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The 8 best luxury cruise lines for elegance and exclusivity

Jan. 11, 2023
13 min read
Pool deck of Seabourn cruise ship
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Like fine European hotels or the fanciest boutique properties, the ships of the best luxury cruise lines are designed to appeal to people who seek — and can afford — an elegant style of travel.

Champagne flows. You can snack on caviar. Exquisite cuisine is prepared a la minute and accompanied by pours of fine wines. Onboard lounges are wonderfully intimate, with no mass-market anything. When you rest your head, it’s on a luxury mattress topped with the finest linens.

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The byword is exclusivity. Perks included in the cruise fare may include beverages, Wi-Fi, fresh flowers, extraordinary pampering and, in some cases, butler service.

The price to get on board could be in the area of $1,000 per person per day. For top suites, it could be much, much more.

Here are our picks for the top eight luxury cruise lines currently operating. One other iconic luxury line from years past, Crystal Cruises, may rise again in the coming year after shutting down in early 2022. For now, we’re leaving it off the list, but historically it has been another wonderful luxury line to consider.

Atlas Ocean Voyages

The World Navigator is one of the five planned vessels in the fleet. ATLAS OCEAN VOYAGES/FACEBOOK

Catering to adventurous luxury cruise travelers with money to spend, the new cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages, which debuted in the summer of 2021, offers upscale experiences on small ships that carry just 196 passengers.

World Navigator and World Traveller, the first two of five planned vessels in the fleet, carry their own landing craft, Jet Skis, kayaks and paddleboards, all of which can be used by passengers wishing for some adventure while exploring the world on itineraries that include the Mediterranean, Portugal and the British Isles, as well as more remote locales like the Arctic and Antarctica.

Although the onboard dress code is casual, the ships themselves are anything but, featuring elegant, retro-chic decor and marble floors.

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In addition to including Wi-Fi, crew gratuities, alcohol and some shore excursions in its fares, Atlas provides all passengers with emergency medical evacuation insurance to handle unexpected illness or injury in the remote locations its ships sail.

Overall, Atlas has found a way to seamlessly meld swank and leisure, making it one of our favorite luxury cruise lines.

Related: 5 fabulous destinations for luxury cruise fans

Silversea Cruises

Silversea has some of the most diverse geographic itineraries, like the Galapagos. LUCIA GRIGGI/SILVERSEA CRUISES

Silversea, with its 11 100- to 608-passenger ships, has some of the most diverse geographic itineraries of any line, bringing guests to destinations around the world, including such remote places as the Arctic and Antarctica.

Now owned by Royal Caribbean Group (the same company that owns Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises), the luxury cruise line delivers stylish, contemporary luxury — more streamlined than opulent — complemented by pleasantly extreme pampering.

Every Silversea ship passenger stays in a suite with a butler delivering superb service — even on the 100-passenger Silver Origin in the remote Galapagos, where your butler might take extraordinary care to get a spot off your hiking boots. Suite niceties include Bulgari bath products and marble bathrooms with both tubs and showers.

There’s a wide choice of dining venues on Silversea ships (some with a fee) designed to satisfy many tastes, whether you prefer sushi, foie gras or a great, thin-crust pizza.

Drinks are on the house, including a long list of fine wine pours. S.A.L.T., a new dining and culinary education concept, brings local tastes on board together with experts who share insight into each dish and beverage. The program also features culinary-focused excursions ashore.

Silversea’s expedition ships are equipped for polar locales. On sailings in those regions, each passenger receives a free jacket to keep them warm and cozy.

Related: This new luxury cruise ship delivers for foodies

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES

Another of our top luxury cruise lines, Regent is proudly opulent. Floating palaces are its calling card, along with the most inclusive fares of all the luxury lines. Business-class airfare, pre-cruise luxury hotel stays and shore excursions in every port are on the long list of perks.

