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Cruising for Luxury

By    |   Tuesday, 19 June 2012 01:56 PM

They’re the ultimate gift to yourself — opulent cruises aboard ships that provide old-style indulgence that most of us might have imagined was long-forgotten.

They are simply the top of the line in luxury liners and a great way to splurge to celebrate an anniversary or birthday.

A butler to unpack your suitcase? He’s right there. Want to learn to play the piano? Your teacher is onboard. Fancy something different for breakfast? Try scrambled eggs and truffles. Need a suave dance partner? No problem — meet our Fred Astaire!

All the while you’ll be sailing to some of the most exotic spots on earth.

“On these superluxury ships it’s more than merely being pampered — you know that your every whim is going to be anticipated,” says cruise expert Rebecca Gardner of Travel Store.

“I have clients who, instead of buying a condo in Florida for the winter, prefer to go on a cruise for three or four months at a time, living a life of refinement, elegance, and service,” travel agent Mary Jean Tully tells Newsmax.
The best cruise ships tend to be much smaller than the behemoths that grab the headlines, with a nurturing tiny ratio of crew to passengers, says Suzette Jordan-Passmore of Travel Store.

“You’re known on board minutes after you embark. When you enter the bistro they are already making your favorite coffee drink!” she says.

Typical luxury cruisers are empty-nesters who have the time for longer voyages — and are undeterred by the average cost of up to $1,000-a-night per person, says Erica Silverstein of CruiseCritic.com, the industry bible.

But even the most exclusive cruise lines are offering tempting all-inclusive deals this year that make them more affordable. For voyages that don’t begin at a U.S. port, some will throw in round-trip airfare and a pre-sailing hotel.

Sea of Luxury
Opulence starts at the gangplank of the 700-passenger Regent Seven Seas Mariner, the world’s first all-suite, all-balcony ship. Flowers in your cabin, down duvets, and afternoon high tea with fresh cream and scones and classical music set the scene. “If you’re a single woman traveling alone, a ship’s officer will escort you from your cabin to your dinner table — and you’ll never eat alone or go without a dancing partner,” says Rebecca Gardner. A 32-night cruise from Buenos Aires to Miami starts at $14,623 per person, with drinks and gratuities included.

Luxury on Ice
The Silversea line combines luxury and adventure on its Silver Explorer with “expedition voyages” to the Antarctic and the Arctic. It may be tough sledding outside — the Explorer is designed with a hull strengthened to crash through ice floes — but onboard life for 132 passengers is all comfort and elegance. Feeling adventurous? Zodiac boats zip travelers to land to explore spectacular snowy wilderness, packed with animal life (parkas and waterproof backpacks are complimentary). Or stay aboard and take a course in making the perfect martini. And a unique bonus: Passengers are always welcome to join the captain on the bridge. “It’s expensive, but if you’re going to the Antarctic or Arctic, this is the way to do it!” says Erica Silverstein. An 11-day sailing to Antarctica can cost from $8,799 to $21,299 per person.

Surf Service
The Seabourn Odyssey’s maiden voyage was only three years ago, but already she’s gathered a stack of awards, boasting the largest spa on any luxury ship and with private solariums in some of the 225 suites. With space for just 450 passengers, she’s small enough to dock in off-the-beaten-track places that bigger ships can’t.

One Odyssey tradition passengers never seem to forget: “Imagine reaching warm waters and seeing crew members fully clothed in their smart dress uniforms wade waist-deep into the surf to hold up a caviar bar on a surfboard,” says Gardner. “And tuxedoed waiters standing in the waves nearby pouring Champagne. It’s a riot to swim out in your bathing suit and indulge.” Odyssey has seven-day cruises from Athens, Greece, to Venice, Italy, with the best suite starting at $7,499 per person.

Fit for a Queen
For a complete change of pace, there’s the Hebridean Princess — the little ship that won the heart of a queen. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip chartered her in 2010 for a 10-day cruise around the historic Western Isles of Scotland to celebrate the birthdays of their children Prince Andrew and Princess Anne.

Catering to just 50 “guests,” the sturdy ship takes them through picturesque lochs, calling at islands that once sheltered Bonnie Prince Charlie and making her passengers feel like royalty, too. A decanter of fine sherry greets cruisers in their cabin, cozy slippers nestle under the bed, there’s venison, grouse, and pheasant on the menu and passengers are quite likely to find themselves sharing a table with a lord. The Hebridean Princess has been likened to “a tranquil, well-run country house,” and her charming “Downton Abbey” style has long endeared her to American cruisers. Seven-day voyages from Oban start at about $6,000 per person.

Living Large
With space for 1,070 passengers, the Crystal Serenity is one of the larger true luxury ships, which gives it the space to accommodate two paddle tennis courts, plus a golf driving range and putting green presided over by a PGA pro.

There’s a “creative learning institute” offering mini courses in everything from computer skills to piano lessons and experts on subjects as diverse as astronomy and antiques. Staff members pride themselves on quickly knowing passengers’ names and their preference in drinks and restaurant dining.

And then there’s the Serenity’s signature feature: the butlers. They are friendly, modern-day Jeeves assigned to the penthouse cabins and suites. “A butler is the ultimate in pampering,” says Silverstein. “He’ll unpack your suitcases when you come aboard, and pack them before you leave, press your clothes, and even bring you canapés in the afternoon.” A cruise from Monte Carlo to Lisbon starts at $5,845 per person.

Pacific Pampering
The Paul Gauguin boasts not just sheer luxury but one of the most romantic cruising routes on the planet. Imagine sailing in supreme comfort through the South Pacific islands and lagoons immortalized by James Michener and Somerset Maugham. Tahiti . . . Bora Bora . . . Rangiroa . . . each Polynesian island more breathtakingly beautiful than the one before.

The 332 passengers enjoy French food with a Polynesian touch, and the sommelier will happily re-fill passengers’ glasses with good wines (all included) all evening.

When the Gauguin weighs anchor, says Suzette Jordan-Passmore, “the back of the ship drops down — and out come all the toys.” Water-ski boats and kayaks, combined with snorkeling and scuba equipment, highlight the fun. A 10-night cruise on the Paul Gauguin can run up to $26,000 per person for the finest suite.

Smooth sailing indeed!

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