The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard!
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.
That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak.
Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
Seven Seas Explorer, Regent Seven Seas Cruises
About the Ship: When luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises launched the palatial Seven Seas Explorer in July 2016, it told the world that she was the "most luxurious ship ever built." As the flagship for the line, Explorer exemplifies the hallmarks of exquisite cuisine and the super all-inclusivity that Regent is known for. If you're looking for extraordinary accommodations at sea, look no further than this ship. All cabins are suites, and if you love balconies, Seven Seas Explorer features some of the largest in the industry, ranging from 55 to 995 square feet. (Some apartment-dwellers in Manhattan don't have that kind of space!) Likewise, the public spaces are stunning. The ship features an enormous amount of granite and marble (half of it is Carrara) plus almost 500 chandeliers made of Czech crystal and glass. Art lovers will enjoy the 2,500 pieces of art displayed throughout the vessel, including some specially commissioned paintings by Spanish artist Eduardo Arranz-Bravo and works by masters such as Picasso.
For foodies, all you need to know is that each restaurant excels. The two main restaurants are Compass Rose and La Veranda/Sette Mari. La Veranda is the buffet option for breakfast and lunch, and then the space transforms to Sette Mari in the evening, offering a hybrid experience that includes a buffet as well as an a la carte menu. There are also three complimentary specialty restaurants: the Pan-Asian-style Pacific Rim; Chartreuse, which has a French flair; and the line's signature steakhouse, Prime 7.
About the Cruise Line: When it comes to pampering, you can't do better than the completely all-inclusive nature of a cruise aboard Regent Seven Seas. The fare includes business-class intercontinental flights for all U.S. passengers, as well as premium alcohol, wine, spirits, beer, soda, water and sports drinks plus all dining (with at least one meal at every specialty restaurant onboard), unlimited Wi-Fi, unlimited shore excursions (though there is also a list of upgraded tours with a la carte pricing) and gratuities. Throw in use of the ship's thermal suite -- even if you don't have a spa treatment booked -- and the list of inclusions is impressive, making for a stress-free, chit-free vacation.
Who Sails This Ship: The passenger mix skews to English speakers: mainly Americans and Canadians, with some travelers from Australia and the U.K. mixed in. Nearly all are 60 or older and incredibly well traveled -- especially when it comes to cruising. Many are Regent repeaters. You won't see many children or families, with the exception of summer and holiday sailings when the little ones are traveling with their parents and/or grandparents.
Other Ships in the Fleet: Regent has three additional ships in its fleet. Two of them -- Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager -- host 700 travelers per cruise, while Seven Seas Navigator is the smallest ship in the fleet, with a capacity of 490. The luxury cruise line likes to say that it offers "6-star service" on all its vessels.
Crystal Serenity, Crystal Cruises
About the Ship: Crystal Serenity offers a solid enrichment program that regularly hosts well-known authors, politicians and other experts and luminaries (think NASA astronaut Captain Scott Kelly and U.S. Marine Corps General (Ret.) Anthony Zinni) as guest speakers. American Contract Bridge League instruction is available on all sailings, and many tournaments take place throughout the year. 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.
The ship also excels when it comes to its entertainment options. If you love listening to music in the lounge or enjoying a show, Crystal Serenity will thrill you. You'll come across performers all over the ship -- from a classical quartet playing during afternoon tea service to a jazz or Broadway singer in the lounge as you sip a pre- or post-dinner cocktail. After dinner, there's karaoke and dancing at Pulse Disco. And if you love ballroom dancing, you can do so at Palm Court and even find a gentleman host dance partner if you're traveling alone or with a companion that has two left feet. Broadway-style productions are staged at the Galaxy Lounge, and the casino -- conveniently located on the way to the theater -- has a respectable number of gaming tables and slots.
Dining is also an area that excels aboard Crystal Serenity. The main dining venue, the Crystal Dining Room, is elegant yet comfortable and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are two specialty restaurants: Silk Road (with the Sushi Bar located within) and Prego. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is the culinary mind behind Silk Road, and its Asian-fusion menu and sushi keep cruisers coming back for more. (Passengers get one complimentary meal at each specialty restaurant, and additional reservations may be available for $30 per person.) Even the ship's Bistro coffee bar and Lido Cafe buffet exceed expectations.
About the Cruise Line: Despite the fact that Crystal Cruises is currently expanding into the river cruise and yacht sectors, the company still places great emphasis on its oceangoing ships. Crystal Symphony receive a massive refurbishment in 2017 and Crystal Serenity will get a similar makeover in fall 2018.
Who Sails This Ship: Crystal Cruises feels more formal than the other luxury cruise lines (though it has relaxed its dress code policy in recent years). Even so, Crystal still attracts a crowd of retirees and older professionals. You will sometimes see families with children on this line; as far as luxury lines go, it's a popular option for grandparents traveling with grandchildren as well as multigenerational gatherings. North American passengers are the norm, though you'll often meet Australians and Brits on the line as well, and sometimes a few people from other European countries.
Other Ships in the Fleet: Crystal Symphony is a bit smaller than Serenity, accommodating 848 cruisers, and the ship strives to make vacations memorable with touches like its renowned on-deck jazz brunch. The line also sails Crystal Esprit, a 62-passenger yacht (which you can learn more about below).
Riviera, Oceania Cruises
About the Ship: Riviera is known for its myriad dining venues, including complimentary specialty restaurants. Dining venues include the Grand Dining Room and other favorites like Jacques, a French bistro with menus designed by famed chef Jacques Pepin; Polo Grill, a refined steakhouse serving USDA prime and dry-aged beef; the Italian restaurant Toscana, where tables are set with custom-designed Versace china; and Red Ginger, which serves Asian classics. Two very special, intimate dining options are also offered for a fee. 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. Three menus are available, starting at $95 per person. Privee is an even more exclusive option and can be reserved for up to 10 people for a fee of $250 per evening. Dinner from either Polo Grill or Toscana is included in the price, but wine is not.
Foodies might also wish to pay a visit to the well-equipped Culinary Center onboard Riviera (as well as on twin sister Marina). It's a self-contained cooking school at sea that offers a hands-on experience at 12 individual cooking stations (two people per station). Classes focusing on a variety of topics do incur an extra fee, but get rave reviews from participants.
About the Cruise Line: Oceania Cruises' 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 the luxury lines discussed above. Oceania's OLife promotions on select itineraries level the cruise-fare field with offerings such as free airfare from certain gateways and a choice of perks such as complimentary shore excursions, House Beverage Package and/or shipboard credit. The line now offers free Wi-Fi to all passengers.
Who Sails This Ship: Expect to see a 65+ crowd on Riviera with the exception of its shorter voyages, which draw younger vacationing professionals. Most cruisers are American or Canadian but you will encounter some Australians, Brits and travelers from other European countries. You won't find many families sailing except on holiday or summertime itineraries, or in Alaska where the line offers the Alaska Explorer Youth Program.
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. The 2,000-square-foot Owner's Suites are knockouts, featuring Ralph Lauren furnishings throughout the living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. Oceania sweetens the suite pot by offering extra amenities including priority 11 a.m. check-in, priority luggage delivery, 24-hour butler service, priority online specialty restaurant reservations, unlimited access to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub's private Spa Terrace and much more. The perks make a suite worth considering.
Other Ships in the Fleet: Note that Oceania's Marina is nearly identical to Riviera. The line also sails four 684-passenger ships: Nautica, Insignia and Regatta, which were part of Oceania's original ship lineup, and Sirena that was added to the fleet in April 2016 after an extensive refurbishing. All four smaller vessels are R-class ships that formerly sailed for Renaissance Cruises. These well-designed ships are favorites among cruisers, who find it easy to get around onboard and love the layout of the cabins.
About the Ship: Like Oceania, Viking Ocean Cruises is more of an upper-premium line, but it rivals luxury lines when it comes to the inclusiveness of its fares, spa options and design aesthetic. The first thing you notice about Viking Star is its open, airy feel and the care put into the design of every space onboard.
All accommodations include a veranda, and the tightest quarters -- the Deluxe Veranda and the Veranda categories -- are comfortably sized at 270 square feet. Larger accommodations include the Penthouse Veranda at 338 square feet, the 405-square-foot Penthouse Junior Suite and the Explorer Suite, which spans more than 757 square feet. Thoughtful touches in all cabins include bedside USB ports, quiet-closing drawers, heated bathroom floors and anti-fog mirrors.
Restaurants, including all specialty options except The Kitchen Table, are included in the cruise fare. The Restaurant (the main dining room) and The World Cafe (buffet) serve international menus in light-filled venues, with options to open floor-to-ceiling windows on balmy days. Manfredi's (arguably the best restaurant onboard) offers Italian fare, and The Chef's Table offers a rotating menu of themed, set course meals. If you'd like to sample Norwegian delicacies, don't miss Mamsen's with its heartily topped waffles, open-faced sandwiches and bacon-and-pea soup -- all inspired by the recipes of Viking chairman Torstein Hagen's mother. If all of those freebie dining options aren't enough for you, book The Kitchen Table experience. It's only offered twice per cruise, and participation is limited. You'll start by accompanying the chef onshore for a market tour in the morning; in the evening, you'll join the chef and help him prepare a gourmet meal that you then devour.
About the Cruise Line: Viking Ocean Cruises was birthed out of requests from loyal passengers who loved their experiences on Viking River Cruises itineraries. They wished the company would replicate the onboard experience, Scandinavian design sensibility and emphasis on destination immersion that's found aboard the line's riverboats and translate that to an oceangoing cruise line. Viking Ocean Cruises began sailing in 2015, and in that short span of time it has gained kudos from past river cruise passengers and traditional ocean cruisers alike.
The line's ships are sleek and modern, and sail to some of the world's most interesting ports of call. A focus on the destination at hand means that Viking Ocean Cruises stay longer in port -- and often even overnight -- so passengers can get a true taste of the locality. As a tip of the hat to its river cruise roots, the line offers a choice of included tours in every port (though there are for-fee options available as well). Itineraries range from eight-night voyages to cruises of more than a month. On the flip side, onboard daytime and evening entertainment options are limited.
While Viking isn't branding itself as a complete luxury experience, you'll find plenty to love about the cruise fare, which includes transfers, complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner, no-fee specialty restaurants and free unlimited Internet.
Who Sails the Ship: Viking originally targeted well-traveled passengers ages 50 and older who were value-oriented. While you'll still find plenty of older but adventurous travelers on Viking Star, it also draws a younger crowd that appreciates itineraries that emphasize the destination over sea days, and the amazing Nordic-style spa that's complete with a refreshing snow grotto. The line does not cater to families, and does not welcome children younger than 18.
Other Ships in the Fleet: All of Viking's ships are nearly identical, including Viking Sea, Viking Sky, Viking Sun and Viking Orion. Many more sister ships are on order.
Seabourn Ovation, Seabourn Cruises
About the Ship: Seabourn's newest ship, Seabourn Ovation, is the second in the line's Encore Class, the next generation of Seabourn's popular Odyssey-class. The ship is practically identical to Seabourn Encore, and both are one deck taller than their little sisters and carry 150 more travelers for a complement of 600.
Beautiful interiors and intuitive spaces that are designed for the way people want to gather and relax are hallmarks of Seabourn Ovation's indoor and outdoor public areas, which were created by renowned designer Adam D. Tihany. All 300 suites have balconies that are perfect for enjoying breakfast, drinks or dinner alfresco.
The ship is notable for its many dining venues, including a restaurant by Thomas Keller (the famed chef known for his restaurants Per Se in New York and The French Laundry in Napa Valley), a sushi venue, new and upscale alfresco dinner option on the pool deck, plus the main restaurant and buffet/casual dining venue. As with all Seabourn ships, Champagne and caviar are available, gratis, at all times and in any spot onboard.
Seabourn Ovation also features The Retreat, a private, VIP-access-only outdoor lounge area on Deck 12 that's unique to the Encore Class. A daisy-shaped canopy stretches over The Retreat so you'll find both sun and shade. Fifteen cabanas -- costing $350 per couple per day -- are available, and come outfitted with flat-screen TVs, Evian misters, a beverage-filled mini-fridge and fresh fruit. The cabanas are conveniently arranged around the hot tub, which is a focal point of The Retreat.
About the Cruise Line: Many travelers looking for top-notch but friendly service are partial to Seabourn. The line's all-inclusivity is also compelling: Cruise fares include interesting itineraries as well as entertainment and all meals. There isn't even a surcharge for the line's Thomas Keller restaurant (available fleetwide). The fare also includes open bars offering fine wines, beer and spirits throughout the ship (although there is an additional list of select vintage and spirits that do cost extra). Tipping is neither required nor expected onboard, making the experience stress-free.
Who Sails This Ship: Repeaters. Seabourn cruisers know a good thing when they see it, and many remain loyal to the line. Ovation's passengers are generally well off, well traveled, social and between the ages of 40 and 70.
Other Ships in the Fleet: Seabourn Encore is Ovation's nearly identical twin. The line also sails a trio of 450-passenger Odyssey-class ships: Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest. They offer the same intuitive service and most of the same onboard experiences, minus The Retreat and Sushi.
Silver Muse, Silversea Cruises
Food is one area where this cruise ship excels. Its approach to dining is unique to Silver Muse, which lacks a traditional main dining room and instead has eight smaller restaurants at which passengers can dine any night. Two of them -- Kaiseki and La Dame by Relais & Chateaux -- require a $60 per person per meal surcharge, but the other six are complimentary (though they require reservations). Japanese-themed Kaiseki serves complimentary sushi at lunch, and becomes a swanky teppanyaki joint by night. Serving traditional French dishes with ingredients sourced from France, La Dame is an exclusive venue thanks to Silversea's partnership with Relais & Chateaux. Kaiseki and La Dame are the smallest restaurants onboard.
Complimentary choices on Silver Muse include Asian-fusion Indochine, Italian La Terrazza, seafood grill Atlantide, tapas restaurant and bar Silver Note, pizza place Spaccanapoli, and Hot Rocks, a grill-your-own meat venue. During the day, La Terrazza is the ship's buffet, offering breakfast and lunch. Likewise, Atlantide is the closest to a main dining room you'll find, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for those who prefer a sit-down option.
Silver Muse has lovely, understated public spaces, including an expansive pool deck featuring comfortable lounge chairs, a large pool and dedicated pool stewards ready to cater to any needs that arise. There's also a cool Arts Cafe, where coffee- and tea-drinkers can feed their habit while noshing healthy bites amid funky art.
Suites are a highlight, with more than enough space plus personal butlers and large bathrooms complete with bathtubs and separate showers. All cabins also have a neat hidden TV feature -- flat-screen televisions are embedded into huge mirrors, and when they're turned off, you can't even see them.
About the Cruise Line: Silversea shines across its fleet when it comes to personalized service. The crew is incredibly friendly and intuitive; they seemingly know what you want when the very thought has just 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. Staff is trained by The Leading Hotels of the World, a well-regarded hospitality consortium.
The line's claim to fame is the fact that a butler is assigned to tend to every cabin aboard every Silversea ship in the fleet. Butlers are educated by the Guild of Professional English Butlers and will assist you when it comes to unpacking and packing your luggage, serving breakfast on your balcony, making arrangements for shore tours and dining times, and even serving dinner -- course by course -- in your suite.
Silversea also loves to throw a good soiree and does so on every warm-weather cruise in the form of its deck party. Chefs spend the day preparing for this pull-out-all-the-stops event at which they serve roast suckling pig, carved meats, shrimp and crab-leg cocktail, pasta, salads and an array of mouth-watering desserts.
Who Sails This Ship: Silver Muse has fans from many walks of life, but most passengers are older couples. It's rare to see children onboard, though they're more likely to be seen during school breaks or summer vacations, when families (often with multiple generations) sail together.
Other Ships in the Fleet: Silversea offers a traditional luxury experience with its fleet of ships that includes Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Spirit and Silver Whisper. It also has an expedition fleet, which includes Silver Cloud Expedition, Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos (which sails the Galapagos Islands year-round) and Silver Discoverer.
