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Seabourn Cruises Fares from $3,999 pp*
  • Luxury line with excellent dining and service

  • Mariner, Voyager and Navigator are all-suite ships

  • Complimentary excursion programs

  • A specialist in world cruises

 

 

Onboard

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, owned by Prestige Cruise Holdings (which also operates sister line Oceania Cruises), is a luxury line that balances traditional onboard ambience with contemporary features and amenities. One of the most value-oriented cruise lines in the business, RSSC is uniquely inclusive: fares cover cruise prices, pre- and post-cruise tours and hotel stays, gratuities, shore excursions and beverages, from liquor to sodas.

This inclusivity has an interesting impact on the onboard ambience of the three-ship fleet of Mariner, Voyager and Navigator. Because passengers travel together, whether on pre-cruise land portions or on the vast menu of free shore excursions, there's a lot of bonding on the typical Regent Seven Seas cruise. That results in a wonderfully social ambience onboard, and people get friendlier as the trip proceeds.

While some facets of the RSSC experience are quite traditional (passengers typically dress elegantly for dinner, whatever the dress code, and entertainment tends toward karaoke, trivia and Broadway-esque performances), the ship itself offers a relaxed luxury experience.

Each ship's four restaurants are open seating: The main restaurant venue, Prime 7 steakhouse, haute French spot Signature and the Italian-influenced Sette Mare. Food and service are superb, and choice, on any menu, is plentiful. House wines, of a higher quality than we've seen on other luxury lines that offer free drinks, are poured at lunch and dinner, and other liquor-based drinks are poured on a complimentary basis throughout the ship.

Regent Seven Seas offers all-suite accommodations and are among the most spacious in the luxury sector. On Mariner and Voyager, all suites have private balconies.

Regent's parent company has invested in the cruise line, notably adding a Canyon Ranch Spa Club to operate its small spas and gyms, a new concierge-level accommodation category with additional perks and a combination of �free� and extra-fee shore excursions.

About Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which is based in Miami, was formed in 1992 as a result of the merger between two one-ship lines -- Radisson Cruises and Seven Seas Cruises. The former contributed the Radisson Diamond, the industry's only twin-hulled ship, and the latter operated Song of Flower. Both have since been retired from the fleet.

Since the late 1990s, the line has grown steadily, adding Paul Gauguin in 1997, Seven Seas Navigator in 1999 and Seven Seas Mariner, the world's first all-suite, all-balcony ship, in 2001. Seven Seas Voyager, the line's second all-suite, all-balcony ship, entered service in April 2003. Paul Gauguin's Tahiti-based cruises are operated by Paul Gauguin Cruises.

In 2006, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises underwent another name change to become Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

During this time, the cruise line was owned by Minneapolis-based Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, one of the travel industry's largest hospitality companies. But in late fall 2007, New York-based Apollo Management, L.P., signed an agreement to acquire Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The deal closed in winter 2008.

Changes in Regent Seven Seas Cruises' ownership haven't affected passengers much, but over the past few years, more significant evolutionary features have taken place. For one, the fleet has received significant upgrades that have included the addition of wireless capabilities (and improved computer connections though it's still slower than it should be), and new bedding featuring down comforters and Egyptian cotton linens. Staterooms also got flat-screen TVs, DVD players and new clocks. Higher-end suites received iPod music systems (with Bose speakers) and free-to-borrow iPads. Cell phone access is available, even at sea.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Fleet

Historically, Regent Seven Seas Cruises had the distinction of having ships with vastly differing architecture and style while still maintaining a consistency in programs and services. The fleet is much more homogenized now that Radisson Diamond and Paul Gauguin have left. Under its Prestige management, there's been a great effort to provide more consistency across the three-ship fleet.

The three current ships in the fleet, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager, offer slightly different interpretations of a floating luxury resort, but the emphasis is on "slightly."

Fellow Passengers

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, has begun to court travelers from other parts of the world, including the U.K., Spain, Japan, France, Portugal and Brazil, among other places.

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 its core audience. More than 50 percent of passengers are Regent

Viking River Cruises Fares from $1,599 pp*
  • Viking Creates New Ocean-Going Cruise Line

  • New itineraries for 2014 include France's Bordeaux, Myanmar

  • Viking is the world's largest river cruise line

  • Fares include guided shore excursions in each port of call

 

 

Onboard

With two lines, one providing river voyages and the other featuring ocean cruises, similarities onboard ships in Viking's two fleets are numerous.Viking River's Longships, the largest and most contemporary class of ships on Europe's rivers, were created specifically for river cruising. Sleekly Scandinavian in design, these 190-passenger vessels feature all-outside cabins, two-room suites, real balconies and several dining venues whose cuisines range from formal to light-fare. The Aquavit Terrace, a special feature of the Longships design, functions as an indoor/outdoor restaurant and lounge. Alfresco dining -- rarely available on river lines -- is so popular with travelers that Viking has added more dining settings.Viking's earlier classes of river ships feature all the comforts of home and then some. Many have French verandahs, lounges with panoramic views, well-furnished sundecks and cozy libraries off the aft. Here, again, all cabins have windows to the outside, private bathrooms, TVs, telephones and safes.Viking River also operates ships in Asia (along the Yangtze and through the Mekong Delta), Egypt, and Russia.The Viking Longships, in addition to following the "green" theme of Viking Legend and Prestige, also have larger suites -- two Explorer suites each offer 445 square feet of space and feature 270-degree views with a private wraparound balcony, while Veranda suites each feature two full rooms with a balcony off the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom. They each show off a new lounge -- the Aquavit Terrace -- where a portion of the floor-to-ceiling windows can be rolled aside to create an indoor/outdoor seating area.On all Viking River cruises, onboard entertainment is designed to help passengers understand the cultures and regions visited. Expect to find lectures, local musicians and themed dinners with regional specialties.In its main restaurants, Viking ships offer open seating for all meals, which means you can sit where you like. Breakfast is usually a buffet, while lunch is a combo buffet and off-the-menu meal. Dinner is a more formal, multicourse extravaganza. During the day, diners can find light fare in each ship's lounge (or, on the Longships, the Aquavit Terrace). Soft drinks, beer and wine are served complimentary at dinner.Viking offers a range of shore excursions. In every port there's at least one complimentary choice and a selection of more in-depth outings for extra fees.Viking's new ocean cruise line, which debuts in May 2015 with the introduction of the Viking Star, will offer something of a hybrid experience. Like the river fleet, the ship will feel airy and spacious, with the simplicity of Scandinavian design. The big difference is that the 48,000-ton, 928-passenger ship, the first of two on order at Fincantieri's Marghera shipyard, near Venice, will feature more amenities than its river brethren. These include a lavish spa, multiple dining venues, and a variety of bars and lounges. All cabins will have balconies and, sizewise, its standards are about 20 percent larger than the norm. One unique new twist: The ship's main dining venue will have a wall of windows that can be opened in good weather to create a semi-alfresco experience.

About Viking Cruises

Established in 1997, Viking Cruises is the world's largest river cruise line, with some 60 river ships sailing the waterways of Europe, Russia and the Ukraine, Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Viking has also unveiled plans for a new ocean-going cruise arm. Called Viking Oceans, it debuts in May 2015 when it unveils the 48,000-ton, 928-passenger Viking Star, the first of three newbuilds thus far agreed with Italy's Fincantieri shipyard.

From the river perspective, Viking is on the most aggressive new-build kick in the industry. Its ambitious Longships design has resulted in the addition of more than 40 near-clones the the fleet since 2012.

Viking is led by cruise entrepreneur Torstein Hagen, who worked for Royal Viking Line before starting up his own venture. Previously, Hagan was CEO at Royal Viking Line and has served as a member of the board of directors for Holland America Line and Kloster Cruise, Ltd. He also served as a partner in management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Viking changed its name from Viking River Cruises to the simpler Viking Cruises in 2013 to reflect the creation of its new ocean-going line.

 

Viking Cruises Fleet

Viking River's fleet is the largest in the river industry -- it operates some 60 ships and is undergoing a seemingly endless expansion. All of the vessels are geared to the English-speaking market.

The line has been introducing new ships almost every year for more than a decade, the bulk of which have been in Europe. Building on the launch of the eco-friendly Viking Legend in 2009 and the 188-passenger Viking Prestige, which debuted in 2011, the line kicked off a period of rapid expansion in 2012 with the introduction of six new-builds. The original ship design for these sextuplets, called the "Longship class," has been cloned -- or only slightly altered -- over 40 times since then.

The ships were designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten, known for creating interiors for Disney Dream and Seabourn's Odyssey-class ships. All ships from 2011 onwards have energy-efficient hybrid engines, using less fuel and offering a smoother and quieter ride.

Europe itineraries, by and large, are focused on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, along with France's Rhone and Seine. It also offers cruises on Portugal's Duoro. Viking will introduce a new, Bordeaux-centric Europe itinerary in 2014.

In Russia, the company has also invested considerable money into regularly refurbishing its older ships.

Beyond mainstream Europe, Viking Emerald, which launched in 2011, cruises China's Yangtze River. The 256-passenger ship has a pair of 840-square-foot presidential suites with separate sitting and sleeping areas, two flat-screen TVs, panoramic windows and a private wrap-around balcony. Standard accommodations aren't any slouch either -- they provide 269 square feet of living space (on river ships most passenger cabins are significantly smaller than on ocean-going vessels) and all have private balconies.

Viking also charters a number of ships for itineraries in Egypt and Southeast Asia. These include Royal Lily and Royal Lotus (the Nile), Prince Abbas (Egypt's Lake Nasser), RV Tonle (Mekong River) and Viking Mandalay (Irrawaddy River, Burma).

 

Fellow Passengers

Passengers are generally English-speaking, well-traveled cruise veterans in the 55-plus bracket, although China and Southeast Asia attracts some younger travelers.

  • Attracts well-heeled, experienced travelers

  • Outstanding reputation for service

  • Features exotic itineraries

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Onboard

Onboard, Seabourn is at the top of the luxury cruise game with intuitive service, superb cuisine, relatively inclusive extras (no charge for cocktails, coffees or fitness classes), and an atmosphere that is elegant -- but unpretentious.

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 may feel you have the vessel to yourself -- no annoying crowds or lines here.

About Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Cruise Line was founded in 1987 to compete in the ultra-luxury cruise market. It was originally intended to be named "Signet Cruise Line," but a ferry company in Texas owned that name and refused to give it up.

Seabourn's first voyage was in November of 1988 on the newly built Seabourn Pride. Another huge milestone for the company: Carnival Corp. purchased 25 percent of Seabourn in 1991 and an additional 25 percent in 1996. In 1998, a consortium, which included Carnival Corp., purchased Seabourn and merged its operations with Cunard Line. At that time the fleet included its three present ships plus Seabourn Goddess I and II (which left in 2002 and are now SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I and SeaDream II) and Seabourn Sun (which left in 2002 and is now Holland America's Prinsendam). Carnival Corp. bought the company outright in 1999 and Seabourn became one of their "world's leading cruise lines." Carnival Corp's Cunard operations separated from Seabourn's in 2004 (the former moved to the corporation's newly purchased Princess Cruises, and Seabourn operated independently from other Carnival Corp. brands.

More recently, in April 2011 Seabourn underwent another major shift as Carnival Corp. moved its operations under the umbrella of Holland America Line, another of the cruise conglomerate's brands. Seabourn is now based at Holland America corporate headquarters in Seattle.

In other major news for Seabourn, its six-strong fleet was halved in February 2013 when Windstar bought its three original vessels, and it now operates a series of just three, nearly identical 32,000-ton, 450-passenger vessels. Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest debuted in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively, and regularly top many best luxury ship lists (including Cruise Critic's own Editors Picks).

 

Seabourn Cruise Line Fleet

Up until February 2013, Seabourn's fleet consisted of two styles of ships: an older, smaller trio -- Pride, Legend and Spirit -- and a larger, newer trio -- Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest. However, the three smaller siblings were bought by Windstar Cruises, and are currently undergoing extensive refurbishment before entering the Windstar fleet from May next year. Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest, are identical siblings and began to be introduced to the Seabourn fleet from 2009. They are three of the most luxurious ships afloat, featuring numerous contemporary amenities, such as vast spa, open deck sunning and pool areas, a variety of restaurants, and spacious 300 square ft. standard cabins (which are more like suites). Private balconies and expansive suites are plentiful. With a capacity of 450 passengers, the ships are by no means too big! And can still access many of the world's exotic ports, especially those that large ships cannot get into.

Hallmarks of Seabourn include superb, intuitive service; high quality cuisine that includes innovative and traditional dishes; and a more inclusive experience, in which cocktails, coffees, and spa classes are all included in cruise fares.

 

Fellow Passengers

Seabourn's three older ships attracted an ultra-loyal group of traditional, older clientele, and it's unclear at this stage whether that group will go over to the younger, more modern -- and crucially, larger -- vessels. They may, of course, have no choice now since the older three were sold to Windstar Cruises in February 2013.

The younger trio, while appealing to a broad mix of ages (from 40-something and above), offer relatively shorter voyages and more mainstream calls (compared to the older three), so it attracts a new passenger to the line.

While most of your fellow passengers are likely to be American, Seabourn appeals to travelers from a variety of countries, particularly the English speaking South Africa, Australia and Great Britain, among others. All are likely to be well-off and well-traveled.

Oceania Cruises Fares from $1,599 pp*
  • Luxury, destination-intensive sailing focuses on dining, service

  • Country club casual dress code onboard

  • One of the best value-for-money options in cruising

  • Editor's Picks: Best Alternative Restaurants at Sea

 

 

Onboard

Oceania features two classes of ships in its fleet. The newest vessels, Marina and Riviera, which each carry 1,258 passengers, were purpose-designed and built for the line. Its original trio of R-class vessels -- 684-passenger Regatta, Insignia and Nautica -- was acquired when Oceania launched back in 2003. (All three underwent a massive refurbishment in 2014).

The big differences between the two are that more amenities -- such as extra restaurants, a Wine Spectator La Reserve Wine Bar, and the Bon Appetit Culinary Center -- are only available on the newer, larger ships. Although they're smaller Regatta, Insignia and Nautica have a cozier ambience.

In all cases, Oceania decor is traditional luxe, with the requisite polished dark mahoganies, muted fabrics and rich-colored carpets. By virtue of the ships' sizes, it's not difficult to find yourself oriented by the first day at sea. (Even the much larger Marina and Riviera are a cinch to navigate, though you can expect a more colorful, modern palette.) These ships bear a high ratio of standard balcony cabins.

Service is enthusiastic and gracious, courtesy of the well-trained staff.

The dress code is country club casual, intended to partner perfectly with the line's "whatever you want, whenever you want" mindset.

Oceania neither encourages nor discourages children onboard. However, no children's programs are in place, and there is little else to keep boredom at bay, apart from customary table tennis, shuffleboard and Monopoly in the game room.

What all ships also share is an all open-seating dining policy and a variety of restaurants and lounges onboard. There are four restaurants each aboard Regatta, Insignia and Nautica. In addition to the traditional main dining room scenario (albeit with no set tables or seating times), there are three specialty restaurants (The Polo Grill for steaks, Toscana for Italian and Tapas on the Terrace, the buffet-by-day that converts to alternative restaurant at night), which do not levy additional charges. Riviera and Marina have additional options, from the Asian Red Ginger and French Jacques Pepin to the La Reserve wine-tasting menu.

All spas are operated by Canyon Ranch, the noted American destination spa company, and offer premium services. The thalassotherapy whirlpool on the three smaller ships is complimentary with the purchase of a spa treatment. (The same applies to similar pools on the forward deck on Marina and Riviera's facilities.) The fitness center offers Pilates and yoga, along with the usual aerobics classes.

Casinos are small, but there are plenty of slot machines. Elaborate afternoon tea is served daily.

 

About Oceania Cruises

The brainchild of cruise industry veterans Frank Del Rio and Joe Watters -- former heads of Renaissance Cruises and Crystal Cruises, respectively -- Miami-based Oceania Cruises emphasizes a destination-intensive floating-hotel experience with top-notch food and superior service. The cruise line originally operated vessels from the defunct Renaissance Cruises. (Its 684-passenger R1 and R2 were renamed Regatta and Insignia.) Nautica, another Renaissance R-class vessel, joined the fleet in 2005.

In February 2011, the line's first new-build, Marina, was christened, and a nearly identical sibling, Riviera, debuted in May 2012. Holding myriad original artworks, as well as the Bon Appetit Culinary Center and mega-chef Jacques Pepin's first namesake restaurant, the vessel sets an even higher standard for the line.

Still, it was Regatta, launched in summer 2003 (and Insignia and Nautica, which followed), that originally set the tone for Oceania's unique style. The company in 2014 spent more than $50 million to refurbish these late-1990's vessels, and it shows. Public rooms, including restaurants, are graceful and elegant. The redone pool area is surfaced in teak and framed by gorgeous mosaics, and it boasts teak furnishings that include fabulous double sunbeds. Cabins have been tweaked and feature more comfortable bed linens and some of the most comfortable mattresses at sea.

In 2007, Oceania was acquired by New York-based Apollo Management, L.P., an investment company that specializes in private equity, debt and capital markets. Quickly following the acquisition, the line placed orders with Italy's Fincantieri shipyard for its first new-builds, a pair of 1,258-passenger vessels -- the aforementioned Marina and Riviera.

Overall, Oceania has managed to create what we call a luxury lite experience, defined as offering luxury-level food and service with fewer inclusions (such as liquor, shore tours and pre-cruise hotel stays) in its base fares.

 

Oceania Cruises Fleet

At 30,277 tons and with a 684-passenger occupancy, Regatta, Insignia and Nautica fall firmly in the mid-size range but offer the wide variety of amenities and options usually found on deluxe-priced lines.

Also in the mid-size range are 65,000-ton, 1,252-passenger Marina, which debuted in February 2011, and sibling Riviera, which launched a year later.

 

Fellow Passengers

Passengers tend to be older (50 and older) and well traveled, hailing mostly from the U.S. and Canada. The line also markets to English-speaking travelers from the U.K., Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Crystal Cruises Fares from $1,799 pp*
SilverseaCruises Fares from $3,500 pp*
  • Big ships offer luxury on a larger scale

  • Outstanding Japanese and Italian restaurants on both ships

  • One of the highest passenger-to-staff, passenger-to-space ratios

  • Crystal Deals: Crystal Cruises' Bonus Amenities + Kids Sail Free

 

 

 

 

Onboard

Crystal's biggest challenge is in, ironically, the main feature that differentiates it from smaller-ship luxury lines like Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises: With bigger ships carrying more passengers, how does it successfully offer exemplary service, outstanding cuisine and freedom of choice on such a large scale?

Usually, it manages. Beyond the company's innovative programming and ship features, it has one of the industry's highest passenger-to-staff and passenger-to-space ratios, and, perhaps not coincidentally, one of the most loyal repeat passenger bases afloat. There's a huge positive to Crystal's biggest-ships-in-luxury-class status as well; there are simply far more options, in terms of entertainment, socializing, casinos, spa and fitness facilities, activities and enrichment opportunities, than there are on its smaller luxury brethren.

