Destination Guide: Premium Cruise Lines
For a taste of the good life – including fine art, cooking demos, expert guest lecturers and wine tastings – book passage on one of these cruise lines.
Expect fine works of art on the walls, learned lectures on the schedule, unusually spacious accommodations and a demographic that skews international. It may not be as active a cruise as some, but your brain will get a workout.
Prices: Value-laden. You might find a seven-night Caribbean sailing discounted to as little as $65/day per person for the lowest-category cabins. Most passengers, however, will pay between $50 and $100 more per day (and more than that if they book an outside cabin, balcony cabin or suite). Tip: Those who really want to invest in their health can book an Aqua Class stateroom, which includes access to Blu, a specialty restaurant dedicated to healthy eating.
Destinations: Celebrity goes to a few exotic destinations (most notably Antarctica) but for the most part, the ships travel to classic ports in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska, Canada/New England, Hawaii and the Pacific. (In 2012, its newest ship will tour the Holy Land.)
Food: When it comes to healthy eating, Celebrity is hands-down the best line, thanks to its extensive spa menus and juice bar. Consider this insider tip from Sherry Laskin: “At lunch, you can order grilled salmon or chicken in the AquaSpa Café. They’ll prepare it for you fresh, and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s the only line that will do that at lunch.” Rich Tucker is also a fan of the AquaSpa Café. “One of the biggest bugaboos for dieters is that it’s usually buffet-only for breakfast and lunch,” he notes. “But the AquaSpa Café is open for both those meals, and everything they offer is healthy and light.”
Fitness: The gyms and pools seem like afterthoughts on Celebrity: They’re often not large enough, and at least one ship enforces a strict 20-minute time limit on cardio machines. Classes can become fully booked in the first hours of the cruise. But you can always take advantage of the outdoor running tracks.
Holland America Line
It’s not your imagination: Holland America tends to draw an older crowd, no doubt in part because of its formal nights, evenings of ballroom dancing, extremely attentive service and majestic decor. HAL is also known for its creative itineraries, which draw seasoned cruisers seeking new stomping gro¬unds.
Prices: HAL seems to appear with less frequency on the discount cruise-brokers’ sites, but when it does, one can snag an inside stateroom for between $85 and $150/day, per person. Regularly, rooms will cost $100 more per day than that (and far more for balcony cabins and suites).
Destinations: HAL is the only mass-market line to offer a yearly world cruise. This is a line that literally goes everywhere, visiting some 300 different ports each year from typical Caribbean stops to calls in Indonesia, South Korea, Nicaragua and Antarctica.
Food: Because service is so friendly on Holland America, those who make special requests are never made to feel like they’re being a bother, says Laskin. She, like the other experts interviewed here, is impressed with the quality of the heart-healthy items.
Fitness: HAL pioneered group deck walks for charity with its “On Deck for the Cure” program (available on every seven-day sailing), which raises money for breast-cancer research through the Susan G. Komen foundation. “Often your fellow walkers will be breast-cancer survivors or family members,” says Spencer Brown. “It’s a really moving activity and a great way to do something good while you stay fit.”
In the gym, group classes tend to be easier on this line, and Laskin has found that they don’t fill up as quickly as on other lines. “I always have a lot of elbow room,” says Laskin. Likewise, there’s rarely a wait to get on an elliptical machine, treadmill or bike.
While Princess has many high-end touches — classy modern decor, quality cuisine, well-executed entertainment and enrichment programs — it gets tripped up on the design of its ships, which simply don’t give passengers the amount of space, in either the staterooms or the common areas, that other premium brands do. Still, Princess has many loyal repeat cruisers who praise its service, creative itineraries and aesthetic pleasures.
Prices: In general, expect to pay less than you would on Holland America and more than on Celebrity. Prices have been known to go as low as $78/day, per person, for last-minute bargains on Caribbean and Alaskan sailings. Usually rates will be a good $80 to $100 higher (and more for outside cabins, balcony cabins and suites).
Destinations: Alaska is a specialty for Princess, thanks to its cruise-tours, which combine land and sea travel. Like Holland America, they also offer a very diverse list of ports, with everything from the Caribbean and Europe to Africa and East Asia.
Food: Many consider Princess’s main dining rooms to be the best of all the ships at sea — and you don’t have to choose a particular seating (early or late) to eat there. Princess’s specialty restaurants include Sabatini’s, an Italian eatery, which Laskin considers tops for lower-calorie fare. And at the Crown Grill, passengers watch the chefs cook their meals (and can therefore make sure they don’t add too much butter!).
Fitness: A wide array of fitness classes and well-sized gyms keeps Princess cruisers active. Their fitness facilities fall in the middle compared to other lines.