Luxury cruising is designed to wow. Think visually stunning ships with museum-worthy art collections and all-suite accommodations swathed in an abundance of marble. Think silken sheets by European designers and other high-end decor. The crew-to-passenger ratio can be one- or two-to-one, so you rarely need to look for service or stand in a queue.
On top of all that, so many goodies are included in your cruise fare that you can indulge in wine with dinner or cocktails at a swanky onboard bar, course-by-course room service, intimate date-night dinners peppered with expensive foods like caviar and lobster, and even shore excursions and upscale hotel stays (on certain luxe lines) — all without taking out your wallet.
These are just the pampering basics everyone can expect. But some cruise lines take the indulgence up a notch with complimentary or extra-charge activities that take vacation splurges to the next level. Ready to embrace your inner rock star or royal and make your travel dreams come true? Here are seven extremely decadent things you can do on a luxury cruise vacation.
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Set off on an overland outing
Regular cruise lines sell day trips that take you to nearby locales with popular attractions. Luxury lines may up the ante with two- or three-night mid-cruise excursions to landlocked, bucket-list places. For these overland journeys, simply pack a roll-aboard and the ship handles the rest. You still pay for those missed onboard days, but on the other hand, you score a once-in-a-lifetime adventure impossible to achieve at sea.
For example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a 15-day cruise onboard Seven Seas Voyager, sailing round-trip from Cape Town, South Africa, in December 2022, with game park visits as day trips and also as pre-or post-cruise trip extensions. However, if you haven’t the time or inclination for a longer trip, you can still experience a far more immersive safari experience than through daily shore excursions by debarking mid-sailing for an overland excursion.
With more time in safari camps, you can dive deeper into local culture and cuisine and have multiple opportunities to view abundant wildlife during the prime dawn and dusk hours. Then there’s that unforgettable bush night sky: look up and be dazzled by what appears to be a million twinkling stars. This world-traveled writer has never seen a starlit sky anywhere as stunning and unforgettable as one in the bush. The sounds on dawn and dusk drives are equally memorable; wildlife is at its loudest and most symphonic then.
Intrigued? Consider a three-day, all-inclusive, mid-cruise safari on this Regent Seven Seas sail. Leave the ship in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and journey to the international award-winning, malaria-free Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Stay at the exclusive Eagles Crag; its spectacular glass-and-stone suites have indoor and outdoor showers and private plunge pools. Expect many included game drives, unforgettable sundowners and superb South African cuisine before you meet back up with the ship in Durban. Prices for the overland excursions start at $2,899 per person, double occupancy.
Dine on divine cuisine at intimate dinners
Mouthwatering delicacies, like lobster and prime-aged or Wagyu beef, are de rigueur daily on posh ships. You can even enjoy complimentary dinners at superstar chef Thomas Keller’s namesake Grill on Seabourn’s vessels (all but Seabourn Venture) at least once per cruise. That’s an incredible value, given that at this top toque’s renowned French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, you’ll pay $350 per person — at minimum. So you know that when luxury lines charge extra for a meal, it’s going to be over-the-top amazing.
Silversea Cruises’ La Dame celebrates fancy French fare with wine-paired, multi-course haute cuisine for $60 per person. Feast on Normandy butter, truffles, caviar, lobster and other luxury ingredients in great abundance, plus the best Grand Marnier souffle imaginable. Servers rush those souffles straight from the oven to the table, their tops still quivering from the heat. The intimate dining room seats from 20 to 65 passengers, depending upon the ship. Dining here feels very romantic, with such a small room size and tables set with sparkling crystal, gleaming silverware and delicate china.
On Oceania Cruises’ Marina and Riviera, passengers clamor to book a six-course, over-the-top Dom Pérignon culinary extravaganza (think jaw-droppers like sashimi-style Wagyu beef and octopus tempura) paired with generous pours of three different Dom Pérignon vintages in La Reserve, an exclusive dining venue seating only 24 passengers, for $295 per person. (When Vista launches in April 2023, this amazing dinner debuts in the private Privée restaurant, which seats only 10 passengers.) A passionate sommelier enhances the drool-worthy extravaganza by elaborating on pairings with every course. Passengers receive printed menus, which most eagerly take home as souvenirs and to share with friends.
Nibble caviar … in the surf
When sailing SeaDream Yacht Club’s two ships, revel in a complimentary Champagne and caviar party on Caribbean sailings. Wade into warm azure waters where uniformed officers scoop caviar onto baguette slices from a seemingly bottomless tin atop a surfboard. It’s definitely a pinch-me moment at an already jubilant barbecue beach party.
Seabourn also throws wildly popular caviar-in-the-surf events in the Caribbean and in Ko Kood, Thailand. Officers wear their uniform jackets, paired with shorts, as they stand waist-deep in the water behind the surfboard, generously spooning the pricey roe. Servers, clad in tuxedos and sporting white gloves, stand ashore with glasses of Champagne to pass to near-deliriously happy passengers. On Seabourn ships exploring polar climes, look forward to caviar on ice onboard the ship. What a cruise — make that a life — highlight.
But you don’t have to wait for a party. On Seabourn and also on Silversea, binge on complimentary caviar, presented with proper accouterments, whenever and wherever you like. Order it to your suite, your lounge chair on the pool deck or the bar where you’re making new friends. Since alcohol is also included, pair the ravishing roe with bubbly or vodka and you’ll be living the dream.
Related: The best all-inclusive cruise lines
Indulge in a truly pampering spa experience
If you find the pampering available on mega-ships to be indulgent, just wait until you experience the spas on luxury cruise lines. Consider Viking’s widely admired Nordic Spa on oceangoing vessels fleetwide. Drawing on the holistic wellness philosophy of Nordic culture with hot and cold therapies, the Nordic Spa features sauna and steam rooms, heated thermal pools, hot tubs, cold-water buckets and the remarkable Snow Grotto (with fresh snow made each morning) at no extra cost. On Viking’s cruise ships, chill on warming loungers; on Viking’s expedition ships, revive in a “warming cave” on mosaic-tiled lounge chairs.
Silversea recently debuted Otium, the line’s new indulgence-to-the-max spa, on Silver Dawn, and it takes decadence to soaring new heights. Guests are invited to sip bubbly and tuck into house-made marshmallows and other house-made sweets as they lounge in a gorgeous retreat post-treatment. This relaxation room features five loungers with sheer privacy curtains on both sides, arranged in a semicircle. Soft, new-age-ish music flows from a top-caliber sound system. The lounge’s center and focal point is a giant arrangement of Champagne bottles, befitting the celebratory spa mood.
If you prefer to stay in spa mode outdoors, head to the spa patio and curl up on a lounger facing the sea. You can also enhance that delightfully floaty feeling by heading to the adjacent steam room and sauna.
The blissful feeling need not end when you return to your suite. (Of course, just staying in a suite is a serious high.) Your butler will draw a hot bath, lit by battery-powered candles, for your soaking pleasure. Choose a sea salt scent, like patchouli, from three on offer. Soak in the tub as classical music plays, perhaps sipping more Champagne and nibbling house-made macarons from a bath tray the butler has prepared. There’s even a special Otium spa menu that you can indulge in post-treatment and bath — or any time really. But surely, such delicacies as foie gras burgers and truffle-flavored popcorn taste even better after such outrageous spa pampering.
Related: Best cruise ship spas
Explore beneath the waves in a submarine
Upscale expedition ships, such as Scenic Eclipse and Viking’s Octantis and the upcoming Polaris, carry submarines on board and offer rides below the waves for passengers to explore the underwater world. New 264-passenger Seabourn Venture, the first expedition vessel by ultra-luxury line Seabourn, kicks voyages up a notch by offering passengers glasses of Montaudon Champagne in the submersibles to celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Venture’s two, six-person, custom-built submarines — which can dive up to 300 meters — feature custom-embroidered upholstery, dual air-conditioning systems, Bluetooth stereo sound and that vital Champagne cooler. Seating platforms swivel 280 degrees for easy viewing, while powerful exterior lights ensure clear sightings. HD video camera systems record inside and outside action for later projections and souvenirs.
You can find such deep dives on many itineraries, including expeditions to Greenland, Antarctica and Chile. Prices range from $499 to $999 per person for a 45-minute ride. Sister ship Seabourn Pursuit will join the fledgling adventuresome fleet in 2023 with its own sumptuous subs.
Let a butler take care of you
Does anything signify the ultimate in indulgence than being privy to the services of a butler? Butlers, clad in white gloves and tuxedos, exist to make every minute on board a luxury ship the most dreamy imaginable. Quite simply, they can do everything, beginning with unpacking your suitcase when you board to repacking your belongings at the sailing’s end. Some, such as on Silversea, even clean your luggage and tie the handle with an engraved ribbon before you depart.
Butlers deliver all drinks, meals and snacks as requested, except when they are on break (usually mid-afternoon). Of course, they also set proper tables, smoothing out crisp linens and perhaps gracing the table with a flower vase. They whisk away dirty laundry and return it wrapped in fancy paper in a basket or on hangers in your closet. Butlers can serve elegant dinners in-suite, presented course by course.
Would you like a stirred vodka martini at 6 p.m. precisely on your veranda each evening? It will be done. How about a butler cleaning your eyeglasses and polishing your shoes? These are but some of the services butlers perform. Feel free to ask for pretty much anything your heart desires; if they can make it happen (sometimes at a cost, of course), they will. With butler service, you needn’t lift a finger throughout your cruise, short of pressing the butler button on your phone.
All-suite Silversea offers complimentary butler service to all passengers, no matter which suite category they book — even on the expedition vessels sailing in more rugged regions of the world. On Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises, penthouse and higher suite-dwellers receive butler service.
Lounge in a private cabana
Want to feel like the ultimate one-percenter? Book a private cabana at the Retreat onboard Seabourn Ovation and Seabourn Encore for the ultimate serene sun deck experience.
At this paradisiacal enclave secreted away on the ship’s top deck, recline on comfy sun loungers in one of 15 private cabanas encircling a central whirlpool. These tricked-out hideaways also feature a comfy couch, dining table for two, flat-screen TV, plush blue robes and slippers, and a stocked fridge.
For utmost privacy, simply close the curtain on the open side. Feeling social? Soak in the hot tub with fellow live-it-uppers. Or, hop a barstool where a mixologist creates custom cocktails and pours ultra-premium liquors. Bliss out during a massage or other spa treatment in the spa cabana. Cost per Retreat cabana varies between $149 for a full day when in port to $249 at sea; spa treatments cost extra.
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