The WORLD'S Top Ten Best Cruise Lines

 

Here is the top 10 world's best cruise lines, they all call into Lisbon in 2014:

Cruise lines are in the business of giving their guests a good time, so they've all got something going for them. There is a great deal of misleading information offered to the public about the relative merits of various cruise lines. The biggest lines have the biggest advertising budgets and, often, the smaller, higher quality cruise lines are not as well known to the general public.

1, The world of Residensea 

- The World has no earthly competition. Not only is it the top-rated ship in the world - it has, quite literally, redefined the genre. This is a ship that competes with the world's best resorts at roughly the same price point for rental guests.

And therein lies the rub. The World, by design, travels the world in silent splendor, never calling attention to itself or the fact that the owners actually have a rental pool that permits cruisers to board and disembark at virtually any port with an airport. While owners, who have paid from $1.4 to $7.9 million dollars for their leasehold 'ownership', have to pay for meals and drinks, renters will find that the price of their cruise includes drinks, all food, and even gratuities. Renters are also spared the current $240,000 annually that owners pay in annual and service fees.

The ship is literally 'sold out' for every voyage for the life of the ship. There is no sales force because the only units for sale are offered by current owners. Fewer then two dozen travel firms are favored with selling the World to clients who seek something truly different then mainstream cruising. Word-of-mouth is minimal since no more then 50 or 60 rental guests are sailing at any one time. About 50of the owners are from the United States.

The World has earned its designation as The World's Most Luxurious Cruise Experience. Although it could, by most measures, carry 1500 or so passengers, she generally sails with about 175 total guests. This one-of-a-kind ship sails the world, stopping in interesting ports for extended stays. The food is outstanding. Portraits is the top-rated restaurant on any ship currently sailing. There are three-bedroom/three-bath apartments, two-bedroom-two bath apartments, one-bedroom apartments and spacious studios.

2, Seabourn Cruise Line

-  The pride of the Carnival Cruise line stable, these sleek ships one-up their competitors when it comes to 'Best Cruise Line' honors. There is a high level of excitement related to the first new luxury ship launched in the past six years, the Seabourn Odyssey. The 32,000 vessel carries 450 guests with four-onboard restaurants and outside cabin/suites ranging from 295 to 1182 square feet. The Odyssey is the ship to beat in the luxury category and a sister ship, the Sojourn, is being delivered in June. A third, $300 million identical vessel, the Quest, is under construction at T.Mariotti for deployment in June 2011. The addition of the three 'New Sisters' will help make Seabourn the world's largest luxury cruise brand. The line's three 'older ships', the Pride, the Legend, and the Spirit each carry 208 guests. Seabourn guests relish in the feeling that their ship is a floating club off sorts. There are comfy linens, the latest flat screen TV's and I-Pod this and that\'s, guests receive customized stationary, and the showers work. Dinner is an 'event' and things are relatively low-key. If less yacht-like then Sea Dream, Seabourn manages to convey an atmosphere of privilege and comfort without going overboard on the formality.

Our recent inspection of the Odyssey exceeded expectations. The ship is awash in contemporary browns and beiges with superior Spa facilities, and three alternative and casual dining options including Restaurant Z, a 48-seat, rather private and elegant spot, that serves tasting menus on small plates. Dinner can be ordered right off the main Restaurant menu and will be served course by course on the guest\'s veranda. In cabin touches include marble and granite bathrooms with soaps by Hermes and L\'Occitane and Molton Brown toiletries. A personal bar and refrigerator is stocked to guests preferences.

One of the least understood factors working to Seabourn;s advantage is the financial strength of the Carnival Corporation versus its competitors. The stability of the ownership makes for a crew that has few concerns other than taking good care of the guests. Crew that might prefer to transfer to other products in the Carnival family know that this is always a possibility. This has helped Seabourn attract and keep a highly skilled crew including some of the best people who have come over from other lines.

3, Regent Seven Seas Cruises

- Regent is the perfect blending of casual sophistication, lots of options, and the largest cabins in its class. The 700 Guest Mariner and Voyager have hit the sweet spot of available space and amenities to match. The Navigator, at 490 guests, is ideal for those seeking a more intimate experience.

REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES SOLD: BACKGROUND STORY

As reported in this space,, Regent Seven Seas, the world´s largest-capacity true Luxury Cruise Line, has been sold to a U.S. based private investment firm active in the Cruise and Hospitality industry.

