Luxury Ships vs a Mainstream Cruise… what’s the diff?
Lately, there has been a tremendous amount of talk and curiosity about Cruising on the small Luxury Ships because everywhere you look one of the Luxury Lines (Regent, Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea, etc.) has a great promotion going like 2 for 1 Fares (or better), Free Airfare, Free Excursions, Free Pre-Hotel package, etc. and all this is on top of their always included onboard items like beverages (alcoholic & non-alcoholic), gratuities & specialty restaurants.
Well, after us personally taking 29 Cruises, including a few adventures on luxury ships, we can tell you that there are BIG differences between sailing the luxury ships vs mainstream cruises and there’s a good reason for all the buzz.
But first, which Cruise Lines are considered Mainstream? There’s Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity, Holland America & Disney.
And the companies who operate Luxury Ships – Regent, Crystal, Seabourn and SilverSea.
(FYI, there are 2 “Upper Premium” Cruiselines… Oceania & Azamara, who are just like the Luxury lines in many ways… food & service being superb for instance. They’re just not as all-inclusive as true Luxury Ships are & their basic rooms are smaller. They’re perfect to bridge the gap though if you want more then mainstream but Luxury is out of your price range)
(FYI # 2… some River Cruise ships are pretty Luxurious too but that’s a whole other topic! :-))
Luxury Ships vs a Mainstream Cruise!
Primarily, with Luxury ships… it’s ALL about the experience, from start to finish.
From day one, the embarkation will be different. You will notice a warm and relaxed welcome on the Luxury ships with an easy walk on process vs long lineups to board the mainstream ships. (which are just plain uncomfortable)
Once onboard, you’ll want to have a look around the ship. What you will see on the mainstream ship compared to the luxury ships will be the difference between a Hyatt and a Ritz-Carlton. Both will dazzle your senses of course, but the class of Luxury Ships will have more elegant touches throughout the entire ship, more attention to detail including in your stateroom where you will find twin sinks on many ships, a separate bathtub and shower, terry robes, a well-lighted dressing table, a walk in closest and so on.
Now make your way to lunch. On the mainstream cruise, you will notice large crowds and again the possibility of line ups, a sort of cafeteria style feel where you will have to walk about looking for a table to sit. On luxury ships, a more relaxed feel with white linen & spacious plush seating will be waiting for you as soon as you arrive.
And at the Buffet, everything is served to you… our first-time onboard we wondered why the serving tongs were faced away from us… we soon found out. 🙂
Right away, you’ll notice the difference of how intimate a cruise Luxury ships provide with less people vs a ship with an abundance of passengers? It’s truly a night and day difference…
… And the distinctions don’t end here!…
Let’s talk about the food quality.
On a mainstream cruise you will have to plan your meals to get your all time favorites. Nancy LOVES Lobster, so for her, instead of having it once in the dining room (usually formal night), she can, on luxury ships, have it every night if she wants. Many Luxury Cruises even grill Lobster tails at the buffet every night which is great for those casual nights when you don’t want to visit the main dining room.
Of course, you can have lobster every night on the mainstream cruise too, but you will need to look for the restaurant that serves it and pay an extra fee to dine there.
Overall, for “foodies”, Luxury ships are like heaven as most Luxury Cruiselines have had their menus designed by world class chefs… Jacques Pepin, Charlie Palmer, Nobu, Todd English, etc.
Oh, and one of our favorite dining features on the Luxury ships… in-room meals served from the Dining room.
Yes, there’s free room service on mainstream lines that include burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and the such. But it’s awesome to be able to sit back in your room for a night in with a great movie and to have Lobster or Dover Sole or Prime Rib or whatever is served in the main dining room that night served right to your sofa… on white linen of course! 🙂
By the way, we mentioned extra fees above for dining on mainstream ships… speaking of extra fees, these days you will notice you’ll need to keep your charge card handy (AKA your stateroom key) on mainstream ships because little extras, like pop & specialty coffees for instance, and other luxuries on a mainstream cruise line will cost you.
On Luxury Ships, very little besides spa services will need to be paid extra for as many include virtually everything. This is really nice because we all know what it’s like these days to pay for an airfare ticket and then have to pay extra for bags. How annoying is that! Just add it all in to the price and call it a day already!
When we Cruised Regent, no kidding, we used our Stateroom key to open the door to our Suite & that was truly it… isn’t that was those little cards should be for! 🙂
Another perk of Luxury Cruising… hop on those small luxury ships and you will find yourself in some ports of call that are not only a bit more exotic — but less stressful because you will be a part of a group of just a handful of passengers visiting, rather than being a tourist where four or five other mega ships are in port at the same time.
But out of all the above things we mentioned that are pretty amazing on the Luxury ships, the #1 awesome perk is the amazing service!!
Yep, service for the most part on mainstream lines is pretty great & before we hit a Luxury ship we thought it was as good as it gets.
But when you’re on a ship with a few hundred to 1,000 people (compared to 3,000-6,500 people) it’s amazing how much warmer the staff are, how much more they get to know you, etc. Having someone walk you to somewhere on the ship, that you’re having trouble finding, is simply much nicer then having the way pointed for you. 🙂
And just in case you’re reading this & in the back of your head you’re thinking it all sounds pretentious… trust us, it isn’t one bit!
We have middle-class backgrounds, do most of our shopping at Walmart & don’t have friends with “Rockefeller” as their name…
…but we fit right in on these Luxury ships as everyone is simply there to have a good time & to enjoy the finer things in life.
Overall, you just feel pretty darn special when on a Luxury ship as you’re experiencing life the way you’ve always felt you deserved to. 🙂
No wonder so many people Celebrate special milestones (Birthdays, Honeymoons, Anniversaries, Retirements, Sale of a Business, etc.) on these small, intimate, exclusive ships!
Ultimately, you can expect your experience aboard luxury ships to be virtually Perfect… a trip of a lifetime if you will!
At least that’s been our impressions gained from our 29 voyages to date on mainstream vessels and luxury ships.
For more information on Luxury ships, contact Shawn to find out which ships offer the itineraries & features that most appeal to you.
Shawn is a designated “Luxury Cruise Specialist” with Cruise Lines International Association so he will be able to help find, for you, the best Cruise that suits your specific needs!
We Appreciate You!
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!