The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, an attendant is at your arm with a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine, as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 450 to 330. Seabourn Quest — like its nearly identical sister ships Odyssey and Sojourn — is visually stunning, with its aft spa atrium as its focal point. In fact, some cruisers even book Quest in order to spend much of their vacation at The Spa at Seabourn. This incredibly lovely 11,400-square-foot, two-level complex features a spa pool with therapeutic loungers; private Spa Terrace offering a mix of loungers in the sun and shade. Quest is also the largest ship at sea to offer a retractable aft marina. A swimming platform surrounds a wire “basket” that’s lowered into the water to keep the fish out of your pool so it’s a worry-free way to enjoy a swim. Seabourn employs an all-female team of stewardesses to tend to your cabin and they truly keep a watchful eye over your home away from home. Once passengers sail Seabourn, their loyalties tend to remain with the cruise line. You’ll find a majority of cruisers are repeaters. In recent years, with the launch of Seabourn’s larger ships — Quest, Odyssey and Sojourn — the line has seen its demographic hedge a bit younger.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 154 to 57. Uniworld likes to say that S.S. Antoinette is a one-of-a-kind “boutique” riverboat and “the most luxurious river cruise ship in the world,” and it just might be. The cruise line has infused luxurious details throughout the ship and multi-room suites are adorned with handcrafted Savoir of England beds that are draped in 100 percent Egyptian cotton linens. The interior of the ship was designed to mimic the 18th-century Chateau de Versailles of France. Brazilian marble is used for flooring throughout the ship, and original works of art are all around you. Unlike many river cruise ships, suites and staterooms are situated on S.S. Antoinette’s top deck and include full open-air private balconies, which convert to enclosed conservatories. Suites include butler service, and these gentlemen understand the fine art of divining your needs. They can assist with unpacking (and repacking), serve in-room breakfast and evening canapés, and provide free laundry and shoeshine services. The décor and itineraries tend to draw a slightly more sophisticated and older crowd and groups of friends traveling together.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 64 to 32. Masted ships always seem a bit more romantic than their counterparts, and Le Ponant is no different. Because of its sleek size, the three-masted vessel can sail very close to shore, and that allows for some beautiful, postcard-perfect settings in the Caribbean, Central America and Mediterranean. With just four passenger decks, the ship is intimate but never crowded. Everyone finds his or her ideal spot to relax, whether it’s catching a few rays on a lounger on the Sun Deck, chatting with friends in Salon Emerande or dining in one of two restaurants. The all-inclusive Ponant experience is about making you feel as if you’re sailing on your own private yacht. The attentive crew thrives on making each voyage special, and they try to accommodate every request — big or small. A member of the entertainment staff accompanies cruisers on all off-ship outings, even if it’s just for a dip in the turquoise blue waters off the aft marina. Ponant ships draw a decidedly European crowd, but the intimate ships are luring more and more Americans who are looking to try something a bit different.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 112 to 95. SeaDream II offers an intimate and luxurious yachting experience. With just 56 cabins, travelers and crew get to know each other quickly, and it really does feel like you’re traveling on a friend’s yacht instead of a cruise ship. Two things make this ship exceptional: the all-teak deck that features numerous Balinese sun beds and the aft retractable marina. Passengers always get a kick out of the monogrammed pajamas that are laid out in their stateroom upon arrival. If you’ve got the nerve, wear them when you enjoy an evening “sleeping under the stars” on the Balinese beds on Deck 6. This pastime is booked on a first-come, first-served basis and is very popular. A bucket of chilled Champagne waits, along with a tray of chocolate truffles. Sleeping on the deck of a yacht is an experience that isn’t easily replicated — unless you happen to own a yacht! Those traveling with SeaDream tend to skew a bit younger than the average cruiser, but the demographic really includes anyone who enjoys the camaraderie of a small ship and is looking for some of the finest cuisine at sea.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 36 to 15. You’ll never get lost on this cozy yacht that features just three public decks. Most of your time on Safari Explorer is spent relaxing in the sun lounge or in the sauna on the Bridge Deck; visiting the Captain on the Bridge; watching the world pass by in the Bow Viewing Area on the Cabin Deck; or mingling with other passengers in the salon, bar or wine library on the Main Deck. Despite the intimate nature of this ship, Safari Explorer offers plenty of options when it comes to accommodations, including six different stateroom categories — from singles all the way up to the spacious Commodore Suite, which includes a separate sitting area, king or twin beds, a balcony and bath with Jacuzzi tub and shower. It’s the human touch that sets this ship apart, though. The chef makes it a point to talk with passengers and learn their likes and dislikes and customizes the daily menus accordingly. The ship attracts sophisticated, well-traveled individuals. Un-Cruise Adventures is ideal for fun-loving, adventurous individuals who want a luxurious ship with a staff that instinctively knows how to pamper its passengers.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 332 to 217. Paul Gauguin becomes a favorite ship of almost everyone who sails it. The vessel is in excellent shape, having come out of a multimillion-dollar renovation in December 2011, and the crew is incredibly knowledgeable about the Society Islands and French Polynesia as a whole. The ship offers all ocean view cabins and suites, and 70 percent of them have balconies — and you definitely want a balcony when sailing this glorious, beautiful corner of the globe. Paul Gauguin draws many honeymooners and those celebrating special occasions. Like a handful of other luxury vessels, Paul Gauguin includes a state-of-the-art retractable water sports marina that’s outfitted with windsurf boards, kayaks and Zodiacs, as well as an onboard dive program offering certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. The destination is everything in the case of Paul Gauguin, and the ship and its crew truly embody the spirit of French Polynesia. This is, by and large, a special occasion ship.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 540 to 376. Silver Spirit is the newest luxury cruise ship in Silversea’s fleet and it’s also the most posh. Silversea shines when it comes to personalized service. The crew is incredibly friendly and intuitive. They seemingly know what you want when the very thought has only barely crossed your mind. This is especially evident in the lounges, where the bartenders quickly memorize your drink preferences and always have your favorites, along with a few savory treats, waiting for you. Dining is another area where this Italian cruise line excels. Main dining at The Restaurant features the type of continental cuisine you’d expect from a luxury liner. Silver Spirit’s claim to fame are the specially trained butlers who serve the ship’s 270 ocean view accommodations. These gentlemen are a cross between a cabin steward and concierge, and they can handle tasks from shuffling reservations and delivering room service meals to planning shore excursions. Silver Spirit has fans from many walks of life, so you’ll see older couples dancing the night away alongside young honeymooners.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 700 to 445. Seven Seas Mariner was a rule breaker when it first launched. It was the industry’s first all-suite, all-balcony ship. While many ships are now outfitted in that way, Mariner led the charge. The ship offers a flexible choice of accommodations that range from 252 to 1,204 square feet. Penthouse suites and higher benefit from the services of a personal butler. When Regent says its cruise fare is all-inclusive, it’s not kidding. Accommodations, shipboard meals, beverages, alcohol, in-cabin mini-bars, room service and many onboard activities are included, as are unlimited shore excursions. That’s unheard of, and it’s definitely made travelers look twice at Regent. Retirees and professionals prefer Regent. The line’s longer itineraries are specifically designed for travelers who’ve got time to spend exploring the world. Regent fans love Mariner’s transatlantic crossings and other itineraries in the Mediterranean and South America.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 1,070 to 655. Crystal Cruises is one of the grand dames in the luxury cruise industry and is known for both its discerning service and interesting itineraries. This line, more than any other luxury line, has held steadfast to the old ways and still encourages passengers to dress for dinner and enjoy formal nights on all of its itineraries. In 2012, Crystal joined the ranks of other luxury lines by going the nearly all-inclusive route. Crystal Serenity offers a solid enrichment program that regularly hosts well-known authors and politicians as guest speakers. PGA golf pros are also onboard many sailings to share their expertise. Travelers get the sense that Crystal Cruises will do all it can to provide access to the most interesting and knowledgeable people in the world. Due to Crystal Cruises’ stance on formality, the demographic is decidedly older than that found on some of the other lines that have relaxed their dress codes. That being said, Crystal ships have a communal country club feel, and travelers of any age can appreciate what Serenity has to offer.
Passenger-to-Crew Ratio: 1,250 to 80. Technically, Oceania Cruises is a “luxe lite” cruise line. Its pricing structure is more a la carte than all-inclusive, but its offerings in terms of accommodations, itineraries and dining venues means that it must be mentioned alongside other luxury cruise lines. Riviera shines when it comes to the array of activities it makes available onboard. There’s an expansive Canyon Ranch SpaClub, beauty salon, gym, Artist Loft enrichment center that offers arts and crafts instruction, and the well-equipped Culinary Center. Riviera is known for its myriad dining venues, including the Grand Dining Room and other favorites like Jacques, a French bistro with menus designed by famed chef Jacques Pepin, and Red Ginger, which serves Asian classics. Two very special and intimate dining options are also offered. Each evening, 24 passengers can enjoy a seven-course meal at La Reserve by Wine Spectator. As you can imagine, the wine pairings are of special note there. This is the ship for anyone wishing to book a suite: there are 147 of them in various configurations in addition to 478 non-suite staterooms. If you do want a suite, book as soon as you can because they sell out fast.