I'm a pretty simple guy. Just put me on a cruise ship -- any cruise ship to any destination -- and I can assure you that I will have a fun time.
That doesn't mean I don't recognize the differences and enjoy all the added benefits that a luxury cruise ship experience offers compared with a sailing on a mass-market cruise ship.
In fact, the more of these voyages I take, the better I seem to enjoy them. The service levels, gourmet meals and attention to important details make the journeys so much more pleasurable. And even a super frugal guy like myself can start to see the value in an all-inclusive or mostly inclusive experience that treats you right and makes you feel special along the way -- a far cry from those "budget" cruises that are increasingly finding ways to tack on extra charges and fees at every turn.
Here are my six favorite luxury cruise experiences that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy in recent years. It's important to note that all of these luxury cruise ships share many similar features and qualities. They offer upscale decor, amazing service, wonderful culinary experiences, included daily excursions, free Wi-Fi service and spacious cabins. Here, I aim to distinguish what made these particular ships and voyages standout during my cruises.
I sailed on Crystal Bach on a Rhine River cruise in May 2018.
Why it's great: Crystal River Cruises excels with its service and food offerings. I loved that the bar service on the top sun deck was always available when passengers migrated up there. The ship's Sky Bar and surrounding array of seating makes for delightful periods of sailing or relaxing when in port -- you can spread out on couches, plop down on plush stools, or lay back in sun loungers under open skies or in canopied areas to enjoy some shade.
The main Waterside Restaurant, Bistro Bach (delicious tapas style meals) and the 24-hour in-suite room service offer fantastic dining experiences. You can also try the Vintage Room wine-pairing gourmet dining extravaganza (fee).
The ship also features a unique indoor pool area. This differs from most other river cruises in that the pool is deeper and on Deck 3 instead of outdoors on the sun deck. This allows wading in any weather conditions.
I sailed on Regent Seven Seas Mariner on an Alaska cruise in May 2018. I had one prior sailing on RSS Mariner, as well as a cruise on Regent Seven Seas Explorer.
Why it's great: The 700-passenger all-suite luxury cruise ship offers stylish upscale design, with lots of marble and fancy art throughout. But the highlights are the interior spaces that offer wonderful views while sailing in Alaska and other exotic destinations. The Observation Lounge is a popular gathering spot for scenic sailing and to enjoy cocktails and piano music with fellow cruisers. The pool area features attractive teak decking and soft day beds and loungers.
Service is top notch, with all drinks and specialty dining included in your cruise fare. We especially enjoyed the Sette Mari Italian restaurant (with indoor or al fresco dining options), as well as having lunch at the Pool Grill, which serves up great burgers, fries and sandwiches made to order. Don't miss Prime 7, the ship's savory steakhouse.
I sailed on Seabourn Encore in the Mediterranean in 2017.
Why it's great: The fun crew on this ship was our favorite part of this cruise. They were funny and friendly and made our trip special with the extra thoughtful touches. Waiters would stop by for friendly conversation at lunch every day, and they all quickly get to know your name and preferences for food and drink. Our cabin steward gave us delightful surprises by placing rose petals into our tub for a bath and crafting a little memento of our voyage, turning our daily program into a paper ship and making little dolls using photos that depicted us on our journey.
Seabourn Encore has a deck barbecue that is a definite highlight of the cruise, with lobster, oysters, shrimp, crab, breads, caviar, Champagne, desserts and so much more. Live music also is featured regularly on the pool deck.
The ship also boasts a sports marina that is opened when anchored in sunny spots like the Med. This allows cruisers to play in the water on standup paddleboards, pedal boats, kayaks and banana boats. The top meal on the ship is dinner at the Thomas Keller restaurant The Grill.
I sailed on Tauck Emerald on a Rhone River cruise in France in summer 2017.
Why it's great: This is an upscale cruise with a more relaxed environment. Again, the staff onboard made the trip amazing. We quickly bonded with our bartenders, dining staff and the fitness director as we fell into our daily rhythm of morning workouts, afternoon pool time with a beer or two and evening cocktails in the lounge and delightful dinners in the main dining room.
The crew also put on fun shows and demonstrations throughout the sailing, with singing, dancing, a liar's game and energetic competitions featuring crew-guest teams. Tauck offers active components to its luxury cruises. We liked the morning yoga workouts and the bikes carried onboard, which allowed us to take guided and individual bike tours during the voyage. We cycled in Lyon, Arles and Avignon and also went for runs in Tain L'Hermitage and Arles.
I sailed on Viking Orion in the Med in June 2018 (I also took a Med cruise on Viking Sky in 2017).
Why it's great: This is a right-sized ship (930 passengers max) with a quiet and intimate vibe. Viking Orion is the fifth ship in the Viking Ocean Cruises fleet, and they all are virtually identical, placing an emphasis on providing a supremely relaxing home for cruisers who get off the ship on daily included excursions for exploration of the diverse destinations the ships visit around the world.
Viking Orion offers large cabins, all with balconies, and the interior spaces are large with sleek Scandinavian design. You can find quiet places with comfortable seating throughout the ship, inside and out. The Winter Garden and Pool Deck areas are great places to enjoy the sunshine, daily Tea Time or a good book. The Explorers' Lounge is an observation and bar area that also features Mamsen's, an eatery with traditional Norwegian favorites such as waffles, shrimp sandwiches, pea soup, gravlax and steak tartare.
Viking Orion also has the Explorers' Dome, a 26-seat planetarium that features films and sky-gazing sessions led by the ship's resident astronomer.
I sailed on Scenic Amber on a Danube River cruise in summer 2017.
Why it's great: This is one of the Scenic Space Ships, which feature large cabins and the innovative Sun Lounge. Push a button and your window slides down to transform your indoor stateroom space into a large balcony verandah.
The ship also offers multiple dining options, with the Crystal Dining Room, Riverview Cafe (my favorite; it has a range of small bites for a quick replenishing snack), room service, Portobellos (Italian) and Table La Rive (a six-course wine-pairing meal for passengers staying on the Diamond Deck). Scenic Amber also carries e-bikes, features a fitness center and spa, and has a pool.
Have you enjoyed a luxury cruise, or do you think you want to step up to the luxe life? Tell us what you think in the comments below, and thanks for reading.
Always travel fit, travel happy and travel often!