The Luxury Lineup - Part 2 By Paul Motter, CruiseMates Editor September 29, 2006
In this article we look at SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn Cruises and Silversea Cruises as part 2 of this three-part series. In part 3 we look at the three lines that are unique enough to have a category of their own; Cunard Lines, Oceania Cruises and Windstar.
The luxury cruise lines are almost as diverse as the entire world of cruising. Is there a "best cruise line in the world" that we would place at the top of the luxury cruising category? Yes, but more importantly there are unique aspects to each of these lines that make each of them a favorite to their loyal patrons for distinct reasons.
Some of the ways in which five luxury lines lines we have selected vary include the dining options, whether or not tips are include in the cruise fare, whether or not alcoholic beverages are included in the cruise fare, whether they have children's programs, the size of their staterooms, the size of their ships and where they sail.
The article below is to point out the differences between the lines for comparative purposes, but to learn more about each of these lines, be sure and read our cruise line and ship reviews for each one, available by clicking on the links below.
Seabourn, Like Cunard, is a small division of Carnival Corp. But unlike Carnival or Cunard, Seabourn's ships are managed by an independent company that over the last few years has transformed it into a line with an almost cult-like following. Now with three small ships, each holding a mere 208 passengers, and two brand new 450 passenger sgips, the Seabourn Odyssey and the Seabourn Sojourn, the line can finally compete with the likes of Crystal for enrichment and space.
Over the last few years, everything the passenger touches has been upgraded, including the bedding and the fabrics. But most importantly, the human touch is as good as it ever was. Individual service is the focus, and don't be surprised if every crew member knows your name by the second day. They will anticipate your every desire, often before you think of it yourself. Suppose you order a taste of caviar at 4 p.m. Monday with a chilled vodka or Brut. Don't be surprised if your butler shows up unannounced on Tuesday with a tray of the same.
While staterooms on the small ships have no balconies, they do something the line invented called "French Balconies" -- large windows that open to the outside, although there isn't enough room to walk outside. Nevertheless, they provide fresh air and ability to change the climate on a whim and hear the sea rushing by, just like a balcony provides. The small ships also feature the dedicated water-sports deck that's open in warmer climes for off-deck scuba and snorkeling. But a new comradely kinship of Seabourn devotees has sprung up lately, and they are rumored to have turned afternoon trivia into a blood-sport.
In other recent changes, the line cites the following:
Dance hosts are no longer on board the smaller ships as Seabourn's new passenger mix tends to be middle-aged couples. To accommodate these younger cruisers, a new assortment of shore excursions includes cycling, hiking, rafting, and zip-line canopy tours.
Most cruise experts place Silversea at the top of the luxury category. Though other luxury lines might frown, it is hard to argue with Silversea's reputation. It used to be the most expensive cruise line in the world, but its prices today tend to be more competitive (on the luxury scale). But back then, Silversea became known as the line for people willing to pay any price for the very best, a reputation that has stuck. Another reason is its solid devotion to a concept Silversea rightfully claims as its own: allowing the guest to define his or her own experience.
Silversea originated the concept of an onboard concierge who could arrange anything for you. Silversea's clientele conjured some very unusual requests, like "we want a private plane to fly us to this ancient ruin; we'll need a car and driver, and a hotel. Expect us back on the ship the next day." Thus the line concluded that such combinations of cruising and "experiences" were something its clientele wanted, and could afford.
In truth, maybe the line tried a little too hard for a few years and struggled, but after some fine-tuning Silversea is back stronger than ever. And the concept of offering not a cruise but an experience remains a reality.
The ships include two pairs of sisters; Silver Cloud and Silver Wind are the older and smaller, while Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper are the two newer but larger. The somewhat elusive nature of these names are appropriate, because when you are on a Silversea ship you feel like you are not in this world, you are somewhere it can't see you, while you observe your surroundings through a special lens.
The newest ship is the 540 passenger, 36,000-ton Silver Spirit introduced in January of 2010, the answer to Seabourns new ships. Spirit. Although Spirit is the largest Silveresa ship yet, it is really only marginally bigger than the Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow twins. With only 150 more guests, it is still small enough to be intimate, but big enough to offer an elegant two-story show lounge and for the first time six dining venues.
Silversea is at the forefront of the ultraluxe class. Silver Spirit's ultra-enticing dining option is the Seishin Restaurant for Kobe beef, sushi and seafood. There is a small fee to dine here. Le Champagne is present, as on the smaller Silversea ships. This is a six-course culinary experience where fine wines and spirits are paired with a tasting menu of several courses. This is a true gourmand experience with a price tag to match. Of course, the food and spirits you experience do not come cheaply to the cruise line. Truffles, caviar, foi gras and other very rare dishes are accompanied by the world's most famous vintages kept on board in the ship's stellar wine cellar.
The "Personalized Voyages" program allows voyagers to design their own itinerary and vacation experience by electing to embark and disembark on any days they choose. Guests can select voyages that are any length of five days or longer. Guests are charged a daily rate whether they book 5 days or 55 plus days dependent on the ports and the stateroom category chosen. All Silversea staterooms are suites, three-quarters with their own verandas, all gorgeously appointed. All gratuities and beverages, including select wines, champagnes and spirits, are included.
As for how the line has changed in the last few years; the average age is now in the 50s, similar to other luxury lines, with the medium age on summer Mediterranean cruises dropping into the 30s and 40s. More of their cruises now offer extended port stays, including overnights in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and London, and multiple days in St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong.
Probably the most unique thing about the line is their unprecedented focus on multiple hotel night stays and overland excursions as a part of their cruises. These can be pre or post-cruise options, but in many cases these overnight excursions, involving plane lifts, private guides and overnight hotel stays are being offered in the middle of the cruise as a part of the package.
New specialized dining options include the first-ever Relais & Chateaux wine-themed restaurant at sea. At night the Terrace Cafe restaurant becomes the "La Terrazza," an Italian-themed nighttime dining venue. This is the restaurant for guests who want a more relaxed dress code at dinner. There is also the new Viking Cooking School at Sea, for which the Viking company has designed and created special cooking equipment for Silversea's chefs and visiting culinary experts to conduct cooking classes and demonstrations on all their ships.
A new "Wellness Program" fully integrates classes in nutrition and exercise, fitness activities, spa therapies and healthy dining options. The goal is to create the opportunity for a "complete rejuvenation of mind, body and soul while at sea."
New onboard and shoreside enrichment programs involve famous chefs, politicians, writers, and explorers. Expanded Internet and WiFi capabilities, they have recently launched a service that allows guests to use their cell phones and PDA devices while at sea.
Silversea Cruises at a Glance:
Children's programs: no
Tips included: yes
Wine & Alcohol included: yes
Onboard male hosts: yes, known as "Social Ambassadors"
open seating dining: yes
large staterooms with balconies: yes
singles supplements: range as low as an additional 10%, up to 100%, depending on cabin selection and saildate.