by Tori Ward, ROX Travel, Cruise and Resort Specialist • Photos by Jerry Chinn
My husband, who is the most romantic man I’ve ever met, surprised me a few years ago with a luxury cruise through Russia. Full disclosure: The trip was a bribe to get me to go on a tent safari in Africa. It worked, and we both learned something valuable about each trip. While we don’t mind roughing it if need be, we will spring for luxury when possible and not feel a pang of remorse.
About half of the cruises I book are for clients looking to have an experience that will exceed the standard trip. Some want that experience to start before they walk out the door. It can include a luggage service that collects bags before leaving home with delivery upon return, or a limousine service can be arranged for home to airport and airport to ship transfers. It can also include a private charter jet to the embarkation port and then back home, although truthfully, I haven’t had any clients ask me to book a private jet yet. Call me if you want to be the first.
What exactly separates a typical cruise experience from a luxury one? Of course, price is the main factor. So, what does the additional price buy in terms of real estate, amenities and convenience? Well remember that romantic husband I mentioned. He recently surprised me with a recommitment ceremony aboard the luxury ship, MS Paul Gauguin. She’s a small 332-passenger vessel that specializes in the waters of French Polynesia. Included in the price of the cruise was round-trip airfare from L.A., complimentary water-sports equipment use, over the top gourmet French meals and complimentary beverages, wine and sprits. Although the ceremony didn’t happen until half way through the cruise, the entire experience was special from the moment we arrived at the ship. There was never any waiting in line or looking for a waiter to fill a glass. Pampered luxury highlighted the entire trip, starting with tropical flowers and champagne awaiting us when we entered our suite.
Although the Paul Gauguin only sails the South Pacific, there are many cruise lines classified as luxury brands. Similar to land accommodations, one of the biggest differences in a luxury cruise is space – and not just the size of the stateroom, but also the amount of space allotted per guest throughout the ship. Guests rarely stand in line waiting to be seated in a restaurant. Guest suites are appointed with fine linens and distinctive furnishing. Most of the suites include balconies, and Avalon configures its guest rooms so beds are angled to face the windows.
Some of the most luxurious ships are smaller and look more elegant than enormous ocean ships. But large ocean vessels can certainly be considered “luxury liners,” with Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 being one of the most distinctive. However, most of the luxury lines are smaller vessels with fewer passengers and few, if any, children on board.
The dining experience on a luxury cruise is much more refined, with celebrity chefs often coordinating menus and gourmet choices. Specialty dining venues guests pay for on a standard cruise are often included on luxury ships. To complement the dining experience, the inclusion of beer, wine and spirits separate a traditional cruise, where beverage packages require a separate charge, from a luxury one. Some lines, such as Seabourn and Silversea, provide premium beverages while others require you to purchase the more expensive brands.
Another feature that luxury cruises provide is the amount of attention each guest receives. Staff-to-guest ratio is high, so that guest pampering is expected and gratuities are usually already bundled into the fare. According to Cruise Critic, Crystal Cruise Esprit has the highest staff-to-guest ratio of any ship, with more than one staff member assigned to each guest and the maximum guest capacity at 62 on the yacht. Each guest enjoys a suite with butler service, a fully stocked bar and other high-end amenities. SeaDream Yacht Club, another yachting cruise line, also has a high staff ratio serving the 112 guests on its two ships. You may also charter the yacht to have a more intimate experience.
The inclusion of business class airfare in the price of the cruise package is another enhancement of a luxury cruise experience. Although this isn’t an offer that all of the top-tier cruise lines provide, many do include discounted business air or free economy air in the price of their vacations. Some cruise lines, such as Viking, have promotional offers that include air travel at times during the year. Airport transfers at the start and conclusion of the cruise are typically included.
Of all the charges that passengers pay for on a cruise, the one that receives the biggest complaint is the fee for internet access. AmaWaterways, Viking and Uniworld offer free internet, while others may, at least, provide a few complimentary minutes.
Finally, the inclusion of some or all of the port excursions is a feature that often brings the luxury cruise fare closer to what a passenger will end up paying when the cost of excursions is factored into the final cost of the cruise.
With all the inclusions and enhancements offered on a luxury cruise, clients often are surprised that for a few dollars more they could have had a much more luxurious experience. If you’d like to explore your options, I would be happy to help you select a cruise to meet your budget.
We’ve worked hard, saved and invested. Now it’s time to invest in pampered pleasure.
Tahiti was a paradise in which to experience a luxury cruise, and in the next issue we’ll travel around French Polynesia with a layover for a few days in the Hawaiian Islands.
Victoria “Tori” Ward is a cruise and resort specialist with an interest in traveling and seeing the world since she first began to crawl. For more information on these tips and others, contact Tori at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-254-9968.