Which are the best ultra-luxury cruise lines?

We discuss the significant players endlessly in the mass cruise market offering active and adventurous family cruise vacations. Such as Royal Caribbean Group, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises, Holland America, and Celebrity Cruises.

But what if you want to experience something a cut above the rest – an ultra-luxury cruise? And what exactly can you expect?

Discover your ultra-luxury cruise

How different is it to be on board an ultra-luxury cruise line compared to a regular mainstream cruise or, indeed, an ocean liner?

The ship you choose will still have the same type of facilities that you find on the larger ships, for example, a gym, spa, lounges, formal dining rooms and buffet-style dining, promenade decks, and sports activities.

There will also be the traditional elements of a regular cruise, such as gala evenings or dinner at the Captain’s Table.

And even though you travel in luxury, outside influences can still affect your cruise experiences, such as poor weather conditions minimizing time on deck or even affecting port calls and excursions.

The big difference you will notice on your ultra-luxury cruise is the exclusivity. This is what you are paying for. Forget value for money in the traditional sense. But when spending all that extra money on an ultra-luxury cruise, you should expect the following as a step-up from the ordinary.

A smaller size ship, a more intimate cruise

Don’t expect a massive suite. The size of the suites must correspond to the size of the ship. And the more exclusive luxury cruise ships are smaller. Do, however, expect excellent quality linens, luxury finishes, and attention to detail in your cabin.

When you’re paying for exclusivity, you can expect the unusual. You will reach smaller ports, such as ancient ports in the Greek Isles, more unusual destinations, and the opportunity to experience ports that are certainly off the beaten cruise trail.

And very often reach the heart of your destination quickly, with less transfer time.

On your ultra-luxury cruise, you will find fewer activities and more low-key entertainment. There are lecture lounges, sometimes a putting green, and relaxation classes if you want to join in and meet new friends looking for a similar experience.

Personal service and attention to detail

Ultra-luxury cruises are more elegant, calm, and sophisticated than regular big-ship cruises.

Due to the high price tag, you are less likely to find families with children. Indeed there are no children’s clubs or activities on board most, but not all, ultra-luxury cruise lines. In addition, there is no hard selling from staff selling photo opportunities or beverage packages.

The personal service with attention to the smallest detail is a wonderful perk. From remembering your favorite drink to knowing how you like your steak cooked, the staff on board are highly trained. And there is often a crew/guest ratio of one to one.

Noticeably, the group numbers for shore excursions are considerably lower than with the large mainstream cruise ships. Rather than 30 to 40 guests per bus, you will find 15-20 guests on average enjoying an excursion.

The whole experience is much more tailormade to suit you and your fellow travelers in your group. It is a wonderful experience with knowledgeable, professional guides.

Ultra-luxury cruise lines – the 6 best for luxurious cruising

So where can you find such a cruise? Look out for news and offers from these six fantastic ultra-luxury cruise lines. The best way to do this is to sign up for cruise line newsletters.

Here are our 7 favorite ultra-luxury cruise lines:

1. Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn is an all-suite ultra-luxury cruise line offering a small ship cruise experience.

Depending upon the ship you choose, you will find a maximum of either 400 or 600 guests on board with a high crew-to-guest ratio. And that means personal and attentive service. They also have expedition cruise ships.

Seabourn has a small, modern fleet that visits unusual destinations. And these destinations are highlighted with key-note speakers such as historians, oceanographers, naturalists, and other experts in their field.

On board, you will find each of Seabourn’s luxury ships has the Seabourn square, a meeting place at the heart of the ship. You find comfortable lounges, coffee shops, guest services, and more. It’s a great place to meet fellow cruise guests looking for adventure.

Just like you.

It is a fully immersive experience, so choose your itinerary carefully. You will get to know your destinations intimately, whether it’s an iconic sight or a rare glimpse into a corner of the world you would never have imagined visiting.

And it doesn’t get much better than that.

2. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent Seven Seas, owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, have fewer than 750 guests on each of its five cruise ships. They offer all-suite ships, most of which have balconies.

Regent Seven Seas offer an all-inclusive cruise. For most itineraries, your accommodation, dining, gratuities, wifi, ground transfers, 24-hour room service, and some shore excursions are included in the price.

On average, expect two crew members for every three guests on board. And there are lots of perks depending on the class cabin you book. And by perks, we mean things like a personal tour guide for your land adventure when in port.

This ultra-luxury cruise line takes you in quiet, elegant style to corners of the world that you may never expected to visit.

For example, on an Australia and New Zealand cruise, Regent Seven Seas takes you to remote Norfolk Island and the visually stunning beaches of Whitsunday Island, getting right into the small ports and landing on the islands doorstep.

3. Silversea Cruises

The Royal Caribbean Group operates Silversea Cruises. Offering award-winning, all-inclusive cruises on a fleet of 10 intimate ships (with other ships planned), they cover 900 destinations across all seven continents, including Antarctica.

They are all-suite ships, with each suite beautifully decorated with touches such as top-quality bed linen. There are seven different grades of suites, from Owners to Veranda suites, and a butler service is offered in the higher classed suites.

The largest ship takes under 600 guests and around 400 crew members, trained by leading hotels.

With inclusions such as shore excursions, wifi, an in-cabin mini bar, and ship-to-shore transportation, these cruises are a far cry from your regular sun-and-sand vacation. And Silversea Cruises have just built their first destination-specific ship, Origin, for expedition cruising in the Galapagos Islands.

This ship now joins the luxurious Silver Moon and Silver Dawn as the three latest ships in the fleet. So save up, plan, and book yourselves on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure on board one of their ultra-luxury cruise ships.

4. Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Ritz-Carlton is not just synonymous with luxury-style hotels. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection offers cruises on board three suite-only yachts plus customized air and land packages.

With a maximum capacity of only 298 guests on board each yacht, expect luxurious accommodation with your private terrace, personalized service, and remarkable destinations.

Set sail on one of the many beautiful voyages that Ritz-Carlton offer. From ocean voyages to the prominent cruise regions of the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Canada, and New England, and Northern Europe with the Baltics.

What is exciting is the type of small ports and shore excursions Ritz-Carlton offer. Small vessels mean yachts have access to smaller and more exciting ports and even private islands that larger cruise ships never have the chance to visit. And you can be sure of carefully curated shore excursions with excellent tour guides, all adding to a memorable experience.

5. Ponant

Offering 5-star experiences on board small, luxury cruise ships to worldwide destinations, Ponant has 13 vessels, one of which is a yacht. At the same time, others are cruise ships, expedition ships, and even icebreaker ships.

For true cultural immersion into unique and remote places, Ponant partners with Smithsonian Journeys, the travel program of the largest museum in the world. Nature experts, world-class speakers, and guides joining you on these cruises make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

While children over three years are allowed to cruise with parents, Ponant cruises are not geared towards families with children. Most guests are adults looking for a super luxurious, elegant cruise.

If you have a big budget, an open mind, and a genuine wish for a culturally rich and exciting adventure, Ponant is hard to beat for your choice of an ultra-luxury cruise line.

6. Paul Gauguin Cruises

In 2019 the French cruise ship company Ponant acquired Paul Gauguin Cruises and had since added Le Paul Gauguin ship to their fleet.

This ultra-luxury cruise ship is specifically designed for the location it sails. Operating out of Papeete, Tahiti, the Paul Gauguin cruise ship focuses on sailing in French Polynesia, South Pacific.

It is, quite simply, a destination that dreams are made of. So why not sail on a cruise ship designed to get you around these islands in celebrity style?

From owner suites to porthole cabin suites, about 70% of rooms have balconies. And the premium class includes butler service. Some of these cabins can accommodate three guests.

If your child under 17 years old is in the same cabin, they can travel free. And enjoy the kids club on board.

With a high crew to passenger ratio of 332 guests and 217 staff, the Paul Gauguin offers an all-inclusive voyage with dining, suite accommodation, a 24-hour room service menu, and activities on board. Extras are for shopping, guided shore excursions, wifi, laundry facilities, or spa treatments.

You will love everything about this cruise ship (especially La Grill on the pool deck for French cuisine). But most of all, you’ll love the varied itineraries and destinations you visit, such as Bora Bora, Tahiti, Fiji, and the Cook Islands. To name just a few of their selected voyages.

7. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Owned by TUI based in Hamburg, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises offer five ultra-luxury, small ships in their fleet. There are two cruise ships and three expedition cruise ships.

Exclusive and sophisticated, each ship has a maximum capacity of no more than 500 guests. It’s an elegant atmosphere on board, and smart dress is apparent even during the day. Hapag-Lloyd is not a party ship. Instead, you can expect a calm, more refined experience.

For a classic cruise, choose between one of the two international ships. The more traditional Europa and the more modern Europa 2. We recommend that if you are a family with children, or are young professionals or honeymooners, choose Europa 2. This ship has a more youthful, more modern design and feel.

Children are welcome on both ships. Various clubs for all ages keep young ones busy, especially on sea days. There are children-only times in the pool area and children’s cabins adjoining parents’ cabins. Your baby will get a welcome pack with necessities such as diapers. And if your other kids are 11 and under, they will travel for free.

Being based in Germany means that Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has mainly catered to German-speaking guests in the past. But now, there is a definite focus on attracting more English-speaking guests. The crew speaks German and English, and all your cruise documents will be in English, as is the app.

And if you are an English-speaking guest, you will have an international host on board. Your host will help you will all your needs and inquiries.

Included in your cruise fee is your accommodation, all your dining, including the specialty restaurants, in-cabin mini bar, fresh fruit, gratuities, entertainment, and 1 hour of free wifi. And even all the facilities such as the sauna and steam room. Book early to get the best deal.

Two main things not included in the price are alcoholic beverages and shore excursions. But these can, of course, be booked and paid for before you leave home. You can use the 200 euros onboard credit you receive to book these extras!

Click to search and book cruises, last-minute deals, and much more

New to ultra-luxury cruising? How to choose the right cruise for you

Choosing the best ultra-luxury cruise line can be overwhelming, but by considering the right factors, you can ensure that you make an informed decision. Consider the type of experience you want, the destinations you want to visit, and the onboard amenities that are important to you.

Additionally, don’t forget to look at the reputation and track record of the cruise line, as well as the level of service and attention to detail that they offer. By taking these factors into account, you can narrow down your options and find the perfect cruise line to suit your needs and preferences.

Here are 10 things to consider when choosing the best ultra-luxury cruise line:

  1. Type of experience you want
  2. Destinations you want to visit
  3. Onboard amenities
  4. Reputation and track record of the cruise line
  5. Level of service and attention to detail
  6. Size of the ship
  7. Dining options and quality of food
  8. Entertainment and activities offered
  9. Price and value for money
  10. Flexibility and customization of itinerary and activities

Start by utilizing our favorite online cruise comparison service where you can search across a range of cruise lines and compare itineraries and prices. Then narrow down your choices until you find the ultra-luxury cruise line that is perfect for you – and start creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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