TOWN & COUNTRY: A Snob’s Guide to Cruising
By Jonothan Knowels | 06-19-2023 |
Follow these four commandments and you’ll find yourself on the right ship, in the right cabin, and in the right places. Voilà!
There may not be as many ships on the seas as there are fishes in them, but there are plenty. Even among the top cruise lines, some ships will be right for you, others not. Here's to finding the perfect match.
1 Use a specialist.
Do not book a sailing trip online or through a cruise line’s reservations agent. You need comparative know-how. Cruise specialists have been on every ship and understand the differences among vessels and cruise lines: their sizes, cabins, itineraries, excursions, culinary creds, and overall vibe. Beyond booking the right ship for you (and making sure you don’t end up in a cabin under the jogging track), they’ll also help with specialty dining reservations, shore jaunts, and pre- and post-cruise hotel stays. Our go-to pros: Tom Baker and Mary Jean Tully, who both specialize broadly in all luxury ships—large, medium, and small. And Ashton Palmer, a former expedition leader and naturalist whose expertise is small ship expedition cruises.
2 Study ports of call.
Nothing kills the mood like an unattractive anchorage. In the Mediterranean, for instance, you want to stop in Portofino, not busy Genoa or prosaic La Spezia (Seabourn and Silversea both oblige). In Croatia you want Dubrovnik, not the nearby cruise terminal at Gruz (SeaDream Yacht Club and other small ship lines drop anchor outside the walled city). Venice has banished big ships from its center, but Uniworld’s tiny SS La Venezia ties up right at San Basilio, on the Giudecca Canal. In the Caribbean you want to be anchored off St. Barts or Bequia, not Philipsburg or St. Thomas; Emerald Cruises’ new Sakara takes you to Tobago Cays, where turtles drift over seagrass beds. And port departure times matter. Silversea and Regent Seven Seas Cruises stay in Santorini until late evening, so you won’t miss the fiery sunset. So do Regent, Azamara, and Seabourn, in Mykonos.
3 Keep it exclusive.
If there is one thing most of us worry about when we think “cruise,” it’s other people. But there are many ways to lose the crowd. A private charter, of course. Aqua Expeditions’ 15-suite Aqua Blu (Indonesian itineraries) or seven-suite Aqua Mare (Galápagos) fit the bill. All suites on Viking’s ocean vessels have balconies for built-in alone time. The Otium Suite on Silversea's new Silver Nova has 1,342 square feet of space with 270-degree views (and a whirlpool on the veranda). The Retreat, on Seabourn ships, is a shaded hideaway with private cabanas and all-day butler service above the main pool deck.
The suites on Celebrity Cruises’ Beyond ship-within-a-ship have their own restaurant, lounge, and pool deck. You get the idea. And remember that exclusive doesn’t have to mean not social. On Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s new Evrima, too cool for a traditional show lounge, a DJ spins tunes on the top deck after dark.
4 Personalize shore time.
Silversea’s insidery, informative SALT culinary tours are tops, but otherwise even the most exclusive cruise lines tend to offer excursions that are, well, not exclusive (and involve buses). Your cruise adviser can suggest things to do at each stop, recommend a guide, and arrange private transportation. Another trick: When a ship overnights, think about packing a bag and jumping off. Why spend the night on board in Livorno when you could be in a hotel in Florence, with two full days and an evening in the city?
And Don’t Sweat the Service
As cruisers know, top cruise lines are synonymous with great service, and some crew members have achieved cult status. Celebrity’s captain Kate McCue has more than 500,000 Instagram followers; Azamara fans book trips to dovetail with cruise director Eric De Gray’s time on board. You’ll be spoiled by:
Top hires: When Ritz-Carlton’s Evrima launched last year, 50,000 Marriott International employees reportedly applied for 250 jobs. We have high expectations.
Uncanny intuition: Many SeaDream managers come from private yachts. Used to the whims of one-percenters, they’ll know you want a table à deux on the aft deck for tonight’s dinner before the thought has crossed your mind.
Extra touches: The therapist at Silversea’s Otium spa will deliver to your room a body scrub and bath oil to match the fragrance you chose for your massage.
Three Michelin stars at sea? Newcomer Explora Journeys, launching in July, has lined up Italian superstar Mauro Uliassi as guest chef at its Anthology restaurant (until September). Expect dishes of great delicacy and complexity.