Credit: Oceania Cruises

Your ultimate guide to luxury cruising: What to expect on luxury cruise ships

Author: Vicky Mayer

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Luxury cruises are undeniably extraordinary - but what makes them so and how can you make the most of your time onboard the world’s most celebrated ships? We find out.

There’s cruising and then there’s luxury cruising. Away from giant ships, busy buffets and the scramble to secure a spot by the pool, those lucky enough to experience a true luxury voyage will discover a whole new world of travel.

Whether it’s an ocean or river cruise, as soon as you step onboard you’ll be transported to what feels like the ultimate five-star hotel.

While you sip champagne, your luggage will be whisked away and you’ll be free to explore your chic new home for the next week or so – marvelling at how few other guests you’ll be sharing it with.

If you’ve never travelled with a luxury cruise line before, you’ll be amazed by what’s included in the price of your ticket. From spacious cabins with original artwork on the walls to sophisticated restaurants and culturally rewarding excursions, it’s like being handed the keys to Narnia.

The Covid crisis has given the luxury lines time to reflect on what they’re offering, and their fabulous ships are now poised to set sail in a post-pandemic world. But before you award yourself that well-deserved treat, read our guide to the wonderful world of luxury cruising – then book with the knowledge that you’ve made the right choice.

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The luxe factor

Luxury cruising offers room to breathe (perfect in a post-Covid world), a higher staff-to-guest-ratio, and dedicated five-star service on every deck. Some lucky guests on luxury lines such as Crystal and Scenic will even enjoy the services of their own personal butler.

Accommodation on luxury ships is equally impressive, with even the entry-level staterooms boasting their own balconies, larger than usual bathrooms with power showers and luxury toiletries, and, of course, 24-hour room service.

Furniture and fittings can be amazingly opulent – for example, on river line Uniworld you will drift off to sleep on a hand-crafted Savoir bed, costing upwards of £25,000.

As you relax into your voyage, you’ll also enjoy the personal touches that come with luxury cruising.

From your first night, the trained bartender will know just how you like your martini or negroni, and there’s no skimping on spirits at the bar. Only the finest whiskies, champagnes, vodkas and gins are good enough for the guests on a luxury cruise.

You’ll also find that special dietary requirements are easy to accommodate and you can easily order off menu – though with all the five-star culinary options, you’re unlikely to want to.

Almost all luxury cruises are all-inclusive these days, which means you’ll be free to enjoy all the high-class cuisine, beverages and entertainment onboard without the worry of costs mounting up. Many luxury lines, including Regent Seven Seas, also include amazing complimentary excursions, too.

Many luxury lines, including Regent Seven Seas, also include amazing complimentary excursions. Credit: Regent Seven Seas

"Luxury cruises offer guests personal service and tailor-made trips ashore," explains World of Cruising columnist Edwina Lonsdale, MD of luxury travel specialist Mundy Cruising. "You’ll also enjoy the luxury of small groups, and carefully planned itineraries away from the crowds."

But there’s one factor above all that makes luxury cruising especially attractive, and that’s space. Not just in your cabin but in bars, restaurants, out on deck and in all the other public areas of the ship, you’ll never be rubbing shoulders with your fellow guests. That has always been a bonus with luxury cruising, but in these post-pandemic times it feels more like an essential.

"Luxury ships provide up to three times more space per guest, and with fewer people on board there’s less queuing and more flexibility, making it easier to social-distance," explains Edwina.

"There are two items high on travellers’ lists right now," adds Seabourn vice-president Steve Smotrys.

"First, they want to feel safe when they travel, and second, they covet space and privacy. These are things our ships can deliver in a way that a large vessel or hotel property may not be able to."

Space, luxury and service are just some of the advantages of travelling at the top end of the market, and of course, none of them comes cheap. But when you compare what you’d pay for the equivalent holiday in a five-star hotel, the cost of a luxury cruise looks very favourable indeed.

The enchanting MS Paul Gauguin carries just 332 passengers around the South Pacific. Credit: Shutterstock

Dazzling destinations

Aside from the onboard benefits of travelling on a truly fabulous ship, one of the biggest reasons for splashing out on a luxury cruise is the chance to explore some of the world’s most desirable and difficult-to-reach destinations.

Top of the list for many cruisers are the Arctic and the Antarctic, and what better way to see these snowy wonderlands than from a custom-built luxury ship, with polar scientists on board, as well as submarines and helicopters? If that sounds like your kind of adventure, look out for Seabourn’s new ship Venture and Crystal’s Endeavor.

The Galapagos Islands are equally popular, with lines such as Silversea and Tauck offering luxury cruises with the chance to see amazing wildlife up close, including giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies.

Another popular bucket-list trip is aboard the enchanting MS Paul Gauguin, which carries just 332 passengers around the South Pacific, stopping at the Society Islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti.

But if you really want to escape the crowds, choose smaller, yacht-style luxury lines such as Star Clippers and SeaDream Yacht Club. The captains on their ships are adept at finding destinations far off the beaten track where you can drop anchor and enjoy a day of fun without another ship in sight.

Luxury cruise line Seabourn has partnered with world-renowned chef Thomas Keller. Credit: Seabourn

Food for thought

Once you’ve dined on board a luxury cruise ship, you’ll never want to go back to buffet-style eating again. Each cruise line takes its food and beverage offering very seriously, giving passengers the chance to dine at restaurants designed by the likes of Michelin-starred chefs Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (Crystal) and Thomas Keller (Seabourn).

What’s more, alongside the kind of world-class cuisine you’d find in the top hotels, luxury cruise lines are now striving to emulate the best of the incredible local cuisines at each destination on shore. Leading the way is Silversea, with their new Sea And Land Taste (SALT) programme. Launching this summer on new ship Silver Moon (see panel, left), this is bound to shake up the industry.

Not to be outdone, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has just announced a collection of 13 ‘Spotlight Voyages’ departing in 2021 and 2022, including a range of cruises specifically designed to appeal to wine and gastronomy enthusiasts.

‘We pride ourselves on offering our guests immersive itineraries that go beyond just the destinations we visit,’ says Jason Montague, the line’s president and CEO. ‘This new collection of Spotlight Voyages gives travellers the opportunity to engage with experts and ambassadors from the culinary arts and the world of wine.’

If you’re a serious foodie, Oceania Cruises will already be on your radar. Confidently claiming to offer ‘the finest cuisine at sea’, the line provides its guests with a taste of the destinations they visit by way of expertly curated menus, culinary classes and gourmet restaurants, all overseen by legendary French master-chef Jacques Pepin.

Regent Seven Seas has lots to come on the horizon with exciting new launches. Credit: Regent Seven Seas

Coming soon...

The world of luxury cruising never stands still, and this summer brings news of two exciting launches. First is Explora Journeys, a brand new luxury line from major operator MSC Cruises.

Incorporating the latest maritime technology, the first of its four luxury ships will sail in 2023. Onboard, you’ll find 461 oceanfront suites and residences, with suites starting at 35sq m – among the most spacious yet seen in their category.

Also looking to raise the bar, six-star line Regent Seven Seas has announced new ship Seven Seas Grandeur.

A sister to Seven Seas Explorer, she will make her debut at the end of 2023 – and with a mere 749 fellow guests on board, together with one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry, you can expect to be treated like royalty on this amazing new ship.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.