Perhaps the biggest dilemma that has faced Crystal Cruises in the past is the fact that, of all the luxury lines, it's the only one to have two set dinner seatings in the main dining room -- a mainstay of mass-market lines that doesn't necessarily appeal to the eat-when-we-want vagaries of the upper-end cruiser. This was addressed in 2011 with the introduction of the more flexible Perfect Choice Dining in the main dining rooms, where open seating dining will become available by reservation (called, not surprisingly, Open Dining By Reservation). In addition, Crystal has long offered alternatives to its main dining room; its Italian and Japanese restaurants onboard both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity are outstanding, but are generally in huge demand, so make reservations as early as possible. The latest effort -- and it's a wonderful alternative -- is to introduce ultra-casual pool deck dining at The Trident Grill on designated nights during each voyage.

All dining can be pre-booked on an online system, the Priority Check-in and Planning Center, which displays a full, personalized itinerary for each passenger, including everything from restaurant reservations to spa bookings, shore excursions and even tuxedo rental.

The company has been an innovator in the onboard experience -- Crystal was one of the first cruise lines (a decade ago) to embrace the concept of boutique restaurants, and it enthusiastically incorporated cyber cafes on its ships well before others (and offered how-to classes to encourage its passengers' computer skills). This innovation is being taken a step further with the introduction of big-screen iMac workstations that can run Apple's own operating system or Windows, giving passengers a choice. Classes in Computer University @ Sea (Crystal's technology training for passengers) include a seminar on social media.

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. (Despite the introduction of Perfect Choice Dining, Crystal executives confirm that there is no intention whatsoever of doing away with the traditional dinner seatings.)

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.

Longer, more exotic cruises attract a 55-plus crowd, but Crystal, developing a reputation as the multi-generational family cruise line of choice for well-heeled travelers, appeals to a more diverse group of passengers for Alaska and, occasionally, Caribbean, itineraries.

Clothing onboard is dressy, particularly on formal nights (good time to break out those sequins). Even on other nights, passengers tend to wear cocktail attire (women) and suits (men). During the day, elegant casual permeates.

In 2012, Crystal joined the ranks of other luxury lines by going the nearly all-inclusive route. Fares now include beverages and gratuities. Starting in Fall 2014, all members of the line's Crystal Society past passenger loyalty program will receive free Internet (up to 60 minutes free per day).
 

About Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises offers an intriguing, hybrid-style cruise experience. With two ships, the smallest of which carries 922 passengers, the upscale line has carved out a niche that offers the amenities and activities associated with larger vessels, as well as top-notch dining and service that are part of a luxury experience.

Crystal is owned by NYK Line of Japan and is based in Los Angeles. The line was founded in 1990 with Crystal Harmony as its first ship. Crystal Symphony soon followed. Crystal Serenity debuted in 2003, and Crystal Harmony departed from the fleet two years later.

Beyond its well-deserved reputation for dining, service and big-ship options, Crystal Cruises is particularly known for signature features that include onboard sushi bars, huge wine cellars, paddle tennis, expansive Computer University @ Sea labs and one of the best enrichment programs in cruising. And while its children's facilities can't hold a candle to big-ship lines like Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, Crystal offers the best program for children in the luxury market.

Crystal is also engaged in several activities in the sphere of social responsibility. A buying policy has been introduced whereby all seafood will come from sustainable and fair trade sources. Every itinerary in 2011 included a free excursion on which passengers can participate in a local volunteering effort -- for example, helping in a school or working on a neighborhood cleanup in an underprivileged area. Donations will be made towards the preservation of fragile or historic sites visited on shore excursions. The line is also working on an ambitious plan to develop its own onboard water bottling plants, with a view to ending wastage of plastic mineral water bottles.

And in 2012, Crystal caught up with the rest of the luxury cruise industry by making its fares more inclusive. Fares now cover beverages (including fine wines and premium spirits, plus all non-alcoholic beverages such as bottled water, soda, juices and specialty coffee drinks); gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff; and dining in the ships' specialty restaurants and sushi bars.

Crystal Cruises Fleet

The Crystal Cruises fleet is comprised of two ships. The 51,044-ton, 922-passenger Crystal Symphony was launched in 1995. Roughly a third larger, the 68,000-ton, 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity debuted in 2003. While luxury operators like Seabourn Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises have both launched new ships in the last year, Crystal remains quiet on the new-building front. The line has, however, committed significant funds to refurbishment of both ships; Crystal Symphony had a $15 million makeover in June 2012 and Crystal Serenity had a $20-plus million refit in May 2011.

Fellow Passengers

As previously noted, the longer and more exotic the cruise, the older the clientele (typically the 55-plus crowd). Well-heeled travellers have also jumped at the opportunity to bring their children and grandchildren onboard Crystal's family friendly ships, and multi-generational groups are common. On shorter (weeklong) trips -- mostly Alaska, less commonly Caribbean, itineraries -- the cruise line appeals to a more diverse group of passengers.

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www.cruisecritic.com

  • All-suite, all-inclusive cruise line

  • Adventure ship goes beyond traditional luxury

  • Itineraries blend exotic ports and mainstream locales

  • Stellar service and cuisine onboard

 

 

 

 

Onboard

Silversea fosters an upscale, yet casual atmosphere with roomy public spaces that provide larger-than-average spaces for passengers. Expect stellar service and no waiting in line for meals or activities. Extraordinary dining experiences are offered on all Silversea vessels, with wine generously poured at meals. The all-inclusive policy, which covers gratuities and unlimited beverages -- wine, liquor, beer and soft drinks (except truly premium brands) -- is appealing.

There are lecturers on virtually all cruises, offering insights into the lives and cultures of the people of the destinations visited. There are sometimes a bridge instructor and a golf pro who offers lessons at the practice nets on each ship. But, partly as a function of size and relatively low passenger capacity, there are few major educational opportunities on Silversea vessels. Each has a well-stocked library, a Steiner-managed spa and fitness center.

Meals are served open seating in the main dining room, with lunch available between noon and 1:30 p.m. and dinner at any time between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Alternative evening dining is available in La Terrazza at 7 p.m. (reservations required) and in the small, upscale (even by Silversea standards) Le Champagne -- again, reservations only -- between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. La Terrazza is free; to eat in Le Champagne, there's a $200/$30 charge, depending on the dining option you choose. (Yes, that's $200 for a multicourse degustation menu that includes wine pairings.)

As there are no organized children's programs, the ships are inappropriate for most families with young kids.

About Silversea Cruises

In April 1994, a luxurious, all-suite ship -- small by the prevailing standards of the day at just 16,800 tons -- made its debut in the Mediterranean. It was 296-passenger Silver Cloud, the first of what has become a fleet of five Silversea Cruises vessels (along with three expedition ships). Within a year, twin Silver Wind followed, and the company figured that the smartest thing to do with their luxury concept was create more of the same -- but bigger. Silver Shadow (September 2000) and Silver Whisper (June 2001) are, essentially, enlarged versions of those two earlier ships, each at 7,200 tons more, with the capacity to carry almost an additional 100 passengers apiece.

In 2008, Silversea expanded into the luxury expedition market. It purchased a pre-owned expedition ship and upgraded it to the line's high standards of comfort and luxury. The 132-passenger, Silver Explorer was named in June 2008 and offers more rugged itineraries than its sister ships. (Think Arctic and Antarctic voyages and Serengeti of Western Africa.) It features up-close and personal wildlife adventures with frequent Zodiac boat expeditions. Yet it's a true Silversea ship, with an all-inclusive price plan, spacious cabins and high-quality service. In 2013, the line added Silver Galapagos, a 100-passenger ship that is stationed year-round in Darwin's favorite destination. And in March 2014, a third expedition ship, Silver Discoverer, joined the fleet, plying the waters on far-flung itineraries like Micronesia, Polynesia, Melonesia, the Russian Far East, and Australia and New Zealand. A fleet of Zodiacs allows exploration on this unique vessel, with a glass-bottom boat, snorkeling and a dive program.

Silversea has also added tonnage through new-building. In December 2009, the line launched 540-passenger, all-suite Silver Spirit.

Owned by the Lefebvre family of Rome (former owners of Sitmar Cruises), Silversea has shown clearly that it belongs with the best of them in the ultra-luxury cruise market. Though it's an expensive product on paper -- all luxury cruise vacations are -- it's important to look at what's included. Silversea's all-inclusive pricing offers passengers great value for their money. Butler service, gratuities, port charges and alcoholic beverages (including wine at lunch and dinner) are folded into the cost of each cruise. In addition, there's a complimentary, shoreside Silversea experience on selected voyages. Options include visits to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg after closing time; concerts in Ephesus, Turkey; and beach parties in the Caribbean and Seychelles.

Silversea Cruises Fleet

Silversea's elegant ships are of several different sizes but of one class -- all-suite, all-inclusive, all-frills-all-the-time vessels. Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, each at 16,800 tons, are roomy, intimate vessels. Each carries 296 passengers. The passenger/space ratio on these ships is among the industry's highest. Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, at 28,258 tons apiece, each carry 382 passengers, and they've taken the company's passenger/space measure to even greater heights.

Each of the four vessels is the result of the work of two Italian shipyards. The hulls were laid in the Francesco Visentini yard near Trieste, after which they were floated and towed to their final outfitting in the T. Mariotti yard in Genoa. All were designed by the Oslo-based marine architect team of Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten. The ships' officers are Italian, and the service staff is international, mainly from the Philippines.

Because of the restrictions imposed by their size, the smaller ships are light on entertainment opportunities. The ships are too small to have significant theater facilities. The two later vessels, however, include rooms in which more extravagant entertainment can be presented.

Silver Spirit, launched in December 2009, was Silversea's first new-build since 2001. The 540-passenger vessel offers 270 oceanview cabins, and all but 12 have balconies. The ship also boasts a supper club-style specialty restaurant. Diners can enjoy gourmet cuisine and jazz in an intimate, clublike setting and show off their fancy footwork between courses.

Silversea also has an expedition fleet, currently consisting of three ships. Silver Explorer, built in 1989, is of quite another breed. It's the first vessel not custom-built for the line, although an extreme makeover in 2008 brought its style somewhat closer to that of Silversea's other ships. The 6,062-ton vessel carries just 132 passengers in 66 oceanview cabins. It offers all the amenities of a luxury ship -- spa, elegant dining room, flat-screen TVs -- but also has an ice-rated hull and carries eight Zodiac vessels for up-close explorations.

The second expedition ship, Silver Galapagos, underwent an extensive interior makeover, and the 20-year-old, 100-passenger vessel cruises the Galapagos under the Silversea banner.

In March 2014, 5,218-ton, 128-passenger Silver Discoverer -- the former Clipper Odyssey -- joined the fleet following an extensive refurbishment. It sails the far-flung regions of the globe, including Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, the Russian Far East and the Kimberley, Western Australia.

Fellow Passengers

Silversea passengers are affluent and then some. They are heavily skewed to professional types, and they're generally -- as on most small luxury cruise ships -- somewhat older than those found on larger, mainstream ships.

In terms of nationality, usually about 50 percent are from North America, with the other half coming from all over the world (predominately the U.K., Europe and Australia). Many passengers are retirees with the leisure and the resources to make Silversea their cruise line of choice.

Perhaps because they have the space for more facilities (an expanded spa, a cigar bar, a wine bar and a computer center, not to mention a bigger, better-equipped show lounge), Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper attract a somewhat younger crowd, but it's still not a line for the 20- and 30-something set.

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