Why you should upgrade to a luxury cruise

by: Howard S. Moses, President of The Cruise Authority

If you’ve enjoyed cruise experiences aboard the likes of Princess, Celebrity or Holland America Line and have been considering upgrading to a luxury line, here’s our advice – take the most expensive cruise you can afford. There is a tremendous value in luxury cruising, as everyone onboard experiences all that the line has to offer, with the only variable being the accommodations.

Upgrading to a line which offers private verandahs in almost every category will enhance your vacation experience exponentially. Once you’ve had breakfast or dinner served course-by-course on your private verandah, trust me you’ll be hard pressed not to do this on every cruise. If you’ve considered the likes of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line or Silversea cruises – of they’ve been suggested to you by a travel professional, my suggestion is to give it some serious thought.

Here are some issues when considering upgrading your vacation experience. Note that each cruise line, even the luxury ones, offers variations of different amenities, so you need to ask specific questions when deciding which luxury line to consider.

>>> Accommodations
We have always suggested that our clients take the lowest accommodation on the nicest ship, rather than the highest accommodation on a premium or mid-market cruise line. The food, service, passenger space ratio (the amount of square footage per passenger), amenities and overall ambience of a luxury line apply to everyone on board. For example, the lowest accommodation aboard the Seven Seas Mariner (Regent Seven Seas Cruises) is 350 square feet, which is similar to a Superior Verandah Suite onboard the Eurodam (Holland America Line). Yet the experiences are completely different. Surprisingly, you’ll find the pricing fairly comparable.

>>> Pricing
The lowest accommodation aboard the Seven Seas Navigator (Regent Seven Seas Cruises) is 300 square feet plus a private verandah, which is similar to a Superior Verandah Suite onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam (Holland America Line). Yet the experiences are completely different.

In this example (comparing an early March 2013 7 night Caribbean cruise)
Holland America’s Category SS (superior suite with private verandah) rate is $1599pp, plus port charges/government fees of about $300pp, added gratuities of $84pp +++

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Category F (deluxe suite with private verandah) is $4449pp, however it includes ALL of the following: roundtrip airfare, all shore excursions, 1 night pre-cruise hotel package, all transfers, gratuities, Unlimited Beverages Including Fine Wines and Premium Spirits, In-suite mini-bar replenished daily, 24-hour room service and no additional charge for specialty restaurants, In-suite dining, served course-by-course.

When you compare the items that are included aboard RSSC, to the items you have to pay for aboard HAL, you’ll find that the pricing is actually pretty similar. Not to mention that the Eurodam has about 2,000 guests on board, as opposed to just 490 aboard the Seven Seas Navigator.

>>> Guest services
A vessel which sails with fewer guests is just easier to service. Lines are non-existent, the service staff is more relaxed (as gratuities are typically already included), and there is just a more relaxed, service oriented feel onboard. Don’t be surprised when the entire staff knows your name by the second day of the cruise! As most pieces of your cruise are already included, you also won’t find the ships’ staff aggressively hustling drinks, bingo and other products on board.

>>> The Ships
These are the kinds of things you notice once you get on board. Touches like twin sinks, larger showers and tubs, well-lighted vanities, and complimentary robes are just some of the more luxurious items you can expect.

>>> Gratuities
Most of the luxury lines have gone to a tipping included policy. You can expect tips on all cruise lines to be in the $10-$11 per person/per day range, so this adds up. Typically cruise staff aboard a non-tipping vessel will actually decline an offer of an additional tip.

>>> Alcohol, soft drinks and bottled water
This is an expense which can really sneak up on you. A number of luxury lines have adopted an all-inclusive program which encompasses all of these products, which many guests find very appealing. These beverages are included throughout the ship – in the restaurants, bars and even including stocked refrigerators in each stateroom. Not having to worry about that extra glass of wine, or trying out a new beverage, is a nice touch in our estimation. Regarding wine, the ship selects a variety which are included on the complimentary list, leaving some of the more expensive labels to be purchased individually. Typically the “ship” wines are quite good.

>>> Destinations
One of the true beauties of a smaller vessel is not only the fact that a small ship can get into less travelled ports, when they pull in there isn’t the overwhelming impact of thousands of bodies seeking their excitement for the day. For many, not having to compete with thousands of guests departing from a collection of mega-ships is a real plus. Be aware of ships that sail mid-week to mid-week, as they are visiting these ports while the big ships are at home changing out guests – visiting a port with just one small ship is a completely different, and generally considerably more relaxing experience, than when 10,000 guests are milling about.

>>> Individually prepared food, and a more relaxing dining experience
Clearly preparing meals for 3,000 is different than doing so for 300. The dining experience aboard a smaller luxury vessel just can’t be duplicated. In addition, if you’ve got special requests or dietary/allergy issues, the smaller vessel is generally more equipped to handle your special request each evening. In addition, while most larger ships have open dining options, when the entire ship is set up this way it makes for a very pleasant dining experience.

>>> Your Fellow Passengers
This is probably the most fun, and least understood aspect of small-ship, luxury cruising. Whether your aboard a riverboat in Europe, or luxury vessel with 300-400 fellow travelers, you’re likely to get to know most everyone on board. Whereas aboard a mega-ship its likely you won’t ever see someone more than once in passing, aboard a smaller ship your fellow guests are part of the entertainment. By their nature, luxury cruises attract a more well-to-do, well-traveled clientele, who are generally pretty interesting and have a great story to tell. Some of the highlights of my myriad cruises over the years have been getting to know fellow passengers on an intimate level, and developing friendships that last to this day.

>>> Value-Added Amenities
Travel consortiums, like Signature Travel Network (The Cruise Authority is a member), in many instances offer wonderful, and cost saving amenities on luxury lines. These can include significant ship board credits (used to pay for spa services, shop purchases, shore excursions and in some cases a private car and driver in port. If you can be flexible on your sailing date you are almost assured of being on the receiving end of these terrific savings.

>>> Children
If you don’t particularly enjoy traveling with children chasing about on your cruise, then a luxury cruise is very likely for you. To be sure, kids travel on all cruise lines, however the smaller, luxury vessels do not attract too many kids. Further, if you travel at a time when most school-age children would normally be in class, you’ll almost always be assured not to have those cuties under your toes.

The lesson? Talk with your travel professional about comparing your “regular” cruise with a more luxury-oriented product. Be sure to compare all of the costs – each cruise line has different inclusions – and let your agent be your guide. Let’s face it, most of us only get a few weeks a year to vacation and I don’t anyone who doesn’t want to make the most out of this time.

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