EPISODE 3

Enjoy a Lavish Experience on a Luxury Cruise

By Diane Tierney

When I stepped on board a six-star luxury cruise ship, I immediately sensed an atmosphere that brought the TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to mind. I was greeted with champagne, personally escorted to my stateroom, and introduced to Mark, my butler, who was wearing a black tuxedo with tails and white gloves.

While Mark unpacked my luggage, shined my shoes, and sorted items that needed ironing, he explained the stateroom offerings, such as the Pillow Menu of nine different choices and the selection of premium toiletries from which to choose.

He had a small black notebook and made notes of my shore excursion dates and any special preferences I had. Before leaving, he pointed out the telephone with a button labeled “Butler,” so I could call him anytime.

After he left, I decided to take a bubble bath in the spacious marble bathroom. There were pink rose petals sprinkled in the bathtub. It made me smile, and I knew I would have fun saying, “The butler did it!” all week long for such special attention to detail.

The ships of luxury cruise lines feature opulent decor, offer fine dining by world-class chefs, and present unique shore excursions that may include trips on the ship’s private helicopter and submersible. One line has a multimillion-dollar, six-guest submersible that goes to depths of about 1,000 feet.

Some ships have drop-down marinas at the aft that include a net-bottom pool and are stocked with water toys, such as kayaks, windsurfers, banana boats, snorkeling equipment, and water skiing gear. In the warm Caribbean, it’s easy for the captain to decide to drop anchor close to shore and announce that the seas are calm enough to enjoy the marina for a few hours. I did some waterskiing around the ship and a banana boat ride.

Elegant decor

Elegant features and finishes grace the interiors of all public spaces, from the dining rooms to the theatre. One of the most expensive ships at sea is said to have about $7 million in artwork, including two Picassos, a $500,000 sculpture, a $200,000 bed in the top stateroom, and 500 chandeliers (one of which is estimated at $200,000).

Staterooms are always decadent, with plush beds, fine linens, upscale furnishings, and extensive use of marble and crystal. It’s difficult to leave in the morning, especially after a gourmet breakfast on your balcony, with fine china, silverware, and linens, while wearing a plush robe and slippers.

Luxury ships’ space ratios—how many square feet are allotted per passenger—are the highest in the industry, so the ship is never crowded. It creates a private yacht-style experience—with a few hundred of your interesting, newfound friends.

Personalized service

Luxury ships also have the highest passenger-to-crew ratios at sea, at about 400 crew to serve 600 passengers, so the customer service is stellar. Crew members are specially trained to remember your name and preferences—and watch for nuances.

I forgot my reading glasses at dinner, and the waiter noticed I was having difficulty reading the menu. Moments later, he re-appeared with a velvet box of eyeglasses for me to try on. If you’re sunbathing by the pool, they’ll bring you a cold cloth and offer a drink or lemon sorbet. When you so much as lift your head from the padded lounger, a waiter is there, ready to serve you. You’ll wonder if they’re mind readers because they anticipate your needs so well.

Gourmet dining

Luxury lines often get their sixth star from their gourmet dining. Menus are created by celebrity chefs or those with affiliations to Michelin, Le Cordon Bleu, or Relais & Châteaux. On one cruise line, meals are served on custom-designed Versace china. Even foodies and wine connoisseurs are impressed—especially by the rare and expensive wine offerings.

If you have special meal preferences, just let them know. If the crew need to go ashore and buy cookware and ingredients just for you, they likely will. On a guided tour of the kitchen, one of the chefs told me that a couple requested a customized five-course Indian meal be served to them in their stateroom to celebrate a special occasion. The chefs were excited to create something unique just for them.

At destinations like the Caribbean and Mexico, you can enjoy exceptional outdoor dining experiences too—such as caviar picnics on the beach, with champagne served by uniformed waiters who wade into the water to serve you from surfboards.

Unique destinations and tours

Shore excursions are included and are often unusual, such as behind-the-scenes tours of a famous site or museum or after-hours access to a world-renowned distillery, gallery, or mansion.

Luxury ships are generally smaller, so you can access ports the big ships can’t reach. Itineraries may include more secluded, uncommon Caribbean islands or regions of Mexico for off-the-beaten-wave experiences—and these sites are often the haunts of celebrities seeking some sun and sand, without the paparazzi.

With easy access to helicopters and submersibles, you can take private flights over the jungle canopy to see remote waterfalls or historical ruins, such as forts and temples. Or marvel at the vivid sea life and shipwrecks in the submersible, at depths much deeper than scuba diving allows.

During a recent cruise to a Caribbean port that had many duty-free jewelry shops, a couple I befriended went shopping and purchased an expensive piece of jewelry which they showed me at dinner. Although we had already set sail, they were a bit concerned about the item’s authenticity and value. So, the cruise line arranged for an appraiser to meet them at the next port to evaluate it for them.

Late-night and overnight port stays are another hallmark of luxury lines, so you can enjoy the nighttime too. There are plenty of exciting beach parties under the stars with local entertainers for a truly authentic experience.

High-quality entertainment

Enjoy high-quality entertainment by talented performers, including singers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, and comedians. Special guest speakers for seminars include famous authors, explorers, and astronauts—and the topics usually complement the destination or excursions. Six-star cruise guests are not only well-heeled but are usually worldly and eager to explore destinations more thoroughly as well. While I’ve met many doctors and lawyers on these cruises, you’ll also meet interesting entrepreneurs who have started fascinating businesses. However, the most interesting person I’ve ever met was an airline service director who worked on the Concorde. He had served many celebrities and royalty on his flights. His stories were truly riveting, even if he couldn’t mention names!

All-inclusive

Most luxury cruises are all-inclusive, so limousines from your home to the airport, airfare, pre-and post-cruise hotel stays, premium beverages, unlimited shore excursions, specialty restaurants, Wi-Fi, and more are all included. Some may even arrange private jet charters. And prices have never been so low due to the pandemic.

Luxury cruise lines are the cream of the cruise line crop, and they spoil and pamper you at every opportunity. As I said thank you and goodbye to Mark while he packed my freshly laundered clothes, I asked if he could also pack the telephone with the butler button on it since I’d become so accustomed to calling him. He laughed and said he’d answer the call if he could, but the cord was attached to the ship.

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