Article Summary:What's the difference between a luxury, premium and contemporary cruise vacation?
The number of cruise ships has increased tremendously in the last several years. In the first several years of the 21st century, over 60 new ships entered service! Finding the right cruise ship is more complicated than before, as there are many more choices to be made.
Many consumers have learned to shop online for cruises on the basis of price, not realizing the subtle differences that can make such a qualitative difference in one's experience, and the variances that form each cruise line's, even each ship's personality. You shouldn't just want the best priced cruise vacation, you want the one that offers you the most satisfying experience.
The cruise industry categorizes cruise brands as Luxury, Premium and Contemporary. There also are niche categories like River Cruising and small boats, barges, expedition cruising, and private yachts.
Evaluating The Level Of Luxury
One manner of evaluating the level of luxury [and comfort] is by crew to passenger ratio. Contemporary lines generally have one crew member for every 2.5 passengers or more. Luxury lines generally have one crew passenger for fewer than every 2 passengers. The lower the ratio of crew to passengers onboard, the more attentive and personal the service should be.
Luxury and comfort might also be defined by space ratio -- how much elbow room each passenger has on a ship. While some feel a small ship with fewer people is more intimate, the size of the ship isn't relevant as regards onboard space ratio. What is relevant is how many passengers can be accommodated on a ship relative to its size.
How much a cruise line spends per passenger, per day on food purchases is also indicative of the quality of cuisine onboard. This figure is not readily available, but luxury lines will spend far more than contemporary lines.
Luxury cruises offer far more upscale staterooms and top service, with superior dining. The crew to passenger ratio is high, as is the space ratio. One might compare these products with a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons resort. Daily pricing inclusive of accommodations, meals and onboard entertainment (and in some cases liquor) can range from $250 - $650 or more per person, per day, depending on stateroom category. By selecting a line, you can look at the vacation opportunities each of these luxury segment cruise lines offer: Crystal Cruises Cunard Line (for suite categories), Regent Seven Seas (previously Radisson Seven Seas), Residensea, Silversea, Sea Dream Yacht Club, Seabourn, and Windstar.
All of these are respected products delivering the highest standards of onboard service, and the most comfort and sophistication as regards bedding, toiletries, spa services and the like.
Premium cruises cater to a discerning traveler, often featuring more sophisticated dining experiences and service than contemporary lines. A premium cruise might be compared with a Hyatt or Westin resort. The key cruise lines here are: Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line (non-suite categories), Disney Cruise Line, Holland America, Oceania Cruises, Orient Lines.
Contemporary cruises are generally larger, more casual and mass-market ships, and often less costly vacations that still offer good overall value. Daily per person prices can start as low as $60 inclusive of accommodations, meals, and onboard activities and entertainment. You might compare a contemporary cruise with a Sheraton or Hilton resort. The lines here include: Carnival Cruises, Costa Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, NCL America (Hawaii cruises), Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean.
All contemporary lines have, in recent years, improved their onboard service, spa services and more, to meet the demand of more sophistictated travelers who demand higher standards. Most also offer alternative dining venues onboard their ships, and often 24-hour dining.
While a contemporary cruise may appear less expensive than a premium or luxury cruise, it's best to be aware of what are the "extras" you may be paying for onboard. A balcony stateroom or junior suite on a contemporary line may not be less than a decent cabin on a luxury ship, where comfort, dining and service may be superior, and more is included.
River Cruises, Small Ships, Boats & Barges
River cruising, primarily along Europe's and America's waterways, has been around for many years, and has become very popular of late. More ships have been introduced, and the quality of the product has evolved as mainline cruising has.
In addition to the above, there are a number of smaller niche products available. And some cruise experts specialize in small ships. Some of these companies include: Amadeus Waterways, America West Steamboat, Avalon Waterways, Cruise West, Intrav/Clipper Cruise Line, Norwegian Coastal Voyages, Peter Dielmann, Star Clippers, Tauck, Uniworld, and Viking River Cruises.
Dan Ilves is a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and certified Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) who has worked in the travel industry for over 30 years, created and led his own tours, and currently is marketing director for California's largest travel company, TravelStore.