If ever there’s a word that’s been battered and bruised in recent years, it’s ‘luxury’. This adjective seems to precede every utterance of ‘cruise’. At sea, luxury comes in various guises – from ultra-casual to über-formal.
Luxury means different things to different people. To some it’s all about personal service, to others the clincher is fine dining, while many believe freedom of choice is what constitutes unbridled luxe. Another yardstick for many cruisers is butler service, while complimentary beverages is also a popular facet of luxurious living at sea, and many Brits believe one of the biggest benefits of this type of seaborne holiday is included gratuities.
It is often said that the sin of luxury is not in the thing itself, but in failing to appreciate it. No one embarking on this list of candidates for the title Best Luxury Cruise Line would fail to appreciate the aura of luxury that awaits them at the bottom of the gangway.
Compagnie du Ponant: This chic, eclectic fleet overflows with French flair. Passengers are a convivial mélange, the crew converse in English; cuisine is an undoubted highlight, as are off-the-beaten-track itineraries.
Crystal Cruises: Combining luxury with attention to detail, the two Crystal ships offer some of the finest accommodations at sea. Peerless entertainment, exquisite speciality dining, creative itineraries and deferential service are the line’s hallmarks.
Cunard Line: The epitome of Britishness, Cunard ships offer an illusion of being transported back into a golden age of travel when film stars walked the decks and flirted over dinner.
Hapag Lloyd: The much-lauded Europa and the swish new Europa 2 create the impression of a grand European hotel. Boasting understated sophistication, these ships exude glamour and impeccable service.
Hebridean Princess: If ever a ship deserved its place in cruising’s hall of fame it’s this eclectic, country house at sea. The level of repeat passengers bears testimony to its sublime, on board lifestyle; little wonder Her Majesty has chartered it – twice.
Oceania Cruises: Unlike the design-anaemic vessels that have recently appeared on the high seas, Oceania Cruises’ vessels offer their guests a stylish interpretation of fine living. It’s also a favourite among dedicated gourmands.
Regent Seven Seas: This company is at the vanguard of all-inclusive cruising. Without doubt this consummate approach to decadent living at sea is the reason why many cruises sell out many months in advance.
Seabourn Cruise Line: The design of the three vessels in this fleet ensures an intimate yet sophisticated on-board lifestyle. These paragons excel when it comes to fine dining, attentive service and every creature comfort imaginable.
SeaDream Yacht Club: With only 112 passengers each, the two recherché vessels abound with an indulgent yet casual lifestyle. Think private yacht cruising in the most decadent rivieras and serene havens – without the price-tag.
Silversea Cruises: Italian hospitality has been raised to stellar heights on board these intimate, all-suite ships. Uncompromising service has been a byword for this company since it broke the mould of boutique-style cruising.
Gary Buchanan is on the esteemed panel of judges at this year’s Cruise International Awards.
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