Apollo Management, which owns 50of NCL and 100of Oceania Cruise Lines, paid a reputed $1 billion to The Carlson Companies to purchase Regent. The Regent Hotel chain remains in Carlson's hands.

As we have been reporting, other then the obvious purchasing savings, all indications from a variety of sources, point toward little or no change in either the Regent onboard product or staffing. Mark Conroy, the highly-respected President of Regent, will continue to operate the company.

The one unanticipated outcome of the purchase is the formation of a new Apollo corporation, Prestige Cruise Holdings. Former Oceania founder and CEO, Frank Del Rio, will head up Prestige and both Conroy and Bob Binder, the President of Oceania, will report to him.

There is one more shoe to fall in this very real cruise drama. We anticipate an announcement by Regent in the near future that they intend to order at least one new ship for Regent.

Apollo has become a major player in the cruise industry, quickly building the nation\'s third-largest passenger shipping line. NCL is an entry-level line, Oceania is high-end premium, and Regent is true Luxury. It is an intriguing mix of brands and allows for future expansion of the brand with the best overall economic outlook.

We can report that Regent executives are generally thrilled with the purchase. The brand will remain separate, they are out from under ownership of the world's largest travel agency chain, and they are now part of a group with several billion dollars in investment assets. It is, in many ways, the dream buyout and we anticipate that Regent will make rapid strides in terms of growth.

Update: As of June 2009, Apollo has taken some major financial hits leading to speculation that Regent is not as solid, financially, as first reported. The line's aggressive discounting program in the summer of 09, together with the announcement that most shore excursions will be offered on a complimentary basis on all 2010 itineraries has spurred business and Regent now enjoys the highest occupancy rates in the luxury sector. But yield is down and the long-term effects of the lowering of profits is still to be entertained. At this point, there is absolutely no evidence of cutbacks of any kind. The Mariner and Voyager's new Prime 7 Steakhouse concept has been a major success story.

The question regarding Regent and several of its top-rated competitors is how do you successfully pull back from two-for-one pricing when the consumer has learned to expect it.

Regent's 2010 European Cruises are the most inclusive currently available. Virtually all sailings feature Free Air and Two-For-One pricing plus free shore excursions. Drinks and gratuities have always been included. There are additional early booking incentives that go beyond Two-for-One pricing on many sailings. Guests booked in category C or above receive 'Free' Business Class Air instead of economy.

We think the consumer needs to understand two things about Regent\'s current pricing and that of many of its five-star competitors.

2010 rates were set to absorb some of the giveaways. In other words, the guest is getting 50off a higher brochure rate then was the case in 2009. In addition, 'Free' air programs are never really free. Guests who wish to make their own air arrangements will receive a credit for not using the free air program, effectively lowering the cost of their cruise.

We believe that Regent is poised to move up in these ratings. They offer the most inclusive pricing, have the largest cabins and some of the highest square feet per passenger statistics in the industry, and their ships are large enough to offer more restaurants and moire entertainment options than Silverseas or Seabourm their small-ship five-star competitors. They also are clearly the least formal of the three brands, a trait more and more upscale cruisers are seeking.

4, Silversea Cruise Line

- Itineraries tend to Europe, South America and Asia. Picture just a few hundred kindred travelers of the CEO variety. Outstanding food and service though lacking dining options found on some competitors. All inclusive top-end quality. Silversea is cruising's current 'benchmark brand'. Imagine Top-quality 'everything.' Worldwide itineraries include a number of shorter, one-week sailings. Evenings tend to be dressy. Per person food expenditures are among the highest in the industry.

The Concierge desk can do just about anything in the way of private travel arrangements in port. Much of Silverseas reputation is based on the assumption that 300 passengers is small enough to make guests feel truly pampered and large enough to provide a wider range of amenities then smaller capacity rivals. The Concierge frequently arranges in-port experiences that go far beyond the norm. Culinary programs in small settings are featured on many itineraries.

Like each of the top three lines, Silverseas is trying to offer more casual dining options. But this is still the most formal of the top lines. Don't consider Silverseas if you are terminally young, hate dressing up, or are uncomfortable traveling with economic royalty. This is the line of champagne and caviar, of lux dreams realized.

5, Crystal Cruises

- Crystal's fleet of two large (940 guest) ships has won virtually every 'best large ship cruise line' award in the industry. The line features the highest standards of dining service and we rank the specialty Prego Italian restaurant among the finest at sea. Crystal caters to a demanding, largely retired, east andc west coast clientele and features two-seating dining. Gratuities are not included. Entertainment options abound, including sophisticated stage shows and classical acts, as well as a full screen movie theater. Service, food, and entertainment standards are consistent on both ships but the newer Serenity wins highest marks for layout and design. Those who seek personalized; Four Seasons-style service will appreciate the Crystal experience.

Those sailing Crystal for the first time are generally amazed at how much better run these vessels are then the mainstream mega-ships. Crystal still sets the standard for larger, two-seating ships. Most worldwide itineraries are in the 10-14-day range. Guests sailing one of the higher-rated lines often report that Crystal food and service matched or surpassed it\'s smaller, single-seating lux competitors. This is the line that many Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America passengers should have selected for cruises of ten days or longer. It seems clear that, at the moment, Crystal has the most comprehensive and successful staff training program in the entire passenger ship industry.

Our most recent inspection of Crystal has reaffirmed our belief that Crystal is the very best cruise option for the majority of upscale cruisers. We believe that there is one under-reported but critical foundation of the line;s success. Crystal is owned by NYK, the huge Japanese shipping conglomerate. NYK-FIL has established the leading crew training facility in the Philippines. Every onboard Crystal service person must graduate from a rigorous six-month program at Crystal's exclusive training 'university'. There are other crew training facilities in the Phillippines, but none has the respect or the credentials of the NYK/Crystal school. This, we believe, is the secret weapon that allows Crystal to provide its ships with the best trained and most customer-savvy crews in the industry.

No other cruise line comes close to emulating the combination of caring, personalized service, often memorable cuisine, and the full lecture/entertainment options that form a part of the Crystal experience. Choose any other line and you are going to have to sacrifice at least one of these three pillars of excellence. Anyone seeking to sail on a competitor, needs to ask their travel consultant, 'If I don't sail Crystal, what am I giving up?'

6, Sea Dream Yacht Club

- The 'world's best cruise lines you've never heard of' continues to draw rave reviews from the fewer than 200 guests per week able to sail this lines two 100-passenger ships. Outstanding service and the some of the best food afloat, combined with a casual 'no ties-no formal anything' is a winning combination for these former Sea Goddess yachts. Excellent one-week itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean. Ideal for laid-back adventurers seeking one-on-one service. There are no balcony cabins and the bathrooms are small but guests can sleep outdoors on a Balinese bed.

This is high-end, casual, all-inclusive relaxation for those who detest a Vegas-like shipboard atmosphere. In fact, Sea Dream is ideal for those who have never wanted to cruise, The line takes it's tag line, 'the world's largest yachts' seriously. Often lower-priced than its five-star competitors. The new Adriatic sailings featuring the ports of Croatia may be Europe's hottest itineraries. No one does the Greek Islands and Turkey better. If Jimmy Buffet ever decides to purchase a cruise line - this is the one he will want. But we must dowwngrade her based on a lack of amenities and small cabins.

Sea Dream is an excellent choice, often the best choice, for Greek Island, Croatia, and British Virgin Island itineraries. The ship's size permits visits to smaller ports that are never included on large-ship itineraries.

7, Cunard Line

- In a short-lived record, the Queen Mary 2 was launched in 2004 as the largest, most expensive liner ever built. Together with her sister ship the Queen Elizabeth 2 which set sail in 1969, QM 2 has redefined the Cunard Line. After operating several poorly conceived cruise ships, Cunard's owner, the Carnival Corporation, has taken Cunard back to her roots. These ships will spend much of the year doing transatlantic-crossings between New York and Southampton. We think that the new QM 2 is a destination in itself and a far superior experience then her considerably older sister.

These are 'class' oriented ships, with cabin/suite accommodations defining the dining room and service levels. Our recommendations: Consider the QM 2 for crossings only and don't consider this ship unless you can afford one of the upper level suites. Believe it or not, standard cabin bathrooms on this $800 million project were designed so poorly that we do not recommend any but the larger category cabins.

