Like fine European hotels or the fanciest boutique properties, the ships of the best luxury cruise lines are designed to appeal to people who seek — and can afford — an elegant style of travel.
Champagne flows. You can snack on caviar. Exquisite cuisine is prepared a la minute and accompanied by pours of fine wines. Onboard lounges are wonderfully intimate, with no mass-market anything. When you rest your head, it’s on a luxury mattress topped with the finest linens.
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The byword is exclusivity. Perks included in the cruise fare may include beverages, Wi-Fi, fresh flowers, extraordinary pampering and, in some cases, butler service.
The price to get on board could be $1,000 per person, per day. For top suites, it could be much, much more.
Here are our picks for the top nine luxury cruise lines currently operating.
Atlas Ocean Voyages
Catering to adventurous luxury cruise travelers with money to spend, the new cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages, which debuted in the summer of 2021, offers upscale experiences on small ships that carry just 196 passengers.
World Navigator, World Traveller and World Voyager, the first three of five planned vessels in the fleet, carry their own landing craft, Jet Skis, kayaks and paddleboards, all of which can be used by passengers wishing for some adventure while exploring the world on itineraries that include the Mediterranean, Portugal and the British Isles, as well as more remote locales like the Arctic and Antarctica.
Although the onboard dress code is casual, the ships are anything but, featuring elegant, retro-chic decor and marble floors.
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In addition to including Wi-Fi, crew gratuities, alcohol and some shore excursions in its fares, Atlas provides all passengers with emergency medical evacuation insurance to handle unexpected illness or injury in the remote locations its ships sail.
Overall, Atlas has found a way to seamlessly meld swank and leisure, making it one of our favorite luxury cruise lines.
Silversea, with a dozen 100- to 728-passenger ships, has some of the most diverse geographic itineraries of any line, bringing guests to destinations around the world, including such remote places as the Arctic and Antarctica.
Now owned by Royal Caribbean Group (the same company that owns Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises), the luxury cruise line delivers stylish, contemporary luxury — more streamlined than opulent — complemented by pleasantly extreme pampering.
Every Silversea ship passenger stays in a suite with a butler delivering superb service — even on the 100-passenger Silver Origin in the remote Galapagos, where your butler might take extraordinary care to get a spot off your hiking boots. Suite niceties include Bulgari bath products and marble bathrooms with both tubs and showers.
Silversea ships offer a wide choice of dining venues (some with a fee) designed to satisfy many tastes, whether you prefer sushi, foie gras or a great, thin-crust pizza.
Drinks are on the house, including a long list of fine wine pours. S.A.L.T., a new dining and culinary education concept, brings local tastes on board together with experts who share insight into each dish and beverage. The program also features culinary-focused excursions ashore.
Silversea’s expedition ships are equipped for polar locales. On sailings in those regions, each passenger receives a free jacket to keep them warm and cozy.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Another of our top luxury cruise lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is proudly opulent. Floating palaces are its calling card, along with the most inclusive fares of all the luxury lines. Business-class airfare, pre-cruise luxury hotel stays and shore excursions in every port are on the long list of perks.
The goal is knock-you-off-your-feet luxury. If you don’t get that point at first, look down at the many yards of Carrara marble under your feet, then gaze up at the Czech crystal chandeliers. Or spot the Picassos and Chagalls among your ship’s stunning, mostly Latin-focused art collections.
The six 490- to 750-passenger ships in the Regent fleet get fancier as they get larger. On the three newest, Seven Seas Explorer, Seven Seas Splendor and Seven Seas Grandeur everyone stays in a roomy suite with an oversized balcony and marble bathroom.
The top Regent Suites on these new ships are mansions at sea and come with solariums, private spas with saunas and steam rooms and Steinway pianos in their living rooms. They also have handmade beds that cost up to $200,000 apiece.
Lavishly decked-out restaurants, with cushy bars nearby, include Prime 7, a fan favorite for its classic steakhouse menu, including jumbo lump crab cakes, U.S.D.A. prime-aged beef and Alaskan king crab legs.
Long considered one of the great luxury lines, if not the greatest, Crystal just resumed operations in 2023 after shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. And as we wrote about recently, it’s as good as ever.
In the wake of its comeback, Crystal is operating just the two biggest ocean ships from its past: the 606-passenger Crystal Symphony and 740-passenger Crystal Serenity (though it already has plans for an expansion). Both of the vessels, which globetrot around the world, are all-inclusive and on the glitzy side — perfect for a crowd looking for a throwback. Passengers make appearances walking down grand staircases dressed to the nines, meet for afternoon tea and dance the night away.
Everything operates in the upper-tier way, from the spa and expansive fitness offerings to the restaurants — which include a Nobu eatery.
Those booked in penthouses and higher-category suites receive service from a tuxedo-clad butler who will do everything from unpacking your luggage to helping you set up a private cocktail party. A particular perk is having the butler bring Nobu sushi on a silver tray.
Owned by Carnival Corporation, Seabourn‘s top-of-the-line, 264- to 600-passenger ships deliver comfortable, modern luxury that can be as fancy or casual as you like.
If you want to show off your heirloom jewels, go ahead, but on most nights, a jacket is optional in the ship’s restaurants. If you prefer not to dress up for formal night, you can still eat well at casual alternatives.
High service is a trademark of this luxury cruise line. Your suite steward will draw you a bath scented with your choice of bath oil. For a snack, order the complimentary caviar.
Dining is over the top at the restaurants, such as the retro-chic steakhouses with menus created by famed chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame). When you tire of prime beef, order lobster thermidor or sink into the delicious comfort of Keller’s roast chicken. All dining is included in your fare.
