Going on a Luxury Cruise

A person wearing a large blue and white striped sunhat leans back in a pool with their back to the camera
If spending some time in the lap of luxury sounds good to you, it may be time for a luxury cruise | Author: Anna Demianenko

When it comes to an unforgettable cruise experience, luxury cruises are the cream of the crop. From all-inclusive fares to exclusive shore excursions, supersized suites and six-star service, luxury cruise lines really go above and beyond to make your vacation the best it can possibly be. Here we explore the ins and outs of luxury cruising and help you find and plan the cruise vacation that will be perfect for you. 

So what exactly makes luxury cruises different from the rest of the cruise lines on offer? Is it really worth the extra money? What are the best luxury cruise lines and destinations? These are important questions, and we will answer them for you here. You can also find out how to find the best luxury cruise, what the best luxury cruise destinations are, and everything you need to know about luxury cruising. If you want to get more inspiration on where to go on a premium cruise, we have also put together the best Luxury Caribbean Cruises, The Top 8 Luxury Mediterranean Cruises, and everything you need to know about Luxury Cruises for Couples.

7 Main Differences Between Luxury & Mainstream Cruises

When it comes to the main differences between luxury and mainstream cruises, things usually break down in terms of quality vs. quantity. For example, while you may have an abundance of dining and entertainment options on a Royal Caribbean mega-ship, the average quality of each restaurant, class, spa, or excursion will be lower than on a luxury ship. Here are some of the biggest differences between luxury and mainstream cruises.

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1. Price of luxury cruises vs other types of cruises

It’s true - luxury cruises come at a premium. While we don’t want to suggest that it’s impossible to find discounted fares or affordable luxury sailings (in fact, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, and Cunard all tend to offer significant discounts within 100 days of departure), it’s far more likely to find fares up to 5 times as expensive as mainstream cruise prices. While these prices can seem sky-high, it's important to bear in mind that most luxury cruises are all-inclusive. This means that you pay more for upfront (sometimes significantly more), but you avoid the nickel-and-diming that happens on standard or mainstream cruises. From specialty restaurants to gratuities, costly cocktails, and shore excursions, standard cruises can quickly add up extra fees that can leave a sour taste at the end of your cruise. 

Don't believe us? Check out this price comparison of three Caribbean cruises - one on a luxury line, one on a premium cruise line, and one on a standard cruise line:

Price comparison for 7 Night Caribbean Cruise

Prices shown are per person for double occupancy. They do not include taxes & fees.

Luxury Cruise Premium Cruise Standard Cruise
Cruise Line Regent Cunard Carnival
Cruise Fare $4,830 $2,954 $1,337
Roundtrip Airfare included $600 $600
Hotel Stay (1 Night) included $150 $150
Airport Transfers included $60 $60
Beverages* included $483 $364
Specialty Dining included $280 $140
Onboard Activities included included $125
Gratuities included $162 $100
Shore Excursions** $0 (included) $58 $75
Total Extra Expenses $0 (included) $1,793 $1,614
Final Total $4,830 $4,747 $2,951
Cost Per Day $690 $678 $421
* including wine & spirits | ** per excursion

2. More space for passengers in suites and common areas

A suite with cream colored decor, a TV, patterned chair, lamp, coffee table, large bed, and balcony on Crystal Serenity
This suite on Crystal Serenity offers a glimpse into luxury accommodation onboard | Author: @CrystalCruise

Luxury accommodations are one perk of paying higher prices, and almost all luxury lines offer all-suite staterooms. These more spacious suites also feature ocean views and balconies, and many are bedecked with finer furnishings, including designer toiletries from Bulgari, L’Occitane, and Hermès. While common areas and dining rooms may lack the grandeur of larger ships, they still offer breezy comfort and uncramped coziness.

3. Better service before, during, and after the cruise

A blurry person carries a tray of glasses through an empty dining room
Experience six-star luxury service onboard Silversea Cruises | Author: © Silversea

It goes almost without saying that the onboard service of luxury cruise lines is excellent, with personal touches that exceed expectations being the norm. However, even before you board or after you disembark, these cruise lines go above and beyond with their standard of service. Airport transfers are often included and are just the beginning - many lines also offer pre- and post-cruise accommodation in luxury partner hotels or superb, stylish shore experiences (Regent Seven Seas and Silversea Cruises are two such lines). These extra perks may cost extra, but for many cruisers, the peace of mind is well worth it.

On many luxury cruises, the staff-to-guest ratio is a mere 1-to-2, meaning that attentive service is available day or night. Staff and crew also undergo rigorous training, and the butler service offered by many luxury cruises anticipates needs and handles requests without passengers having to ask.

