On more than one occasion in the past we have referred to ourselves as (if you will pardon the expression) “cruise whores.” In other words, we are not monogamous – we cruise around so to speak. Despite the fact that we have never taken a cruise that we didn’t enjoy, we have been making our way around the industry (avoiding several specific lines because of personal experience and research). We might even describe our behavior as moving up the cruise food chain so to speak. Here’s our story.
We like to travel. We like to travel by plane, train (well, not train so much after that overnight “hotel train” between Paris and Barcelona a few years ago), limo, car, foot etc. We just like to experience new places. We sometimes stay in one place for a while; sometimes we stay only a day and move on, either by car or by ship. Despite the snotty travelers who are disdainful of the ‘travel’ value of a cruise, we do enjoy them. They are our way to sample many different places in the world, some of which we have returned to for longer visits. The point is that cruise travel is just one more way for us to see the world. We no longer book cruises just for that week in the sun in the middle of the winter. We’re not knocking that, but for us cruising has taken on another whole dimension.
The first cruise: Carnival
Our first cruise plans began much like any other family’s vacation plans. We had a young child, we wanted to escape the winter briefly, and we had only a week or two of winter vacation. So, we contacted our trusty travel agent (if you want to know why we use a travel agent, you might want to read Why you need a travel agent…really) who chose Carnival cruises for that first trip.
“I would never put you on Carnival if you were going by yourselves,” he said, knowing our tastes and preferences. “But since you’re taking a child, I’d recommend this to you.”
And so we booked a verandah cabin and made our way to Miami. Needless to say we had a wonderful time. This was in spite of the multitude of drunken spring-breakers who spent the entire cruise camped out on the deck, never once even making it into the dining room. The dining was therefore blissful! The kids’ club was a real treat for our young son, and we were introduced to a number of Caribbean islands that we had not at that time visited. We’ve been back many times since, but we have never returned to Carnival.
Why have we not returned to Carnival? You might ask. The reason is the same one that keeps us off NCL and Royal Caribbean: not our kind of experience. The glitzy décor, the loud passengers, the too-happy cruise directors, the big, showy performances nightly (OK unless you’ve seen a London West End show or been to Broadway in New York) – well, let’s just say that we’ve evolved. So it was on to Holland America.
Setting sail on Holland America
We sailed on Holland America three times, including our wonderful Christmas Cruise. We started out in what was then referred to as a Superior Verandah suite (now called the Signature Suite) for the size enhancement, but that began our upward move toward larger and larger suites. The next two cruises on HAL were in Deluxe Verandah suites (now called the Neptune Suite) and we would actually return to this line for the right itinerary.
Celebrity: Second time not up to expectations
We spent our twentieth wedding anniversary on the Celebrity Century in the Mediterranean. Splurging on a Royal suite, we didn’t realize that we were setting ourselves up for a few expensive vacations. After this kind of accommodation – and being in the Med – how could we ever return to a ‘normal’ cruise in the Caribbean in a regular stateroom? Well, we couldn’t. Our return to Celebrity was a couple of winters ago when we wanted to sail out of Puerto Rico; unfortunately, the experience didn’t meet our expectations despite the Jacuzzi on our large, private verandah on the Millennium(although we did enjoy ourselves as always).
Cruise lines always say they want to “exceed your expectations.” The problem with that is when your expectations, like ours evidently tend to be, are very high, it’s difficult if not impossible for the line to accomplish this. If a line can meet our expectations, we’re delighted. Exceed? Well maybe this upcoming one will (more about that later).
Moving up the cruise food chain: Regent Seven Seas
Our desire to move up in terms of luxury cruising (despite their “modern luxury” advertising tag line, Celebrity does not fall into this category: they would be considered premium) led us to Regent. We embarked on our first Regent cruise on the Navigator in a Navigator Suite (448 square feet) in Fort Lauderdale to set sail for a Western Caribbean cruise including Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, places we wanted to visit – or revisit in the case of Mexico.
Regent was our first so-called real luxury cruise experience, and the first one that is all-inclusive. This is a wonderful addition since you never have to take out your key card to sign for your drinks, and your suite is equipped with a well-stocked, included bar. If you don’t want to socialize, you simply pour yourself a drink and repair to your private verandah.
Overall, the cruise was wonderful. The Navigator was, up until that point in our lives, the smallest ship we’d ever been on: 490 passengers. We loved that part of the experience, but were unaware that Regent cruises from Florida carried a much higher number of older passengers. To be clear: we were in our fifties-sixties and were among the youngest dozen passengers on the ship! One evening we took a foray into the piano lounge to find it resembling the day room in a high-priced senior’s home!
Our next Regent experience was on the larger Mariner leaving from Monte Carlo onward to Venice. Our Penthouse suite was a bit smaller than the Navigator suite, but with its floor to ceiling windows we could sit inside when the weather in the Adriatic was cool and watch the shoreline as we cruised the fjords of Montenegro.
We will probably return to Regent someday.
Moving up again: Embarking on Silversea
After six days at the Crane Resort in Barbados, we boarded the Silver Cloud in Bridgetown for a cruise to Fort Lauderdale. With a capacity of only 296 passengers, we were moving down again, even as we were moving up. And moving up we were.
The oldest ship in Silversea’s fleet, the Silver Cloud was nonetheless extraordinary. But more important than that, the service was impeccable. We truly thought we had died and gone to heaven. Little did we know that we were only part-way to heaven.
Our transatlantic voyage
Everyone should do it once. Of course we’re talking about a true transatlantic voyage on a real ocean liner – not a cruise ship. Three years ago we boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton and spent seven wonderful days at sea making our way across the North Atlantic to New York. What truly made this a step up even from Silversea was that we booked into a Queen’s Grill suite and found ourselves in a ship within a ship. Make no mistake: Cunard has three classes and Queen’s Grill is first class all the way.
With its private dining room and bar, the Queen’s Grill provides passengers with the best of both worlds: the intimacy of small ship service and the amenities and entertainment of a large ship.
Although we would not do a transatlantic voyage again, we will certainly return to Cunard for the right itinerary (there it is again: itinerary).
The pinnacle of luxury perhaps?
Last year we booked passage on a 204 passenger luxury cruise ship: the Seabourn Spirit. After almost a week at the luxurious property The House in Barbados, once again we sailed from Bridgetown. This time, however, it was to ports and islands where large ships can never go.
Everything about the Seabourn experience (caviar and champagne on the beach, anyone?) was above and beyond. The service was superb, as was the food and the accommodation. It truly was like a country club and we savored every minute of this super-luxury experience followed by six days in St. Martin. How could we possibly top that?
Onward and upward?
We aren’t sure we can top that last experience, but we’re going to try. Art is retiring from his private family medicine practice in a few weeks and we’re off to that ultimate, post-retirement reward.
After five days in Tahiti, we’ll board the Oceania Marina for almost three weeks meandering through French Polynesia, Samoa and the east coast of Australia, ending with five days in Sydney. Why Oceania?
Last winter while in St. Martin following the Seabourn experience, we dined one evening with fellow passengers from the Spirit. They asked us if we’d ever sailed on Oceania. We had not. Given that they had just disembarked from a Seabourn cruise which they enjoyed, we had to take seriously their recommendation that we give Oceania a try. But what we were really looking for was an itinerary that would take us to new places.
We hit on Oceania’s South Pacific cruise and the rest is history. Stay with us for a while and come along on that special vacation as we try live blogging and tweeting for the first time.