Less is more – luxury cruising

Intimate excursions and access to private bays is making smaller ships popular in the luxury market. Jeannine Williamson seeks out these exclusive sailings

As I dip my head beneath the clear waters and kick my fins, a turtle floats languidly beneath me. A second later a sea lion dives past almost touching my arm, the liquid brown eyes on its whiskered face momentarily staring into mine.

I have to make a conscious effort to keep the snorkel mouthpiece clamped between my teeth and not let out a squeal of surprise and delight.

In the protected Galapagos Islands marine and land creatures have no fear of humans. Although our guide has given us clear instructions to stay at least a couple of metres away from wildlife, the playful sea lion is clearly unaware of the rule.

It’s one of many exhilarating experiences and the Zodiac is filled with excited chatter as we make our way back to Silver Origin.

As we climb onto the marina deck we’re greeted with warm bath robes and steaming cups of Ecuadorian hot chocolate. Later in the day my butler checks in at my suite to ensure I have everything I need.

The 100-passenger Silver Origin is Silversea Cruises’ first-ever destination-specific ship designed to sail year-round in the Galapagos. It elevates a bucket list sailing into even more of an extraordinary experience and is one of an increasing number of upmarket vessels carrying fewer than 200 passengers.

luxury silver
luxury Quark

The perception of luxury comes in many forms, and it’s important for agents to establish what it means to their clients when recommending a cruise.

Dianna Rom, Vice President Sales at Windstar Cruises, says: “We are careful with the word ‘luxury’ at Windstar.

“For some, luxury is the time, space, and freedom to immerse themselves in a destination accessed via a well-appointed ship. For others, luxury is black tie dress codes and ballroom dancing.

“Windstar walks a fine line in this space. On the one hand, we offer a very upscale luxury experience but we don’t offer what some people describe as ‘luxury’.”

At SeaDream Yacht Club, UK Sales Director Natalie Read explains: “Many of our itineraries feature exclusive destinations such as St Barts and Bequia in the Caribbean and the hidden gemsof the South of France and the Italian coastline, as well as overnight stays in some of the best yachting ports and harbours of the world for a more immersive experience. On land we offer yachting land adventures including our new helicopter flight over Montserrat volcano.”

Cruise control

Top selling destinations reported by cruise lines include Alaska, the Caribbean, Tahiti, Greek islands and sailings departing from Venice.

Andrea Stafford, Scenic & Emerald Cruises’ Director of Trade Sales, reports: “The Douro is always incredibly popular, so much so that we’re adding additional dates in December this year. For our ocean product, there is lots of interest for new itineraries in the Caribbean, where the brand-new Emerald Sakara repositions in the autumn.”

Chris Townson, MD UK and Europe for Uniworld, says: “I would choose a luxury cruise over a big-ticket holiday because of the ease of the experience and the expertise that has gone into it. Every aspect has been carefully curated, from the airport transfers to the entertainment, dining and excursions and your accommodation travels with you so you only have to unpack once. And if you’re travelling in one of our suites, your butler will even do that for you!”

On the horizon are upmarket hotel groups moving into the cruise sector. Four Seasons launches the first of three 190-passenger superyachts in 2025, with Aman Resorts unveiling a 100-passenger vessel the same year. Offering the ‘lifestyle’ of the brands at sea, they’re ideal for new-to-cruise customers already familiar with the hotels, perfect for special occasions such as honeymoons and they can be packaged with a land stay at one of the properties.

Be it the barefoot laid-back appeal of an all-inclusive sailing yacht, Champagne on tap or glamorous dress-up nights, there’s a cruise out there for every luxe-loving client.

What’s new: Ocean

luxury Elysium
luxury scenic

Itineraries: Indonesian expedition cruise operator SeaTrek Sailing Adventures has two new seven-night family-friendly cruises from Bali to Komodo, aboard the 22-passenger sailing ship Ombak Putih.

Windstar is rolling out a plant-based menus on all its ships.

Ships: Unforgettable Greece, part of Unforgettable Travel, is deploying a recently refurbished boutique ship as part of its 2023 island-hopping cruise programme. Amenities on The Elysium, which carries 43 passengers, include a spa and complimentary yoga and pilates classes.

Expedition: Swan Hellenic’s third and largest ship SH Diana features multiple observation points to provide the 192 passengers with the best views of wildlife and scenery. Following a refit, True North has relaunched True North II, which has five adventure boats and a helicopter, and sails along Australia’s Kimberley coast.

What’s new: River

luxury Amadeus
luxury uni

Itineraries: Uniworld has expanded its family-friendly Generations programme with new sailings in Egypt aboard the River Tosca and has a new cruise and rail journey through India partnering with the opulent Maharajas’ Express.

Ships: For clients looking for contemporary luxury on the Mississippi, American Cruise Lines has the 175-passenger American Serenade, sold through Fred. Holidays. The operator also sells Amadeus River Cruises where the new generation 162-passenger Amadeus Riva has a split-level sun deck which remains open even when sailing under low bridges.

AmaWaterways’ second Nile ship, AmaLilia, launches in 2024 with facilities including a hair salon and nail bar.

Top luxury sailings

La Dolce Vita: Go Italian style on Emerald Cruises’ new Emerald Sakara, the line’s second 100-passenger superyacht. The six-night Highlights of Southern Italy sailing visits the picturesque town of Otranto, known as ‘the Far East of Italy’ and Amalfi, with a gelato tasting in Sorrento.

Amazing Arctic: The 199-passenger Ultramarine, the newest ship in the Quark Expedition fleet, takes polar sailings to new heights. Two helicopters allow passengers to experience new destinations that are only accessible by air and enjoy breath-taking aerial perspectives of the polar regions.

Captivating Croatia: Purpose-built for exploring the coastline of Croatia, APT’s Princess Eleganza carries just 34 passengers and the sparkling Adriatic sea is just a jump away. Seven-night cruises sail between the walled city of Dubrovnik and Opatija and visit pretty Dalmatian Islands such as Krk.

Boutique barges: Akin to a floating house party, European Waterways’ luxury barges carry up to 20 passengers and can be individually chartered for groups of family and friends. Meandering slowly through nine European countries, including the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands, each barge has its own chef, guide and hostesses.

Sail in the South Pacific: Capture the essence of French Polynesia while the trade winds fill the sails of Windstar’s Wind Spirit. This year the four-masted sailing yacht, accommodating 148 guests, sails on six- to 16-night sailings in this exotic region with authentic experiences including Polynesian dancing and snorkelling for black pearls.

Where to book it

SILVERSEA – 0844 251 0837
A seven-day alternating round-trip San Cristobal cruise on Silver Origin around the Galapagos Islands is priced from £9,800pp, including transfers, flights, drinks, excursions and gratuities, based on a July 15 departure. Pre- and post-cruise extensions can also be booked in destinations including Quito, Machu Picchu and the Ecuadorian rainforest.