"Ships are the nearest thing to dreams that hands have ever made." - Robert N. Rose
ScheckTrek Travel especially recommends the following premium-to-luxury ocean and river cruise lines. There are cruise lines with a lower sticker price (and we can book them), but the higher-end cruise lines generally have the following advantages:
More inclusions with the price. Depending on the cruise line, this can mean some combination of complimentary Wi-Fi, alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees, bottled water, specialty restaurants, gratuities, shore excursions, transfers between airport and ship, and even airfare in some cases or inexpensive upgrades to business air.
The food will be better--maybe even much better.
The higher staff-to-guest ratio will allow for more gracious service. On the cruise lines below, you would be very unlikely ever to hear the words "no" or "impossible."
The higher space-to-guest ratio means that not only will cabins be larger (comparing like cabin types), but public areas will be more spacious as well.
It has been said of one of these cruise lines, "They'll make you feel like family." It's been said of a different one, "They will make you feel important." These are distinctions, among many others, that can make a difference in how you feel about your vacation. It is for this reason that we recommend booking through a travel advisor who can help to guide you to the right one for you.
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Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises is an upper premium cruise line with an excellent reputation. They boast having more overnights in port than any other cruise line.
Year after year, Crystal Cruises wins Virtuoso's "Cruise Line of the Year" Award and/or the Virtuoso "Most Luxurious Guest Experience" Award. Click here for our tour of the remodeled (gorgeous!) Crystal Symphony.
Crystal also has a small-scale option on a luxury yacht hosting just 62 guests. It provides an opportunity for a 30-minute submarine tour of an undersea coral garden.
It would be a gross omission not to include Hapag-Lloyd. Though not well known in the U.S., the cruise line's ship, Europa 2, has been described as "the ritziest ship in the industry" and named the #1 cruise ship in the world by the Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships. Prior to that, the distinction was held by her fleetmate, Europa, for more than a decade. Most passengers will be German, but Europa 2 goes to great lengths to cater to English-speaking guests as well, and for those so inclined, it can provide an enhanced cultural experience. Any list of superlatives would be a long one.
In comparing river cruise lines to hotels, Cruise Critic says of AmaWaterways: "This line is best compared to Four Seasons. In style and substance, AmaWaterways offers a contemporary, upscale cruise experience, with service that is a hallmark."
See photos from our AmaWaterways Paris & Normandy sailing. (Go to France page and scroll down on page to "Seine River Cruise—Paris & Normandy.")
Crystal River Cruises
This is a relative newcomer to river cruising, by the ocean-cruise line superstar, Crystal Cruises. Four of the new ultra-luxury river yachts host 84 or 110 guests and boast a Palm Court with dance floor and glass-domed roof. The Crystal Mozart—the largest river cruise boat on European waters—has a capacity of 160. It is wonderful to have the world’s most awarded luxury cruise line providing a superior experience on the rivers of Europe.
Tauck River Cruises
Tauck is in a class by itself. This is not to say that the other river cruise lines listed don't provide an exceptional product, because they do. But in addition to Tauck's lovely ships and good service, they singularly excel at shore excursions. Just one of many possible examples could be an exclusive concert at a private palace, made available only for Tauck's 130 guests.
Hurtigruten takes travelers closer to the polar wilderness and natural wonders primarily of Norway, Iceland and Antarctica. In a relaxed and informal atmosphere, they provide authentic travel experiences where cruisers don’t just visit the world, but become part of the local communities and landscapes.
Being all-inclusive isn't the main thing that sets Uniworld apart; rather, it's the decor. Every ship is individually decorated, and none of them looks like the floating version of a Hilton business hotel. Some of them are drop-dead gorgeous. Because each ship is different, you may have your favorites, but if you appreciate good interior design and attention to detail, you owe it to yourself to check out Uniworld. In addition to that, you are likely to be astounded by the level of service.
Oceania is near and dear to our heart. In addition to having some of the most beautiful ships on the water, they are reputed to have the best food at sea. We can tell you the food is superb.
Click the photo to learn more about the cruise line and see photos taken by ScheckTrek Travel, including of the stunning 2,000 square foot Owner's Suite with Ralph Lauren decor.
Paul Gauguin sails the South Pacific. Time it right, and you might be able to share your Paul Gauguin cruise with oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques Cousteau), who will accompany dive excursions and give onboard lectures. They also have an excellent kids' program.
Regent Seven Seas clients tend to be especially loyal to the brand. Perhaps it is their large staff-to-guest and space-to-guest ratios. Or perhaps it is that Regent's "all-inclusive" covers even business-class air on overseas flights, plus a wide choice of excursions in every port.
Seabourn is very luxurious. Spa suite indulgences include choosing from both a menu of bath sponges and L'Occitane fragrances to be diffused during turndown service in the evening.
Silversea is another top luxury cruise line. If you like full-scale musical productions, they have plans for four on every sailing.
Windstar started adding an exclusive shore excursion for each cruise. How does an after-hours, five-course meal under the stars in the courtyard of the Ephesus Celsus Library sound? And speaking of sound, music is provided by the Aegean Chamber Orchestra.
Information deemed to be correct at time of posting, but ScheckTrek Travel can assume no responsibility for changes to the information posted here.