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What Are Luxury Cruises?

The wonderful thing about cruising is that there is a cruise to suit not only every type of traveller, but also every type of budget. At one end of the scale, there are mainstream cruises, also referred to as resort or contemporary cruises, which offer services akin to that of a resort. Hallmarks of a mainstream cruise include ships of a capacity of 1,000 to 3,000 passengers, a vast range of cabins, decent service and a wealth of activities and facilities, ranging from waterslides, rock-climbing walls and children’s clubs to multiple bars, lounges and restaurants. At the other end of the scale is ultra-luxury cruises. Typically smaller and more intimate, ultra-luxury cruises are known for their superlative personalised service, high staff to guest ratio and upscale amenities and facilities, from pampering spas to gourmet restaurants – all of which, of course, come at a hefty price. But what if you are looking for something in the middle, a cruise that combines elements of both mainstream and ultra-luxury? Then there is the happy medium – premium luxury cruising. Premium luxury cruise lines are known for offering plenty of choice in terms of activities, similar to a mainstream cruise line, but on their ships you will find more upscale amenities and level of service, as well as more spacious cabins, gourmet food and a more elegant decor. You will also find that a lot comes included in the price although it will not be entirely all-inclusive and some things will come as extra.

Best luxury cruise lines

Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises prides itself on offering ‘the finest food at sea’ and it’s no idle boast. Celebrated aster chef Jacques Pépin was appointed executive culinary director in 2002 and cruise ships Marina and Riviera were designed to have a higher galley-space ratio than any other cruise ship. Indeed, 25 per cent of the crew on each Oceania ship is employed in the preparation of cuisine, while 20 per cent of the ship’s staff is employed in the dining rooms. What’s more, guests can sample the exquisite and varied menus prepared on board Oceania ships – which rival those of Michelin-starred restaurants on land – at no extra cost. Along with excellent food, Oceania also prides itself on its extensive and immersive onshore programmes and excursions, which provide guests with the opportunity to immerse themselves in every aspect of the regions they visit, from the local history and culture to, of course, the food.

Celebrity Cruises

All Celebrity Cruises ships have been branded with the ‘X’ emblem, a mark of modern luxury and contemporary spaces that has come to epitomise the fleet. The fleet of 14 ships range in size from Xpedition-class vessels, which carry 16 to 100 passengers, to the larger 2,800- to 3,100-passenger Solstice class and 2,900-passenger Edge class, which launched in 2018 with Celebrity Edge. The line’s Edge series has truly raised the bar when it comes to luxury premium cruising, with innovations such as Eden, a three-story hybrid ‘experiential’ restaurant, craft cocktail lounge and performance venue, and Magic Carpet, the world’s first cantilevered, floating platform. Celebrity Cruises prides itself on offering luxurious accommodation and award-winning cuisine, along with a host of included amenities and facilities, including children’s clubs, entertainment – ranging from Broadway-style shows to cutting-edge circus performances – outdoor pools, fitness centre and classes, and complimentary restaurants. Some of the extras include the speciality dining restaurants, onboard drinks and drinks packages, shore excursions, spa treatments, and on-board tips and gratuities.

Viking Ocean Cruises

Originally a river cruise line, Viking may have only entered the ocean cruise sector in 2015 with the 930-guest Viking Star, but the cruise line quickly made waves in the luxury premium cruising market with its fleet of near-identical ships, which carry 930 passengers each and feature the brand’s hallmark Scandi-chic style and emphasis on comfort, relaxation and enjoyment. Other aspects that set Viking apart from other more mainstream lines include the premium luxury cruise line’s focus on cultural enrichment, with activities such as cooking classes, TED Talk screenings and informative lectures offered on board its fleet of ships, along with immersive and educational shore excursions such as museum visits and culinary tours. Viking ships are also kitted out with noteworthy pieces of art, including an impressive collection of works by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch. While not absolutely everything comes included on a Viking cruise, guests will have certain perks, including one included excursion in each port, the choice of beer or wine at lunch and dinner, complimentary use spa facilities, evening entertainment and enrichment talks, and unlimited wi-fi.

Holland America Line

Holland America Line operate a number of mid-sized ships and are well-known for their good food where passengers can choose from an array of complimentary and speciality restaurants on board. Along with fine dining, the line offers excellent entertainment and enrichment programmes, including Music Walk comprising live music venues, as well as regional cooking demonstrations, food and wine tastings with EXC Port to Table and the educational BBC Earth Experiences. HAL cruises offer good value for money, with the majority of restaurants and facilities free of charge, although there are some extras. The most recent ship to join their fleet, Rotterdam, will make her maiden voyage in August 2021. Holland America Line's itineraries range worldwide but they are perhaps best known for their immersive range of cruises to Alaska where they are a market leader.

Saga Cruises

The over-50s specialist has been said to have redefined British boutique cruising with its two latest cruise ships, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, the latter of which is due to launch in 2021. Both small ships can accommodate up to 999 passengers and offer an intimate and luxurious style of cruising that has been designed to cater to its older clientele. Rather than offering cutting-edge and over-the-top facilities, Saga instead places an emphasis on beautifully designed public spaces, spacious and elegant cabins, and top-notch cuisine. The understated elegance, tradition and sophistication of a Saga cruise is epitomised by its ambassadors, which include godmother the Duchess of Cornwall and musician Jools Holland, who heads up the musical entertainment on board. When it comes to what’s included, it’s quite considerable, encompassing all meals including specialty restaurants, tipping, up to six excursions (depending on the length of your cruise), complimentary wi-fi and a chauffeur service to the port up to 250 miles each way.