Crystal Esprit, Crystal Cruises
About the Ship: Esprit is Crystal's first yacht, and while it's not new, the line did an amazing job refurbishing the ship before launching it in 2015. It's now one of the most contemporary and comfy ships at sea, feeling much more like a boutique hotel than a yacht. Even the smallest suites -- which range from 223 to 280 square feet -- feel spacious, and all accommodations feature an interactive bedside iPad that lets you set an alarm, order room service, learn about the ship and more. Even though the ship only caters to 62 passengers, there are several dining venues, including The Yacht Club, Patio Cafe and Terrace for alfresco breakfasts. Each restaurant offers dine anytime open seating.
For sun worshippers, Esprit offers a beautiful sun deck as well as a retractable marina that's stocked with water skis, wakeboards, paddleboards, ocean kayaks (single and tandem), Skidoo Jet Skis and snorkel gear.
Crystal's yacht experience aboard Esprit is all about uncommon experiences. For example, shore excursions are included in your cruise fare -- unlike on the line's traditional oceangoing cruise ships where you must pay a la carte for every shore tour you book. One or two complimentary options are available each day, such as a visit to a botanical garden, a culinary excursion or a ziplining outing over the jungle canopy. There are also a handful of additional for-fee tours -- including a private car/driver and guide -- that you can book if none of the free excursions are of interest. The yacht even carries a submersible for passenger use. The three-person submersible descends about 1,000 feet into the sea to spot reefs and marine life. This splurge-worthy experience lasts 20 to 30 minutes and costs $599 per person, but it's worth it.
About the Cruise Line: This foray into ultra-small ship cruising allows Crystal to focus on some of its strengths: customized but unobtrusive service, and incredible cuisine paired with the world's finest wine. They've translated the traditional Crystal experience and (dare we say) improved upon it for individuals that love attentive service on a very small ship. Esprit is getting rave reviews and it paves the way for Crystal's first new-build yacht, Endeavour, which will start sailing in 2020.
Who Sails This Ship: Not many ships attract an international clientele, but Crystal Esprit does. You'll meet cruisers mainly from the United States, Canada and the U.K. but it's not uncommon to meet others from places like Australia, Asia, Germany and South Africa. Due to the more active nature of a yacht voyage, passengers are of all ages -- from young adults traveling with their parents to retirees. Everyone onboard tends to be well traveled and is there to have a good time.
Other Ships in the Fleet: See Crystal Serenity entry above for more details about the Crystal fleet.
SeaDream II, SeaDream Yacht Club
About the Ship: SeaDream Yacht Club's 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. The marina offers glass-bottom kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, banana boats, snorkel equipment and Laser sailboats. You can even go water skiing or ride a Jet Ski.
Being that this is a cozy yacht, you won't find massive suites. The cabins are roomy, but none is fitted with a balcony. Instead, in-room amenities -- think Belgian linens, down duvets, wool blankets and Bvlgari bath products -- are the focus. Passengers always get a kick out of the monogrammed pajamas that are laid out in their stateroom upon arrival.
About the Cruise Line: SeaDream offers several signature experiences across its two-ship fleet. **** One is spending 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. At 10 p.m., crewmembers rope off the area and set up the beds with linens, duvets and pillows. Sleeping on the deck of a yacht is an experience that isn't easily replicated -- unless you happen to own a yacht!
If you like spending the evening outdoors but prefer to sleep inside, check out the line's "Starlit Movies" series. On balmy evenings, the crew pops copious amounts of popcorn for cruisers who show up on the Pool Deck to enjoy a film as part of this program.
And let's not forget that the cruise line offers its signature "Champagne and Caviar Splash" on Caribbean voyages. This decadent spread includes a Champagne toast and buffet loaded with caviar and other snacks, all to be enjoyed during a shoreside beach barbecue.
Who Sails This Ship: 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. The relaxed dress code (resort casual is the norm every night) also draws a younger, hipper crowd.
Other Ships in the Fleet: SeaDream I is identical to SeaDream II.