Luxury cruising is one of the most effortless holiday experiences one could have
The definition of luxury – that overused word beloved of marketeers – nonetheless does fit with the upmarket cruise industry: top brands deliver personalised service, exquisite gourmet food and first-class entertainment in the most sumptuous of surroundings.
Moreover, smaller contemporary vessels find it just as easy to traverse the Antarctic Ocean or Amazon basin as the calm Mediterranean seas. Therefore, they are able to offer the perfect compromise for travellers who want to explore the world’s most exciting destinations in comfort and for thrill-seekers who crave deep-sea diving, Antarctic expeditions and watersports; all of which luxury vessels happily provide.
It is a market that is constantly growing, and thanks to the high-level of competition prevalent in the industry, one can expect to pay less for a prestige three-week cruise than for a week’s holiday at an equivalent five-star hotel. That said, if you are only satisfied with the best and seek to charter your own private yacht, then the costs will be much greater.
But, ultimately, the only inherent problem with this thriving industry is knowing who to entrust with your holiday plans. For, just as ‘some animals are more equal than others’, some lines are more luxurious than their rivals.
ADVENTURE – SILVERSEA SILVER EXPLORER
Custom-built to sail the waters of the Antarctic, Silversea’s Silver Explorer provides an effortless and all-inclusive method of exploring the most spectacular and haunting continent on Earth (from £8,950, silversea.com).
Larger than Australia, Antartica lacks fences, frontiers and indeed an infrastructure, making a luxury cruise the safest and most reliable method of seeing the magnetic south in high-definition. Part of Silversea’s luxury expedition fleet, the Silver Explorer has a strengthened hull which enables the cruise ship to safely sail through ice floes without difficulty.
The vessel also boasts a fleet of Zodiac ships which give guests the opportunity to visit some of the more obscure locations. However, hedonistic pursuits should not be omitted from this discussion – the Silver Explorer is dedicated to mercilessly pampering its guests, from the sumptuous onboard accommodation to the enticing range of dining options.
“Explorer has one of the highest staff-to-passenger ratios in the industry”
Moreover, with a capacity of 130 guests and 113 crew, the Explorer has one of the highest staff-to-passenger ratios in the industry, which ensures that service is attentive, intuitive and pretty much spot-on. Indeed, Silversea is celebrated for its service.
The nearest competition would be the MS Hanseatic, owned by German shipping firm, Hapag-Lloyd. In 2017, Hapag-Lloyd is offering a total of ten enriching itineraries operated in both English and German, sailing aboard the world’s only five-star expedition ship (from £8,660, hl-cruises.com). The Hanseatic, an extremely handsome and well-equipped vessel, is adept at exploring remote regions such as the South Pacific, the Amazon River and Latin America.
They are renowned for their immensely popular Amazon River expeditions: with its small size (175 guests), shallow draught and its on-board Zodiacs, Hanseatic can cruise deeper into the jungle of the Amazon than other cruise ships.
Regardless of your final choice of ship and destination, an adventure cruise offers the pinnacle of contemporary luxury travel – the world’s most breathtaking landscapes and inaccessible destinations, with all the creature comforts of a five-star hotel.
PRIVATE CHARTER – BURGESS
In the luxury yacht business, Burgess has no equal. Founded in 1975 by Nigel Burgess, a renowned sailor and worldwide single-handed ocean racer, the firm has grown from its humble beginnings into the foremost expert in luxury yacht hire, with offices in every corner of the globe. Their staff and customer service are exemplary, the pricing competitive, and the vessels for hire lavishly designed and contemporary – the world’s leading hotels could learn a thing or two from this outfit.
Today, Burgess’ range of ultra-lux yachts is astounding. The Titania, refitted in 2012, is a classic case in point (from €420,000 per week, burgessyachts.com); easily accommodating up to twelve guests, she is the very epitome of elegance, boasting a beautiful outdoor pool surrounded by wooden decking as well as vast entertainment spaces including the beach club which incorporates a sauna, bar and sofa and a state-of-the-art gymnasium.
The staterooms are no less grandiose – luxurious accommodation is arranged across seven cabins, including two master suites, a VIP cabin and four doubles. Suffice to say, Titania’s furnishings and fittings, designed by Francois Zuretti, are of the highest quality as is the service onboard.
Or perhaps the equally spectacular Joy takes your fancy (from €700,000 per week, burgessyachts.com). This joint venture between yacht superstar designers Bannenberg and Rowell, Joy is truly a sight to behold. Indeed, on a vessel arguably simply designed to serve as a luxurious background to the scenery, there is much to enjoy once setting sail on your cruising adventure.
Joy can accommodate twelve guests and, in addition to eight perfectly appointed cabins, there is a large gym, spa room, lounge bar and an onboard masseuse. Better still is the service, which is so attentive, intuitive and pampering it puts most high-end hotels to shame.
However, it is ultimately the wonderful itineraries that will really turn your head. Small and intimate, Burgess’ vessels can reach ports larger ships can only dream of – the chic Croatian resort of Hvar, Norway’s majestic fjords and the idyllic atolls and islands that make up French Polynesia are all waiting to be explored.
INTIMATE BREAK – CRYSTAL ESPRIT
The Esprit offers the perfect solution for discerning travellers looking for the style and intimacy of a small vessel, but who lack the inclination to hire a private charter (from £3,811, crystalcruises.co.uk).
Built in 1991, the Esprit was converted into a luxury yacht of the highest order by Crystal in 2015 and has, in a relatively short space of time, earned a formidable reputation for its exceptional service, attention to detail and cuisine.
Just 62 passengers can enjoy the yacht at any one time – there are 30 near-identical suites and one additional owners’ suite – all tended to by over 90 crew. As such, service on the Esprit is faultless; intuitive, charming staff greet every passenger by name and soon learn their drink preferences, anticipating every possible need you might have onboard.
The amenities are similarly impressive, particularly as the Esprit is a yacht rather than a cruise ship. A beautiful pool area is complemented by a cove bar, gymnasium and the Yacht Club Restaurant. Best of all is a retractable aft marina, where guests can try their hand at windsurfing, kayaking, jet skiing, diving and paddle boarding.
“Jenkins transforms every evening into a memorable banquet”
The more adventurous amongst you will want to experience Esprit’s most tantalising feature, a three-person submersible. It offers a chance to descend some 1,000ft into the sea to cruise coral reefs and spot marine life. It is one of the few paid activities, at £500 per 30-minute ride, but is definitely a memorable plunge.
However, where the Esprit truly shines is its cuisine. The food at the signature Yacht Club Restaurant, presided over by chef Adam Jenkins, is outstanding. Having cut his teeth at the Ritz and the Sloane Club in London, Jenkins transforms every evening into a memorable banquet, effortlessly substantiating the widely-held belief that Crystal offers the finest cuisine at sea.
If the Esprit has any credible competition, then it surely comes in the form of SeaDream Yacht Club. Their two vessels, SeaDream I and II, accommodate just over 100 passengers and conduct themselves with the ambiance of a private club, lending the ships a sophisticated, yet discreet, atmosphere (from £1,666, crystalcruises.com).
There are no flashy gimmicks or facilities – although divers will again love the retractable aft platform – instead the emphasis is firmly on pampering service and fine dining; only the freshest and finest quality ingredients are used in the best culinary artistry. All accompanied, of course, by a never-ending selection of fine wines and spirits, ensuring that the nights are long and the headaches obligatory.