4. Exotic itineraries

A south Asian temple surrounded by palm trees and green bushes is reflected in a pool of bright blue water
Explore some of the world's most beautiful and remote locations with a luxury cruise | Author: Pixabay

Tired of visiting the same ports and tourist hubs cruise after the cruise? Perhaps you’re a seasoned traveler who’s new to cruising and you’re looking for something unconventional to tempt your wanderlust? With luxury cruises, it’s much easier to find itineraries that are off the beaten path. As luxury lines typically feature smaller ships, more isolated ports are available in every region - from exclusive Mediterranean islands to tough-to-reach Alaskan hideaways or hidden beaches in the Caribbean. Not only that but luxury cruises also often plan overnight stays in more popular ports so passengers can have time and space to immerse themselves after the crowds from larger cruise ships have dispersed.

5. Enrichment over entertainment

A grey whale jumps out of the water in Alaska, with evergreen-covered snow-capped mountains in the background
Take a grey whale watching tour in Alaska | Author: Pixabay

Luxury and premium cruises tend to cater to an older, quieter clientele, many of whom are well-heeled and cosmopolitan and value immersive small-group courses over action-packed entertainment. That’s not to say there isn’t any entertainment on high-end cruises. Rather, the focus tends to be more on the people on board, connecting passengers with each other, and in the experience of each port’s unique culture, cuisine, and camaraderie. While some luxury ships do still offer full theatrical productions, that’s about as showy as it gets.

6. Fine dining

A gourmet steak and vegetable creation with glasses of wine and a woman in the background
Indulge in menus crafted by Michelin-starred chefs on a luxury cruise | Author: Li Yang

Dining options aboard a luxury cruise leave almost nothing to be desired. In fact, most luxury lines have their own preferred partner chef curating culinary creations for the specialty restaurants on the small ships. Thomas Keller, the chef behind many a Michelin-starred restaurant, has lent his expertise to Seabourn, and his recipes can be sampled on all of Seabourn’s ships. Similarly, Crystal Cruises has partnered with chef Nobu Matsuhisa to offer Japanese dining and Paul Gauguin Cruises paired with French chef Jean-Pierre Vigato.

If you have a hankering for something specific, you can always alert the maitre and the resident chef, who will be happy to whip up something special for you with a bit of notice. If food is an important aspect for you, check out our article including the best premium and luxury cruises for foodies.

7. All-inclusive fares

Six people toasting with different cocktails and beer
Cocktails are often included in luxury cruise fares. | Author: Burst

While luxury cruise fares may seem steep upfront, the vast majority of high-end cruises are all-inclusive. This means that everything - from drinks and meals to Wi-Fi and gratuities - is covered in the cost of your ticket. Some cruise lines, like Viking Ocean Cruises and SeaDream Yacht Club, also include a shore excursion in every port. While Crystal Cruises doesn’t have a line-wide included shore tour, their yacht Crystal Esprit does come with an included excursion.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that “all-inclusive” doesn’t always cover all costs on every luxury cruise. While lines like Azamara Club Cruises include gratuities and alcoholic beverages, others, like Viking Ocean Cruises, do not. Keep reading to see a breakdown of what is included (and what isn’t) for the industry’s leading luxury cruise lines.

The 4 Most Popular Luxury Cruise Lines

Finding your perfect luxury cruise line can be very difficult. At first sight, all luxury cruise lines seem to be quite similar. They all stand out with high-class service, excellent cuisine, mind-blowing itineraries, and spacious, elegant cabins. But if you dig a little deeper you will discover many differences. Perhaps it’s the inclusiveness of the fares, the itineraries, or the luxury ship sizes that will make you choose one cruise line over another. We had a closer look at the four most popular luxury cruise lines ranked by LTI - the Luxury Travel Intelligence to give you a sense of how they differ and what you can expect from luxury cruise lines. 

1. Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Cruise Line excels in all the luxury areas: Intuitive service, first-class cuisine, and relatively inclusive fares offering an elegant but unpretentious atmosphere at the same time. It’s mid-size, 450-passenger vessels offer well-appointed veranda suites, a huge spa complex, modern pool decks, a retractable water sports marina, fantastic gourmet cuisine and a full complement of entertainment staff that performs throughout the ship. Seabourn also travels to locations all around the world ranging from the Calan to the Amazon and even the Arctic circle. Through their partnership with UNESCO, they offer shore excursions and onboard enrichment that focus on World Heritage sites and projects.