Throughout the ship, complimentary spirits, fine wines and house Champagne flow freely. This leads to easy socializing in the bars and lounges on board.
The line’s two newest ships, the 264-passenger Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit, are built with a tough “polar class” design to operate in the ice-filled waters of the Arctic and Antarctica. They’re equipped with state-of-the-art submarines for undersea views.
A 26-person expedition team runs the two dozen Zodiacs that get you up close to glaciers and icebergs.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Looking to sail through romantic French Polynesia in complete luxury? Look to South Pacific-based Paul Gauguin for an all-inclusive, high-end home base.
The ship is immersed in all things Polynesian, with a troupe of local performers on board to entertain guests with local song, dance and craft lessons.
Couples can embrace the romance of the region by participating in a Polynesian blessing ceremony. Paul Gauguin gives its guests special access to a secluded beach on Bora Bora and a private island off the coast of Taha’a, where you can indulge in water sports, a gourmet barbecue and bar service.
To make the most of the aquamarine waters, complimentary water sports, such as paddleboarding and kayaking, are available straight from the ship’s marina and every guest receives snorkel gear for use during the cruise, free of charge.
On board, guests enjoy five-star French and Polynesian cuisine, with all beverages complimentary throughout the ship and in your in-room minifridge.
With 209 crew members on hand to serve 330 passengers, service is top-notch and full of Polynesian hospitality, but all gratuities are already included in your fare.
Not all cabins are suites, but the top suites on the ship come with butler service. Also, should you dare to consider the outside world, you can connect with friends and family back home with complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours puts the elegance into adventure with its two 228-passenger expedition yachts, Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II.
Sure, its ships have reinforced hulls capable of breaking through ice, but they also feature chic bars serving 130 different kinds of whiskey (all included in your fare) and high-end onboard spas (treatments cost extra, alas).
For small ships, Scenic’s yachts still manage to offer five gourmet dining venues, plus additional private dining options (such as a chef’s table or teppanyaki grill), room service and culinary masterclasses in a show kitchen.
Sample candied foie gras, daily risottos or sushi made with fish flown from Japan, all while sailing through remote waters. Wash it down with whatever you like because all but the most premium beverages are included.
After a long day of Zodiac, submersible or helicopter rides (yes, all these high-tech exploration toys are on board), you can retreat to your well-appointed suite, with distinct sleeping and living areas, plus a balcony.
Thoughtful touches include Illy coffee machines, Dyson hair dryers, remote-control adjustable beds, plentiful outlets and USB ports, and umbrellas and binoculars for use on your vacation. Did we mention you also have access to a butler for all your onboard needs?
Scenic’s all-inclusive fares include dining and drinks, Wi-Fi, gratuities, airport transfers and shore excursions led by the line’s knowledgeable expedition leaders.
Sometimes luxury means more space to spread out and multiple onboard options for a truly outstanding meal.
That’s the approach upscale cruise line Oceania Cruises takes with its fleet of seven 648- to 1,238-passenger ships (the last of which, Oceania Vista, just debuted in May 2023 and is its most elegant yet).
Foodies will drool over menus overseen by Master Chef Jacques Pepin in all-included venues specializing in French, Italian, Asian and steakhouse cuisine.
Cruisers truly passionate about food and wine will want to splurge on wine-paired dinners at La Reserve by Wine Spectator or enjoy a gourmet, multi-course menu with an intimate group at Privee.
Get hands-on cooking experience with a class in The Culinary Center or explore the food culture ashore with a Culinary Discovery Tour.
Oceania also embraces wellness with its Aquamar Spa and Vitality Center. Treat yourself to a decadent spa treatment or wellness-themed shore excursion, or take care of your body with complimentary fitness classes and plant-based menus at onboard restaurants.
Oceania’s fares are not as inclusive as some of the small-ship lines mentioned above, but guests can choose a higher-priced fare that is more inclusive with the line’s “simply MORE” promotion. These fares include free airfare and airport transfers, complimentary Wi-Fi and a choice of a select number of free excursions, as well as free specialty dining reservations, Champagne and wine.
Viking does not like to call itself a luxury cruise line, but we’d definitely put it in that category for the inclusive fares, fine dining and smart design of its ocean-going ships.
Its 10 traditional cruise ships are nearly identical, each carrying 930 guests, while two expedition vessels carry 378 guests and combine elegant design with the latest technology in polar exploration.
Viking’s fares are inclusive but not all-inclusive, and its ships sport clean Scandinavian design rather than opulent decor. Necessities such as Wi-Fi and self-serve laundry are complimentary, as are all nonalcoholic beverages and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.
Guests can enjoy dining in multiple onboard venues, plus room service, for no extra cost. Don’t miss the Italian Manfredi’s or a gorgeous afternoon tea spread in the glass-enclosed Wintergarden.
Cabins may not have an overtly opulent feel, but they have all the right touches, including balconies in every room, quiet-closing drawers, heated bathroom floors and plentiful USB ports and outlets.
The destination-focused cruise line adds as many days in port as it can to each itinerary and offers a free shore excursion in every port.
Viking ships have a large presence in Europe, sailing the Mediterranean and in northern Europe, but also explore the world from Alaska and the Caribbean to Asia and Australia.
Its expedition ships, Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis, explore Antarctica, as well as the Great Lakes and Canada.
The ships boast several expedition cruising firsts, including a boarding area for excursion craft that’s inside the ship (rather than docked outside it) and cabins with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that slide open to let in the fresh air.
Like the ocean ships, they feature Scandinavian design, a glass-walled Explorers’ Lounge and signature Viking restaurants Manfredi’s and Mamsen’s (offering Norwegian specialties).
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