Creating a moving five-star hotel is the name of the game for luxury cruise lines and while space and service is key, exclusive access is most precious.

Upping the ante

The number of new luxury ships, yachts and river craft being built these days is extraordinary. This year alone, January had barely started before Uniworld River Cruises launched new vessels on the Mekong River and the Nile.

As February dawns, eyes are on Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new ship Seven Seas Splendor, which Regent was touting as ‘luxury perfected’ before it was even built. The luxury ball keeps rolling with new ships and itineraries from Silversea, Crystal Cruises, Aqua Expeditions and Ritz Carlton.

“With more ships and destinations than ever, there’s a great opportunity for agents to convert luxury land clients to cruise by matching their passions with the right product,” says Lynn Narraway, UK Managing Director, Seabourn.

One of the things driving the growth of ultra-luxury cruising is destination, according to Peter Shanks, Managing Director UK, Silversea, with small ships that dominate the sector accessing exclusive ports that large vessels have to pass. “We are seeing regular cruisers upgrade from a big ship premium cruise line to true luxury and the more inclusive experience that the likes of Silversea can provide,” he says.

Getting to grips with the cruise industry’s concept of premium and ultra-luxury can be confusing. For the former, it’s lines such as Celebrity Cruises, Cunard and Oceania Cruises, which offer an upscale product but have bigger ships and less-inclusive fares. Ultra-luxury means lines with ships that hold just a few hundred passengers and fares that include drinks and tips. Often flights are also included.

Defining luxury on the rivers is no easier, with barely a hair’s breadth between the quality of ships, cuisine and service offered on top-end lines such as Crystal Cruises, Uniworld River Cruises, Scenic and AmaWaterways.

Elaine Gillard, Crystal’s UK Marketing Director, admits staying ahead of the luxury cruiser is not easy. “They want to explore new places, experience new cultures, try new cuisines. Whether it be ocean, river or expedition cruising, they are looking for something different.”

There are identifiable trends though. CLIA UK & Ireland Director Andy Harmer says: “We are seeing an increased focus on health and well-being as lines introduce new plant-based menus and healthy dining options and extend their onboard fitness programmes to include classes such as thai chi and yoga.”

Regent’s free and unlimited shore excursions are a big selling point, but the line is also spicing up its paid-for options to offer more exclusive experiences.

Paul Beale , Senior Sales Director UK, says: “Seven Seas Splendor is offering a host of shore excursions during its inaugural season in Europe that have been curated with local operators and cannot be experienced with any other cruise line.”

What’s new

Silversea’s new Silver Origin is a sleek yacht designed for island-hopping in the Galapagos Islands. It has just 50 suites, all attended by butlers, with almost as many staff as passengers.

Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Endeavor is a luxurious new 200-passenger discovery yacht with all-suite accommodation, butlers and a restaurant and sushi bar created by chef Nobu Matsuhisa.

Aqua Expeditions is bringing luxury to the Amazon with the Aqua Nera. It will have décor inspired by Portuguese, Spanish and Peruvian styles, and serve cuisine created by leading Peruvian chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino.

In April, Celebrity Cruises will launch the new Celebrity Apex with a mini-season of cruises from Southampton.

Tauck’s new river ship, The Andorinha, has Balinese day beds, an infinity pool and pop-up restaurant on its sun deck. The vessel will be cruising the Douro in Northern Portugal from April.

Sanctuary Retreats’ luxurious Nile Adventurer has gone on sale through Fred River Cruises. An eight-night package pairing a cruise with a stay in Cairo is from £2,400pp.

Michel Roux, chef patron of the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, is the special guest on a food-themed transatlantic crossing to New York on Queen Mary 2 from June 7-14. From £1,249pp with flights.

APT Ambassador and celebrity chef Luke Nguyen will be hosting a tour of old Saigon and cooking up a treat on APT’s 15-day Vietnam and Cambodia Highlights cruise-and-stay holiday departing November 16. From £5,995pp including flights.

Luxury experiences

The Adriatic with Silversea: A 10-day voyage round-trip from Venice on Silver Moon in October is from £6,480pp including flights. Highlights include hiking around the Kamacnik Canyon from Rijeka in Croatia and kayaking in Kotor.

The Douro with Uniworld River Cruises: A seven-day voyage from Porto on Sao Gabriel is from £4,099pp in April including flights. Highlights include dining at traditional Portuguese quintas and a day in the Spanish city of Salamanca.

Caribbean island-hopping with Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection: A seven-night cruise from Barbados on Evrima in November is from £3,918pp. Highlights include exploring the spice island of Grenada and beaches in Bequia.

South America with Scenic: The 17-day Chilean Fjords & Cape Horn itinerary aboard Scenic Eclipse links Santiago to Buenos Aires, with highlights including the dramatic Chilean coastline, the remote Island of Chiloe, and the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego.

Wine-tasting with SeaDream Yacht Club: A seven-day cruise from Barcelona on SeaDream I in October is from £3,712pp. Highlights include vineyard visits and a Champagne tasting and degustation dinner hosted by Hatt et Söner House Director Kristofer Ruscon.

The Red Sea with Oceania Cruises: A 20-day voyage from Istanbul on Sirena is from £4,259pp including flights. Highlights include two days in Israel, optional tours of ancient Greek city Ephesus and a transit of the Suez Canal.

The Danube with AmaWaterways: A seven-night voyage from Budapest on AmaMagna in August is from £3,028pp cruise-only. Highlights include Vienna and Salzburg, and a hike to Richard the Lionheart’s erstwhile prison in Dürnstein.

Where to book it

Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony is offering an 11-night voyage from Dover to Amsterdam in August with two days in Edinburgh during the Royal Military Tattoo. Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Bergen and a night in Amsterdam complete the itinerary. It is priced from £4,532pp cruise-only.

Seabourn’s Seabourn Ovation is island-hopping around the Caribbean on a series of cruises round-trip from Barbados this winter. From £2,500pp cruise-only for a week calling into Saint Lucia and Antigua departing November 21.