the stars may be in the cards, or a complimentary mini-massage at the pool may be the order of the day.
“It’s All Included”
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the product of two cruise lines merging, then it changed hands and was rebranded. The end product is a higher standard luxury cruise line more inclusive that ever before. Like the Sheryl Crow song says, “A little change will do you good.” Today, the cruise line is rife with activities, entertainment, and enrichment opportunities. Guests of the Regent Seven Seas will find an all-inclusive beverage policy, anything from bottled water to cocktails, and upon arrival each guest is greeted with a glass of champagne. The cruise is destination focused and their activities revolve around this appointed theme. Guest lectures, historians, anthropologists, naturalists, and diplomats can commonly be found sharing insights aboard the ship. Food and wine, photography, history, archaeology, literature, performing arts, design and cultures, antiques, environment, and marine life are among some of the spotlight cruises popular pastimes and themes. All entertainment maintains a very sophisticated air. Think Monaco, not Las Vegas.
“It’s Yachting, Not Cruising”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is SeaDream Yacht Club. They don’t engage in a plethora of bells and whistles, or fill an activity schedule with as many events as possible. Instead SeaDream chooses to focus on being refined and elegant in a way that makes it easy to imagine it’s your own private yacht. Many passengers of SeaDream choose to dine and socialize among themselves, or even with the captains and officers of the ships. There is a pianist in a quaint piano bar, and a small casino. Movie nights on deck are a common occurrence. A very memorable experience is the weekly picnic on a private beach, where drinks are served as passengers are escorted on Zodiacs to land, where a champagne-and-caviar splash is served from a surf board bar. Through and through SeaDreams stays true to their theme, “It’s yachting not cruising.” SeaDreams doesn’t focus on drowning out the noise from your land-locked reality. Instead they provide a simple escape. It’s titivation not titillation.
“As you drift along like a cloud on water, the weight of everyday life is magically lifted away, and you seem to be floating on a sea of smiles. Not just among your fellow guests but on the faces of the ship’s staff as well. As a steward cheerfully delivers your drinks, you mention all of the smiles among the crew. He explains that every staff member takes pleasure in making your cruise a completely carefree experience and treating you as an honored guest. Besides, he adds, there’s no place else they’d rather be. Looking back out to sea, you couldn’t agree more.” ~David Foster Wallace, Shipping Out