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The cruise line industry has taken a major hit in the past year and a half, but it's back and better than ever, with trips now selling out in hours, according to travel expert and master cruise counselor Linda Speer. For th0se who feel comfortable traveling via ship, cruising is a hassle-free choice for seeing the world these days, as cruise lines do the back end work to ensure you're prepared for the COVID-19 travel restrictions of each destination you're visiting, and they offer an array of unique excursion opportunities to make the most out of each stop.
"The industry's coming back, and when you look at what's going on after basically a year and a half with nothing sailing, you'll find the best deals are super close in and super far out because a lot of cancellations have been pushed into the next year," says Speer. "Because of that and as the majority of cruise lines bring their most aggressive pricing when they first load itineraries, it's important to think long-term. Come up with a five-year travel plan of what you want to see because some destinations have very specific times and seasons to get the best travel experience. If you make a list of places you want to go with how many trips you van take each year, a travel advisor can put it all into perspective to make sure you visit the right destinations at the right times."
Luxury Cruise Picks from Linda Speer of Cruises By Linda
Speer has decades of cruise travel advisory experience under her belt and has experienced many of the world's best cruise lines for herself. She says that design enthusiasts will love sailing on a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises ship, as the brand is a sister company of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection, and their ships are as highly and thoughtfully decorated as the hotel properties. It's also widely considered one of the best, if not the top, river cruise liner brand.
"Their ships are actually decorated by the family members—not just the public areas but each individual cabin," says Speer. "They are so uniquely decorated and have more original art on those ships than you can imagine."
Besides being vessels of Old World glamour and elegance, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offer the utmost in service, amenities, and experiences with each itinerary, be it an eight-night excursion of Paris and Normandy or a 46-night trip across nine countries that spans rivers around the world. Other notable mentions include Uniworld's award-winning dedication to sustainable tourism, world-class cuisine that features fresh ingredients from the destinations you are visiting, and a fabulous beverage program that incorporates the best beers, wines, and spirits from the regions on your itinerary.
"There's also a new type of product that is just starting to show up, which is the luxury expedition liner, where you'll find smaller vessels that are extremely luxurious but strong enough to handle some really unusual itineraries you wouldn't normally see otherwise," says Speer. "There's a company called Windstar Cruises that is known for its small sailing ships and was recently purchased by Xanterra because of its national parks affiliation but it originally started as part of Harvey Hotels."
Under new ownership, each ship in the Windstar fleet has been revitalized and reduced to half-capacity with brand-new midship sections boasting grander dining areas, pool decks, and other amenities. Speer says she was just on one of these renovated ships in June and was "over-the-moon-pleased with the vessel."
"Everything they did to those ships is just wonderful and they offer some of the best values in small ship cruising," says Speer. "For those who want a shorter cruise, one of the most interesting offerings for affluent, working travelers is their Panama Canal cruises if you want a warm clime but not a traditional Caribbean trip."
Windstar accommodates anywhere from 148 to 352 passengers per trip and feels almost more like a yacht voyage than a commercial cruise liner. The brand is widely considered to be a top small ship cruise liner in the industry and offers one-of-a-kind experiences that those traveling on a mega-ship wouldn't be able to have. It makes a great choice for those who may be hesitant to cruise again and want to dip their toes back in the waters.
Picks from Kristin Carlson, Tahiti Tourisme's North American Managing Director
“Certainly one of the best ways to experience The Islands of Tahiti is by cruise ship, where during 7 to 14-day itineraries you can visit several of the most beautiful islands anywhere in the world," says Carlson. "The newly refurbished Paul Gauguin and Windstar’s all-suite Star Breeze are among a handful of cruise ships which make their home port in The Islands of Tahiti. The benefit of traveling by one of the local cruise lines, in addition to their knowledge and respect of the local culture, is that these intimate ships carry less than 350 passengers and can enter destinations such as Bora Bora, which are not accessible to larger vessels.”
Paul Gaugin Cruises deserves a spot on your luxury travel radar if you're dreaming of a South Pacific getaway. This highly lauded cruise line accommodates 330 guests on its eponymous ship where guests can experience this breath-taking region of the world with the help of local Tahitians who serve as the ship's hosts and hostesses, storytellers, and entertainers that provide an authentic look at Polynesian life alongside a vast array of spectacular amenities.
Picks from Joan Roca, Founder & CEO of The Essentialist
“One of our top choices for luxury cruise lines would be the The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and although all of their itineraries are showstoppers, our favorite is the Northern Europe & Baltic journey for the breadth of ports and destinations it visits, taking passengers beyond the usual to places like the Faroe Islands," says Roca. "In addition to the spa, highlights for us include their selection of offshore activities and the multiple onboard restaurants."
As frequenters of The Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts may anticipate, the company's collection of yachts offers service, amenities, and dining as fabulous as their world-renowned properties. Booking with The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection also streamlines any other air, land, and hotel arrangements for seamless planning for the ultimate all-inclusive cruising experience.
"In addition to other, more well-known favorites like Seabourne, Regent and Seven Seas, lately, we have been inspired by a few luxury expedition vessels with far-flung destinations that offer outstanding dining, plush suites and action-packed itineraries for the more adventurous, high-end travelers," says Roca. "Scenic Eclipse features eight dining venues, an indoor heated pool and its own six-person submarine and can take you to the depths of Antarctica. Celebrity Flora stands out in the Galapagos with its spacious suites, Michelin-star menus and most importantly, its unique propulsion system, designed to leave underwater habitats undisturbed. Lastly, the Ultramarine from Quark Expeditions travels to Greenland and the arctic, offering all the standard luxury amenities, in addition to top-notch adventure gear—everything from sea kayaks to twin-engine helicopters for sightseeing.”
Speer says if you're interested in taking a cruise but your partner may still be apprehensive, Alaska is an ideal destination for first-timers and several luxury liners have great itineraries. She particularly recommends Windstar, Seabourne, Silversea, and Oceania for Alaskan cruises, which have an abundance of varieties depending on ship size, amenities, and excursion offerings. She says this is also a great trip for multi-generational families looking for a memorable summer reunion in a post-pandemic world.
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