6 ways to tell you've booked a luxury cruise
Cruise lines and travelers who aren't up on their terminology tend to refer to just about any cruise as luxury. But largely, mainstream vessels from the world's largest lines don't fall into the luxury category. Here's why, along with some of the ways you can determine for yourself which lines are truly high-end.
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The cabins are larger
On most mainstream ships, there's a variety of cabin types — the most basic and inexpensive lacking windows. Although the resulting darkness can help you catch up on some sleep, those rooms are often small and cramped, especially if you're sharing with other people.
Cue luxury ships, where most rooms tend to be larger than the industry average. The most lavish cabins can be larger than many houses ashore. Some vessels, such as Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection's Evrima, offer only suite accommodations. Others, like Crystal Endeavor and Seabourn Venture, feature balconies in every single cabin.
Add on extra touches like robes and slippers, marble bathrooms, walk-in closets and concierge or butler service in some staterooms, and you'll find yourself in the lap of luxury for the duration of your sailing.
The ships are smaller
For the purposes of this article, we're considering Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, the Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection, Seabourn Cruises and Silversea Cruises to fall into the "luxury" category of cruise lines.
Vessels in those fleets carry fewer passengers than many mainstream mega-ships, most of which can see close to 7,000 cruisers at capacity (not including crew). In order to fit that many people on board and provide them with enough activities, public areas and places to eat, the hardware is massive.
Most luxury ships carry anywhere from 200 to 500 passengers, with just a handful welcoming nearly 1,000 (but even those few are still many times smaller than some of the largest vessels afloat). Not only does that mean a more intimate ambiance, but smaller ships can also offer a larger range of ports on their itineraries (more about that below).
The service is better
Because luxury ships tend to have fewer passengers on board, they also usually have a better crew-to-passenger ratio. In fact, some even strive for a 1-to-1 ratio, which helps ensure that there's always someone available to help you with everything from tidying your room, bringing you room service or helping you with shore excursion reservations.
Overall, service is above and beyond what you'd expect from the hospitality industry, and your needs are constantly anticipated so you rarely have anything left to ask for.
Often, you can expect the demeanor of the crew on luxury ships to be friendly and efficient but not overbearing. It stands pleasantly between the fawning, doting nature of crew on mainstream North American ships and the almost icy, "don't speak unless spoken to" variety found on some more international lines.
You get more bang for your buck
The price tag is another solid indicator that you're booking a luxury voyage. It's not uncommon for fares to run into the thousands per night for each person, depending on the ship and itinerary. However, before you succumb to sticker shock, it's important to realize that the mantra of "you get what you pay for" applies here.
Luxury sailings include just about anything you could want while you sail. Amenities like alcoholic beverages and soda, Wi-Fi and gratuities are rolled into most luxury carriers' cost — along with butler and concierge services, flights, airport transfers and even shore excursions on some ships.
Apart from taxes and fees, you'll have a pretty good idea of what your bottom line is right off the bat. It can seem like a lot at first, but usually, it's a better value because most larger players — Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, etc. — charge extra for all of those add-ons, unless you purchase some of the highest-level staterooms.
The ports are less touristy
Any vessel can go to the places where the largest are able to fit, but only the smallest can navigate to some of the world's most remote regions, making them even more exclusive.
If you relish the idea of squeezing into tiny inlets where you can view Alaska glaciers up close or checking out hard-to-access ports around the globe, a smaller ship is the way to go. Because smaller ships are often more upscale, you might just find that you end up on a luxury voyage.
It also explains, in part, why luxury cruise lines have been so quick to hop on the growing expedition cruise trend. It used to be that active travelers had to sacrifice swanky onboard accouterments and decadent accommodations to experience places like the Galapagos or Antarctica. With the newest ice-strengthened hardware boasting high-end staterooms and gourmet food, that's no longer the case.
The toys are fancier
Yes, some of the largest vessels afloat have skydiving and surfing simulators or virtual-reality rooms on board, but why settle for simulations when you can have actual adventures?
Several of the luxury market's new expedition ships have added helicopters and submarines to their lists of onboard bells and whistles. Passengers can book them for use at an additional cost, allowing them bird's-eye (or fish's-eye) views of the surrounding sky and sea.
And they just keep growing. Years ago, the first three-person submersible was introduced on a ship. Now, onboard submarines are double the size, offering even more cruisers a chance to give it a go.
If you'd like to learn more about what sets different cruise lines apart, check out this handy guide to choosing a cruise line.
Featured rendering courtesy of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours.