If you're planning a European holiday, a Mediterranean cruise itinerary answers some common questions: "Where should I go? How do I get from one city to the next? Where should I stay?" One of the only remaining questions then is quality - the standard of accommodation, cuisine and service you expect. In this blog we explore the luxury cruise lines of the Mediterranean and give you some insight into why a cruise holiday may be right for you.Like returning to a boutique hotel where you're greeted by name, the staff feel like old friends, and your drink is known as "the usual", luxury cruise lines aim to take service and experience in the Mediterranean to an exceptional level. Some of the true magic happens when you leave the comfort of the ship - Mediterranean shore excursions that are well organised, immersive and authentic.
In each review we discuss the size of the ships that each luxury cruise line operates. Luxury cruise lines generally operate small to medium sized vessels that have a more intimate onboard feel and have the flexibility to explore where the mega ships cannot. To give you a sense of scale you can compare each ship to the world's largest ship in 2019 - Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas which can accommodate 6,700 guests.
Here are six of Fine Travel's favourite luxury cruise lines in the Mediterranean to help you choose your ultimate cruise holiday.
Seabourn prides itself on "intuitive service". Before each voyage the crew invest time learning up to 80 guest names and tipping is neither required, nor expected. In the Mediterranean Seabourn operates four luxury ships: Encore (300 suites), Odyssey (229 suites), Ovation (300 suites) and Quest (229 suites). The onboard atmosphere is more casual than formal while still maintaining a quality experience.
Seabourn's restaurants are guided by Chef Thomas Keller (the first and only American chef to hold multiple 3 Michelin star ratings) and Seabourn is a member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (one of the world’s most prestigious gastronomic societies devoted to the art of fine dining). Complimentary fine wines are poured with lunch and dinner, and there is never an extra charge for any dining choice.
Seabourn's Mediterranean shore excursions incorporate its partnership with UNESCO resulting in truly remarkable opportunities, such as the Amalfi & Positano: A UNESCO Partner Tour. Separately you can explore excursions with enticing names such as "a walk through Santa Cruz, wine tasting and cigar craftsmanship".
Other Seabourn partnerships include Dr. Andrew Weil (Seabourn's onboard Mindful Living Program); interior design by hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany; Sir Tim Rice (exclusive entertainment on selected ships) and Seabourn Conversations: onboard presentations by featured speakers such as Jeffery Archer, Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar and Steve Wozniak (please note these speakers differ by ship, itinerary and year).
In New Zealand, Seabourn is represented by one of Fine Travel's key partners, so we can answer any specific questions you may have, or even set up a meeting for you to speak directly to the representative.
2. Silversea Cruises
One of the most frequent responses we hear from clients who learn that their Silversea cruise will include a dedicated butler (with white gloves) is a whispered:"I'm not sure what I'd do with a butler...". The aim of this exceptional level of service is not to create a voyage of awkward silences or brainstorming sessions on "what can we ask the butler to do today?", but for your onboard experience to be seamless as you relax, knowing that everything will be taken care of (you'll be looking for him when you get home).
In the Mediterranean, Silversea operates five ships: Silver Moon (596 guests from 2020), Silver Shadow (388 guests), Silver Spirit (608 guests), Silver Whisper (388 guests) and Silver Wind (298 guests). The onboard style leans towards the traditional, elegant and formal. Formal nights are included in the program clothing suggestions are provided to allow guests to pack accordingly (for example a jacket for gentlemen).
In addition to impeccable service, you’ll also wake up to stunning views of the Mediterranean, guaranteed. All Silversea suites are oceanview suites and many have a private teak veranda. Personalisation allows you to make choices as to toiletries and personalised stationery to a bar with your favourite wines and spirits.
With its Italian heritage, the Silversea cuisine is a high priority. From the main dining room ("The Restaurant") through to speciality restaurants (which may attract a reservation fee) Silversea offers regional options (French fine dining and Asian flare) through to pizzerias and seafood.
3. Regent Seven Seas
"It's All Included*". These three words are at the heart of the Regent Seven Seas luxury cruise experience. Unlimited shore excursions (specific shore excursions are included with options to pay to join alternatives); 2-or 3-night land programmes (for a more immersive experience); a 1-night pre-cruise hotel package (for Concierge Suites and above); Unlimited beverages; Open bars, lounges and the in-suite mini bar; Pre-paid gratuities (additional tips are not expected); Specialty restaurants; WIFI (one log in and device per suite and more for Concierge Suites and above). Although there are some exclusions (the casino isn't free for example) the aim is for you to step onboard and feel like everything is at your disposal.
In the Mediterranean, Regent Seven Seas operates Seven Seas Explorer (750 guests), Seven Seas Mariner (700 guests), Seven Seas Splendor (750 guests), Seven Seas Voyager (700 guests). While still more formal than some cruise lines, Regent Seven Seas aims for a "country club casual" approach - what we may call in New Zealand "smart casual".
Regent Seven Seas takes a step beyond preparing exquisite meals for their guests through its Culinary Arts Kitchen Classes onboard Seven Seas Splendor and Seven Seas Explorer. For a minimal additional cost, guests can learn the secrets of Argentine grilling, master different techniques for cooking fish, indulge in La Technique Francaise and much more.
*Subject to Regent Seven Seas terms and conditions. Inclusions may change without notice. Please check with Fine Travel before booking your Regent Seven Seas cruise.
4. Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking's prides itself on being the "Thinking Person's Cruise". This unique angle focuses on three elements: Before you go (access to online filmography, reading recommendations and cultural profiles); On Board (from a thoughtfully curated shipwide library, guest lecturers, Viking Resident Historian, cooking classes and wine tastings with the sommelier); On Shore (iconic destinations complimented with behind the scenes privileged access in places otherwise difficult to visit).
In the Mediterranean Viking operates Viking Jupiter (930 guests); Viking Sea (930 guests); Viking Sky (930 guests); Viking Star (930 guests); Viking Sun (930 guests). With its Norwegian heritage each ship offers serene Scandinavian spaces - elegant and light filled.
What will appeal to many potential guests is that Viking is upfront about "what it is not", explicitly stating that they do not try to be all things to all people. Some of their specific exclusions: Children under 18, Casinos, art auctions, formal nights, butlers and white gloves, charges for WIFI and more.
5. Crystal Cruises
With South Pacific itineraries that include New Zealand, Crystal's ships are now a more familiar sight around our ports. It is a brand that immediately brings to mind images of luxury and Crystal's Mediterranean itineraries do not disappoint.
In the Mediterranean, Crystal Cruises operates two ships: Crystal Serenity (980 guests) and Crystal Symphony (848 guests) and a yacht, the Crystal Esprit (62 guests in 31 suites). The two ocean ships are larger than the others we review in this blog, but they still boast one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios and six-star service.
Crystal Esprit offers a unique cruise experience in the Mediterranean. Closer in design to a super yacht that a cruise ship, the Crystal Esprit explores and island hops from one boutique port of call to the next. At nearly every port of call, guests can choose from one of two styles of shore excursion - an active adventure or a cultural exploration.
Looking for a little intellectual stimulation as you cruise between Mediterranean ports? Crystal Cruise offers an impressive onboard enrichment programme which regularly features well-known authors, politicians and other experts in addition to a dedicated bridge lounge, library and creative learning centre. Crystal also makes a point of hiring exceptional performers, from talented musicians to Broadway singers to ballroom dancers. The entertainment onboard Crystal ships rivals many land establishments.
Shore excursions are offered through Crystal's Mediterranean itineraries providing the opportunity to step ashore and experience local cultures and cuisine. The atmosphere onboard is more formal, with a suggested dress code for evening attire. Black tie optional evenings provide the opportunity to dust of the tuxedo or cocktail dress.
Hapag Lloyd may be a name you have heard, but cannot immediately place - it will come to you the next time you drive past a port and see a shipping container. Although best known for commercial shipping, Hapag Lloyd surprises in the Mediterranean with the luxurious cruise ship the Europa 2.
This German cruise line is working hard to increase its appeal to English speaking passengers by making potential guests aware of the level of excellence in design and service that one might have come to expect from other well known German brands (such as Mercedes-Benz).
Hapag Lloyd will appeal to experienced cruise clients who are looking for an exceptional "no expense spared, nothing is too much trouble" onboard experience that few in New Zealand will have tried.
The right luxury cruise line for you may come down to a number of considerations. Sometimes our clients have specific Mediterranean ports in mind and we will work with them, the cruise line and our wholesale partners to find the itinerary that suits. Other clients have a strong relationship with a specific cruise line and will only look at those itineraries.
Once we have worked with our clients to find the itinerary and cruise line they are happy with (or they come to us with the itinerary they have chosen through their own research), we work with the cruise line, their representatives in New Zealand or our wholesale partners. It's important to keep in mind that any concessions offered directly to guests (via email for instance) are also available when booking with Fine Travel.