From culinary excellence to exclusive shore excursions, luxury cruising is all about elevating the guest experience

Silver service

And still the dishes keep coming! I reckon we’ve munched our way through seven courses and the waitress piling food on the table assures us there is more to come.

I’d say stop, except the food is so delicious and the experience so authentic, I don’t want it to. Authentic is exactly what Silversea promised when it launched SALT (Sea and Land Taste), a programme that showcases local cultures to passengers through food and wine experiences on board and ashore. Our Cyprus tour, with wine-tasting and the mezza feast at Ampelothea Tavern in Omodos village, fits the bill perfectly.

The line is so proud of SALT it even designed its newest cruise ship, Silver Moon, around it. Lucky me! I’m on one of its first cruises, a sailing in Greece and Cyprus, to sample it all – literally!

I’ve dined in the SALT Kitchen – a restaurant serving up dishes local to the places you’re visiting – and prepared tasty lamb kleftikos in the SALT Lab, a kitchen where passengers sharpen up their cooking skills and learn the origins of the dishes they are making. My mixing, stirring and browning was spiced up with a story of invading Ottomans and Greek freedom fighters (klephts). Naturally I also frequented the SALT Bar to try local cocktails shaken by the resident mixologists.

The SALT experience also includes food-related talks and cooking demos (and tastings!), but of course it’s all optional. If you prefer, feel free to skip the SALT stuff and relax instead by the pool with a glass of fizz. After all, it’s included in the price.

Understanding luxury

Agents looking to succeed in the luxury sector need to understand that ‘luxury’ means different things to people. It’s a combination of factors, explains Peter Shanks, Silversea’s UK Managing Director. He says: “Space, attentive service, all-inclusive prices and the ability to really immerse yourself in the destination are the drivers of real luxury.”

The sector – February’s demise of Crystal Cruises, which unceremoniously shuttered its doors, not withstanding – has expanded enormously in recent years. This spring alone, Silversea, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Seabourn are adding to the luxury fleet; in 2023, there’s more from Silversea, Scenic and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, while MSC enters the sector with Explora I, the first ship in its new Explora Journeys brand. 

On the rivers, APT’s new Mekong Serenity launches in Asia in July 2022.

Increased competition has forced cruise lines to elevate the luxury experience. 

Passengers now enjoy butlers, larger suites, two-storey villas, private dining and more included in the price. Starting this year, Silversea includes flights and tours; Celebrity Cruises’ new Always Included prices take care of drinks, Wi-Fi and tips.

A Mundy Cruising survey among luxury customers found many plan to book higher-grade cabins than before the pandemic. “After so many missed moments, we’ve come to realise how powerful and meaningful travel is,” says Celebrity Vice-president and Managing Director EMEA Jo Rzymowska.

Scenic, which offers river and ocean cruises, is among several lines that use exclusive tours and events to elevate the experience. “[We take] guests on a deeper cultural immersion, offering unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime memories,” says Director, Global Brand and Marketing, Nichola Absalom. 

With so much competition and so much included, agents can confidently sell luxury cruises as great value compared to high-end land-based resorts. Shanks advises them to sell the dual attraction of seeing lots of places on one holiday with everything included and none of the travel hassle. 

Top cruises

Coastal cruising: Riviera Travel has new one-week cruises exploring Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast round-trip from Split on 30-passenger yacht Mendula and include e-bike tours and ATV trips. rivieratravel.co.uk

Over the top: Seabourn will sail an epic 26-day expedition through the Northeast Passage from Tromso to Anchorage in Alaska on Seabourn Venture departing July 29, 2023. seabourn.com

Play it again: Live evening concerts are among the highlights as musicians from the Royal Academy of Music join a Rhine river cruise on over-50s specialist Saga’s Spirit of the Rhine. The cruise departs September 3, 2022. saga.co.uk

Time to tee: Keen golfers can practise their shots on a golf-themed cruise in the Arabian Gulf with Azamara which is in Doha for three days during the World Cup. The cruise is round-trip from Dubai departing November 15, 2022. azamara.co.uk 

Down Mexico Way: See in the New Year whale-watching and scuba diving in the Mexican Riviera on a Holland America Line cruise from San Diego, departing December 29, 2022. hollandamerica.com 

Discover yourself: A new series of AmaWaterways’ cruises in partnership with family history firm Ancestry has launched. The seven-night Rhine cruise, from Amsterdam to Basel, departs July 30, 2022. amawaterways.co.uk

What's new

Product: AquaClass SkySuites that come with free and unlimited access to a thermal suite, complimentary fitness classes and a restaurant called Blu devoted to healthy eating, make their debut on Celebrity Cruises’ new ship Celebrity Beyond, which launches in April with a focus on the mind, body and soul.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is promoting relaxation, with a new sunroom-style conservatory complete with two chaise longues in the massive Regent Suite on Seven Seas Grandeur, launching in 2023.

Vista, Oceania Cruises’ first new ship for more than a decade, will have three Owner’s Suites furnished by Ralph Lauren Home that span the width of the vessel. Two new restaurants serve dining classics and healthy dishes.

SALT-themed food experiences and wellness the indulgent Otium way feature on Silver Nova, Silversea’s new ship launching July 2023.

Trade incentive: Oceania Cruises’ OLife Choice Rewards gives travel partners points based on bookings that can be swapped for Amazon, John Lewis, Waitrose, Buyagift or Yumbles vouchers. oceaniarewards.com

Scenic is giving away points with every ocean or river cruise booking in March and April that can be exchanged for Mulberry Handbags, Fortnum and Mason hampers and more. riverrewards.cruises

Entertainment: Cunard has partnered with the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring the works of the Bard to life in Queen Mary 2’s theatre and host workshops for passengers who fancy a future on the stage. Seabourn’s new Latin Quarter show on Seabourn Ovation brings to life the dances and music of Latin America. New classical deck concert Serenade will play during sailaways.

Excursions: Scenic has added an exclusive after-hours trip to Les Bassins de Lumières in Bordeaux, to its 11-day Beautiful Bordeaux river cruise. The attraction, in World War Two submarine pens, wows visitors with major works of art reflected onto the walls of four enormous basins.

Evening canal cruises in Amsterdam and a private reception at Cochem Castle are among five new ‘Nights Out’ excursions from Uniworld River Cruises on the Danube, Po, Rhine and Moselle Rivers.

Where to book it

Scenic

Scenic’s six-star discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse, will sail a 14-day cruise from Punta Arenas in Costa Rica to Callao in Peru departing October 10, 2022. Prices from £9,440pp.

scenic.co.uk