The ship operates mainly in German language, but all the crew speak English and each year several cruises are dedicated as bilingual, so there’s no problem in communication. At present, this is about as good as it gets – unless you’re invited aboard Roman Abramovich’s super-yacht, Eclipse.
Europa operates a complete around-the-world cruise each year, going to many unusual ports as well as the “marquee” destinations, but spends much of the summer in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions, on creative itineraries.
SeaDream I/SeaDream II, SeaDream Yacht Cruises
Passengers 112, Crew 95
This pair of pocket-sized ships cater to just 56 couples each. They are totally casual and as relaxed as you will be after a cruise. I recommend the spa treatments, which are well worth the high price tag. Watersports toys (kayaks, jet-skis, etc) are yours to enjoy when the ships feature a “marina” day in sheltered areas once each cruise. Also, outdoor sleep suits are provided should you wish to sleep under the stars.
Innovations include “raw food” menus in co-operation with Florida’s notable Hippocrates Institute, which is an industry first. These are provided alongside the traditional haute cuisine. So, cruising really can be ultra-healthy.
Both ships ply the smaller, hidden ports of the Caribbean during the winter, while summers are spent in Baltic, Mediterranean and Aegean waters and provide a fine way to escape. All drinks, decent caviar and gratuities are included.
Seabourn Quest/Seabourn Odyssey/ Sojourn
Passengers 450, Crew 330
This trio of identically sized ships are contemporary and have an abundance of large suites and cabins with balconies. The ships have the highest passenger-space ratio in the business, just a shade higher than Europa. They all have a social meeting space called Seabourn Square – a mixed-use concierge/reception/internet-connect/library/coffee lounge.
Like the two SeaDream ships, they also offer their own “marina” with watersports toys to enjoy (in warm water areas). These ships score highly because of the high level of training the crew receive, which translates to a high level of passenger recognition and attention.
Seabourn’s ships really concentrate on the Caribbean, Baltic, Mediterranean, Canada/New England, Egypt and Arabia, with an occasional Panama Canal sailing, while one ship operates an around-the-world cruise annually. The ships do not venture into the Arctic or Antarctic regions.
Silver Spirit, Silversea Cruises
Passengers 540, Crew 370
Silver Spirit is the latest generation of this growing fleet, exuding more style and panache than the others, although its layout is a little disjointed and in the show lounge, 14 pillars obstruct the sightlines to the stage.
The ship has a number of nooks and corners to escape to, including a fine library, an observation lounge and a cigar-smoking room. Culinary variety is at work, with a number of dining venues and a link-up with Relais & Chateaux. The passenger mix is more international than almost all the other ships featured.
The ship operates an around-the-world cruise, spends summer in the Mediterranean and winters in warmer climes.
Hanseatic, Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises
Passengers 184, Crew 122
A cruise aboard this lovely little ship is about being in touch with nature and travelling in high comfort, with outstanding food, service and camaraderie. The ship, designed for worldwide, expedition-style voyages, carries a fleet of 14 Zodiac inflatable, rigid craft, each named after a famous explorer, for in-depth excursions to areas (such as the Amazon and Antarctica) that simply do not have landing stages. Waterproof rubber boots, red parkas, boot-washing and storage rooms are provided.
The décor is elegant, with some of the finest bathrooms to be found aboard any small ship. The ship goes about its business quietly, and carries academic lecturers as an integral part of the expedition team – vital to the success of this style of cruising. Evening entertainment is all about a recap of the day’s adventuring – and what’s to come.
Hanseatic spends winters cruising from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to the Antarctic Peninsula, while in midsummer it usually explores the Baltic and northern European regions, and in between ventures around the South Sea islands and south-east Asia.
Sea Cloud, Sea Cloud Cruises
Passengers 68, Crew 60
This is no ordinary cruise ship, but a wonderful vintage barquentine (tall ship), with three masts and 30 sails. Lying down in the “Blue Lagoon” at the stern, watching the sails billowing in the trade winds of the Caribbean at night has to be one of life’s beautiful, precious moments.
The largest private yacht when built in 1931 for Marjorie Merriweather Post, the American cereal heiress, Sea Cloud oozes charm and character. The small-portion food is extremely good too.
The ship spends winters in the Caribbean and summers in the Mediterranean. One of my favourite trips is the repositioning voyage, when it moves between its two main cruise regions.
Oceana Marina, Oceania Cruises
Passengers 1,200, Crew 800
Larger than all the other ships at the top of the charts, Marina is a ship with some splendid design features and some of the largest suites at sea, with “country house” décor that could easily feature in a glossy magazine. A stunning wrought-iron and Lalique horseshoe-shaped staircase is the focal point of the ship’s finely outfitted interior, while only the very best linens and fabrics have been provided. The ship has six open-seating dining venues, including a stunning two-deck-high Grand Dining Room. It also has a culinary kitchen for passengers, with 24 workstations and courses run by Bon Appétit, the American food and entertaining magazine. Other features include a spa run by Canyon Ranch, and a beautiful 2,000-book library and Illy coffee bar.