Harkening back to a bygone era of sailing, legendary Cunard is one of the few cruise lines that still offers traditional afternoon tea, black-tie dinners and ballroom galas. The epitome of classic luxury, some of the most glamorous and notable names of yesterday have made champagne toasts in its salons, waltzed the night away in grand ballrooms, enjoyed elaborate feasts in grand dining rooms, and whiled away hours sipping cocktails in its elegant bars and lounges. Launched in 1840, the cruise line once had a host of cruise ships in its fleet, but has since been whittled down to just three iconic ships: the Queen Mary 2 – known as the world’s only true transatlantic ocean liner – the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. As befitting the cruise ships’ names, one is truly made to feel like royalty on a Cunard cruise, with fantastic inclusions such as musical productions, comedy acts, world-renowned speakers and cultural programmes, bridge lessons, dance classes and much more.

Best luxury cruise ships

Spirit of Discovery, Saga Cruises

Saga went all out on its long-awaited third cruise ship Spirit of Discovery, which splashing out £346 million on the vessel which launched in 2019 and is said to have redefined boutique cruising. The beautifully designed ship, which bears more resemblance to a boutique hotel, features an eye-catching main staircase, a two-level grand dining room and Saga’s first theatre – a lavish auditorium featuring raked seating for more than 400 passengers with live music performances, guest entertainers and cinema screenings all coming included. There’s also a wraparound promenade deck, spa, observation lounge, dance floor and a library. Spirit of Discovery’s sister ship, Sister of Adventure, is due to follow in 2021.

Queen Mary 2, Cunard

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, first launched by the Queen in 2004, underwent a £90 million makeover in 2006 – the most expensive refurbishment in Cunard’s 180-year history. The ship emerged more glamorous and luxurious than ever, with well-equipped and spacious cabins, excellent restaurants and great entertainment, from guests talks and quizzes to spa treatments dance lessons and balls. Befitting to Cunard, the ship still retains the glamorous feel of yesteryear for which the cruise line is renowned, with Art Deco features and pictures of Hollywood stars who once sailed aboard the ship hanging on the walls. While there are some added extras including drinks speciality restaurants such as French restaurant The Verandah, it is all worth it for the glamorous and romance this iconic transatlantic vessel offers.

Celebrity Edge, Celebrity Cruises

The 2,918-passenger Celebrity Edge broke the mould when she launched in 2018 with her cutting-edge design, with bold and innovative features including the show-stopping performance venue, Eden, and the exquisite rooftop garden. The ship’s Infinity Veranda suites, brand new to Celebrity Cruises, were designed by Kellen Hoppen MBE and feature a contemporary decor, and all suite guests are granted access to the Retreat Sundeck, a private sun-deck area with cabanas, a pool bar and the Luminae restaurant. Edge features a plethora of restaurants and bars, along with some standout facilities, including an impressive spa and gym.

Oceania Riviera

Oceania Riviera is one of Oceania Cruises' grandest and largest ocean vessels, carrying 1,250 passengers and having undergone a grand refurbishment in 2019. The ship is pretty spectacular, from the Lalique Grand Staircase and Owner's Suites furnished with Ralph Lauren Home through to its elegant gastronomic restaurant La Reserve and its tranquil Aquamar Spa and Vitality Centre. The ship is quite literally a magnificent floating five-star hotel, with stylish furnishings, plenty of spaces to relax and fantastic amenities like a sprawling wellness centre, gym, casino, theatre, high-end boutique, cosy library with oak furnishings and the unique Artists' Loft, where budding artists can take classes in the likes of oils and watercolours. Being the gastronomic cruise line it is, Riviera as world-class dining outlets (like the sultry Polo Grill and elegant Italian Toscana) and even a Culinary Centre hosting demonstrations and live cook-alongs.

Best luxury cruising experiences

A little extra

Premium luxury cruise lines pride themselves on their extensive entertainment offering, which tends to have more of a focus on cultural enrichment for their discerning clientele. Viking’s extensive onboard and onshore cultural enrichment programme includes world-class guest lecturers, resident historians and musicians, curated libraries and port talks, among other things. The cruise line also has its own dedicated and free Viking Voyager app which can be downloaded by guests prior to their voyage, which features behind-the-scenes stories of the line’s Scandinavian public spaces, with insightful commentary from host, Karine Hagen, along with a self-guided tour of the ship’s Nordic art collection, covering a broad spectrum of genres and eras, once you’re on board. For something even more traditional, cruisers should look to include, which offers a classic entertainment programme of dance classes, quizzes, musical performances and stargazing. For something more modern, Celebrity’s Edge-class ships feature new theatre Eden, a cutting-edge fusion of food and performance.

Fine dining

Guests will find food and drink to be of an excellent standard and quality on board a premium luxury cruise ship. Oceania Cruises has a famous French chef, Jacques Pépin, at the helm as its executive culinary director and he is the culinary mastermind behind several of its ships’ restaurants, including Jacques (aboard Oceania's newest ships, Marina and Riviera) and Jacques Bistro, found on Sirena. Meanwhile, suite guests on board Celebrity’s Edge will be given exclusive access to Luminae at The Retreat, which features globally inspired and cutting-edge menus led by iconic chef Daniel Boulud, the cruise line’s global culinary brand ambassador, who has designed signature dishes especially for Luminae. The renowned chef Cornelius Gallagher also oversees Celebrity’s food and beverage operations across its fleet.