8, Oceania Cruises

-  This line's medium-sized ships (684 guests), the Regatta, Nautica, and the Insignia, operate within an unusual niche between the 5-star luxury and the four-star premium brands. The line competes with the mega ships in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean with stronger itineraries and an unusually casual atmosphere. There are no formal nights. Guests select from four restaurant venues. Oceania delivers a solid product at a rate that is significantly below that offered by the luxury category ships. Cabins reflect high standards. Consistency has been a problem and guests may be surprised at extra charges for simple pleasures like an evening cappuccino.

Air programs are not always consumer-friendly. Oceania scores extremely well on the value scale. This upstart has designed a winning formula on lovely ships with excellent food, a casual dress policy, and some of the world's most creative itineraries. While many of the mass market lines love days at sea so they can earn ships shop, bar, and spa revenue, (shops and services must be closed while a ship is in port), Oceania virtually eliminates days at sea whenever possible. Service levels have been quite high during the past 24 months. Consistency has been achieved without any sacrifices. Concierge level guests get to make double the number of dinner reservations at the line\'s specialty restaurants. Early reservations are rewarded at Oceania and it is possible to secure 2-1 pricing AND Free airfare promotions.

Churchill and Turen currently rates Oceania as the Best Cruise Line in the Upper Premium Category. This means that we rate the line above competitors in the non-inclusive Premium segment such as Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, or Princess. It is important to note that Oceania is not in the Luxury Category and is not, in any way, inclusive.

After extensive reviews, inspections, and the experiences of numerous Churchill and Turen clients, we are currently recommending Oceania as a 'First Choice' Option in the Premium Category. We feel that the line's claim that they are 'Upper' Premium is justified.

9, Azamara Cruises

- Azamara is the new cruise line created by Royal Caribbean. The new cruise product is based on a two-ship fleet of former Renaissance Cruises ships. From a ship standpoint, the Azamara ships closely resemble the Oceania vessels. In fact, Royal Caribbean is clearly going after the Oceania upper premium niche with this new product.

Azamara Club Cruises, formerly called Azamara, too new to make definitive comments and onboard services are bound to change as execs see what works and what doesn't; The report that follows was written by a well-connected industry veteran, with a substantial understanding of the current cruise market.

10, Windstar

- The three Windstar ships are a category unto themselves – part cruise ship and part computer-controlled sailing yacht. Two of the ships, the Wind Star and Spirit carry 144 guests while the larger sister, the Wind Surf, has suites as well as standard outside cabins and carries 308 guests. The combination of unusually attractive ports, made possible by the ships low draft, and smooth British officers and a happy Indonesian crew combine to make this an attractive alternative to those who prefer small, intimate ships and the feeling that one is sailing a yacht. Windstar often runs both cruise and air specials and discounts in the range of 40 are not unusual.

Windstar cruises the lower Caribbean out of St. Thomas and Barbados, as well as the Greek Islands, Central America, and a number of itineraries that include Italy, France, and Croatia. When Windstar's Caribbean rates come down to below $2000 per person, it represents the best value and one of the best experiences in the Caribbean, far better then the floating shopping malls. But there are cautionary notes. These casually elegant vessels were owned by the Carnival Corporation. Now, the line has been sold to Ambassadors International, the holding company that owns Majestic America, an operator of riverboats with no experience that relates to a line like Windstar. For that reason, we are currently placing our recommendation of WindStar on 'hold'. We do have concerns about the long-term health of this product.

You may have noticed that the largest cruise lines have not been rated among the top 15 lines.

Princess,

 

Holland America,

Norwegian Cruise Line, 

Royal Caribbean.

They have huge advertising budgets. But they score significantly lower then the brands listed above in overall quality. They operate large ships with large lines at the institutional buffets. They have spectacular hardware, much like floating Las Vegas resorts. But they lack personal service and they must, as a result of their size, stop at ports designed to handle the mega-ships and the tens of thousands of daily passengers they disgorge.

The Mega-ships are characterized by low initial prices and strong pressure onboard to purchase extra services up to and including bottled water and soft drinks. Gratuities are not included. Sea days are added to itineraries, where possible, to increase onboard alcohol and shop revenue.

Mega-ships can only call at ports that are populated by other mega-ships. Intimate, out-of-the way locations are rarely included on itineraries becasue of the need to have onshore facilities that can serve 3,000 or so guests.

For those on a strict budget, any of these lines can provide an excellent vacation value. Each of these lines has features that are worthy of note. They do, as a group, have better children\'s programs then any of the lines that are in the Top Ten. Only Disney provides better onboard children\'s programs then Royal Caribbean.

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