Luxury Cruises Carry Hefty Price Tag, But You Get Much More

All of the dinner restaurants on luxury cruise ships would be comparable to the specialty restaurants on regular cruise ships where you would have to pay extra to dine. And if you want something that's not on the menu, if you let them know a day in advance and they'll make it for you as long as they have the ingredients on board, Grand Marnier soufflé, no problem. If you want a special dish such as Beef Wellington, they'll prepare it for you whenever you want it.

Everything doesn't always go perfectly, even on a luxury ship. When there are problems the staff will usually make a prompt effort to fix them. I had some concerns about the service in the dining room the first couple of nights of the cruise. When I wrote them on a comment card I heard immediately from the dining room manager, head waiter and head sommelier. There was a noticeable improvement in the service.

The cabins, sorry, suites, on luxury ships tend to be larger. Regent's minimum size suite is 300 sq. ft., the size of a mini suite on Princess. A basic cabin on a regular cruise ship is about 175-200 sq. ft. My cabin is called a Penthouse Suite (about 375 sq. ft.), although there are many of them on several decks, none of which is actually the penthouse deck. It does come with Hermes brand toiletries in the bathroom if that sort of thing would be important. Some cabins have butlers, although you can find butlers in the top suites on premium lines as well.

But there are some things you're not going to get on a luxury cruise. Do not expect a "hairy chest" contest by the pool (although the equator crossing ceremony came pretty close), and there is no "Inch of Gold" day at the boutique.

Luxury ships tend to have an older, quieter clientele. Very few passengers are under 50 but most everyone is quite active. By midnight everyone is pretty much in bed. While luxury cruise passengers tend to be financially secure, I have never seen anyone showing off or bragging about their financial or social status.

You usually won't find big entertainment on small ships. There is one main show a night and some lounge entertainment but it's all on a smaller scale than you would find on larger ships. On occasion, some luxury lines do have themed entertainment cruises with famous entertainers, or notable lecturers.

What sort of seas are ahead for luxury cruising? Conroy, who will be stepping aside as Regent president at the end of January to consult, believes passengers can continue to expect greater value, even at high fares. "The premium and contemporary guys keep getting better and better all the time," he said. "It raises the level so it's forced us to continue to try to improve the business."

One point everyone agrees on, the key to a strong cruising future is world peace, so cruise ships can call on more ports. "There's an aging population that's aging affluently. It used to be they were all about acquiring stuff," Conroy said. "Today they're about acquiring memories and we're in the memory business at the end of the day."

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