Ultra-Luxury Lines

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If you've got taste, tend to avoid the mass market, and have lots and lots of money, then these are the cruise lines for you. Most people attracted to these types of cruises are wealthy, relatively or actually sophisticated, and social. They're well traveled if not necessarily adventurous, tend to stick to five-star experiences, and don't blink at paying top dollar to be pampered -- which is exactly what they get here.

On these ships, elbowroom is abundant and service is very personal, with staff getting to know your likes and dislikes early on. The onboard atmosphere is much like a private club, with guests trading tales over drinks or over delicious French, Italian, Mediterranean, and Asian meals that often rival what's served in respected shore-side restaurants. It might not quite be up to the three-star Michelin level, but it's absolutely the best you'll find at sea, served in high style by gracious waiters who know their jobs. A full dinner can, of course, be served in your cabin, course-by-course if you like.

Entertainment and organized activities are both more dignified than on other ships and more limited. Guests tend to amuse themselves, enjoying cocktails and conversation in a piano bar, listening to singers or musicians, and attending lectures just for the fun of it. Itineraries tend to shun the big megaship ports in favor of yachting destinations like St. Barts, Bequia, and Jost Van Dyke.

As a rule, ships in the luxury market are smaller than those in the mainstream, which lets them visit smaller ports and aids the staff in providing truly personalized service. The smallest vessels (the two SeaDream yachts, plus Seabourn's Pride, Legend, and Spirit) carry only 100 to 200 passengers, while the largest would barely be midsize by mainstream standards, carrying only 700 to 1,000 passengers apiece. Several new ships have spiced up the luxury market in the past couple of years, with Silversea adding two (one an expedition vessel and the other a 540-passenger palace) and Seabourn adding three sisters carrying 450 passengers apiece. All the luxe lines in this group have also spent millions refurbishing their older ships, making sure they can compete with the demand for "new new new" in today's marketplace.

While the high-end lines have not been immune to the economic marketplace and have adjusted their individual pricing policies and programs to meet the times, they'll still cost lots more than your typical mainstream cruise. Expect to pay at least $2,000 per person for a week in the Caribbean, and easily twice that or more if you opt for a large suite or cruise during the busiest times of the year. Balancing the high fares is the fact that all the lines in this group include a lot of extras in their rates. For instance, all except Crystal provide free unlimited wine, liquor, and beverages, along with gratuities and a stocked minibar. Regent goes a step further and includes most shore excursions in its rates, too. Many of these lines include other nice little perks, from luscious chocolates on your pillow on formal nights (Silversea) to cotton logo PJ's (SeaDream) and high-end bathroom amenities from names such as Bulgari, Bronnley, Molton Brown, and Ferragamo.

These ships are not geared to children, although aboard Crystal, the kid-friendliest of the lot, you might see 100 or more during holidays or school vacation months. Babysitting can often be arranged privately with an off-duty crewmember.

Dress Codes -- Though these are still the lines on which you'll see the most tuxedos and long gowns at sea, all of the luxe operators have in recent years relaxed their dress codes, going along with the overall travel industry trend toward a more casual environment. Regent is a perfect example: In 2009, the line went to an "elegant casual" policy, with the only formal nights being on longer cruises. It's entirely possible now for a couple to travel on any of the luxe ships with nothing spiffier than a dark suit and elegant cocktail dress.

The Lines

Crystal Cruises 5 5 5 4 4 4 5
Regent Seven Seas Cruises 5 4 3 2 3 4 5
Seabourn 5 5 2 0 2 4 5
SeaDream Yacht Club 5 4 3 0 3 5 5
Silversea Cruises 5 5 3 0 2 5 4
Rating Key: 5=Outstanding 4=Excellent 3=Good 2=Fair 1=Poor 0=Unavailable

The Ships

ShipsCruise LineCabin
Comfort & Amenities
Cleanliness & Maintainence
& Spa Facilities
Crystal Serenity Crystal Cruises 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.5 5.0 3.5
Crystal Symphony Crystal Cruises 4.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 3.5
Seven Seas Mariner Regent Seven Seas Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.5 0
Seven Seas Navigator Regent Seven Seas Cruises 5.0 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.0 0
Seven Seas Voyager Regent Seven Seas Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.5 0
Seabourn Legend Seabourn 4.0 4.0 5.0 3.0 3.0 0
Seabourn Odyssey Seabourn 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 0
Seabourn Quest Seabourn 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 0
Seabourn Sojourn Seabourn 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 0
Seabourn Spirit Seabourn 4.0 4.0 5.0 3.0 3.0 0
SeaDream I SeaDream Yacht Club 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 0
SeaDream II SeaDream Yacht Club 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 0
Silver Cloud Silversea Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 0
Silver Shadow Silversea Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.0 0
Silver Whisper Silversea Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.0 0
Silver Wind Silversea Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 0
Silver Spirit Silversea Cruises 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.5 4.5 0
Rating Key: 5=Outstanding 4=Excellent 3=Good 2=Fair 1=Poor 0=Unavailable