What Does Luxury Mean in the Cruise Industry?

Luxury is an overused word today. We see luxury linens, luxury cars and luxurious pillows advertised. It’s a category people aspire to join. It is associated with wealth. People who win the lottery want to live a life of luxury. The cruise industry is often divided into categories like mass market cruising and the premium and ultra-premium categories. These last two usually use the word “luxury” often. What does it mean?  What do you get?  How do they deliver it?

  1. Luxury means expensive. Luxury comes at a price. To be distinguished from mass market cruising, luxury cruising must cost more. Most people who can afford it don’t mind, provided they perceive they are getting value.
  2. Luxury means exclusivity. Cruising often involves crowds, especially on the mega ships. Luxury cruising often involves smaller vessels delivering the “yachtlike” experience. The slogan of SeaDream Yacht Club is “It’s yachting, not cruising.” Their vessels carry a maximum of 112 passengers. On lines with larger ships like Cunard, their Princess Grill and Queens Grill categories have dedicated dining rooms, cocktail lounge and deck space. If the ship is large, the ultra-luxury category is “a ship within a ship.”
  3. Luxury means unique experiences. Veteran cruisers have been everywhere. If you sail on a world cruise, you will meet people who have done it a dozen times! They have been everywhere!  The benefit smaller luxury ships deliver is the ability to get into ports that prohibit larger cruise ships. These luxury lines also seek out ports that are emerging destinations. This means they aren’t touristy and veteran cruisers haven’t been there yet.
  4. Luxury means expeditions. In general, life onboard a cruise ship is predictable. There is great dining. Cabins are spacious. There is dancing and entertainment at night. It’s like staying at a resort. Expedition cruising appeals to a higher calling. Swan Hellenic features in depth lectures on the sights you will be seeing. Their ships travel to places “off the map” for most other cruise ships, places like the Arctic and Antarctic. Upon returning home, this enables guests to talk with their friends about destinations none of their peers have seen.
  5. Luxury means convenience. Travel involves bottlenecks. Anyone who has traveled to Europe knows they need to get off the plane, collect their luggage and find a way to get to their hotel or the ship. Transfers are included when you travel in luxury. Someone in the terminal holds up a sign, collects you and your luggage and drives you to your destination.
  6. Luxury means short lines. Wealthy people do not want to stand in line. Guests in higher tier accommodations on most cruise lines have a dedicated check in area with “the short line.” This allows them to arrive and board almost immediately vs. standing in a long line with the general category of passengers.
  7. Luxury means getting off quickly. When it is time to disembark, people want to get off the ship and get on with their lives. They do not want to wait in the theater until their group is called. Passengers in premium and ultra-premium cabins on larger ships are in the first group to disembark. This also holds true when passengers tender into a port.
  8. Luxury means small tours. Smaller ships carry fewer passengers. This can help keep tour sizes down. Cruise dares often include OBC, short for on board credit. This is the money you must spend during your vacation. It can be spent on shore excursions. There is usually the option to hire a private car with a driver who acts as your guide. This kind of touring is the ultimate in luxury.
  9. Luxury means butlers. The premium and ultra-premium passengers travel in suites. They do not stay in “the narrow cabins” as one of our friends mentioned, when we told them why we were quite satisfied with standard accommodations. All cabins have stewards, people who make up the bed, clean the bathroom and fulfill simple requests like getting more ice. In addition to stewards, luxury passengers get the service of a butler. They can serve dinner in your suite, unpack your luggage and bring you canapes. This is not the “butler experience” you expect from Carson on Downton Abbey or Jeeves in the P. G. Wodehouse novels. It’s a higher level of steward service.
  10. Luxury means a concierge. You’s heard the Hollywood expression, “I’ll have my people call your people.” Luxury level passengers have the services of an intermediary who interacts with the ship’s departments on your behalf. If you want to book a tour, you do not need to stand in line with everyone else. You tell the concierge, and they make the arrangements with the tour desk. You might think your butler could do this, but there might be additional questions, so it’s best not to have an additional person in the chain.
  11. Luxury means alcohol is included. The wealthy can be cheap. People in general do not like being hit by charges every time they turn around. Luxury cruising means wine, beer and liquor are included as part of your cruise fare. This can even mean restocking a free minicar in your suite.
  12. Luxury means fine dining. Everyone competes in this category. The first luxury benefit is open seating. Show up when you want. The china, crystal, linens and flatware are better. The food is Michelin quality. Service is efficient, yet leisurely. No one is hurrying you.
  13. Luxury means a relaxed dress code. Some people like to dress for dinner. Cunard is one of the cruise lines catering to that market. Many people do not. Luxury cruise lines use expressions like “country club casual.” The assumption is the passengers who book also belong to a country club back home. The clothing they choose for that setting is appropriate onboard.
  14. Luxury means personalized service. Everyone wants to be treated as an important customer. They do not want to be just another name or number on a list. Unfortunately, when you fly overseas and stand in line to go through Customs and Immigration, that is exactly how you are treated. On smaller luxury ships, the crew learns and address you by name. This matters.
  15. Luxury means gratuities are included. For years, tips were a major part of a steward or waiter’s compensation onboard. If you watch the BRAVO series Below Deck, the passengers tip the yacht’s crew about $12,000+ after their short voyage! People who travel in the premium and ultra-premium categories feel uncomfortable with the expectation they are expected to shell out money before disembarking. They likely tip an additional amount anyway, but they do not want this to be an expectation. They prefer the cruise line pays their staff adequately.

The cruise industry has done an excellent job bringing luxury to mass market cruising. Put another way, if you book a standard balcony cabin, you should expect the experience will have its share of little luxuries:

  1. Bathrobes and towels. They will be nice, but they won’t be from an Italian designer.
  2. Beer, wine and liquor. It’s available by the serving, just like on shore. If you want that “unlimited” feeling, you need to buy a package.
  3. Fine dining. This is still held to a high standard. You might be required to dine at a certain time (first or second seating.) The food you choose is prepared for a large number of simultaneous diners. You cannot request items not listed on the day’s menu. If you want to take it up a notch, you can opt for one of several specialty restaurants and pay a surcharge.
  4. They are no longer tiny. Even inside cabins are larger than you might imagine. Sizes are standardized. They will be well appointed, but not to the extent of the suites. Luxury buys you more square footage, yet most passengers should not be disappointed with standard staterooms.

Luxury costs more. It has always been that way. Luxury cruise lines have determined what passengers are willing to pay for and developed a way to deliver the complete package.

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Cover photo: Sightseeing boats cruising on the Vltava River in Prague © Dennis Cox / Photo Explorer Productions, All Rights Reserved


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