2. Crystal Cruises

2020 heralds Crystal Cruises 30th year of luxury travel. It’s fleet including the largest ships of major luxury brands (Crystal Serenity packing 1070 passengers), travels to 818 different locations and offers 2000 different shore excursions. On a Crystal Cruises ship, you can not only find Michelin-inspired cuisine in 24h in-suite dining, Master sommeliers and Connoisseurs Wine Lists, high-tech computers, and paradisiacal Spas but also industry-leading staff-to-guest service ratios. When it comes to destinations, you do not have to make any concessions with crystal cruises. From luxury cruises to the Mediterranean, ocean voyages to global destinations including epic World Cruises, Expedition adventures from pole to pole or River cruises on the Danube, Rhine, Main & Moselle rivers, your inner adventurer will get his money worth. Despite the thoroughly luxurious character of the ships, the dinner times and dress codes are more flexible than on other luxury cruise ships.

3. Regent Seven Seas

Regent Seven Seas is one of the most inclusive of all the luxury lines. Their fares cover cruise prices, pre- and post-cruise tours and hotel stays, transfers, gratuities, internet, shore excursions, beverages, and sometimes also airfares. Their ships go to nearly every continent including round-trip flights with various airlines and also offer unlimited shore excursions across more than 450 ports of call around the globe. Passenger counts ranging from 490 to 750 people at double occupancy. On a Regent Seven Seas Cruise, you can enjoy the spa, culture, and entertainment at its finest. Regent Seven Seas Cruises generally targets upper-middle-class or elites as its fares are quite high. It offers ideal luxury cruises for couples. Voyagers who opt for a Regent cruise are usually mature and highly-qualified individuals

4. Silversea Cruises

Silversea cruises fleet is very diverse - they offer four older under 400 passenger ships and three luxury expedition ships, including one that sails exclusively in the breath-taking landscapes of the Galapagos. Their fleet includes the smallest luxury cruise ships with no children’s programming and a minimum of scheduled onboard activities. You will also get pampered by exclusive butler service in every cabin and an array of outstanding dining venus, including the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea. Especially middle-age and older couples are attracted by Silversea. With the combination of onboard pampering with adventurous destinations, all kind of cruisers will get their money worth. Their expedition vessels seek out to exotic locales for both soft adventures in places like Asia and Australasia and rugged exploration in Antarctica or the arctic. Of course, also luxury cruises to the Caribbean are included. Silversea offers the perfect combination between typical luxury cruises and upscale adventures. 

All-Inclusive Luxury Cruises

As mentioned earlier, when it comes to choosing which luxury cruise line is right for you, it’s important to keep in mind what’s actually included in the fare. If you’re a digital nomad, you’ll want to pick a line with included Wi-Fi, as daily usage rates can rack up fast. If the network connection is less important, but shore experiences are a high priority, opt for a line like Viking or Regent Seven Seas. Here’s what you can expect to be included in the cost of your cruise.

What's included by cruise line?

Drinks Dining Tips
Crystal Cruises Yes* Yes Yes
Seabourn Yes Yes Yes
Silversea Cruises Yes No Yes
Viking Yes** Yes No
Regent Seven Seas Yes Yes Yes
* alcohol included in restaurants | ** except cocktails
Airfare Activities Wi-Fi
Crystal Cruises No Yes* Yes
Seabourn No Yes No
Silversea Cruises No Yes* Yes
Viking No Yes** Yes
Regent Seven Seas Yes Yes*,** Yes
* except spa | ** including shore excursions

What WON'T You Find on a Luxury Cruise?

While it’s certainly true that there are plenty of included amenities and services onboard a luxury cruise, there are also some things you definitely won’t find. In order to ensure the best experience, it’s important to bear in mind the things that you won’t likely encounter on a luxury cruise.

Big shows

We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. Because luxury cruises tend to cater to an older, more refined demographic, you’re unlikely to find costumed characters, Broadway-style musicals, or off-color comedy shows while onboard. Entertainment options on luxury cruises tend to be in the realm of cooking and yoga classes, wine tastings, and the occasional theatrical performance.

Party atmosphere

While many cruise lines market themselves as fun, vibrant vacations where you can let loose or unleash your inner kid, luxury cruises tend to focus more on providing high-quality service, top tier itineraries, and delectable dining. Enrichment programs are easy to find and smaller ship sizes mean more memorable connections with fellow passengers, but after-dark entertainment tends more toward jazz club than a nightclub, with many passengers in bed by midnight.

Theme parties

Perhaps you’re sensing a bit of a theme (no pun intended). Theme parties, costume contests, or other playful pursuits tend to be limited on luxury cruises if they happen at all. It’s true that some lines still offer the occasional theme night, but these tend to be upscale, elegant, and formal. While many luxury lines have almost entirely done away with formal or semiformal dress codes, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a karaoke night or drag show on a luxury cruise.

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