The goal is a knock-you-off-your-feet luxury. If you don’t get that point at first, look down at the many yards of Carrara marble under your feet, then gaze up at the Czech crystal chandeliers. Or spot the Picassos and Chagalls among your ship’s stunning, mostly Latin-focused art collections.

The five 490- to 750-passenger ships in the Regent fleet get fancier as they get larger. On the two newest, Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Splendor, everyone stays in a roomy suite with an oversized balcony and marble bathroom.

The top Regent Suites are mansions at sea and come with solariums, private spas with saunas and steam rooms, and Steinway pianos in their living rooms.

The fanciest accommodations at sea, the Regent Suite on Explorer, has a $90,000 bed, topped only by the $200,000 bed on Splendor.

Lavishly decked-out restaurants, with cushy bars nearby, include Prime 7, a fan favorite for its classic steakhouse menu, including jumbo lump crab cakes, U.S.D.A. prime-aged beef and Alaskan king crab legs.

Related: 5 secrets to getting a luxury cruise for less

Seabourn

Seabourn Sojourn. MICHEL VERDURE/SEABOURN

Owned by Carnival Corporation, Seabourn’s top-of-the-line, 450- to 600-passenger ships deliver comfortable, modern luxury that can be as fancy or as casual as you like.

If you want to show off your heirloom jewels, go ahead, but on most nights, a jacket is optional in the ship's restaurants. If you prefer not to dress up for formal night, there are casual alternatives where you can still eat well.

High service is a trademark of this luxury cruise line. Your suite steward will draw you a bath scented with your choice of bath oil. For a snack, order the complimentary caviar.

Dining is over the top at the restaurants, such as the retro-chic steakhouses with menus created by Chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame).

When you tire of prime beef, order lobster thermidor or sink into the delicious comfort of Keller’s roast chicken. Throughout the ship, complimentary spirits, fine wines and house Champagne flow freely. All dining is included in your fare.

One of the line’s newest ships, the 264-passenger Seabourn Venture, is built with a tough “polar class” design to operate in the ice-filled waters of the Arctic and Antarctica, and it’s equipped with a state-of-the-art submarine for undersea views.

A 26-person expedition team runs the two dozen Zodiacs that get you up close to glaciers and icebergs.

Paul Gauguin cruises

CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Looking to sail through romantic French Polynesia in complete luxury? Look to South Pacific-based Paul Gauguin for an all-inclusive, high-end home base.

The ship is immersed in all things Polynesian, with a troupe of local performers on board to entertain guests with local song, dance and craft lessons.

Couples can embrace the romance of the region by participating in a Polynesian blessing ceremony. Paul Gauguin gives its guests special access to a secluded beach on Bora Bora and a private island off the coast of Taha'a, where you can indulge in water sports, a gourmet barbecue and bar service.

To make the most of the aquamarine waters, complimentary water sports, such as paddle-boarding and kayaking, are available straight from the ship's marina, and every guest receives snorkel gear for use during the cruise, free of charge.

On board, guests enjoy five-star French and Polynesian cuisine, with all beverages complimentary throughout the ship, as well as in your in-room mini-fridge.

With 209 crew members on hand to serve 330 passengers, service is top-notch and full of Polynesian hospitality, but all gratuities are already included in your fare.

Not all cabins are suites, but the top suites on the ship come with butler service. Also, should you dare to consider the outside world, you can connect with friends and family back home with complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship.

Related: 7 things to do in French Polynesia that don't involve romance or over-water bungalows

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

Scenic Eclipse in the Arctic. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours puts the elegance into adventure with its two 228-passenger expedition yachts, Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II (the latter debuting in spring 2023).

Sure, its ships have reinforced hulls capable of breaking through ice, but they also feature chic bars serving 130 different kinds of whisky (all included in your fare) and high-end onboard spas (treatments cost extra, alas).

For small ships, Scenic's yachts still manage to offer five gourmet dining venues, plus additional private dining options (such as a chef's table or teppanyaki grill), room service and culinary masterclasses in a show kitchen.

Sample candied foie gras, daily risottos or sushi made with fish flown from Japan, all while sailing through remote waters. Wash it down with whatever you like because all but the most premium beverages are included.

After a long day of Zodiac, submersible or helicopter rides (yes, all these high-tech exploration toys are on board), you can retreat to your well-appointed suite, with distinct sleeping and living areas, plus a balcony.

Thoughtful touches include Illy coffee machines, Dyson hair dryers, remote-control adjustable beds, plentiful outlets and USB ports, and umbrellas and binoculars for use on your vacation. Did we mention you also have access to a butler for all your onboard needs?

Scenic's all-inclusive fares include not only dining and drinks but Wi-Fi, gratuities, airport transfers and shore excursions led by the line's knowledgeable expedition leaders.

Related: I didn't think I'd like my first Arctic expedition cruise; here's what proved me wrong

Oceania Cruises

Sometimes luxury means more space to spread out and multiple onboard options for a truly outstanding meal.

That's the approach upscale cruise line Oceania Cruises takes with its fleet of six 648- to 1,238-passenger ships. A seventh, Oceania Vista, will debut in spring 2023.

Foodies will drool over menus overseen by Master Chef Jacques Pepin in all-included venues specializing in French, Italian, Asian and steakhouse cuisine.

Cruisers truly passionate about food and wine will want to splurge on wine-paired dinners at La Reserve by Wine Spectator or enjoy a gourmet, multi-course menu with an intimate group at Privee.

Get hands-on cooking experience with a class in The Culinary Center or explore the food culture ashore with a Culinary Discovery Tour.

Oceania also embraces wellness with its Aquamar Spa and Vitality Center. Treat yourself to a decadent spa treatment or wellness-themed shore excursion, or take care of your body with complimentary fitness classes and plant-based menus at onboard restaurants.

Oceania's fares are not as inclusive as some of the small-ship lines mentioned above, but guests can choose a higher-priced fare that is more inclusive with the line's OLife Choice promotion. These fares include free airfare and airport transfers, complimentary Wi-Fi and a choice of a select number of free excursions, a premium beverage package or onboard credit.

Viking

Viking Sky in Geiranger, Norway. ALASTAIR MILLER/VIKING

Viking does not like to call itself a luxury cruise line, but we'd definitely put it in that category for the inclusive fares, fine dining and smart design of its ocean-going ships.

Its nine traditional cruise ships are nearly identical, each carrying 930 guests, while two expedition vessels carry 378 guests and combine elegant design with the latest technology in polar exploration.

Viking's fares are inclusive but not all-inclusive, and its ships sport clean Scandinavian design rather than opulent decor. Necessities such as Wi-Fi and self-serve laundry are complimentary, as are all nonalcoholic beverages and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

Guests can enjoy dining in multiple onboard venues, plus room service, for no extra cost. Don't miss the Italian Manfredi's or a gorgeous afternoon tea spread in the glass-enclosed Winter Garden.

Cabins may not have an overtly opulent feel, but they have all the right touches, including balconies in every room, quiet-closing drawers, heated bathroom floors and plentiful USB ports and outlets.

The destination-focused cruise line adds as many days in port as it can to each itinerary and offers a free shore excursion in every port.

Viking ships have a large presence in Europe, sailing the Mediterranean and in northern Europe, but also explore the world from Alaska and the Caribbean to Asia and Australia.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Viking ship

Its expedition ships, Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis, explore Antarctica, as well as the Great Lakes and Canada.

The ships boast several expedition cruising firsts, including a boarding area for excursion craft that's inside the ship (rather than docked outside it) and cabins with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that slide open to let the fresh air in.

Like the ocean ships, they feature Scandinavian design, a glass-walled Explorers' Lounge and signature Viking restaurants Manfredi's and Mamsen's (offering Norwegian specialties).

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by SEABOURN
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards

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Recommended Credit

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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees