Latest Ratings of World’s Top Ten Cruise Lines

THE OFFICIAL RATINGS OF THE WORLD’S TOP TEN CRUISE LINES

 

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Ratings Last Updated: June 24, 2019

Our ratings are based on our own independent inspections, reports from the thousands of members of The Royal Cruising Society, and the best quality evaluations from both the consumer and cruise industry trade press. Our standings and scores are updated on a bi-monthly basis to include new ships, onboard policies, and product enhancements. Cruise lines do not know when they are being inspected and we do not accept advertising or compensation in conjunction with our product ratings. All evaluations these originate from sources known to us. All are filtered for accuracy. There are some recent developments and trends that have not been widely reported in the press. This is some of what the ads won’t tell you.

    • In order to maintain pricing parity in the Caribbean and elsewhere, the larger, mass markets ships have been under enormous pressure to dramatically increase onboard revenues. This has resulted in nickel and dime pricing for many items previously included in the cruise price such as bottled water wine tasting’s, and crew tipping, (Some lines automatically charge $10-$14 per person per day to guests shipboard accounts)
    • There is intense pressure to purchase gifts from the gift shops, artworks of dubious pedigree, and overpriced shore excursion offerings. Drinks are peddled at every turn.
    • Many of the mass market lines are using flash-frozen foodstuffs such as shore side prepared frozen submarine sandwich loaves and low quality hamburgers and hot dogs.
    • Crewing is one of any cruise line’s largest expenditures and we are seeing cost-cutting in this area on many lines. Western European staff is being replaced with less expensive and less experienced Eastern European staff. We are seeing a significant increase in Russian staff aboard most of the mainstream lines.
    • Not one of the five largest cruise lines includes drinks. All charge for bottled water and soda.
    • Because cruise prices on the major lines and the low and mid-range budget categories have not changed significantly since 1992, we are starting to see the clientele aboard many of these ships change. Some of the same people who used to travel by Greyhound are now traveling on cruise ships. One major line recently told us that when sailings feature promotional pricing, some passengers are requesting that cabin attendants not change their sheets or clean the room “because we didn’t bring any tip money”. This has caused some crew discontent.
    • We are starting to see a myriad of unbundled extra fees for fuel surcharges, security, air taxes, etc These extra fees are not added to the cruise prices shown in newspaper and magazine advertising.
    • It is important to note that not one of the popular, brand-name mass market cruise lines meets our stringent qualifications to be included on our list of the World’s Top Ten lines. There seems to be an inverse relationship between a cruise line’s name recognition with the public and their overall ratings.
    • When one looks at the Luxury segment of the cruise industry it is clear that demanding guests will not tolerate cutbacks. In fact, the luxury segment seems to be in a constant state of upgrade in all areas including onboard services, food, and shore excursions. Aside from some minor exceptions, luxury lines have not yielded to pressures to dramatically increase onboard revenue.
    • There are lines, such as  Oceania, that have made our list despite SOME POLICIES  that mimic the additional charges of their mainstream, lower-rated competitors. They have made our list because they have maintained a strong onboard product, in all cases low-density and unique while adhering to a philosophy that each passenger should pay only for what he/she has consumed. These two lines have forged a new cruise category, First Class rather than Deluxe, at a lower price point than their 5-star rivals while operating on a non-inclusive basis. These “Tween” lines tend to offer the highest price/value returns.
    • Our strong recommendation is to take a serious look at sailing on one of the top ten lines at a discounted price rather than risk sailing a mega-ship with substandard service, institutional quality food, and up to 5,000 fellow passengers. The gap between mediocrity and luxury in the cruise industry is widening.
    • A serious analysis of current cruise pricing will reveal, that, when all ‘extras” such as round-trip airfare, are added into the cost of mainstream cruises, the gap between mainstream and Five-Star cruise pricing narrows considerably. Any potential cruiser would do well to calculate the total per day cost of a cruise with all “extras” added in. When that is done, the cost of a cruise will generally come in at between $500-$800 per person, per day. New cruisers who are not prepared to pay that price ought to look at alternative vacation options to avoid sticker shock when they pay their final onboard bill.
    • Finally, our Editors have seen a sea change in the manner in which the larger cruise lines and their small, deluxe distant cousins, handle passenger complaints and problems during the cruise. Because they may carry up to 40,000 passengers per week, the mega-lines must formalize their policies and responses to complaints. The cruise lines that make it to the Top Ten, have a more personalized, understanding, and more compassionate response to any negative issues that a guest may raise.

Please note that cruisetruth.com limits all user comments to frequent cruisers who we have identified and authenticated. Only the opinions of professional reviewers appear in our evaluations including members of our certified CSI (Cruise Ship Inspection) Team. CSI inspectors pay full fare and have a history of cruise experience on competing luxury ships. 

 

# 1 – HAPAG LLOYD – EUROPA 1 & 2

Hapag Lloyd Europa 2 High Res A

# 1 RATED CRUISE LINE IN THE WORLD – HAPAG-LLOYD  (EUROPA AND EUROPA 2)

 

THE BIG PICTURE OVERVIEW:

The 450-Guest, 28,890 GRT, pride of the Hapag-Lloyd fleet, has never been a household cruise name. Since its launch in 1999. the vessel has been sold primarily by travel agents in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This is a modern, highly evolved, unusually spacious ship that features some of the finest formal services at sea. Dining is an event and, on certain evenings, even the wait staff works in formalwear.

Although we currently rank the Europa above her mid and small-ship US-based competitors, she is very definitely not for everyone. This is a German-centric experience with German being the ship’s home language. Service is top tier, food is the finest available, and the upscale traveler will notice the quality of the China, the perfection of the glasses, and the comfort of the lounges surrounding the single swimming pool. Lectures are cultural in nature and are offered in German. But that does not necessarily mean that American guests are not welcomed. The crew speaks English as a second language and, given the interest in the Europa among sophisticated cruisers from Great Britain, certain cruises are designated as bilingual English/German sailings.

The décor among this modern feeling ship tends toward the nautical, with a fair number of yacht photos and paintings adorning the walls. That is because the Europa feels like a very private yacht with an unobtrusive staff. Smoking could be an issue for some. The Havana Cigar Lounge will be a plus for those so inclined. Insider’s marvel at the Europa’s superior riding qualities. She is about as smooth as an ocean-going vessel gets with a rather advanced pod propulsion system.

The Europa 1 remains a mystery to most American cruisers. There are language issues and the fact is that only a handful of American travel agents have experienced this unique luxury product so it is not the first ship normally recommended. But for those who enjoy the small details associated with luxury cruising, in a decidedly European environment, the Europa’s rather strong worldwide itineraries might be worthy of consideration. But only if one is comfortable sailing one of the world’s great yachts in the company of German-speaking European fellow guests.

But the introduction of the more contemporary and casual Europa 2 in 2013 has changed the industry’s perception of the Hapag-Lloyd product. The new 40,000 GRT Europa 2 carries 510 guests and is yacht-like in its design. Children and North Americans are being encouraged to sail this uber-lux product and Americans are being enticed by Hapag-Lloyd’s promise of a truly bilingual crew. They have achieved this by requiring English language course on an ongoing basis for even the lowest level crew member who might interact with guests. There is an English Language “Ambassador” who is extremely helpful with any possible language issues, although reports from the ship say that is rare. A glance around the dining room on the first night indicated any number of Americans who quickly learned that their German wait-staff spoke quite passable English.

Those who favor the Peninsular or Mandarin Oriental style will appreciate the decor aboard Europa 2. Think soft, rather calming colors and lots of limestone and steel fabrication. The interiors reek of luxury and superb interior design and more than one Europa 2 guest has commented that the ship really feels much more like a floating version of “Europe’s very best boutique hotel.”

Shore excursions are no better than they would be on other lines. Given the off-tourist routes this line cruises, tourism infrastructure is sometimes primitive. Bus tours and onboard lectures are in German but earphone real-time translation devices are available and seem to do an adequate job.

Cabins are generally superior to those of other ships in the five-star category. There are no interior cabins at all and all standard cabins feature balconies and comfortable seating areas. There are a number, a wide number, of connecting cabins that serve to enhance management’s goal of making this the more family-friendly of the Europe fleet.

Staff standards are the highest you can encounter at sea. Issues will be dealt with immediately and the high-end, primarily German clientele, does not suffer fools or poor service lightly. The staff to guest ratios are the highest at sea as is public space. There are many luxurious sitting and lounging areas around the ship and even a sold out sailing will appear to be half-empty. Space ratio comes in at 51+, a rather amazing statistic that explains the feeling of openness aboard Europa 2.

The Europa, with only sixty more guests than a Seabourn ship, has a truly excellent and comfortable Main Dining Room and four specialty restaurants. There is also a buffet that will enable any guest to later claim that they ate at the “best buffet at sea”. The ingredients used aboard ship are absolutely top drawer and Hapag-Lloyd is clearly at the top of the list in terms of per diem guest food “spend”. Of the specialty restaurants, only the Sushi dining area receives some negative comments. As on Europa 1, dinner is a two to three-hour affair so most guests make their unlimited, advance reservations early. There are enough tables for two in all venues. The menu changes daily in the main restaurant. There is never any rush as all restaurants operate on a single sitting basis. Special meals can be ordered with 24 hours notice.

Tipping is neither required or expected and they actually mean it.

Since its launch and the steps taken to cater to more of a non-German clientele, we are recommending Europa 2 as a much better option for most American guests than the comparatively staid Europa 1.

Dress aboard Europa 2 is, shall we say, Euro-chic, but not in a necessarily Italian way. Guests are well dressed but there is no formal wear. Women will be most comfortable in pants ensembles and blazers while men tend to wear jackets with open shirts to dinner. In order to deal with American proclivities in terms of evening attire, the ship has a “no shorts at dinner” policy. On behalf of the USA, thank you Hapag-Lloyd for that clarification.

This world-class ship, number one in the world for many reasons, fails in one major area of concern to potential cruisers. There are areas of the dining rooms and lounge areas, too many of them, that are set aside for smokers. Given H-L’s desire to attract more Americans to its ships you would think it might take more care in trying to kill them off by exposure to second-hand smoke.

FLEET FACTS:

Europa

Sep 1999

408 guests      280 International crew

     

Europa 2

May 2013

516 guests      370 International crew

        

Hanseatic

April 2019

230 guests      170 International crew

OFFICER AND CREW PROFILE

Officers on all ships are mostly European, with an International crew. As a German company, expect large numbers of German Officers and crew.

HOW COMFORTABLY WILL YOU SLEEP?

Europa 2

Europa 2 is sleek, featuring high ceilings, dramatic cylinder-shaped light fixtures and generously sized windows in its spacious lobby bar/reception area. However, other public areas are more intimate than grand, and Europa 2 doesn’t feel crowded. Hapag-Lloyd says the ship boasts the industry’s highest ratio of public space per passenger. No fighting over deck chairs or a seat at the bar. Cabins, called “suites,” all have balconies and virtually all bathrooms are fitted with separate tubs and showers.

Expense isn’t spared. The ship features high-quality materials, silver-leaf ceilings, wide corridors, and hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers. The Serenissima Italian restaurant is the only place where polished marble is used. Steel and limestone are incorporated throughout. Top German brands of tableware and deck furniture delight those with worldly tastes. The ship’s nearly 900 pieces of original art are noteworthy, including works by Damien Hirst and David Hockney, as well as those of lesser-known contemporary artists especially designed for Europa 2.

Hanseatic – expedition class

The HANSEATIC  Nature and the HANSEATIC Inspiration launched in 2019.  The HANSEATIC Spirit will arrive in 2021. 

Please note: The HANSEATIC Nature and HANSEATIC Spirit will be a German-speaking ship, with all cruises conducted in German only. The HANSEATIC Inspiration will be an international ship, with all cruises conducted in both English and German.

In the cabins and suites, curved lines, natural colors and premium materials come together in a harmonious room concept that promises – and delivers – pure relaxation.

  • An ocean view with even more: exclusively outside cabins and suites, almost all with balconies or French balconies
  • Grand Suites with a private veranda
  • Spaciously designed – enjoy a relaxing stay in rooms from 21 m² (226 ft²) up to 71 m² (764 ft²) in size
  • Exceptionally equipped – for example, with binoculars, Nordic Walking poles, air conditioning, coffee machine and mini bar (free of charge)

DINING VENUES RATED

Europa

Europa Restaurant –  A+ – Absolutely among top-tier restaurants at sea.

  • Cosmopolitan gourmet cuisine  Modern atmosphere with approx. 265 seats
  • Breakfast buffet, gourmet breakfast menu on days at sea, lunch and dinner a la carte
  • Open in the mornings, afternoons and evenings

Lido Café

  • High-quality buffet and open grill
  • Charming atmosphere with inside and outside seating
  • Approx. 120 seats inside, approx. 150 seats outside
  • Open in the mornings, afternoons and evenings

Venezia  Rated B

  • Italian specialties
  • Newly redesigned and enlarged to approx. 50 seats
  • Open in the afternoons and evenings

 The Globe (from October 2019) Rated A-

  • Unconventional, modern creations
  • Casual elegance with approx. 26 seats
  • Open in the morning for late breakfast, in the afternoon and in the evening

Pearls (from October 2019)  Rated A-

  • Tapas variations of fish, seafood and delicacies from the land
  • Modern atmosphere with approx. 50 seats in the indoor and outdoor areas
  • Open in the evenings

Europa 2

Restaurant Weltmeere  Rated A-

The culinary range spans from international to vegetarian menus, which are all interpreted in new and surprising ways.

  • The restaurant on board where our chefs de cuisine demonstrate their very personal flair.
  • Magical culinary moments with international and vegetarian menus, always interpreted in new and unusual ways.

Tarragon – Rated A-

Tarragon stands for great French cuisine and bistro classics, served in an art-deco-style setting. You can look forward to specialties that are at once simple and sophisticated, such as beef tartare prepared at the table.

Elements – Rated A

Whether Indian, Vietnamese or traditional Chinese dishes – Elements offers a feast for the senses of everyone with a penchant for the flavors of the East. Enjoy varied Asian cuisine, the aroma of lemongrass, seafood and lime – and Elements’ exotic, modern ambiance.

Serenissima – Rated A

Exquisite classics and new interpretations of the flavors of the Italian Mediterranean: the best of Italy’s flavors and lifestyle. The house specialty is the tagliatelle con gamberoni all’aglio e olio.

Yacht Club

Relaxed enjoyment under an open sky: at the Yacht Club you can experience the finest cuisine and an unforgettable panoramic ocean view, from breakfast to dinner time.
Enjoy fresh salads, antipasti, freshly grilled fish, pasta and dishes cooked a la minute direct from the open chef’s stations or from the buffet.

Sakura

Excellent sushi, with dishes ranging from classic to creative, which guests enjoy in a stylish setting – with an ocean view, of course.

ON-BOARD DRESS AND SOPHISTICATION LEVEL

Regardless of the ship, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises attracts a well-heeled, predominantly German-speaking clientele. Regular passengers — most passengers are repeaters — travel all the ships of the line, choosing their sailing by itinerary, but each ship has its own niche. Hanseatic appeals to active adults who want pampering on expeditions, while Bremen, which also is oriented to adventure-minded travelers, features a quality experience at a more moderate price point. Europa, its most traditional ship, tends to draw travelers who want a more classic luxury experience. And Europa 2, drawing on top-notch features found on Europa, is the cruise line’s jazziest, most contemporary ship, featuring dynamic art collections and sophisticated enrichment and entertainment that range from a kitchen studio for cooking-related courses to a jazz club. Its appeal is primarily to younger, less traditional luxury-minded travelers, including families. Hapag-Lloyd has also dedicated Europa 2 as its “bilingual” ship, reaching a more international passenger base with enhanced materials and activities particularly geared to English-speaking passengers.

There’s no dress code, but passengers are usually smartly attired. Think upscale resort casual for daytime — and we mean outfits that cost thousands of dollars, from names such as Bogner and Escada. (Ralph Lauren sportswear is considered low-end here, and the ship’s boutique stopped carrying it.) There are no formal nights or captain’s dinners. Evenings bring out expensive slacks and knee-length dresses for women, and sports jackets for men. The occasional cocktail dress is OK, but tuxedos or gowns are out of place on Europa 2. You can leave the ties and sequins at home.

Europa is a very dressy ship, with country-club resort wear favored during the day and three dress codes for nighttime guidance. There’s casual-elegant (men are required to wear jackets) and elegant (ties required). On formal nights, tuxedos or dark suits are obligatory for every restaurant aside from the buffet venue.

SOPHISTICATION SCORE BASED ON GUEST PROFILES, VENUE REQUIREMENTS, AND GENERAL ON-BOARD EVENING ATMOSPHERE

10 (On a 1-10 Point Scale)

THREE THINGS ABOUT HAPAG LLOYD WE REALLY LIKE

  • The Europa 2 is one of the most beautiful vessels afloat and with a higher space-ratio than any other cruise ship.
  • Children ages 11 and younger sail for free, when accompanied by two paying adults, on the Europa and Europa 2. Europa 2 also offers extensive supervised onboard kids and teen programs in English.
  • Offers unusual, exotic itineraries

THREE THINGS ABOUT HAPAG LLOYD WE THINK NEED TO BE IMPROVED

  • Apart from the Europa 2, which attracts a small anglophone clientele, the predominantly German-speaking atmosphere aboard other ships can feel isolating.
  • Pricey fares don’t cover alcohol or excursions.
  • The cost of the cruise (you could do two luxury cruises for the price on one Hapag-Lloyd cruise)

COMMENTS FROM OUR CSI (CRUISE SHIP INSPECTION) TEAM

 “We loved the availability of fresh seafood throughout our cruise and the opportunity to dine in the Oriental Restaurant, perhaps the best alternative restaurant at sea. If you sail this ship, be sure to look over the  Meissen china – just beautiful. True, our German is rusty, but we found the classical entertainment to be just right after such elegant dining experiences.”

“The Europa 2 well deserves your recognition as The World’s Best Luxury Cruise Ship. One thing you should include in your review is the manner in which the largest German clientele wants to interact, in English, with the Americans and the Brits on-board. It was as easy to start a conversation on this ship as it was on any of our previous cruises on Silverseas and Crystal, and that really surprised us.”

“We would go again for the food and the white-gloved service. You only need to be aboard for five minutes when you realize this is beyond the typical five-star cruise line notion of true luxury. Very pleased that you are giving them their due. The smoking in the Jazzclub and other lounges was a negative but that was far outweighed by the positives. We are curious about the different cruise lines and so we spent about an hour in chairs right next tot he reception desk. We were pleasantly surprised that American guests were treated at least as politely as European guests. My husband said he felt like we were privileged guests at the best German private country club.”

“Perhaps we should not tell anyone about this ship. It is already hard enough to book passage.” The Europa is definitely not for everyone. But I suppose I would go again just for the great German sausages they served in the Clipper Bar. The dress thing was fine. Yes, the folks on-board seem to like getting dressed up. But you never felt like they were showing off their jewelry as we have on some of the American ships. A lot of the Germans and Austrians described the ship as a luxury yacht, a feeling we could well understand.“

“Sorry – you left out one rather serious negative in your otherwise accurate evaluation. If this is indeed the best cruise line afloat, why is the insulation between cabins so poor? We could hear snippets of conversation on one side of us and a crying child on the other side. We spoke to the Purser who assured us that none of the staterooms had any better insulation. Major oversight.”

“We made the mistake of doing a three-week cruise and it was a really long time to be away from our American movies and television. They tried on board, but you should not sail this ship unless you really want to spend two weeks in a German resort that floats.”

THE BOTTOM LINE IN A SENTENCE

Those guests seeking some of the best services at sea in a German-centric, European atmosphere, will announcements made in German, will find this a more formal way to experience cruise excellence.

  

#2 CRYSTAL CRUISES, YACHTS AND EXPEDITION SHIPS

THE BIG PICTURE OVERVIEW

After years of Japanese ownership. Crystal was sold to Genting Hong Kong, a huge Asian shipping conglomerate, in 2015. This has enabled Crystal to eye expansion on several fronts. The line started from scratch in 2015 and now operates the top-rated river boat fleet in Europe. The two large ships in the fleet, each in the 850-920 Guest range, have just gone through $40 million refurbishments and the ships now have a neutral color scheme with a great many modern touches. The Symphony and Serenity were launched in 2003 and 2005 respectively. It is clear that Crystal’s current management, led by former Disney Executive, Tom Wolber, is committed to these ships. Crystal has made a greater than usual financial commitment to keep these vessels competitive with much newer five-star vessels. Two new 800-Guest “Diamond Class” ships will join the fleet in 2022.

At the same time that Crystal was announcing a virtually new cruise line (they made it clear that the line’s present ships, the Crystal Symphony and Serenity would not be sold), they also announced that Crystal is launching a 62-passenger Expedition Yacht an all-suite, 3,000 GRT vessel that will include a two-person on-board submarine, as well as zodiacs and a wide range of toys for boating and diving enthusiasts. The boat is already built and has been delivered to Crystal as the Crystal Espirit,  the first Crystal Yacht Cruises vessel.

Our most recent inspection of Crystal has reaffirmed our belief that Crystal is the very best cruise option for the majority of upscale cruisers. We believe that there is one under-reported but critical foundation of the line’s success. Crystal’s former long-time owner, the huge Japanese shipping conglomerate. NYK-FIL  established the leading crew training facility in the Philippines. Every onboard Crystal service person must graduate from a rigorous six-month program at Crystal’s exclusive training “university”. There are other crew training facilities in the Philippines, but none has the respect or the credentials of the NYK/Crystal school. This, we believe, is the secret weapon that allows Crystal to provide its ships with the best trained and most customer-savvy crews in the industry.

No other cruise line comes close to emulating the combination of caring, personalized service, often memorable cuisine, and the full lecture/entertainment options that form a part of the Crystal experience. Choose any other line and you are going to have to sacrifice at least one of these three pillars of excellence. Anyone seeking to sail on a competitor, needs to ask their travel consultant, “If I don’t sail Crystal, what am I giving up?”

Crystal has a somewhat older demographic than many of its smaller-ship five-star competitors. This has more to do with the length of cruises than any brand factors. Crystal tends to do very few seven-night cruises so the average age goes up accordingly.

The two Crystal ships are extremely well maintained but they are classic cruise liners with 940 guests. Crystal should not, on paper, rank as high as they do in these ratings. But Crystal earns its grades by outperforming the small ships in the very areas where they excel, personalized service, food, and entertainment. Many guests prefer Crystal because there are more lecture and entertainment options and some of the best alternative “no additional charge” restaurants at sea.

Crystal does have formal nights on longer voyages and waiters will escort ladies into the dining room arm-in-arm in a classic manner. Yet, Crystal lacks some of the European panache of a Silverseas or Seabourn. Those who enjoy formal European service may well prefer another line to Crystal’s more personal, California-vibe style. Dress codes aboard the Symphony and Serenity have been relaxed in the past two years and those who wish to cruise without a tie or gown will feel quite comfortable unless, of course, you have signed on for a World Cruise or voyage of three or more weeks.

Given current pricing and it’s new inclusions policy together with onboard service that produces the industry’s highest repeat factors, we felt Crystal has to be rated above many of it’s more ultra-sophisticated category competitors. Crystal just offers more of what most guests value most.

Crystal’s fleet of two large (940 guests) ships has won virtually every “best large ship cruise line” award in the industry. The line features the highest standards of dining service and we rank the specialty Prego Italian restaurant among the finest at sea. Crystal caters to a demanding, largely retired, east and west coast clientele.

In 2012, Crystal finally went “inclusive” with drinks, wines, and gratuities included in the cruise fare. Currently, Crystal’s inclusions match those of luxury rivals Seabourn and Silversea but do not include pre-night hotel stays or shore excursions as Regent is currently offering.

Entertainment options abound, including sophisticated stage shows and classical acts, as well as a full-screen movie theater. Service, food, and entertainment standards are consistent on both ships but the newer Serenity wins highest marks for layout and design. Those who seek personalized; Four Seasons-style services will appreciate the Crystal experience. Those sailing Crystal for the first time are generally amazed at how much better run these vessels are then the mainstream mega-ships. Crystal still sets the standard for larger ships/ Most worldwide itineraries are in the 10-14-day range. Guests sailing one of the higher-rated lines often report that Crystal food and service matched or surpassed it’s smaller, single-seating lux competitors. This is the line that many Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America passengers should have selected for cruises of ten days or longer. It seems clear that, at the moment, Crystal has the most comprehensive and successful staff training program in the entire passenger ship industry.

Choose any other line and you are going to have to sacrifice at least one of these three pillars of excellence. Anyone seeking to sail on a competitor, needs to ask their travel consultant, “If I don’t sail Crystal, what am I giving up?”

Given current pricing and its new inclusions policy together with onboard service that produces the industry’s highest repeat factors, we felt Crystal has to be rated above many of it’s more ultra-sophisticated category competitors. Crystal just offers more of what most guests value most.

FLEET FACTS:

Coming 2022  – Two Diamond class ships

Crystal will be unveiling two “Diamond Class” ships, with the first ship set to join the fleet in 2022.

The company said the ships will be 67,000 tons with capacity for 800 guests at double occupancy.  Details are not out yet, but the smallest cabins are rumored to be 400 square feet.

Crystal Endeavor – CURRENTLY RATED THE # 1 SHIP IN THE WORLD (PROVISIONAL)

200 Passengers

200 International Officers and Crew

Crystal Endeavor, launching in 2020, will be Crystal Cruises’ first expedition ship. This purpose-built Polar-class yacht will feature 100 all-balcony suites, an extensive spa and six fine dining restaurants so you won’t have to skimp on luxury — even when traveling to the ends of the earth. Like Crystal’s other ships, Endeavor will offer an all-inclusive fare that covers all meals and snacks; most wines, Champagnes and spirits; and gratuities.

Crystal Esprit – CURRENTLY RATED THE # 2 SHIP IN THE WORLD

62 Passengers

91 International Officers and Crew   – Let us repeat that – 91 Staff and 62 Guests

Esprit, Crystal Cruises’ first-ever yacht vessel, debuted in 2015. The 62-passenger ship, beautifully refurbished, resembles a contemporary, comfortable boutique hotel. Esprit offers a very different experience from the line’s 1,000-passenger cruise ships, mainly because the focus of the cruise is primarily on activities onshore. Activities revolve primarily around recreational opportunities — snorkeling, swimming, hiking, cycling, kayaking and paddle boarding among them. When in port, the ship is mostly at anchor (rather than tied up at a pier), which means tricky transfers on and off Zodiacs and other transfer boats.

Crystal Serenity

980 passengers

650 International Officers and Crew

The 68,000-ton, 980-passenger Crystal Serenity debuted in 2003.The Evolution of Crystal Luxury continues in November 2018 as the 68,000-ton Crystal Serenity undergoes her own multi-million-dollar transformation to welcome just 980 guests with more suites and penthouses.

Crystal Symphony

848 passengers

545 International Officers and Crew

The 51,044-ton, 848-passenger Crystal Symphony was launched in 1995. A 2017 refurbishment added modern touches to the ship — open-seating dining in the main restaurant, new casual eateries, enhanced Wi-Fi, more up-to-date suites — and a commitment to sprinkling shorter itineraries among the world cruises and longer voyages. Staffing kids clubs in the summer months makes sure working professionals and families are accommodated.

OFFICER AND CREW PROFILE

Officers on all ships are mostly European, with an International crew.

HOW COMFORTABLY WILL YOU SLEEP?

Cabin-wise, accommodations on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity — particularly in the upper ranges — are plush and comfortable. However, lower-level categories can feel cramped for a luxury ship at this price tag.

Serenity – best accommodations are on deck 10 and 11 and after tea trolley service and evening hors d’ oeuvres are delivered in butler grade suites

Symphony – best accommodations on deck 10 and after tea trolley service and evening hors d’ oeuvres are delivered on this deck

Esprit Yacht – Staterooms on the all-suite ship are mostly identical, save for one Owner’s Suite, and are equipped with all the modern conveniences — from power ports for personal devices to super-comfortable beds and spacious bathrooms.

Crystal Endeavor – cabins are some of “the largest, most spacious suites in expedition cruising.” The 90 Deluxe Suites are 304 square feet and eight Penthouse Suites are 457 square feet. Both categories separate the sitting and sleeping areas. Two Crystal Penthouse Suites (985 to 1,130 square feet) will make an appearance on Crystal Endeavor. The larger footprint is a two-bedroom layout while the other is a one-bedroom cabin that connects to a Deluxe Suite. Both Crystal Penthouse Suites offer standalone dining rooms and a butler’s pantry.

Crystal uniquely offers a handful of PURE staterooms that feature hypoallergenic environments. Aimed at passengers who suffer allergies or asthma, these cabins undergo a special seven-step process to eliminate some 99.9 percent of impurities from the air. PURE staterooms are balcony cabins classified as categories A2 and A3.

The main longtime drawback of a Crystal Cruise has been and still is, the size of its standard cabins. Outside and balcony cabins measure 202 square feet; to put that in perspective, Carnival’s standard cabins start at 185 square feet, while other luxury lines start out with 250 to 300 square feet of space in entry-level cabins. Bathrooms especially feel cramped, with very narrow countertops, and there are no walk-in closets. To get that luxury accommodation feeling, you need to book a suite — which isn’t true of other luxury lines.

 

DINING VENUES RATED  (Symphony and Serenity)

Waterside –   Rated A –  

The main restaurant, while generally excellent, can be inconsistent. Some items are incredible and some are not as impressive. Dinner is a multicourse highlight in Waterside. Two dinner menus are offered each night and both change daily. There’s a “modern” menu that offers more daring dishes, and a “classic” that features more traditional fare.

Umi Uma –   Rated A  

Achieves “Top Ten Dining” status at sea.  This is the most popular restaurant onboard, so make reservations early; you can pre-reserve online before leaving home. Formerly called Silk Road (Umi Uma means “sea horse,” as featured in Crystal’s corporate logo) is supervised by Nobu Matsuhisa, one of the world’s most highly regarded celebrity chefs. The venue is open for dinner only. Passengers are limited to one complimentary visit to each of the ship’s alternative restaurants, Umi Uma and Prego.

Prego –    Rated A –       

Order the house favorites, like the mushroom soup, and you will have a top-tier dinner. The best Italian Restaurant Afloat.  Prego was created by Piero Selvaggio, proprietor of Valentino’s in Santa Monica. The restaurant has since transformed its slightly gaudy, pseudo-Venetian look into something stylish and luxurious. The reception area is deep wine-red, and the actual dining area, in stone and beige with chocolate suede walls, has a relaxing look. It’s open for dinner only.

The Vintage Room – Rated A-  

Some guests feel it is overpriced. – An elegant private dining room with rare wines displayed in glass cabinets, The Vintage Room can be booked for private parties or by individuals, provided a minimum of eight diners is reached (the maximum is 12).

Churrascaria –  Rated B   

Brazilian steakhouse. A new addition in the 2017 refit, it’s the ship’s nod to South American cuisine, located in a section of the Marketplace. It’s open daily for dinner only and is open seating, with no cover charge. This venue is still being “tweeked”.

Silk

Silk is a lunch and dinner venue for Chinese comfort food — it is not a Nobu restaurant. (It’s easy to confuse Silk Kitchen with Silk Road, the venue that has since become Umi Uma.)

Trident Grill –

A huge hit, the Trident Bar and Grill, located midship, serves up made-to-order fast food like Reubens, burgers (chicken, beef, salmon and veg), tuna melt, hot dog, chili con carne, soup and pizza.

Palm Court Tea –

Afternoon tea is a pleasant ritual on Crystal, and a formal interpretation takes place in the ship’s Palm Court, with waiters dressed in tuxedoes with tails. The regular events feature tea sandwiches, scones with jam and whipped cream (clotted cream only comes in a packet), petits fours and tea served in delicate China teacups.

Room Service – available around the clock and includes a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, along with hot items that range from pizza and spaghetti to beef tournedos and burgers. All passengers can order room service off the Waterside menu of the day, while passengers in Penthouse-category suites can also order from the menus of Prego and Umi Uma if they wish, and butlers will serve meals course by course.

Cuisine – Espirit

Pantry – This lovely spot, right off the main lobby, is open 24/7, and features a coffee-making machine for cappuccino and the like, cold sandwiches and pastries, and beverages, such as sodas, chilled water, beer and wine.

Patio – The indoor/outdoor Patio is the spot for breakfast each day and features made-to-order egg dishes, waffles and pancakes from a menu that changes daily. Wine and beer are liberally poured.

Yacht Club Restaurant – At night, the Yacht Club Restaurant, one of the few open-kitchen eateries at sea, is large enough to seat all passengers at once should they all descend simultaneously. If passengers dressed casually for active endeavors during the day, they dressed up for the Yacht Club in resort finery. Mains are standouts, particularly the shrimp curry, braised drunken duck and Dover sole.

Sunset Grill – In the afternoon, from noon until 5 p.m., the Sunset Grill, adjacent to the top-deck Sunset Bar, is a favorite haunt — both for its down-home grill fare and its expansive opening hours.

Crystal cannot redesign their older ships. The Symphony and Serenity were designed for two dinner seatings. This had been difficult to square with Crystal’s enviable five-star status. The line has reacted well by establishing their “Open Dining by Reservation” system which allows guests to choose when they wish to dine. This system works extremely well because Crystal’s

ON-BOARD DRESS AND SOPHISTICATION LEVEL

  • Clothing onboard is dressier than some other lines, particularly on formal nights
  • Even on other nights, passengers tend to wear cocktail attire (women) and sports jackets or suits (men).
  • During the day, elegant casual permeates.
  • The longer and more exotic the cruise, the older the clientele (typically the 55-plus crowd).
  • Well-heeled travelers have also jumped at the opportunity to bring their children and grandchildren onboard Crystal’s family-friendly ships, and multi-generational groups are common.
  • A good choice for travelers who want a small ship, but find the 500-passenger and smaller ships to be a bit dull or hyper-social.
  • Can feel clubby with older, repeat passengers and formal atmosphere
  • Crystal Esprit attracts an international crowd. Travelers from the United States, Canada and the U.K. make up the greatest percentage, but the yacht also appeals to visitors from Germany, South Africa, Australia and Asia. Passengers of all ages, from 20-somethings traveling with their parents to retirees, have these characteristics in common: They’re well-traveled, curious and recreationally active.
  • Crystal was also the first luxury line to make a significant commitment to attracting families, by upgrading children’s onboard facilities and activities. And yet, it faithfully maintains cornerstone cruise traditions: elegant afternoon tea, paddle tennis, casinos, activities like bingo and napkin folding, and assigned main restaurant dining for those who want it.

SOPHISTICATION SCORE BASED ON GUEST PROFILES, VENUE REQUIREMENTS, AND GENERAL ON-BOARD EVENING ATMOSPHERE

8 on a 1-10 Point Scale.

ABOUT ACCOMMODATIONS

The Symphony is casually elegant and tends toward lighter colors (light woods and neutrals paired with Crystal’s signature sea-foam hue) than ships that go for more nautical navy or imposing dark woods.

Regardless of category, all of Crystal Serenity’s cabins are furnished with queen beds that can be split into twins; a love seat or couch; desk/vanity; and mini-fridge stocked with complimentary soda and bottled water, plus Schott Zwiesel stemware. Beer, wine and select spirits are available on request. You’ll always find Frette bathrobes, kimonos, and slippers for use onboard, as well as a throw blanket, hairdryer and safe. A fruit basket is replenished daily.

On the Esprit, standard suites come in four categories, all with a king-size bed (which can convert to twins) and crisp cotton sheets and duvet. There’s a vanity/desk, with a lighted makeup mirror. The seating area’s full-size couch can also sleep a third passenger.

FIVE THINGS ABOUT CRYSTAL WE REALLY LIKE

  • Crystal takes the best of big-ship cruising and the best of luxury travel and combines them to offer passengers an upscale experience with lots going on onboard.
  • Crystal fares include all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages (excluding ultra-premium wines and liquors), gratuities, unlimited Wi-Fi on one device per passenger at a time, use of self-serve launderettes and fitness classes. Most dining venues are free of charge; passengers in standard cabins can eat once for free at Umi Uma and Prego, while suite passengers get unlimited visits.
  • Esprit is also more inclusive than its sister cruise ships. At least one tour in every port is complimentary, and wine and other beverages (even premium selections) are included in cruise fares. Gratuities are also included. The Esprit is currently the ranked the # 2 Rated Cruise Ship in the World based on our latest inspection reports.
  • Onboard, the crewmembers typically do a fantastic job preparing guests for the various stops, giving all of the information we needed to best see the cities.
  • Crystal Cruises covers the globe with just the current ships – from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, Asia and the South Pacific to New England and Canada, and from the Panama Canal to Alaska… With 3 new ‘Diamond Class’ ships to be delivered from 2022 onwards, Crystal Cruises will cover the globe.

FIVE THINGS ABOUT CRYSTAL WE THINK NEED TO BE IMPROVED

  • Crystal’s standard shore excursions are notably expensive, with full-day excursions often costing $350 or more.
  • It can be difficult to secure reservations for some of the specialty restaurants.
  • The “clubby feeling” and “super loyalty” of repeat passengers can be off-putting to new Crystal cruisers. Many past guests are recognized by staff.
  • A portion of the staff does learn and address guests by name. But this is by no means universal aboard the Crystal ships.
  • Only a few of Crystal’s annual cruise offerings include complimentary Business Class Airfare.

 COMMENTS FROM OUR CSI INSPECTION TEAM:

“We have been on more than twenty cruises but this was the first time my wife and I ever saw crew members standing by on the gangway to hug and kiss guests goodbye. For many, it was their only time off during a very hectic ten-day itinerary. Crystal service is truly caring. We will never sail another line. Perfection does exist.”

“As a past cruiser with Celebrity and Princess, I really could not believe the differences between those cruises and this one. Crystal is worth every penny. The shows are the best we’ve ever seen, the food and service is European-inspired but this is a truly comfortable, American line for affluent cruisers. It seems like we are back in Boca at our country club instead of out at sea on a large ship. The only thing missing is the golf course.”

“We have sailed them all and I’m telling you, Palo is the best restaurant at sea. Do everything you need to do to get a few reservations.”

“You know its good when the toughest place to get a seat is the office of the person booking future cruises. My wife loved being taken by the arm and escorted to the dinner table. They couldn’t be more caring or accommodating and, quite frankly, you never had the feeling they were doing it for tips.”

“The sushi bar at Nobu’s Silk Road was just extraordinary. Three full-time sushi chefs and some of the finest sushi we’ve ever had in our lives. And we’re from LA. Crystal rules” We’ve been following the reviews on traveltruth and, more or less, working our way down your list of top-rated cruise lines. But that’s all over now. We understand that Crystal carries more passengers and has two seating’s etc., but they still ought to be #1 on anyone’s list. We’ve found the one line that gives us everything.”

“Honestly, you feel like you are floating along in a senior citizen home. The pretentious dress-up nights, the average age of seventy or so, the ballroom dancing. This is definitely a cruise line for the same folks who will be returning to their retirement facility at the end of their cruise.

“It was a lovely cruise in the Med out of Barcelona. But it felt very Four Seasony and we prefer the smaller lines with their true boutique feel. The food though was very good and Prego is, we agree, our favorite restaurant of any of the ships we have tried.”

“Our traveling companions did not like the two seatings, but they said the food was far better then what they had on Seabourn. We won’t sail anything but Crystal. We started with them, thankfully, and we’ll finish with them. Things are changing and the staff doesn’t remember your name with the exception of some of the Filipino staff that knows how to butter-up guests for better tips. This is probably the world’s best cruise line for anyone who doesn’t want to sit on a tiny ship with nothing to do but read another mystery.. This is big ship excitement with elegant service and amenities. I just don’t see us switching. If our travel consultant stops recommending Crystal, we’ll be changing consultants.”

“Some of the Crystal old-timers and they number more than a few, seem to think there is some magic way that Crystal can enlarge their standard cabins and make them all suites. They are what they are. But we think, based on our last two Crystal sailings, that the line keeps getting better. They reacted quite well to the discounts from some of their rivals. On our last cruise, Crystal gave us $2,000 to spend any way we want – on tips, shore excursions, or drinks. I far prefer this to the all-inclusive lines that make you pay for other people’s drinking habits. And I like to tip for service. I suspect that is why Crystal’s service receives such high grades on this site and others. Now, we must say we have some concerns about whether Crystal’s service scores will suffer since they have switched to an all-inclusive, gratuities included policy. I just had two friends who returned in February and they said the new policy works well and they could not spot any service declines”

“We didn’t like our Crystal cruise. We loved it. Here are a few things my wife and I noticed, and we come from the hotel industry: On the transfer from the Crystal pre-cruise hotel in Costa Rica to the port, special seats were blocked out for children so they could enjoy the best views. The cruise director was so appealingly non-intrusive that we wondered where he had been trained. PA announcements were dignified, limited, and professionally rendered.

“Crystal now has a majority of Eastern European crew and you get the same level services you get with the same crews on Princess, Holland America, and Celebrity. Most of the Indonesian and Filipino staff that was always the hallmark of Crystal is long gone. I couldn’t even get anyone to bring is coffee unless we asked. Sadly, this line has gone from five to four-star service.”

“Louis Armstrong’s “It’s A Wonderful World” has become Crystal’s theme song. In each port, Louis’ mesmerizing voice goes out to those confined to a lesser brand as they stare longingly from their white plastic chairs as the Serenity pulls gently away from her berth and heads back out to sea. The specialty restaurants are, in my opinion, the finest at sea. On the Serenity, The Silk Road is guided by famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. I would book another trip on the Serenity solely on the basis of a chance to try, once again, the chef’s signature broiled black cod with miso. But savvy dinners can sit at the Sushi Bar and order from thirty-five, or so, sushi specials. This is, to put it simply, a $300 dinner experience for two on land and I doubt that the service would be nearly as good or the setting was unique and relaxing. The library is well stocked and staffed by a gentlewoman who has, seemingly, read every volume in her care. I heard her make some excellent recommendations to some pretty challenging inquiries.

“We felt that the balcony cabins in category A and B were noticeably smaller than the verandas on Regent Seven Seas. But we will go back on Crystal just for the amazing lecture programs and classes. On our Baltic Cruise, we had a Russian history expert and a former astronaut lecturing and we were able to take classes in introductory Russian as well as Photoshop for the computer.”

“Your reviews are really accurate but, in the case of Crystal, we think you need to say more about the friendliness of the crew. This is a cruise line that obviously takes care of the help. There is none of the typical crew talk about leaving and going to work for someone else. I don’t know where they find the Filipino’s and the Indonesians who work aboard the Serenity and the Symphony, but they are clearly Crystal’s “secret weapons.” 

“I suppose the major issue we have had with Crystal is the large number of days at sea they include in their itineraries. These are wonderful days, don’t get me wrong, with lots to do and about the best port lectures we’ve encountered on any of our 32 cruises, but I do get the feeling that I am missing out on port time when I sail Crystal.” 

“When will this line ever build a new ship? We’ve all sold both of these vessels, we love them, and we keep coming back. But isn’t it about time that the owners opened up their considerable purse strings and gave us some new tonnage? Crystal is wonderful but there just isn’t the excitement we had sailing the new Silverseas Spirit or the Seabourn Quest. Crystal lacks the smell of new car leather.”

“Yes, you’re right, Crystal has adopted the Louis Armstriong “Wonderful World” song as its own. But a more accurate song for this cruise line would be Tina Turner’s “You’re Simply the Best”.

“You know, when all is said and done, we’ve been on most of the ships in your top ten with the exception of Hapag-Lloyd and Orion, and we just prefer the totality of the Crystal experience. But my husband will tell you that the way complimentary transfers are provided to the center of each of the ports is reason enough to keep coming back.

“As a past cruiser with Celebrity and Princess, I really could not believe the differences between those cruises and this one. Crystal is worth every penny. The shows are the best we’ve ever seen, the food and service is European-inspired but this is a truly comfortable, American line for affluent cruisers. It seems like we are back in Boca at our country club instead of out at sea on a large ship. The only thing missing is the golf course.”

“Until Crystal expands its fleet, I think we are going to continue to see inventive World Cruises surrounded by itineraries that are often more pedestrian than some of Crystal’s competitors.”

THE BOTTOM LINE IN A SENTENCE

Putting aside the fact that the Crystal Yacht and Expedition ships, Esprit and Endeavor are currently the top-rated ships in the world, Crystal represents the best package at sea for those seeking laid-back, personalized services, great dining options, the best entertainment at sea including full casinos and movie theaters, and superior onboard lectures.

 

#3 – RITZ CARLTON YACHT COLLECTION  (Provisional)

THE BIG PICTURE OVERVIEW:

Reportedly, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will have the highest staff to guest service ratio in the cruise industry, with almost as many staff members as guests 

Starting prices for voyages range from to $3,100 for four nights to $10,100 for 12 nights, depending on location. The all-inclusive fare comes with onboard gratuities, 24-hour in-suite dining, beverages in-suite and throughout the yacht, Wi-Fi, and onboard entertainment and enrichment.

FLEET FACTS:

First Yacht launches in 2020, there will be three by 2022

149 suites — each with its own private terrace — accommodating up to 298 guests

OFFICER AND CREW PROFILE

Officers on all ships are International.

HOW COMFORTABLY WILL YOU SLEEP?

The Ritz Carlton new-build yachts will feature a luxury custom king bed sleep system with linens created exclusively for the Ritz Carlton Yacht collection. We expect superlative bedding.

STATEROOMS TO AVOID

516, 620: connecting room and close to stairs and elevator

DINING VENUES RATED – TBD

MAIN DINING EXPERIENCE

Designed with intimate seating arrangements, the spacious main restaurant offers a thoughtfully-designed balance of privacy and social connection. A menu of locally inspired creations changes daily to reflect the passing scene.

TALAAT NAM

Creative interpretations of Southeast Asian cuisine are paired with sophisticated, laidback luxury in this sleek, contemporary restaurant. Sit down at the sushi bar, enjoy a more family-style table experience, or dine outside and watch the day’s destination disappear with the setting sun.

S.E.A.

Indulge in a specialty dining experience designed by Chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton®, Wolfsburg. S.E.A. offers an inspired European á la carte journey in a sophisticated setting with a contemporary feel. Reservations required, additional fee applies.

MISTRAL

Come as you are, for lunch or a romantic dinner alfresco. The seafood bar features fresh local catches while prime cuts are prepared to order from the grill. The deck serves as one of the best views on the yacht to enjoy dinner or drinks.

THE POOL HOUSE

From a leisurely breakfast for early risers to late-night dining, this casual eatery serves a variety of cuisines prepared à la minute in an open air space.

THE LIVING ROOM

Guests will wake to freshly roasted coffees and baked pastries at the espresso counter and bar. An array of ready-made culinary treats are also available for day trips and late nights.

 

ON-BOARD DRESS AND SOPHISTICATION LEVEL

As these ships are being marketed as “Yachts” dress will be casually elegant. Country Club casual will be the theme and no ties are required. Families are welcome and it is likely these yachts will attract people who already like and use the Ritz Carlton hotel brand.

SOPHISTICATION SCORE BASED ON GUEST PROFILES, VENUE REQUIREMENTS, AND GENERAL ON-BOARD EVENING ATMOSPHERE

To be determined but this is meant to be a floating Ritz Carlton. Another way some cynic’s might put it – “A Marriott takes to the Sea”.

ACCOMMODATIONS NOTES:

  • Each of the 149 suites will have its own private terrace and comes with a dedicated personal assistant, who can do everything from making your dinner reservation to organizing a destination excursion.
  • Two of the suites are Owner’s Suites, which are 1,098 square feet. They have two bathrooms and a private whirlpool on the 592 square-foot terrace.
  • The View Suites range from 571 square feet to 624 square feet and have floor to ceiling windows.
  • At 700 square feet, the Loft Suites are two stories, with a luxurious modern living and dining area upstairs, and sleep area downstairs. They also have picture windows.
  • The Grand Suite is 635 square feet with a spacious terrace of 108 square feet.

THREE THINGS ABOUT RITZ CARLTON YACHTS WE REALLY LIKE

  • Trip itineraries reportedly will offer less time at sea with more time to explore intimate, remote ports that bigger cruise ships don’t have access to because of their size.
  • Guests have the option to book back-to-back voyages without repeating ports.
  • Several Dining Options for a small ship.

THREE THINGS ABOUT RITZ CARLTON Yachts WE THINK NEED TO BE IMPROVED

Let’s wait until they have been sailing for six months and have been fully inspected by our CSI Team.

THE BOTTOM LINE IN A SENTENCE

The size of the ship, large accommodations, and contemporary design features bode well for these floating, boutique hotels. But we are less than impressed with some of the initial itineraries.

 

# 4 – SEABOURN CRUISE LINE

THE BIG PICTURE OVERVIEW:

Seabourn is the fastest-rising cruise line in the luxury sector, improving its Cruisetruth rankings in each of the past three years, The pride of the Carnival Cruise line stable, these sleek ships are elegant and clearly among the best at sea. Seabourn dazzled the industry with the introduction of the Odyssey in 2009. Had the Carnival Corporation gotten it right with their new breed of luxury ship, a vessel with more than double the capacity of the line’s smaller “white yachts? Now, looking back at the launch of the Odyssey, followed by the Sojourn and the Quest, we would have to say that most cruise industry journalists would agree that Seabourn got it right.

At 32,000 GRT, the three sister ships each carry 450 guests with four-on-board restaurants and outside cabin/suites ranging from 295 to 1182 square feet. The addition of the three $250 million ships, all constructed at Italy’s boutique T. Mariotti shipyard, enable Seabourn to literally sail the world, creating some of the industry’s most interesting itineraries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This is a point worth repeating and emphasizing – Seabourn has never been afraid to schedule longer voyages than their competitors in order to include ports not always included on itineraries. Alaska is an example of some really creative itinerary planning with sailings of ten to twelve nights versus the traditional seven-night program.

Seabourn announced in 2013 that the smaller, older white ships, the Spirit, the Pride, and the Legend, have been sold to Windstar. This makes Windstar the largest small-ship cruise line. 

Seabourn will be operating the newest fleet in the luxury category with only cosmetic changes between the three ships and the same deck plans/design. No one who has sailed one of these three sisters will ever get lost on one of her siblings. The design simply works and Seabourn has achieved a rather rare feeling of spaciousness which could work against guests craving a sense of more people and more excitement. Things can get rather quiet and refined on Seabourn.

Shortly after the sale of its older ships, Seabourn announced an order for two, and likely three, new enlarged Odyssey-class ships. The Encore launched in December 2016 with her twin sister, the Ovation came out in the spring of 2018. The new sisters carry 600 guests versus 450 for the Odyssey Class triplets. The New Encore and the Ovation have an additional 12th Deck. They, like the smaller siblings, are considered all-suite, although that can be misleading as a cabin under 300 square feet may be called a suite by marketing folks but in accurate cruise vernacular it hardly qualifies. But let’s go with all-suites as Regent, Seabourn, and Silversea all make the claim.

This luxury line has one clear vulnerability – it is the true top of the crown in the Carnival Cruise Line Collection. As such, it is prone to rumors that “Carnival is cutting costs” or that “Quality has declined as Carnival has taken over more and more of the management of Seabourn.” Our numerous CSI Inspections have produced results that clearly indicate that Seabourn has actually improved its onboard product substantially and that the financial backing of the world’s largest cruise corporation has enhanced investment in both new ship construction and a staff that is taught to anticipate a guest’s needs. There is no evidence that we can find that Seabourn’s management has had its role diminished.  We are aware of the cruise industry “trash talk” popping up on the self-appointed “Critic” sites. But much of the negative words about products in the top-tier luxury segment can be attributed to creative writing from competitor’s marketing departments. 

Seabourn guests relish in the feeling that their ship is a floating club off sorts. There are comfy linens, the latest flat screen TV’s and I-Pod this and that’s, guests, receive customized stationary, and the showers work with surprising intensity. Dinner is an “event” and things are relatively low-key. If less yacht-like then Sea Dream, Seabourn manages to convey an atmosphere of privilege and comfort without going overboard on the formality. This is a cruise line that will make country club members feel that they have arrived at a clubhouse that floats.

With their unmatched sense of style, elegance and grace, Seabourn ships have steadily attracted those attuned to a high-level country club lifestyle. Aboard Seabourn, every desire is met promptly and with a welcoming smile. Whether it’s a warm blanket and a cup of gourmet hot chocolate as you drift along the Norwegian Fjords or a relaxing neck massage poolside, you’ll feel that you’re a member of a very exclusive club. Step aboard any one of Seabourn’s ships and you’ll enjoy a sophisticated and luxurious journey. You will feel as though you’ve been invited to sail on a private yacht.

FLEET FACTS:

Seabourn Encore       

Launch date: 2016 

600 guests      450 International crew         

Seabourn Quest

Launched in 2011

450 guests      335 International crew         

Seabourn Odyssey

Launched 2009

462 guests      333 International crew         

Seabourn Sojourn

Launched 2010

462 guests      354 International crew         

Seabourn Ovation

Launched in 2018

600 guests      420 International crew         

OFFICER AND CREW PROFILE

Officers on all ships are International.

HOW COMFORTABLY WILL YOU SLEEP?

Spacious and luxurious are the words that best describe Seabourn’s suites. These suites come with beautiful and welcoming beds outfitted with the finest Egyptian cotton. Each stateroom steward freshens up the room, so you’ll always return to a made bed, and the stewards are always ready to draw you a scented bath

Encore has 300 cabins in eight categories, all designated suites. Even the most basic of accommodations has a decent-sized balcony, a marble-lined bathroom and a walk-in closet. The decor is similar throughout — cream carpets, chairs and sofas in brighter colors with retro curves, extensive use of cream leather and beds with throws in rich shades. From Penthouse grade upward, there’s imaginative use of space, with features like a sleeping area separated by curtained glass screens, right up to the massive Wintergarden Suite, with a glass-enclosed conservatory area featuring a tub and a daybed. All suites come with stocked mini-bar, personalized stationery, atlases and umbrellas, fluffy robes and slippers.

Eight suites across different categories are wheelchair-accessible. Thirty-two have capacity for a third bed and 34 interconnect (with some standard suites bolting onto a much bigger one to create some of the grandest accommodations on the ship). The different categories are scattered all over the ship, so study the deck plan carefully before booking.

STATEROOMS TO AVOID

In one of the Owners suites you hear the anchor every time it’s raised or lowered. The balcony has no view. It looks out on the Deck 7 whirlpool and there is no privacy.

Also avoid connecting suites, because you can hear the neighbors.

DINING VENUES RATED

The Restaurant – Rated A-

The main dining room is quite elegant and light with floor-to-ceiling windows running along the port and starboard sides and a center section with a raised ceiling, gauzy white drapes and lit-up white panels with a white-on-white abstract design. The Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Colonnade The Colonnade is the ship’s buffet venue, with indoor and outdoor seating (with heat lights on the aft deck for chilly days). At breakfast and lunch, meals are self-service, with small menus of hot items to order a la minute. Dinner is typically off a menu and waiter served, but there will be the occasional buffet meal (like the Tuscany Market Dinner). Note that gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian items are sometimes marked, but not always.

The Grill by Thomas Keller – Rated A

The marquee specialty restaurant onboard Seabourn Quest is The Grill by Thomas Keller, the Michelin-starred American chef known for restaurants such as The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon. You need to make reservations for this must-try dining experience, and you’ll have the best results if you do so online pre-cruise. The restaurant staff makes a point to get everyone in once; space permitting, you can dine a second or third time.

Insider’s Recommendations: Skip the lamb, ribs, and steak options in favor of Keller’s masterful take on Roast Chicken or superb Dover Sole. 

The Patio: The Patio is so much more than a standard pool deck grill counter, and was the surprise hit of our cruise. It has the longest hours for lunch (12:30 to 3:30 p.m.), though it will close in inclement weather. (No one wants to eat at the open-air tables in the rain anyway.) At lunch, help yourself to an excellent salad bar, three hot dishes (such as panini or grilled chicken or fish), two pizza flavors (one is typically cheese), small sandwiches and cookies. Or, order off a menu of standard hot dogs and burgers, Thomas Keller’s Napa Burger and Yountwurst Hot Dog, and a fish that changes daily. Veggie burgers are not officially on the menu, but are available on request. (They’re also shipmade and delicious.) Grill items are delivered with irresistibly crispy french fries; you might also get some surprise chips, salsa and guacamole while you wait. Order ice cream and drinks from the bar.

Seabourn Square: Seabourn Square is the heart of the ship — part cafe, part internet center, part lounge and part guest services. In the morning, it’s the place to grab an espresso or a chai tea latte and a pastry and kick back on a couch with a newspaper or Kindle. In the afternoon, drop by for a slice of cake or tea sandwich and a caffeinated pick-me-up. It’s open from 6:15 a.m. to 11 p.m., closing for a few hours during dinnertime.

Afternoon Tea: Afternoon tea is held daily in the Observation Bar from 4 to 5 p.m., so you can enjoy the view while you munch on scones with jam and clotted cream, tea sandwiches, little cakes and organic loose leaf tea. Raisin scones are the norm, but plain and gluten-free scones are available on request. A note for tea aficionados: Seabourn serves loose-leaf tea in a pot and provides a strainer for you to pour through into your tea cup. This means that any tea left in the pot over-steeps before you can pour a second cup. We recommend either sharing a pot, asking for a half pot of tea or asking for a pot with just the leaves and a pot of hot water so you can steep just a little at a time.

Sushi:  Rated A

This intimate dining venue serves up fresh sushi and sashimi — beautifully presented and paired with inventive ingredients. The venue itself is a light, cream-colored room with large picture windows along one side and a sushi counter on the other. Diners can either sit at the counter, with a view of the chefs in action, or in the surrounding dining area.

 

ON-BOARD DRESS AND SOPHISTICATION LEVEL

Seabourn’s dress code is slightly more relaxed than other luxury cruise lines. During the day, passengers wear casual, resort-style attire (shorts and jeans are allowed) throughout the ship, including in the lounges. Swimwear, cover-ups and exercise attire are reserved for the pool area, outside decks, spa and fitness center.

At night, the dress code in all venues is mainly elegant casual — men are encouraged to wear slacks with a collared dress shirt or sweater (jackets are optional), while women can wear slacks or a skirt with a blouse, a pantsuit or dress. Both men and women are allowed to wear jeans, as long as they’re not distressed, in all venues except The Restaurant. On our cruise, we saw the full spectrum of womenswear, from chic outfits with jeans and dressy tops to flowy separates and dresses, both stylish and more casual.

Formal nights, which are celebrated only in The Restaurant, occur once on cruises up to 13 days, twice on cruises of 14 to 20 days and three times on cruises of 21 or more days. All other venues aside from The Restaurant maintain elegant casual dress codes on formal nights. Seabourn’s formalwear requirements include a tuxedo, suit or slacks and a jacket for men and an evening gown or other formal apparel for women.

While the evening dress code is supposedly enforced at 6 p.m., no one ostracizes guests who are still watching sail-away after 6 in the clothes they wore all day. However, try to enter The Restaurant in the wrong attire, and you will be sent away to change. We even heard of someone being turned away for wearing too casual shoes — despite shoes not being addressed in Seabourn’s official dress code descriptions.

SOPHISTICATION SCORE BASED ON GUEST PROFILES, VENUE REQUIREMENTS, AND GENERAL ON-BOARD EVENING ATMOSPHERE

9      on a 10 Pt. Scale

ABOUT ACCOMMODATIONS

All cabins are suites, and they are well equipped with designer soaps, and all the latest and greatest amenities (flat-screen televisions, Bose Wave sound systems, and so forth). A complimentary bottle of Champagne greets you in your cabin. Bar drinks are complimentary and refilled promptly. With an abundance of public space and few fellow passengers, you might feel you have the vessel to yourself — no annoying crowds or lines here.

FIVE THINGS ABOUT SEABOURN WE REALLY LIKE:

  • Creative menus for guests who know fine dining
  • Excellent special-interest and enrichment program
  • Loyal guests who have tried the other lines and have come to appreciate Seabourn’s blend of casual class.
  • Staff makes a serious effort at learning every guest’s name. This is the hallmark of true five-star service.
  • Seabourn currently has the most creative worldwide itineraries of any of their top-tier competitors.

FIVE THINGS ABOUT SEABOURN WE THINK NEED TO BE IMPROVED

  • Shore excursions can be expensive
  • The Swimming Pool is smaller than it needs to be
  • Seabourn pre and post-cruise hotel packages are often not a reasonable value.
  • Quality of evening entertainment tends to be somewhat conservative and classical.
  • Seabourn only provides Complimentary Business Class Air on sailings that need help

THE BOTTOM LINE IN A SENTENCE:

Seabourn’s true luxury service, including attempts by the crew to learn guest’s names while anticipating their needs, together with an across-the-board consistency, has resulted in steady gains in Seabourn’s ranking among the Top Ten Cruise Lines in the World.

 

# 5 – SILVERSEA CRUISES

THE BIG PICTURE OVERVIEW:

These are heady times for Silversea after its sale to Royal Caribbean. The new owners, together with the original founding family from Monte Carlo, have provided the kind of financial stability that will enable Silversea to fully realize its ambitious growth potential.  The line is fully committed to expanding both the luxury cruise and luxury Expedition Cruising sectors. Picture just a few hundred kindred travelers of the CEO variety. Outstanding food and service though lacking dining options found on some competitors. All inclusive top-end quality. Silversea is cruising’s current “benchmark brand”. Imagine Top-quality “everything.” Worldwide itineraries include a number of shorter, one-week sailings. Evenings tend to be dressy in the sense that most of the men voluntarily don sports jackets that are not made of polyester. Per person, food expenditures are among the highest in the industry. The Concierge desk can do just about anything in the way of private travel arrangements in port. Much of Silverseas reputation is based on the assumption that 300 passengers is small enough to make guests feel truly pampered and large enough to provide a wider range of amenities than smaller capacity rivals. The Concierge frequently arranges in-port experiences that go far beyond the norm. Culinary programs in small settings are featured on many itineraries. Like each of the top three lines, Silverseas is trying to offer more casual dining options. But this is still the most formal of the top lines. Don’t consider Silverseas if you are terminally young, hate dressing up, or are uncomfortable traveling with economic royalty. This is the line of champagne and caviar, of lux dreams, realized.

Consumers are seeing new pricing strategies and some changes to the on-board product. Selective sailings now feature free airfare.

Silversea’s management is now on firm ground and highly respected in the industry. The discount programs have been rather successful. Of all of the five-star lines, Silverseas has made the most significant commitment to market its cruise products abroad. Currently, just over 50% of Silversea’s guests are non-Americans. This should be an important factor as guests choose the degree to which they would like to vacation in an international environment.

FLEET FACTS:

Silver Cloud

The first of Silversea’s ships, Silver Cloud has undergone an extensive makeover and is one of the most spacious and comfortable.

–       Launched 1994, but re-introduced in 2017 as Silver Cloud Expedition

–        Crew: 223 – Asian, European

–        Passengers: 254

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: European Silver Discoverer

The smaller, sleek 116-guest Silver Discoverer is perfect for cruisers looking for their next big adventure.

–       Launched 1989, refurbished 2014

–        Crew: 72 – Filipino

–        Passengers: 128

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: European

 Silver Explorer

The Silver Explorer expedition ship has been designed to navigate through some of the world’s most remote destinations.

–       Launched 1989, refurbished 2017

–        Crew: 118 – Filipino

–        Passengers: 144

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: International

 Silver Galapagos

Discover the best of the Galapagos onboard the Silver Galapagos! The smallest ship in the fleet with just 100 guests.

–       Launched 1990, refurbished 2014

–        Crew: 75 – Ecuadorian

–        Passengers: 100

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: Ecuadorian

Silver Wind

Silver Wind offers you a “home away from home”, including dining and suites with ocean views all day long.

–       Launched 1995, refurbished 2016

–        Crew: 222 – European, Filipino

–        Passengers: 296

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: European

Silver Shadow

–       Launched 2000, refurbished 2017

–        Crew: 302 – Asian, European

–        Passengers: 382

–        Registry: Bahamas

–       Officers: European

Silver Whisper

Sister ship to the Silver Shadow.

–       Launched 2001, refurbished 2010

–        Crew: 302 – Asian, European

–        Passengers: 382

–        Registry: Bahamas

–      Officers: European

Silver Spirit

–       Launched 2009, refurbished 2018

–        Crew: 412 – International

–        Passengers: 608

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: European

Silver Muse

–       Launched 2017

–        Crew: 408 – International

–        Passengers: 596

–        Registry: Bahamas

–      Officers: European

Silver Moon

Silver Moon will join the Silversea fleet in 2020.

–        Launched 2020

–        Crew: 411

–        Passengers: 596

–        Registry: Bahamas

–        Officers: European

Silver Dawn

Silversea Cruises has ordered the Silver Dawn, a 596-passenger Muse-class ship, for delivery in late 2021.

Silver Origin

The expedition ship, to be called Silver Origin, will serve the Galapagos Islands, starting in March 2022. Silversea has signed a memorandum of understanding for the two “Evolution-class” ships with shipbuilder Meyer Werft, with the first expected for delivery in 2022.

OFFICER AND CREW PROFILE

Silver Cloud

–       Crew: 223 – Asian, European

–        Officers: European

Silver Discoverer

–       Crew: 72 – Filipino

–        Officers: European

Silver Explorer

–       Crew: 118 – Filipino

–        Officers: International

Silver Galapagos

–       Crew: 75 – Ecuadorian

–        Officers: Ecuadorian

Silver Wind

–       Crew: 222 – European, Filipino

–        Officers: European

Silver Shadow

–       Crew: 302 – Asian, European

–        Officers: European

Silver Whisper

–       Crew: 302 – Asian, European

–        Officers: European

Silver Spirit

–       Crew: 412 – International

–        Officers: European

Silver Muse

–       Crew: 408 – International

–        Officers: European

 

HOW COMFORTABLY WILL YOU SLEEP?

Accommodations aboard both the luxury and expedition ships are spacious and elegant, with a range of suites with panoramic windows or walkout balconies. Entry-level suites on the luxury ships start at 287 square feet (expedition accommodations are more snug) while the most high-end accommodations span 1,389 square feet. Every suite, from the least expensive to the top Owner’s Suites, receive attention from a personal butler. Expect high-end touches like Pratesi linens and amenities such as a choice of soap, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner from Ferragamo, Bvlgari or SebaMed.

A fully stocked mini-bar, personalized beverage selection and extensive pillow menu are just a few perks of Silversea’s ultra-spacious suites.

Where Silver Muse comes up short is its spa, which feels cramped and lacks the luxury you will find in other spots on the ship.

With its 2018 renovation, Silver Spirit flaunts a modern Italian design with Art Deco accents, feeling more like a high-priced boutique Milano hotel than a staid cruise ship. Cream and beige rule the color scheme, and hints of red and blue pop beautifully against the neutral palate. Textural furnishings emphasize velvety and tweed fabrics and buttery leather. New, brighter lighting (particularly in suites) lends a cheeriness throughout the ship — even on the rare gloomy day.

The Galapagos underwent a partial refurbishment in 2013, and then a major redo in 2014, resulting in upgraded accommodations and public areas better suited for its new luxury owners. It now provides all-suite accommodations, with butlers for all passengers. Suites were completely remodeled, with new beige- and blue-accented furnishings, carpeting, bedding, flat-screen televisions and marble-accented baths. A fitness center, massage room, beauty salon, outdoor Jacuzzi and the alfresco Grill restaurant were added. The Explorer Lounge was totally refurbished with plush seating, and corridors were brightened and decorated with Galapagos wildlife photos.

Silver Wind boasts some fantastic “hidden” suites, thanks to her 2008 refit. Of special note, Suite 738 is classified as a Vista Suite, but is located high up on Deck 7, just forward of the aft elevator lobby. At 325 square feet, it’s also substantially larger than those on Deck 4. Medallion Suite 741 is located just across the hall, and is the second stateroom to watch if you like a great location. Although this room lacks the balcony that those on Deck 8 offer, it is larger at 667 square feet, with oversized picture windows providing plenty of light into the separate living, dining and sleeping areas. The bathroom is also bigger than most of the top-level suites.

 

STATEROOMS TO AVOID

Varies by ship. We are pleased to provide stateroom recommendations and analysis. For the Muse: Avoid 662-664 and 632-635 given proximity to public space and noisy areas, Staterooms 736-739, and 834-835 based on location next to both stairway and launderette. Most of Silversea’s top suites are located in the most forward part of the ship. Seek out mid-ship Owner’s Suites, the first suites to sell on most Silversea voyages.

DINING VENUES RATED

Silver Cloud – The Grill, The Restaurant, La Terrazza and la Dame

Silver DiscovererThe Grill, The Restaurant

Silver Explorer – The Grill, The Restaurant

Silver Galapagos – The Grill, The Restaurant

Silver Wind – The Grill, The Restaurant, La Terrazza and la Dame

Silver Shadow – The Grill, The Restaurant, La Terrazza and la Dame

Silver Whisper – The Grill, The Restaurant, La Terrazza and la Dame

Silver Spirit – The Grill, La Terrazza, la Dame, Spaccanapoli ,  Atlantide , Seishin, Indochine, Silver Note

Silver Muse – The Grill, La Terrazza, la Dame, Spaccanapoli , Atlantide , Indochine, Silver Note, Kaiseki

Spaccanapoli –                      Named after the iconic street in Naples, this Italian restaurant specializes in perfectly authentic pizza.

AtlantideRated A-             This elegant bar and grill prepares grilled to order steaks and the catch of the day in elegant presentations, including red snapper in a sea salt crust and succulent lobster.

The Grill Rated A-               Reservations required. Enjoy a truly unique dining experience at The Grill, featuring lava stone heated to 400 degrees. You can cook your own food at the table on top of the grill stone to enjoy the health and flavor benefits of lava stone cooking.

Indochine Rated B            – Sample the flavors of Asia in this fusion menu, taking you on a culinary journey from India to Vietnam.

La Dame Rated A              –  Reservations required and $60 per person fee. With a bespoke menu crafted by the chefs from Relais & Châteaux®, you can expect amazing French cuisine and white gloved service.

Seishin Rated A-                   Dine on fresh sushi and sashimi at lunchtime or Kobe beef at dinner at this elegant Asian restaurant focusing on the cuisine of Japan.

Silver Note –                               A sumptuous, intimate setting with a lively, joie de vivre ambiance is the perfect place to dine, dance and dream the night away… Small plate tapas-style dishes of mouth-watering international cuisine perfectly compliment the rich, exciting entertainment as the smooth sounds of jazz and blues gently caress your ears.  A refined late evening menu perfectly showcases the panache and style of Silver Spirit’s plentiful dining options. 

La Terrazza Rated A-          Reservations required. Offering the very best of Italian cuisine, La Terrazza’s freshly made authentic a la carte dishes are complimented by a wide range of complimentray wines, even in the most remote of destinations! Using only the best seasonal produce, La Terrazza offers buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch with indoor or al fresco seating and is transformed into an intimate Italian restaurant for dinner.

The Restaurant Rated A-   Sparkling with tales of adventure, bonhomie and like-minded friends, The Restaurant offers contemporary, international cuisine created talented chefs. Menus feature regional specialties unique to the destinations guests visit on their cruise, so don’t be surprised to see a roasted Chilean Sea Bass while cruising the Chilean fjords. During days at sea, choose something from La Collection du Monde, a series of signature dishes created exclusively for Silversea cruises by the Grands Chefs Relais & Châteaux.

Kaiseki –  Rated A –               Reservations required and $60 per person charge for dinner.  Try this one at lunch and there is no reservation needed and no charge – the only difference is no warm saki is served. The fine art of Kaiseki lies in its meticulous preparation and beautiful presentation. Dishes reflect a passion for tradition and performance and our reinterpretation of these values is clear. Balanced menus have been inspired by the five elements of Japanese nutritional cuisine and respect the equilibrium of yin and yang.

Silversea cruises are all-inclusive, so there’s no need to purchase a separate drinks package. You’ll have full access to carefully selected wines and premium spirits throughout your stay, along with specialty coffees, bottled water, juices and soft drinks. These are complimentary in all bars and lounges as well as at mealtimes.

ON-BOARD DRESS AND SOPHISTICATION LEVEL

The atmosphere aboard a Silversea ship is refined and elegant.

There are sophisticated entertainment options on offer each evening with most ships including cinemas, show lounges, piano bars, and libraries. Plus, Silversea’s Enrichment Programis another prime source of entertainment, filling your days and nights with unique lectures from world experts.

The dress code matches Silversea’s luxury aesthetic. Casualwear is acceptable during daytime activities, including typical resort attire. Ladies should take note that flat or low-heeled shoes are required for all deck activities

Casual evenings call for a smart casual dress code, including open-neck shirts and slacks for gentlemen and blouses, skirts, trousers and casual dresses for ladies. Informal evenings are slightly smarter with the addition of a jacket. On formal nights, guests are expected to dress to the nines with evening gowns and tuxedos or cocktail dresses, dinner jackets and dark suits.

It is possible to avoid formal nights, however, if dressing up is not for you.  On formal nights, guests may dine in La Terrazza and choose to dress informally; dresses or pantsuits for ladies, jackets for gentlemen (tie optional). This option also applies to Seishin and Stars on board Silver Spirit.  In addition, dining at The Grill is optional casual all nights. Following dinner, all guests are free to take advantage of any or all public spaces, however, jacket is required. Sailings of 9 days or less typically feature 1 formal night, while longer voyages usually have 2-3 formal nights.

Silversea passengers are affluent. Many passengers are retirees — former doctors, lawyers, CEOs, and accountants — with the leisure and the resources to make Silversea their cruise line of choice. You might encounter a slightly younger crowd on some expedition voyages as well as Silver Muse and Silver Spirit, the line’s largest luxury ships in the fleet. Shorter voyages also tend to draw younger passengers. In terms of nationality, usually, about 50 percent are from North America, with the other half coming from all over the world (predominantly the U.K., Europe, and Australia).

SOPHISTICATION SCORE BASED ON GUEST PROFILES, VENUE REQUIREMENTS, AND GENERAL ON-BOARD EVENING ATMOSPHERE

10      on a 10 Pt. Scale

ABOUT ACCOMMODATIONS

Each suite is furnished with a bed that can convert from twin to queen; beds are king-sized in big suites, beginning with Silver Suites on up. The luxe beds are made with silky Pratesi linens and duvets. Suitcases fit easily under all beds. Choose from nine pillow selections, including firm, down-alternative, body pillow, and buckwheat. (Standard pillows are 25 to 30 percent down and 70 to 75 percent feather.)

FIVE THINGS ABOUT SILVERSEA WE REALLY LIKE

Expeditions are seamlessly orchestrated. Mornings and afternoons are activity oriented, while evenings bring cocktails and briefings. Active travelers snorkel, hike, kayak and take Zodiac and land tours.

  • Crew members on all ships in the fleet receive the same training and are held to the same rigorous standards.
  • Silversea is a true 5-star experience with every detail carefully thought out.
  • The Concierge Desk frequently arranges in-port experiences that go far beyond the norm.
  • Silversea has the highest percentage of other nationalities (Non-American) of its competitors. The cruise experience is more international.

THREE THINGS ABOUT SILVERSEA WE THINK NEED TO BE IMPROVED

  • Food options could be more varied on some ships.
  • Informal and Formal Dress Nights where men are required to wear a sports jacket and suit or tuxedo respectively, are seen by many as throwbacks to the early days of cruising.
  • Pre and Post Hotel stays and Free Business Air Programs lack any consistency and only seem to apply to sailings where Silversea anticipates it might have challenges filling a ship.

 COMMENTS FROM OUR CSI INSPECTION TEAM REPORTS:

  • “We had dinner the first night with a lovely couple. My husband and I thought he owned a sailboat but by the time dessert arrived we had figured out that he owned a fleet of tankers. That, I suppose, is Silversea
  • “Having sailed on each of the top three lines, we have decided that Silversea is best at providing an atmosphere of total luxury with a Concierge staff that really is willing to personalize the cruise experience ashore. We were able to set up a personalized itinerary with a private driver in Monte Carlo on no more then one days notice.”
  • “The two formal nights on a seven-night sailing out of Istanbul struck us as just about right. We don’t know why this line is always portrayed as sailing with a bunch of primping penguins.”
  • “What none of the travel books on cruising tells you is that Silversea actually creates its own shore excursions, operates them with smaller groups, and stays away from mass market sightseeing. That alone, is worth the price of admission, along with all of the other things we love about the line.”
  • “We like the larger ships in the fleet, the Silver Shadow and the Whisper, carrying 388 guests. This seems to us the perfect size. We wonder about the relationship Silverseas with Relais and Chateaux. It would be easier to understand the approach to food if we could be in the hands of a great celebrity chef. My husband loved The Humidor with its great sofas, good wines, and “enticing” selection of cigars. He met more people sitting in there then I met in the Spa.”“Just got off the Wind after its $20 million dollar refurbishment. I thought it was a beautiful ship before – now its really nice. The cabins are all new and we love the new Observation Lounge. This has to be the best cruise line on earth.”
  • There are now two hamburger choices on the dining room dinner menu every day.  Nobody sails Silversea and pays their prices to have a hamburger at dinner in the dining room.  Others commented on this as well. The dining room lunch menu only changes every three or four days.  It used to change every day. They used to offer petit fours and sorbet at dinner each evening.  Not once on this cruise.
  • We have always, at least for last ten years, been invited to a dinner with one of the ship’s officers.  Not this time.  Another couple we met, long time Silversea guests and also in a Silver Suite, had the same observation.  We don’t need special pampering, but it was a nice gesture, a way to recognize some of their better customers, and made for an interesting, enjoyable dinner.
  • On every previous Silversea cruise, there was a captain’s farewell, the highlight of which was that the entire crew would parade around the theater or deck, depending on where it was held, guests applauding to recognize the crew, and we always thought it was a nice touch.  They would also usually, as part of this, show pictures of various passengers taken during the cruise, which was kind of fun.  No such farewell on this cruise.
  • We found that the stretch of the “Spirit” was a great success. So has been the addition of small, new dining venues. Silversea ships are, for most of its guests, the perfect size.
  • We tested the Concierge team with some uniquely challenging requests – all of which were met with a smile. This is perfect for guests who like to make some shore excursion decisions after they have boarded the ship. The Front Desk staff at Silversea seems to be better-trained on Guest Relations than any of their competitors.

 CRUISETRUTH CERTIFIED CSI INSPECTION REPORT:      The Silver Muse Montreal to Ft. Lauderdale

  • The newest addition to the Silver Sea fleet is sleek and modern.  It’s muted color palette features brown, tan, soft blues and cream. Rich fabrics and refined marble are used in the suites and throughout the restaurants, public spaces, and lounges. The Silver Muse is beautiful in it’s luxury and simplicity. 
  • The overall layout of the ship is similar to its sister ships.  The pool area has been enlarged, with the casual seating area expanded.  While the cool weather on over half our cruise restricted the use of the pool area, when the warm breezes blew in as we reached Norfolk, the pool was a great place for relaxing or enjoying a casual meal.  There is additional outdoor space on other decks where it’s easy to find a quiet spot to tuck yourself away to enjoy a good book or an afternoon nap.
  • For this cruise we booked a Silver Suite, and it was wonderful…a serene, elegant space that offered every amenity we desired…expanded space in the bathroom with bigger shower, comfortable seating area, roomy closet and dressing table plus expansive HD TVs.  Whenever possible we were out on the veranda enjoying the sunny days or watching a missle launch from Cape Canaveral…an unexpected treat the last day of the cruise.
  • Dolce Vita, the bar/lounge area with the reception and tour desks, is massive.  Not sure how space could be used more effectively but there is so much seating it almost seems cavernous.  The highest occupancy is each afternoon for trivia, and even then less than half the seating is used.  Not that many guests convene here as a gathering spot before dinner as it’s just not conducive to meeting people.
  • The Spa/Gym area has been upgraded with treatment rooms that have floor-to-ceiling windows and a dedicated outdoor whirlpool.  The workout area has more space for equipment than other Silversea ships, and is a very pleasant environment for those who want to exercise.
  • A new, very popular addition is Arts Café. The café offers early-morning to late evening beverages and finger food.  It’s the only place to get a cup of coffee or tea in the early morning, and it serves as the spot for afternoon tea. There is no High Tea service on the Silver Muse like on other Silversea ships. In the early evening, the venue is another lively cocktail lounge.  In fact, the café is so popular it’s often difficult to get seating.
  • Turning to dining, there are eight restaurant options on Silver Muse.  A very ambitious concept of requiring dinner reservations in all restaurants, a different dress code for each, and the same menu every night has created quite a stir among cruisers.  Even though you could book reservations online months before the cruise, it was still impossible to get a guaranteed reservation in several venues, especially the small gourmet La Dame or the Silver Note super club.  Therefore, one of the pluses on other Silversea ships, being able to meet other cruisers in the bar before dinner and then agree to dine together, was effectively eliminated, because of the difficulty of changing dinner reservations at the last minute.  Silver Sea has received so much negative feedback from this reservation system that on the cruise following ours and going forward, they are converting Atlantide and Indochine to open seating. 
  • The food in all the restaurants was very good, even better in Atlantide than in the main dining room of the other ships.  The food presentation was very creative and the tableware exceptional. The only issue we heard of (and experienced) was the heavy use of spices in Indochine and often on the pasta station at lunch in La Terrazza  The Grill and La Terrazza continued to be our dinner favorites.  The Grill menu offerings have been increased and many evenings seating was at capacity because it is so popular and the dress is casual.
  • Service overall was excellent.  Our butler was probably the best we’ve ever had.  He never made any notes of our requests, yet delivered flawlessly.  We had expected to see more crew that we knew from other ships but only several waiters were familiar.  The only challenge we faced was breakfast/lunch service at La Terrezza, when colder weather kept everyone inside.  The waiters seemed to be scrambling to clear and reset tables rather than attending to the requests of seated guests.  We found lunch at Atlantide a more relaxing option, and the menu changed daily.
  • As veteran cruisers, we know that reviews can be influenced by the weather and port experiences.  And with all the hurricane activity along the East Coast this year, we did not know what to expect.  How fortunate we were to hit a period when the seas were almost flat and any rain came overnight.
  • Our most memorable excursions included visits to the JF Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, our adventurous walk on the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail, to the Chelsea Market in New York City, and a tour of the Kennedy Space Center.
  • This is, by all measures, a truly five-star experience. Under its new leadership, Silversea is clearly committed to listening to its guests and to maintaining its top-tier status in the industry. The Muse was “a hit” on a great many levels.

THE BOTTOM LINE IN A SENTENCE

Silversea is the most sophisticated option for upscale American cruisers seeking high measures of European-style service and an international clientele that appreciates the line’s more discreet and elegant approach.

 

# 6 – REGENT SEVEN SEAS

THE BIG PICTURE OVERVIEW:

If our rankings were based solely on what is included in your luxury cruise Regent would rank # 1 in the world. No other line offers Regent’s combination of complimentary shore excursions in every port and included Business Class Air from major gateways throughout the United States. Regent is the perfect blending of casual sophistication, lots of options, and the largest cabins in its class.

Allow us to pause for just a moment and consider what separates Regent from its competitors:

  • Regent Is the most inclusive 5-star cruise line with amenities that include about 50% of all shore excursions included in your fare along with Free Business Class Airfare.
  • Regent has the largest standard staterooms afloat. The majority of their ships start at 300 sq. ft. with a balcony and a stocked refrigerator – that is the lowest tier stateroom on the Voyager and the Mariner. 
  • Regent is the most casual of the true five-star lux lines. There are no formal nights for any sailing of fewer than 16 nights.

So why doesn’t Regent rank # 1 in the ratings? The ships are less personal than their competitors. The staff makes little effort to address guests by name. Breakfast and luncheon buffets are not the best in class. But, for many guests, the list of inclusions and the casual nature of the sailing experience, together with two truly spectacular new ships, the Explorer and the Splendor, will combine to make Regent the best possible option for those seeking quality, if not top-tier luxury, in a more casual shipboard atmosphere. Our review team has emphasized that, while not leading in several specific areas of service, the overall value combined with casual style and industry-leading inclusions, makes Regent an easy first choice option for consumers. 

The 700 Guest Mariner and Voyager have hit the sweet spot of available space and amenities to match. The Navigator, at 490 guests, is ideal for those seeking a more intimate experience. The Regent Explorer is considered the most exciting new vessel in the luxury market by a wide swath of industry observers. The Splendor, identified as “The Most Expensive Cruise Ship Ever Constructed” is highly anticipated.

Regent now includes a complimentary luxury pre-cruise hotel stay before each cruise for guests booked in a Concierge Suite or higher. Guests have the option of taking an onboard credit if they choose to pass on the hotel night. Regent also includes so-called “two-for-one inclusive pricing”, free Business Class air, included shore excursions, drinks, and gratuities. This makes Regent the current leader in terms of inclusions but consumers are always advised to utilize our recommended costing formula to evaluate true value versus marketing hype.

Drinks are included, along with wines. Gratuities are not expected and all of the ships linens have been upgraded. Regent may offer the perfect blend of “not too much formality”, “ships large enough to offer amenities yet small enough to be called intimate”, and dining choices that create pre-meal excitement.

The line’s Mariner and Voyager offer the industry’s perfect blend of size (700 guests) and amenities, all-balcony cabins of 300 sq. ft.+. These are hands down, the most comfortable and spacious lower-category categories in the luxury market.

When considering Regent for families, it is important to note that the Mariner does not have connecting rooms.

    • Mariner & Voyager are well equipped with self-service laundrettes. Navigator only has two. If planning to do laundry onboard, bring fabric sheets, no fabric softner provided. All laundry services are at no cost to guests. Navigator ‘s two lowest categories (G&H) are window suites. Ocean view window -6.5 feet wide does not open. Cabins that end in the number ’7″ are for triple occupancy. Regent is a member of the “Guild of English Butlers” a company created for the recruitment & training of butlers around the world. The ship’s butlers (for categories B & higher) provide everything from in-suite bar set up, afternoon canapés, packing, unpacking, laundry pressing (for a fee) or any special requests.
    • Internet use is one of the few services for which there is an additional charge. Passengers can, for a $6.50 daily charge have a copy of their favorite newspaper transmitted electronically delivered to their cabin.
    • Regent is one of the few luxury cruise lines that genuinely welcomes children & offers a dedicated children’s program during kids school breaks in summer months.
    • All drinks are included, and guest can request from their steward bottles of wine or liquor(Grey Goose) etc.. to their cabin. The only time there is a charge for liquor is if they request a high end scotch, or an expensive wine/champagne.
    • Room service is 24 hours & many guests enjoy memorable dinners in-suite on their balcony.

We think it is important to point out that several industry evaluation sources place either Seabourn, Crystal, or Silverseas above Regent in their rankings. In previous years, we felt that Regent could not be said to outrank these worthy competitors. In our latest ratings, however, we feel that Regent has one-upped it’s Five Star competitors with the industry’s best accommodations, food that is approachable and keeps getting better, and pricing that is, at this time, the most inclusive in the industry. Not one of their competitors is offering the combination of Free Airfare, Gratuities, All Alcoholic Beverages, and Complimentary Shore Excursions. Suite guests receive additional amenities that often include a pre-night hotel and complimentary Business Class air. Regent soars to the head of the pack with its consumer-driven amenities that simply make it a superior value for luxury that is less formal than one typically encounters on a true five-star lux product. 

(Note that the Navigator is a smaller vessel and carries just 490 guests. It is still considered an extremely low-density ship. Given its size, we think that the Navigator should not be booked for longer sailings with potentially rough seas.

One of the policies that separate Regent from its lux competitors, Crystal, Seabourn, and Silversea is its policy of “No Formal Dining Nights on Any Cruise of Less than 16 Nights”. This allows Regent to own the “top tier luxury without the formality” crown.

Finally, Regent is the only five-star line to include both included shore excursions in all ports as well as Included “Business Class Air” on all sailings outside the United States. It is a potent marketing tool and goes a long way toward explaining Regent’s success. It is surprising to us that not one of their competitors can match Regent’s Free Business Class Air Offer.

But let’s break that down a bit. Free Air is not really “Free” when there is a lower price when guest’s take an “Air Credit” and do their own air. On a European cruise, as an example, the current credit for Business Air on Regent will be between $2500 – $2800 per guest. It would be almost impossible for a guest to beat those fares, inclusive of baggage handling, taxes, and transfers, by booking on their own. So read “Free Air” as a great value but it is not really “Free”. Also, be aware that at least half of the shore excursions in a typical port come with a charge. Some shore excursions, mostly basic sightseeing overviews, are included. But do not expect that the better, more active tours will be complimentary.

FLEET FACTS:

Seven Seas Splendor  Brand new ship to launch February 2020.

Launch date: 2/2020 

750 guests      542 International crew         

Seven Seas Explorer

Launched in 2016

750 guests      542 International crew         

Seven Seas Voyager

Launched 2003

Re-launched in 2016

700 guests      447 International crew         

Seven Seas Mariner

Launched 2001

Major overhaul in 2018

700 guests      445 International crew         

Seven Seas Navigator

Launched in 1999

Refurbished in 2016

490 guests      345 International crew         

OFFICER AND CREW PROFILE

Officers on all ships are mostly European, with an International crew.

HOW COMFORTABLY WILL YOU SLEEP?

The crown jewel of the newly launched Seven Seas Explorer is the Regent Suite, lavish and luminous the suite is situated on the very top deck equal in size to a luxurious home. The suite is 4,443 square feet including a 1417 square foot balcony overlooking the bow. The Regent Suite has two spacious bedrooms, 2 ½ marble baths, and 1 full-service in-suite spa. The Regent Suite is possibly the most lavish at sea.  It is decorated with rare artwork, has a genuine horse-hair mattress (worth $90,000) on the master bed and there is an in-cabin spa offering unlimited, private Canyon Ranch spa treatments.

The new Explorer offers its lowest category in the Verandah Suite. Unlike the other three ships in the Regent fleet, where minimum suites start at 300 square feet, on the new Explorer and Splendor entry-level veranda staterooms are much smaller. The Category H is only 219 sq. ft. while the G1 and G2  “deluxe” veranda suites are 253 sq. ft. The Concierge Suite 461-415 square feet. The Master Suite is a two-bedroom suite with 2108 square feet and it includes dinner with a Senior Officer and other amenities.

On all ships, Regent Seven Seas offers spacious, all-suite accommodations with balconies. The Navigator is the only Regent ship to have a category with no balcony. This cabin, the Deluxe Window Suite, is 301 square feet.

When considering Regent for Most Regent cabins have European king size elite slumber beds that can be converted to twins with thick and luxurious European linens and duvet. Guests in the Regent suite are able to request the bed linens of their choice.

The beds on Regent do not generally face the balcony or window but are positioned to face the flat screen television.

families, it is important to note that the Mariner does not have connecting rooms.

STATEROOMS TO AVOID

Guests have reported that cabin 800 is the worst cabin on the Regent Voyager (Cabin 801 starboard side is equally bad). Not only does it have an obstructed view (1/3 obstruction by a huge steel hull) but it is directly under one of the ships main A/C ventilation, exhaust units that is loud and rattles the room.

On all ships, don’t forget the cruise ship engine. While humming noises put some to sleep, the loud buzz of machinery might drive you crazy. Passengers on the lowest deck are most likely to hear engine or even anchor sounds.

 

DINING VENUES RATED:

Compass Rose:  Rated B+    

Main dining room on all ships. Offers a wide variety of options plus the ability to customize your own dishes. We did find examples of obvious portion control.

La Veranda:                              Enjoy elegant breakfast and lunch buffets in this chic outdoor dining room or al fresco on the shaded open-air deck.

Prime 7:       Rated A                   

Reservations required. An intimate steakhouse which elevates classic American fare to a new height.

Sette Mari  Rated A-               

Each night La Veranda transforms into a dinner venue serving authentic Italian specialties. It is part of the ship’s upper deck buffet area by day and nicely transformed in the evening. Guests select from a superb antipasta buffet first followed by sit-down service of remaining courses. This restaurant normally is not “discovered” until mid-cruise but, by then, the “buzz” is quite favorable.

Pool Grill:                                Featuring delectable regional barbeque and gourmet burgers.

Chartreuse: Rated A-       

Reservations required. A modern French menu evoking a chic Parisian dining experience. Available on Seven Seas Splendor, Explorer, Voyager and Mariner.

Pacific Rim:  Rated A             

Reservations required. A sophisticated specialty restaurant serving an array of Pan-Asian dishes. Exclusively on board the Seven Seas Splendor and Explorer.

Room Service: Available 24 hours a day. During dinner hours, order dishes to your exact taste from the Compass Rose menu and they will be served course-by-course.

In  2012, Regent changed the theme of its veranda restaurant to a casual Italian no-reservation required option called Setti Mare. The restaurant is located on all Regent ships and features appetizers and house-made pastas at a buffet or table-side, followed by entrees ordered off the menu. Guests who wish to go ashore in the evening will find Setti Mari to be a satisfying experience without the need to allocate two or three hours for dining. The majority of guests will want to linger, and the casual Italian concept will make that possible with an expansive selection of comfortable yet refined Italian cuisine. Sette Mare has been a major success. Although this is identified as a “No reservations required” venue, tables of four or more should contact the Maitre d in advance.

ON-BOARD DRESS AND SOPHISTICATION LEVEL:

During the day, passengers wear comfortable clothing appropriate to the sailing climate. Poolside, bathing suits and cover-ups (for women) are common, though swimwear is not allowed indoors. Women wear shorts and T-shirts or blouses, capris, jeans, dresses or skirts indoors, while men go with jeans or shorts and T-shirts or polo shirts.

At night, elegant casual is the name of the game. That means skirts or slacks with blouses or sweaters, pant suits or dresses for ladies; slacks and collared shirts for men. Jackets are optional, but they’re fairly common. Jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts, and sneakers aren’t appropriate in any public space after 6 p.m.

Cruises of 16 nights or more will include two optional formal nights, where women might wear evening or cocktail gowns or formal pants suits; men might wear tuxes or suits. Elegant casual dress still is appropriate even on formal nights. Cruises of 15 nights or less don’t feature formal nights.

The final night of the cruise allows passengers to dress more casually, but most stick with elegant casual.

While the age range encompasses couples from the mid-30s to 80s, Regent Seven Seas Cruises primarily attracts professional and retired couples, aged 60-plus, who are affluent and seasoned travelers. The line, which traditionally has marketed to North Americans, also courts travelers from other parts of the world, including the U.K., Spain, Japan, France, Portugal and Brazil.

The itinerary of the ship tends to drive the age and activity levels of individual sailings, so seven-night Mediterranean voyages attract a slightly younger, more active demographic than do lengthier cruises. which are more appealing to the line’s core audience.  More than 50 percent of passengers are Regent repeaters on 14-plus night cruises

SOPHISTICATION SCORE BASED ON GUEST PROFILES, VENUE REQUIREMENTS, AND GENERAL ON-BOARD EVENING ATMOSPHERE:

8    on a 10 Pt. Scale

FIVE THINGS ABOUT REGENT WE REALLY LIKE:

  • Regent is uniquely inclusive: fares cover cruise prices, airfare, pre-cruise hotel stays in some categories, transfers, gratuities, shore excursions and beverages, from liquor to sodas. Value perception is the highest in the five-star category.
  • A high proportion of Regent guests choose the line for its unabashed lack of cruise formality while still offering five-star amenities.
  • Some of the largest standard cabins in its class (Ritz Carlton average staterooms are larger)
  • Free Business Class Air is included on all cruises outside North America.
  • Larger number of excursion choices.

 THREE THINGS ABOUT REGENT WE THINK NEED TO BE IMPROVED

  • Regent is less elegant and sophisticated than some of its competitors. Guests are not generally addressed by name. The Regent experience is not really personalized.
  • The number of excursions that are extra or not included seems to be increasing.
  • It can be difficult to get a reservation prior to the cruise at one of the specialty restaurants at a decent time.

CERTIFIED REGENT SEVEN SEAS CSI REPORT

CSI INSPECTION TEAM MEMBER –  DP  (Frequent Luxury Cruiser – Attorney) – DP

SHIP/DATE/ITINERARY SAILED:

Regent Navigator /July 23/London-Norway-Russia-United Kingdom-Amsterdam

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS OF THIS LINE COMPARED TO OTHERS YOU HAVE SAILED:

This was our third Regent voyage.  We’ve also experienced three Seabourn voyages and two with Crystal.   Regent, overall, is the best in our opinion, a notch above the other competitors mentioned.

WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT STOOD OUT ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE?

The embarkation process was swift and painless.  It took less than 15 minutes and the shore agents were friendly and helpful.Our cabin attendant was delightful.  Friendly, helpful and flawless in her performance.  She said that this was her first time “on her own” and on past voyages she was the #2 attendant for the large suites.  She was clearly excited and honored to be promoted and her performance and attitude showed that.

The size (about 500 guests) was just right for us.   We never felt cramped…or crowded.

WHAT AREAS OF OPERATION NEED IMMEDIATE ATTENTION FROM MANAGEMENT?       

The rumbling noise at times in the showroom was severe, aggravating and distracting, setting off the rattling of glassware and drowning out the words of the speaker.   We understand that this has been a consistent problem with this ship for years and it was not able to be corrected in prior retrofits.  It appears that it just can’t be fixed, which is a shame given that it is a lovely ship.  We learned that the Navigator was not a new build but a converted Russian vessel, built for who knows what.

WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE IMPRESSIONS OF ON-BOARD DINING OPTIONS?

Favorite:  The Sette Mare evening Italian dining option was a nice alternative from the “same ole” of the Compass Rose main dining room.    That said, the Compass Rose is a great dining experience.

Least Favorite:  The severely limited availability of the Prime restaurant.  While the limitation was one reservation for the 20 day voyage, a bit of begging resulted in a second reservation. Wish it could have been more!

WAS THE QUALITY OF THE EXPERIENCE COMMENSURATE WITH THE PRICE YOU PAID? WHY?

Having compared the per diem of what we paid for this all inclusive voyage vs. the per diem of a family trip last year with non-inclusive Celebrity, there was only about a $70 per day per person difference!  Who wouldn’t pay an additional $70 per day for a 5 star inclusive hotel experience vs. a pay as you go Holiday Inn one?

HOW DID THE HANDLING OF SHORE EXCURSIONS MEASURE UP TO OTHER EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD?

Because of weather and the Russian military nuclear accident in the White Sea, the itinerary had to be adjusted to miss two of the Russian ports.  Regent pivoted admirably on the fly, adding three additional Norwegian ports on the homeward leg of the trip, all with interesting and varied excursion choices.     The communication with the passengers was handled well. Regent is very organized in herding the cats to efficiently disembark passengers for excursions.

The quality of the excursions was good to great, with only one “clinker” port  and one really poor tour leader.  We learned that a cruise itinerary has a great deal to do with that.  A year before, on another Regent cruise through the Panama Canal, we found almost all the excursions disappointing, but came to realize that it was not the fault of Regent, but that between the oppressive heat and abject poverty of the various ports, the excursions were not up to par.

DID YOU DETECT ANY COST-CUTTING AREAS OF OPERATION? IF SO – WHERE?

We did not detect any cost cutting areas.

DID STAFF RECOGNIZE YOU BY NAME AND PROVIDE TRULY UNIQUE AND PERSONALIZED SERVICES?  (Please provide specific examples)

YES!  Not only our cabin attendant (expected) but other crew (a captain in the Verandah restaurant and a manager at the pool grill regularly addressed us by name ) .   We found this a positive change from our previous Regent voyages (7 and 18 days) where this didn’t happen.   We had been “spoiled” by being addressed by name by many Seabourn crew, but likely that was more a function of the smaller (200 passenger) “white ships” Seabourn had a few years ago.

HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE THE OFFICER’S AND STAFF INTERACTION WITH GUESTS?

Excellent.  Always friendly.  Had a delightful dinner with the captain and another officer at a small table.  Invariably greeted guests around the ship with a smile and a hello.

WERE THERE ISSUES RELATED TO DRESS EXPECTATIONS THAT YOU FELT NEED TO BE AMENDED?

Perhaps just a bit stronger note in the Regent materials that jackets in Compass Rose in the evening are “suggested, but not required”   Also, re “formal nights,” the Regent materials suggest a dark suit as an alternative to formal wear.  The reality is that many are attired in sport coats, with or without tie, on “formal nights.”  Regent should conform their materials to this reality so that those of us wearing a dark blazer don’t feel like we’re stretching “the rules.”

WAS THE SOPHISTICATION LEVEL OF YOUR FELLOW GUESTS ABOUT WHAT YOU EXPECTED? (Comments)

Yes, although on all of the 4 of 5 star sailings that we’ve experienced, there are “exceptions” which unfortunately stand out like sore thumbs.

FINALLY – WHAT ARE THREE THINGS YOU FEEL ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO COMMUNICATE TO THOSE GUESTS CONTEMPLATING SAILING THIS LINE AND SHIP IN THE FUTURE?

The “G” class staterooms “Deluxe Window Suites” (no balcony but fixed window) are located on decks five and six.  They are identical in configuration and in price EXCEPT for the fact that the rooms on deck six sport windows which at 30% larger.  Regent materials (and booking agents) should note this distinction.  The passenger would have no idea about this until they embarked.   

Regent makes a big thing about completing a cruise evaluation form while on board.  I did and posed a couple of questions, including the subject matter of the paragraph above, and specifically asked for a response from Regent.    Regent says that every evaluation form is read by multiple people at “headquarters,” but I was surprised to not receive any response.

The Regent experience, over all, is excellent, with few exceptions.  The difference between Regent and the so called (self proclaimed) upper tier lines (Celebrity and to some extent Windstar) is significant.

THE BOTTOM LINE IN A SENTENCE

Incredibly designed new ships, excellent food, inclusive shore excursions as well as Business Class Air, all served in an onboard atmosphere that is decidedly less formal than its competitors.

 

# 7  SEA DREAM YACHT CLUB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “world’s best cruise line you’ve never heard of” continues to draw rave reviews from the fewer than 200 guests per week able to sail this lines two 100-passenger ships. Outstanding service and some of the best food afloat, combined with a casual “no ties-no formal anything” is a winning combination for these former Sea Goddess yachts. Excellent one-week itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean. Ideal for laid-back adventurers seeking one-on-one service. There are no balcony cabins and the bathrooms are small but guests can sleep outdoors on a Balinese bed. This is high-end, casual, all-inclusive relaxation for those who would never consider a Vegas-like shipboard atmosphere. In fact, Sea Dream is ideal for those who have never wanted to cruise, The line takes it’s tag line, “the world’s largest yachts” seriously. While several smaller, luxury lines claim they visit off-the-beaten-path ports, Sea Dream really delivers on that promise. The new Adriatic sailings featuring the ports of Croatia and may be Europe’s hottest itineraries. The line’s St. Thomas and British Virgin Islands itineraries are simply better than those offered by 750-1200 guest competitors. No one does the Greek Islands and Turkey better. If Jimmy Buffet ever decides to purchase a cruise line – this is the one he will want.

This is a cruise line with only 50 cabins. There are those who speculate whether or not it can survive in an environment where size dictates purchasing savings. But unlike its competitors in the five-star luxury market, Sea Dream has never had to build anything. They purchased the former Sea Goddess Yachts and never expanded. That has placed them in a situation where the long-term debt that hangs over so many lines is not an issue at Sea Dream.

In March of 2019, SeaDream announced “a new era in luxury yachting”. For the first time since its founding in 2001, SeaDream is expanding its fleet with SeaDream Innovation, a new, revolutionary yacht, which will introduce the concept of “Global Yachting.” Commencing sailing in September 2021, the ultra-luxury yacht will sail to all seven continents in its first year, visiting over 200 ports in 49 countries. Guests will explore the world’s most remote and unique destinations, including Svalbard, the Northwest Passage, Antarctica, the fjords of Norway, Japan, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.   

With only 110 elegantly appointed, ocean-view suites, SeaDream Innovation will offer an intimate setting and all-inclusive vacation with a one-to-one guest to crew ratio. Combining innovation with elegant comfort, all spaces and facilities have been designed to elevate the guest experience at sea, including three marinas and outdoor dining.   

“We were drawn to Damen Shipyards for their excellent reputation and proven track record as innovators in the shipbuilding industry,” said Atle Brynestad, Owner, Chairman and CEO of SeaDream. “Damen Shipyards understood our vision from the very beginning. Both Damen and SeaDream are family-owned businesses, making Damen a perfect long-term partner for this visionary project. We are looking forward to working closely with the Damen team to bring this dream to reality.” 

At 15,600 gross tons and measuring 155m, the mega-yacht will follow in the tradition of excellence set by its predecessors. SeaDream will offer a true yachting lifestyle, featuring anticipatory service, 5-star dining, luxury accommodations, generous outdoor spaces and inspiring itineraries.   

Sea Dream is one of the only cruise lines to embrace transparent pricing policies. Discounted rates are clearly listed on the line’s web site, www.seadreamyachtclub.com Category 2 cabins on the lowest deck feature portholes. Category 2 “Guarantees” are the lowest prices you will find on Sea Dream.

Sea Dream is an excellent choice, often the best choice, for Greek Island, Croatia, and BritishVirgin Island itineraries. The ship’s size permits visits to smaller ports that are never included on large-ship itineraries.

  • “Entertainment? I didn’t see any. But folks were actually having conversations and the lounge did have its late-night fans.
  • “I experienced the finest entertainment on Sea Dream I have ever witnessed at sea – and I’ve been on fifteen or so cruises. They showed a Tina Turner Concert film on the large-screen TV in the lounge one night. I loved it. We never missed the jugglers or the “Salute to Broadway”
  • “When we pulled up top the ship in St. Thomas, I thought it looked like a miniature cruise ship with a lot of years behind her. When I got off in St. Thomas, one week later, I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t wait to go back.”
  • “Liked the idea of the water toys and the chance to use a Segway. But I thought the rental fee was a bit much. The evening cocktail party was always a highlight. Loved dining under the stars twice during our cruise. We loved the privacy of breakfast on the back of the ship. The Chef’s French toast made us decide to do another Sea Dream cruise on our second morning out.
  • “We just loved the afternoon announcement from the bridge that “due to the lovely weather forecast” we would move the dining room upstairs for dinner under the stars. Try that on one of those floating shopping centers.”
  • “The cruisetruth.com review is accurate, but don’t be put off by their notion that the cabins are small. They are 195 Sq. feet, a bit larger than the standard cabins on many of the largest ships. My wife and I always get a category three that places you in the middle of the ship, with access to everything. If you go down to the category two you will have a porthole.  Be aware that Sea Dream’s very best pricing offers are always a “guarantee” in a Category 2 level cabin.”
  • “We followed your advice and had them make up a Balinese bed for us on Sea Dream 1 while sailing from Jost Van Dyke. It brought back all the joy of my first sleepaway when my Dad set up a tent for my sister and I under the stars. Everyone on every Sea Dream sailing should sleep on the open deck just once.,”
  •  “It was the first day of the cruise and I was lying on one of the large “Balinese” chaise lounges on the upper deck. I had just opened the first page of the new Grisholm novel when a passing waiter stopped, excused himself and mentioned that he had noticed “a spot on your sunglasses.” He promptly offered to clean my glasses, producing a small spray bottle. He finished, apologized for interrupting me and asked if he could deliver two drinks so I wouldn’t need to be disturbed for a while. That’s Sea Dream”
  • “The size of the bathrooms is the thing. If you can get your wife to live with the cramped bathroom you will never cruise  on another line.”

 

 

 

# 7 – PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES

Paul Gauguin ship with branding

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paul Gauguin entered service in 1998 after construction in France. The ship was expressly built for operations in the South Pacific. This has meant a shallow draft that can cause a bit of motion when the ship is navigating the longer stretches between the Society Islands. With a crew of 215 serving 332 guests, the Gauguin has been satisfying demanding travelers in these lovely South Pacific waters for more than a decade. The ship was, for many years, operated by Regent Seven Seas and the crew had little difficulty meeting Regent’s high service standards. gallery_CG_L_Bora_pier_5715

Some crew, kitchen staff, and the  Captain are French and the food is of excellent quality, often matching and surpassing lines a bit higher in our ratings. Dress is casual, gratuities, soft drinks, and water are included in the fare. The Gauguin normally offers enticing air pricing out of Los Angeles with air add-ons from major gateways. Papeete is about an eight and a half hour flight from LA. Air/Sea programs normally utilize the respected Air Tahiti Nui but those on a pre/post cruise schedule in Papette, Bora Bora, or Moorea, may find themselves flying Air France or Air New Zealand. Guests from many regions in the country are accommodated overnight in Los Angeles as part of the air package.

  • The return flight sort of ruined our state of relaxation. The airport in Papeete is not air-conditioned and it is small. We had to wait when our Air Tahiti Nui flight departure was delayed one and a half hours. Coach seating seemed unusually tight and the flight was, of course, full. After all of that, we had to clear customs in Los Angeles and then transfer over to United for the flight to Chicago. The Gauguin is wonderful and we were relaxed back at the airport totally relaxed after only a seven-night cruise. But next time, we will fly Business Class and overnight on the return in LA. That would make for a perfect vacation.”
    • We’ve just completed our second sailing on the Gauguin, and, if anything, it’s gotten better. The society islands are truly beautiful and there is much to be learned from the casual lifestyle of the islanders. We rented a car on Bora Bora but we were surprised to find a pack of wild dogs growling at us as we completed a curve in the road. One tried to get at me on the driver’s side. Now that’s something they don’t put in the tourist brochures. But  that was just a little thing.  We still urge you to rent a car on both Moorea and Bora Bora instead of taking tours. Don;t pack any formalwear – this cruise is casually elegant and dress on the ship will remind you of a nice hotel in Hawaii.  We loved the Gauguin girls and their smiling greeting as we returned to the ship each afternoon. We’re not planning our third cruise with Gauguin, this time to the Marquesa Islands”
  • “Be warned. The Business Class seats on Air Tahiti-Nui flights from LA are not lie-flats. They are angled and few of us slept. This is important since you do night flights in both directions.”

# 08 – PONANT CRUISES

Le Ponant Le Boreal AX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Ponant is a financially successful, French-owned, small luxury expedition niche player with four ships. It provides casual, European-style yacht experiences that are not as well known to the US public as, perhaps, they ought to be. The company had maintained a small office in Miami and was primarily known for its namesake vessel, the 64-passenger sailing yacht Le Ponant. But now, the company has three additional ships, each costing $100 million at 10,000 GRT and 30-35 crew. Le Boreal, Le Soleal, and L’Austral were built in Italy’s high-design Fincantieri yard. They are among the most beautiful small ships in the industry.

Most Americans have experienced Ponant’s vessels through other companies that lease them for cruise-inclusive tour programs. These include Abercrombie & Kent and Tauck Tours.

The cabins on the three sister yachts are generally smallish, at 200 sq. feet. There are prestige suites that are larger providing 300 sq. feet, but there are only three of them.

The yachts of Ponant go to some extraordinary places and the line’s executives have told us that there will be far more expeditions rather than cruises in the future. The ships have ice-breaking hulls and each carries 12 zodiac soft landing craft.

Ponant is an inclusive product with wines served at lunch and dinner, all drinks, bottled waters, and zodiac excursions included. Many guests are able to hold on to their wallets with the exception of spa visits, for the entire voyage.Le Ponant Le Soleil Lobby A

The main restaurant is casually elegant and the entire design of these yachts is in keeping with those who appreciate a Euro-modern aesthetic. There are actually French chefs in the kitchen, a net plus virtually anywhere in the world. Proper escargot in Antarctica is appreciated as are the often masterful desserts. Some guests, however, feel the dining room entrees are a bit tame for the crowd. The indoor/outdoor grill gets good grades but some are disappointed by the lack of an actual built-in grilling station.

The theater is adequate and holds just over 200 guests. Entertainment on most cruises is dance-hall variety and only the most polite guests seem to sit through very many of the shows. On designated “Expedition” cruises the entertainment showroom is turned into a lecture hall and this seems to go over quite well with passengers.

Crew is predominantly French with some English-speaking officers and a helpful continent of Asian deck staff. Ponant markets worldwide and there has been, in the past, a predominantly French tone to the festivities with the exception of those sailings leased out to US companies. But Ponant seems to be committed to the US market, a fact buttressed by the recent opening of their Manhattan office.

Negatives would have to include the unwillingness of the French-speaking guests to relate well to the Americans on-board. Sailing Ponant on one of their “open to all” sailings is very much like a short visit to France with all of the pluses and a few of the minuses. The size of the bathrooms in the standard cabins is a bit disappointing. Most love the ship’s ultra-modern design and the manner in which they make a statement on arrival in port.

“We loved the Antarctica program through A&K on Le Boreal. We loved the fact that they only take 199 guests and we could come home to our yacht after each exploration in the company of excellent lecturers and some unbelievable food. We tell everyone we meet about this experience.”

“You feel somehow chic when you board. I loved the big smile on my wife’s face as we first boarded, welcomed aboard by a shining crew in sparkling whites. Yes, the cabin was smaller than anticipated but it was so well laid out and contemporary that we actually didn’t mind. We got to practice our college French and once or twice, what we were trying to say was actually acknowledged. But we never encountered any rudeness of any kind.”

“Just returned from our best Tauck experience ever aboard Le Ponant on the 11-Day Treasures of the Mediterranean program. Now we’re going back on this lovely small ship for their Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, Rome program. Combining this luxurious yacht, fully chartered by Tauck, with the on-board Tauck guides, was really the best of all words. Our agent had told us that this is the fastest-selling program Tauck offers anywhere in the world, and we believe him.”

“Our cruise went well but we wish we had known about the lack of a jogging track or a circular deck walking area on Le Soleal. Ten days was too long to give up my morning walk.”

# 09 – OCEANIA CRUISES

Oceania Cruises small ship with corp logo B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oceania did nothing but invent a totally new, and as yet unnamed, cruise category. It provides upper-end four-star non-inclusive cruising at a level that is significantly better than so-called “Premium” lines like Princess, Holland America, and Celebrity. Drinks, gratuities, and shore excursions are not included. The line was launched with three  former Renaissance Cruises ships purchased at auction and there were those in the industry who wondered how anyone could make money with ships in the 640 Guest range at a price point that sits between the Premium lines and the inclusive five=star ships of Seabourn, Silverseas, Sea Dream, and Regent Seven Seas. When Frank Del Rio, the former CEO at Renaissance was named Chairman of the new line the doubters wondered if the lessons of the Renaissance bankruptcy would be learned. (Renaissance did not work with travel agents)

Del Rio and his original partner at the new line, former Crystal Cruises President Joe Watters, designed a cruise line based on triangular principles that included “More time in Port with sea days only when necessary”, a “country-club casual” on board atmosphere devoid of formal or dress up nights, and “the best food at sea.” In an article about the new line we wondered if Oceania was being a bit brash in bragging that it had “the best food at sea” since it had not yet launched its first ship.

Like so many of its other promises to past Renaissance guests and those who have sailed ships in the Premium category, Oceania has delivered. In fact, Oceania owns it’s niche. The line has been so successful in its design of an “Upper Premium” product, that Royal Caribbean decided to purchase two identical Renaissance ships to compete with the upstart. They named their product in the Upper Premium category Azamara.

In 2007, attracted by high yields and the plans for a newbuild program that would quickly double the line’s capacity, Oceania was purchased by the Apollo Management Group. Apollo clearly feels that the cruise industry has legs. It also bought Regent Seven Seas.

Today, Del Rio is the Chairman of Norwegian Cruise Lines, the corporate entity that now owns mass market line NCL, Regent and Oceania.

In 2011/12 Oceania launched two new ships, the 68,000 ton Marina, followed by the Riviera, each with a capacity of 1,250 guests. The ships have good pedigree. They were built by the Italian yard Fincantieri with interior designs by the highly regarded ship designers Yran & Storbraaten, the same architects who designed Disney’s ships, several Silverseas ships, as well as the Regent Seven Seas vessels.

The feeling in the industry is that Oceania really got it right with these new ships. Anyone considering a cruise on Oceania should make note of the following:

    • The claim that Oceania “Has the Best Cuisine at Sea” is only a slight exaggeration. The fact is that Oceania can, in any one of its restauants, on any given night, provide a dining experience that rivals or surpasses what one would expect on a more expensive five-star line. The word is clearly out – Oceania is the Foodie Cruise Line and, quite frankly, we don’t see any other line coming close to being able to make that claim.
    • The line’s ships are consistently inconsistent with the industry norm in terms of design and decor. Oceania wants to remiond guests of a high-end, yet comfortable, country club setting. Chairs are comfortable, colors are muted, there is little you will see aboard one of these ships that you would ever call “garish”.
    • There is little doubt that the Marina and Riviera offer guests more in the way of options and on board experiences than their older, more conservative, siblings. For that reason, we rate the Marina and the Riviera higher and we feel they represent better value.
    • There are no children’s programs aboard Oceania’s ships. Some cabins will accommodate a third guest but there are no programs or even baby-sitting services available. This is not a family-oriented cruise line.
    • Oceania is equally non-welcoming to smokers. Smoking is prohibited in virtually all public sections of the ship as well as in cabins.
    • Oceania does include more “Port Time” than any of its rivals with the exception of Azamara. Those who enjoy lots of days at sea will be happier elsewhere.
    • The line does nickel and dime guests for virtually all extra services. Soft drinks are included and complete “gratuities packages” can be pre-purchased.
    • Oceania’s standard cabins are small and the line is somewhat infamous for the tight showers and small bathrooms. To avoid this issue, guests are advised to book one of the Penthouse-level categories which provide a balcony, 420 sq.  feet of space including a comfortable bathroom
    • Guest’s intriqued with Oceania’s “Free Air” offers should be aware that better pricing is always available on a “Cruise Only” basis.
    • Oceania does not, as is common with five star ships, provide complimentary bus transfers to the center of town. Guests who have not purchased tours or made arrangements for provate sightseeing may find themselves at the mercy of local taxi drivers.
    • Oceanis’s Culinary Arts Academy designed in conjunction with Bon Appetit Magazine is a hiuge success. Guests are advised to book the program as soon as the books open.
    • Guests in premier cabins are rewarded with earlier access to shore excuirsion on-line bookings as well as dinner reservations. Most guests may make two reservations in advance of boarding. But guests in premier accommodations will be able to reserve double that number.
    • The restaurants are so good on Oceania that there is some angst involving the securing of reservations. Despite, for instancem the appeal of the Polo Grill Steakhouse or the acclaimed Asian fison restaurant, Red Ginger, most guests will get to dione in theior favorite restaurant only once or twice during a cruise. But this seems less a problem once aboard as there are some wonderful alternatives such as Jacques, Chef Jacques Pepin’s first restaurant at sea, or Toscana, the Italian venue that rivals the food found on Crystal Cruises famed Prego.
    • Despite primary appeal to a demographic of retirees, Oceania haS managed to achieve a modern vibe and, dare we say it, a hip feel, that would appeal to cruiser’s in their forties. On the new ships, for instance, there is a Buddha Bar feel to the swimming pool area with each song selected to reflect the mod and giant plants to create a feeling of luxury and serenity.

First-time guests should expect a superior on board experience without the truly personal flourishes normally found on our top-rated ships. The staff will not make much of an effort to know your name. In that sense the experience can be impersonal. Since you will want to try the various restaurant venues, you will not get to know your waiters very well. But you will get to meet members of the Oceania community who feel that they have found the perfect niche – upper end Premium quality, great food, casual attire, and enough time in port to really experience what they came to see. All at a price point that is lower than that found on the Five Star lines.

 THE LAUNCH OF THE OCEANIA MARINA

By Our Senior Contributing Editor – Richard Bruce Turen

Amidst the fireworks, the pier side Buddha bar setting complete with violin “divas” atop columns scattered throughout the crowd, a swinging choral group on stage, and the perfect arc as the champagne Magnum broke against the bow of the new Oceania Marina, I could not forget the image created by the man who had spoken ten minutes earlier.

Oceania’s Chief Visionary, Frank Del Rio, now Chairman of Prestige Holdings, the entity that overseas the operations of both Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, stood at the microphone on the makeshift Inaugural stage at Pier J on a beautiful morning along Miami’s waterfront.  As he spoke, he faced the Miami Federal Building where, several decades earlier, he had been processed as a young man fleeing the tyrannies of Castro’s Cuba.

But this is America, land of myriad opportunities, and I could not escape the symbolism of the setting. As he spoke, with his family, close friends, and financial backers seated behind him, Del Rio managed to get through his remarks without choking up. Observing all of this, I was not so fortunate.

Because while the Federal Building faced him in the distance, immediately behind Del Rio, was his first new-build, a $500 million baby named Marina, with a sister named Riviera due just a few months down the road.

I am fascinated by the Oceania story because it is all about a small group of believers who battled impossible odds to launch a new cruise line with about $14 million in ready reserve. This group, founder Del Rio, President Bob Binder, VP of Sales and Marketing James Rodriguez, were all in on this from the beginning. They are all relatively young, and they are all close friends. They are cruising’s Band of Brothers, and even off the record, they swear allegiance to their fearless and outspoken leader.

Frank Del Rio had worked for Renaissance, the line headed by Ed Rudner, and dedicated to the proposition that it didn’t make sense to use the distribution system that accounted for about 93% of all cruise sales at the time. I first got to speak to “FDR”, his signature on all e-mail correspondence, when he called me to comment on some things I had said about Renaissance in print. Well we didn’t so much speak, as I got to listen.

But then a funny thing happened. In much the same way that former smokers become the most aggressive anti-smoking proponents, Del Rio and his band of brothers, became agent advocates.

I know of at least seven specific instances when clients who tried to book Oceania directly were advised that they should “seek the counsel of a professional travel agent.” One client was actually told by Oceania reservations, “you really need to be booking with an agent since we are going to be charging you the commission anyway.”

Oceania broke some of the cruise rules when they launched with the original two Renaissance ships. The company, it seems to me, has been enormously successful by incorporating three core principles. It is this triangulation of concepts that is, I believe, at the heart of this brand’s success.

It starts with comfort and informality. No formal nights at all – ever. No need to bring a tie. No place to hang a tie if you do bring one. There are large chairs and truly comfortable couches throughout the new Marina. It all feels like someone’s well maintained home in the European countryside.

The second point of the triangle involves itinerary design that maximizes time in port. While other cruise lines love days at sea because they allow bars, shops, and casinos to provide much-needed onboard revenue, the Band of Brothers think people go on cruises to see ports – not to sip drinks by a swimming pool. So they pioneered overnight stays and prolonged port visits.

The third principle is to have “the best food at sea.” I am not sure I would promise this in a brochure. I cringe a bit when someone tells me their food is the best before I have had a chance to experience it and draw my own conclusions. There is also the very practical matter of Ocean’s per diems, which hover at around $375 versus about $550 for the five-star rated luxury lines. So how could they possibly have “the best food”.

I stood on the upper deck on the second day of the Inaugural, chatting with Chef Jacques Pepin about just why it was that he decided to open a restaurant on the Marina, after turning down other opportunities.

“I won’t lie to you”, he said. “They want the best food and they are willing to pay for the best ingredients.”

On the third night of the Inaugural, I dined with the Captain and his wife at Privet, the $1,000 per night, wines not included, ten seat restaurant. Here, diners get to sit down with the chef and plan their fantasy meal. At $100 per person, this is probably the best dining value on the ship. I enjoyed one of the two finest meals I have ever had at sea. Of Oceania’s ten dining options, only Prive and Wine Spectator’s La Reserve, carries any kind of surcharge. So, promises fulfilled when it comes to food, despite the lower per diems.

Comfort and informality, more time in port, and truly excellent food. These are the three points of the triangle and, I believe, the Band of Brothers, has figured out, long before many others, exactly what the majority of consumers in the upper end of the premium category really want in a cruise vacation.

There were more “oh so that’s it” moments aboard this new ship. Too many to recount for you in this space. Here are just a few:

I stood by the swimming pool. It kind of looked like many others I’ve seen over the decades I’ve been doing this. But something on this ship was different. It wasn’t just the plants, the Balinese lounges, what was it?

It was the music, concert quality sound with each song both contemporary and cool. No Sinatra, no Rolling Stones, This was Buddha Bar at Sea, a casual, clean identity. People were getting tanned because they wouldn’t leave the music. Later, I find out, FDR picked out every song, just as he and Bob Binder personally picked out each of the 1400 + pieces of art on the ship.

I loved the library, a real library, with lots of books and quality chairs and couches. And attached to the library is the best coffee house at sea. The “Brothers” found a barista they liked in Verona, Italy. But if you go to Italy seeking the “Man from Verona” you will find that he has moved – to the Marina, where he plies his trade with the same equipment.

There was a moment when I stood peering through one of the glass windows peering in at the Bob Appétit onboard CulinaryCenter. I noticed two, rather well-known, travel writers laughing and cooking their way through a menu led by a Culinary Institute of America instructor. Another hit on this exciting, new ship.

I ran into one of the Band of Brothers near the Spa juice bar. “Richard”, he asked, “what do we need to do better”?

I just couldn’t come up with an immediate answer.

 

 

# 10 –  VIKING CRUISES

INDUSTRY DOSSIER: CHURCHILL & TUREN’S VIKING CRUISE OVERVIEW –  If there is one cruise line that might be keeping competitors up at night it is Viking Cruises.With more than 60 river boat vessels worldwide, and control of 51% of the entire river boat market, Viking began ocean cruising in 2015 with the launch of it’s first prototype the Viking Star. Since then, Vikling will have built six mid-size ships buy 2019 with four additional ships under contract to be launched by 2023. This will make Viking, by passenger count, the largest mid-ship or small ship (depending on definitions) in the industry. The 10 ships sailing or on order are remarkably similar and they are all dedicated to certain core Viking principles as espoused by Chairman Tor (Torstein) Hagen.  They are:

01 – Maximum time in port with a minimum number of days at sea.

02 – Non-incluisve except for basics: Wine and beer is included with lunch and dinner. One shore excursion (an overview of the local destination) is included in the fare.

03 – No children under the age of 18 accepted for bookings.

04 – No formal nights of any kind.

While Viking Ships have won numerous awards from the consumer press, a careful review of these awards will reveal that the majority of them are so called “Reader’s Choice” polls. Given the number of guests who have sailed Viking on the world’s rivers, and the fast-growing size of its ocean product, it is not surprising that many readers have more familiarity with the Viking product than some of its smaller competitors. But we still believe that Viking Cruise is one of the very top non-inclusive options for the cruiser and, along with Oceania, the very best of the lines that feature a “pay-as-you-go” philosophy. In fact, we fully expect that Viking will be rising in our ratings as they learn to handle some of the inevitable service problems faced by new cruise lines. The story of Viking’s success and its high occupancy seems to illustrate that the line’s core values are in keeping with the desires of a majority of cruisers seeking quality and value along with more of a cultural experience than is usually offered on “cruise ships”. 

THE FLEET: OUR INSPECTION TEAM REPORTS

The Viking fleet will have its sixth ship enter service in 2019. At that point, the line will have 5,580 berths making it the largest “small ship” (Under 50,000 GRT and 700 Guests) cruise line in the world. The vessels carry guests all in cabins with balconies. This size allows the ships to dock close-in at many ports around-the-world at the same time its much larger brethern are forced to dock in industrial areas far out of the city.

Each vessel in the series will see improvements – some slight – some important like an expansion of the gym on the Sky and more deck chairs where needed.  All guests seem struck by the quality of the modern Scandinavian design. There are many lighter woods and textiles and unusually clean design lines. But Viking is also defined by what is missing – the ships have no casino – no children’s play areas – no splash pool, although each ship has two swimming pools.

Our CSI Inspection Team has reported on any number of “unanticipated features” you just don’t see on other ships in any size or price range. Perhaps the best example – heated bathroom floors. There is free Wi-Fi throughout, 24-hour room service, and laundry rooms that are complimentary.

Here is the “secret” to understanding Viking’s appeal to the public and, in particular, to our Inspection team. This feels like a personal product rater than a cookie cutter mass market ship. Chairman Hagen who worked for the legendary Royal Viking Line when it once was the top luxury brand, has stamped his Norwegian heritage and personal history all over the ships in his fleet. Careful observers will notice photos of ther Chairman as a child, written tributes to his mother, along with photos, and collections of books and music from his life in Norway. The color scheme relies heavily on shades of blue, grey, and white, which. combined with the use of non-traditional light woods, makes for a brighter environment that is normally found on most ships. 

NEEDS TO BE IMPROVED:

Viking Cruises is not inclusive. In fact, guests who desire decent shore excursion experiences, drinks other than mealtime, or even meals that are of superior quality, will have to pay surcharges. The nickel and diming makes it nearly impossible to identify the true cost of a Viking experience until a cruise is completed. The Viking guest tends to be older, educated, and somewhat independent but it is a line that does not really appeal to the sophisticated traveler as much as it does to those seeking upfront value. And make no mistake – Viking provides value. It’s pricing matrix, like Oceania’s, is based on significant OBS (Onboard Spend Per Guest). 

Along with its River Cruise fleet, consisting of more than 6o current vessels, Viking has quickly leveraged itself to become the largest player in the upscale cruise category. The line has won numerous awards, partially due to its siuze and advertising presence. Guests considering Viking should, however, be aware of the line’s less than stellar record when it comes to customer service and compensation when there are issues. Viking pretty much sticks to its stated brochure fine print and the line enjoys a less than enviable reputation when it comes to personalized responses when there is a problem. This is one of the major reasons that Viking does not rank higher in our ratings. The ships are among the most beautifully designed at sea and really appeal to those who enjoy open, light, Scandanavian modernity. 

ALSO WORTHY OF YOUR CONSIDERATION

# 11 – AZAMARA CRUISES

Azamara Journey

In a world of follow the leader, Azamara is generating a fair amount of positive buzz based on its innovative approaches to traditional cruise concepts. Azamara parent, Royal Caribbean, tapped former Seabourn and Sea Dream President, Larry Pimenthal, to take over management of this two-ship fleet of vessels once belonging to Renaissance Cruise Line. Pimenthal, one of the best marketers in the industry, felt that Azamara’s edge would be “more time in port” and the 694 Quest and Journey more than live up to that brochure promise.

Thougth lacking spacious cabins and new hardware, Azamara overcompensates with overnights in port on every voyage and longer hours in port. The line also seems adept at planning itineraries that add creativity to the  10-14 day market. Gratuities and wine with dinner are included, allowing Azamara to occupy a somewhat unique niche in the First Class “sort of inclusive” or, more accurately “semi-inclusive” category. Azamara’s rival seems to be Oceania, whose new Mariner and Riviera offer space and amenities that Azmara can only put on their new ship wish list.

We think the Azamara concept is catching on. Wine with dinner but not paying for those who drink heavily is a popular concept. It allows Azamara to come in at a lower price point than the five-star all-inclusives.

On the down side, Azamara is a cruise line that still seems to be experimenting. Is wine with lunch included – now , it is. Are there tacky reminders that this is not a true luxury product – there are and one example is the on board art sale and the manner in which staff pose in costume to take photos with guests. Such tackiness is not going to get Azamara any higher on our rankings than it is. The food in Prime C gets good reviews although there clearly is some rather strtict portion control in evidence.

But there is an important bottom line. Azamara delivers itineraries that wow and guests are catered to by a crew that seems to genuinely care about their well being. That, and an attractive price point, may be enough for Azamara to prosper.

Inside cabins are tight at  158 square feet. Outside cabins are only 170 sq. feet. But its the small bathrooms that seem to bother the uninitiated. Think of an intimate experience with your shower curtain and you will see why more spacious Sky Suites are highly sought after. They measure 266 sq. feet and they are well worth the up-charge.

  

SPECIAL OWNERSHIP CATEGORY – THE WORLD OF RESIDENSEA

 

The problem for The World is that it has no earthly competition. But, alas, it has been removed as a viable cruise option. Last year, the owners voted tgo end their policy of allowing certain travel agencies to book room “rentals.” Now, under their current policy, The World will not accept guests who “do not meet our $10,000,000 is assets requirements” along with applications to sail that must be approved by a committee of owners.

In other words, you can’t sail unless you are a proven multi-millionaire who is a pre-approved buyer, someone the owners would like to have as cruising neighbors.

And therein lies the rub. The World, travels the world in silent splendor, never calling attention to itself or the fact that its owners have paid from $1.4 to $7.9 million dollars for their leasehold “ownership”. .

The ship is literally “sold out” for every voyage for the life of the ship. There is no sales force because the only units for sale are offered by current owners.

The World has earned its designation as The World’s Most Luxurious Cruise Experience. Although it could, by most measures, carry 1500 or so passengers, she generally sails with about 175 total guests. This one-of-a-kind ship sails the world, stopping in interesting ports for extended stays. The food is outstanding, although Portraits, the “Gourmet” restaurant did not meet our expectations in terms of the quality of the menu, preparation, or the skill of the staff. However, the ships other dining venues offer the best dining experiences at sea. There are three-bedroom/three-bath apartments, two-bedroom-two bath apartments, one-bedroom apartments and spacious studios. All feature balconies.

 

“There was this Frenchman. He has a hot plate in his cabin, along with computers and all kinds of electronic gear. He runs his company from his cabin/home office. When he gets to Hong Kong he sends one of the ships tender to pick up potential clients for a nice lunch aboard ship. He lives aboard the Residentsea and has his family out for six or seven weeks of the year. He has cocktails each evening and tries to see if there are any interesting owner friends aboard. If there are not, he quickly goes back to his cabin. I’m home now, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about that Frenchman as he travels the world, working, on that gorgeous ship.”

“I’ve seen them all and this is the ultimate. The design of this ship is like no other. Each accommodation is privately owned and custom designed so no two cabins are alike. This is not the right cruise for those who like bingo, horse racing games, and a nightly talent show. The World is sophisticated and approachable. Sailing her is most akin to gaining membership to the world’s best private club.”

“The cleaning staff actually cleans every studio and apartment every day even though most of them are unoccupied for long periods of time.”

“I loved the World because it was a chance to see what “real money” is like. But I am extremely comfortable, own two beautiful homes, property, and have savings and stock in the seven figures. Nevertheless, the scope of the wealth aboard this ship was, at times, a bit intimidating. The service on the open decks was not perfect. Dishes were left on tables too long and the wait staff would favor owners over their guests. But I will conclude by saying that despite these issues, this ship blows away anything else in the so-called five-star category. The food is excellent, the staff is generally attentive, and you have the feeling that you are almost alone on this most beautiful of ships. So I guess I really wasn’t all that intimidated. We may well consider purchasing.”

Currently, several units are for sale by owner at price ranges between $2 – $7 million.