The Captain Is Calling - Luxury Travel Magazine

The Captain is Calling

By: Caroline Gladstone, Issue 40 – Spring 2009
(Crystal Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Holland America, Celebrity Cruises, Tauck River Cruises, Aurora Expeditions)


When it comes to cruising it pays to do the math. Whether the price tag is $1,700 or $7,000 for a seven-day cruise, what a passenger gets for their money will far exceed what they could buy on a land holiday when those cruise fares are broken down to the respective daily rates of $243 and $1,000.

As a cruise passenger you'll dine in a variety of restaurants each day, enjoy entertainment from Broadway style shows to comedy club performances, learn new skills at art, dance and even fencing classes, be treated to free 24 hour room service and retire to a comfortable stateroom just a elevator ride away from the stylish bar where you sipped a nightcap.

And that's without factoring in the travel, which means arriving in a new port almost every day without having lifted a suitcase.

Savvy cruisers know that excellent deals are available to those who book early and extra savings can be had for those who pay in full several months before departure.
The majority of cruise lines will ensure that early booking passengers do not miss out on any further deals and savings that the line may announce further down the track.
Cruise lines, like airlines, have loyalty clubs that provide extra benefits such as onboard cocktail parties, captain's dinners and often an additional discount of five per cent or more.

These clubs also reward their frequent cruisers with a free cruise when they've notched up a certain amount of days at sea.

The popularity of cruising has exploded in the past few years and cruise lines are keen to keep their loyal passengers happy.

The appeal is simple: cruising presents a total package where all the hard work of planning a trip has already been done by the cruise line and all the passenger needs do is pack his or her bags.

Passengers love the idea of being able to take all their finery (if they choose) and revel in the joy of unpacking just once.

Hand in hand with the growing popularity of cruising is the growing sophistication of ships and their services; the onboard restaurants, suites and spas now rival anything you could possible find on land in a top resort.

Not too long ago only passengers booking a cruise on a luxury ship, that is those ships rated five-star by the industry 'bible' Berlitz Guide to Cruising, could enjoy celebrity-chef devised dishes in elegant speciality restaurants. However today's fierce competition has seen four-star and premium cruise lines open up this style of alternative dining and offer guests an amazing choice of restaurants. Crystal Cruises' ships serve succulent dishes created by famous Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa: Silversea Cruises has two restaurants on each of its ships where dishes are exclusively created by Relais & Chateaux; Regent Seven Seas Cruises has the only Cordon Bleu restaurants at sea, while The Yachts of Seabourn's celebrity chef is Charlie Palmer, a man with a string of sought-after restaurants in the United States.

While the fares on luxury cruise ships appear quite high, lines such as Seabourn, Silversea, Sea Dream Yacht Club and Regent Seven Seas have an open bar policy and provide mini-bars stocked with complimentary champagne and spirits, and include some free shore excursions. Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria also have celebrity chef venues. Passengers pay a surcharge to dine in the Todd English restaurant, which is a fraction of what it costs to eat at this TV chef's restaurants on shore.

Holland America Line, which has been systemically upgrading all its 14 ships in a program called Signature of Excellence, offers passengers the opportunity to dine in its upscale venue, Pinnacle Grill, for a small surcharge. For that surcharge they are served dishes on beautiful Bvlgari china and sit at tables set with Frette linens and elegant Riedal stemware.

The line was recently voted the 'best overall cruisevalue' by the World Ocean & Cruise Liner Society for the 17th year in a row. The society, established 29 years ago, is made up of avid cruisers who take at least two voyages a year. They particularly like Holland America's vast choice of eateries, hot hors d'oeuvres at cocktail time and free ice-cream parlour.

Norwegian Cruise Lines’ (NCL) newest ship, the Norwegian Epic, has been making headlines ahead of its scheduled launch in mid-2010 because of its tantalising array of restaurants and innovative bars.

The huge ship will have 14 different eateries including the Spiegel Tent, which will stage a Moulin Rouge style circus act. Spectators will eat and drink and watch the show from dining booths just metres from all the action. Another of the ship's wow features will be the 5 Ice Bar, a frozen bar where guests sip on drinks in frozen glasses while wearing thermal jackets and boots. These two experiences alone would cost a pretty penny on land, but cost only a fraction - or are free - on the ship. Oceania Cruises tends to appeal to passengers who want to explore each destination in full and the line's drawcard is its longer port stays. Next year the line has included overnight stays in St Petersburg during its Scandinavian program and often features two night stays in popular ports.

The line has ongoing specials available to Australians, and there is no surcharge to dine at any of the restaurants, while all soft drinks and bottled water will be free from 2010 onwards.

Another craze sweeping the industry and one that adds value for passengers who love their pampering, is the spa suite concept.

It has been introduced on Celebrity Cruises' two brand new ships, the Solstice and Equinox; on NCL's Epic and on several ships in both the Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa fleets. Passengers pay a higher fare and in return receive larger cabins and complimentary access to the day spa and its services. These may include the new Persian thermal rooms, special wellness classes, spa cuisine restaurants and hydrotherapy pools, or whatever new delights the cruise line has dreamt up. River cruising has become just as competitive as ocean cruising with lines offering early booking discounts. An emergence of new operators, especially in Europe, has translated into very good deals for passengers and the inclusion of extras not usually included on ocean cruises. Most operators serve complimentary wines with dinner and include a free shore excursion in every port.

Tauck River Cruises will introduce a new cruise in 2010, from Strasbourg to Prague along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers that packages many extras into one affordable price. The 11-night “Serenade” cruise includes two nights' accommodation in five star hotels in both Strasbourg and Prague, the seven night cruise with all meals and complimentary dinner wines, all port taxes, all tips and the opportunity to dine ashore as part of the package.

The complimentary shore excursions feature private tours of monasteries and dinner in the wine cellar of a German palace.

Expedition cruising is another value-for-money travel option gaining popularity with people who love to explore remote and exotic lands. While the fares are more expensive than mainstream cruise ships, passengers can expect to have an in-depth and intimate experience. Fares include all shore excursions and fascinating lectures and insights provided by a team of experts. Aurora Expeditions will make two journeys into remote Papua Guinea next year, which are priceless experiences for those seeking adventure in the lap of luxury.

The 72-passenger ship, Oceanic Discoverer, offers not only the comfort and style of a boutique ship, but the opportunity to squeeze into bays and inlets completely off-limits to big ships. Highlights of this 13-day voyage (from Cairns to Rabaul, or the reverse itinerary) are the Trobriand islands, cruising along the Sepik River to explore untouched villages, snorkelling in pristine Kimbe Bay, one of the world's richest coral reef systems, and anchoring in bays surrounded by volcanoes. Today's passengers have never had such a vast array of value-for-money cruise options at their fingertips.

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