There’s a cruise ship to suit everyone, they say. So how do I choose a No.1 from among the hundreds of choices?
Normally, I avoid answering the question of which is my favourite. I often reply in question: for family, fun, adventure, romance, grandeur, friendship, thrills?
I love, for example, the wide choice of restaurants and informality of Norwegian Cruise Line, the fun of Carnival, the opulence of Cunard, the thrills and innovation of Royal Caribbean, the childish delight of Disney, the Britishness of P&O Cruises and the affordable sophistication of Celebrity.
My perfect cruise ship could never be built. It would have to be big enough to offer plenty of choice for dining, big Broadway productions, a lively nightclub and fun diversions. On the other hand, it would need to be small enough to have the contours of a traditional ship, have everything in a few minutes’ walk and offer top personal service.
So what comes nearest? Well, a medium-sized ship is a good place to start. Modern, elegant, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. And, it goes without saying, you get what you pay for. True luxury comes at a cost.
With all that in mind, the first of my runners-up is Seabourn Sojourn. We sailed in this 450-passenger beauty in the Caribbean and it was more like being on a private yacht than a cruise ship. Beautiful restaurants, sleek-looking lines and, the best thing, all-inclusive.
Our mini-bar was stocked with our favourite gin and plenty of tonic. The room service was outstanding. And, with drinks on the house, it was so easy to invite someone you’d just met to the bar or even the restaurant, knowing everyone could choose a different cocktail or wine without having to agree on a bottle or share the cost. The best day of this glorious trip was spent on a private beach enjoying Seabourn’s signature champagne and caviar in the surf.
Second runner-up? That would be Europa 2 from Hapag-Lloyd. Even though I’ve only spent a couple of nights on this highly rated ship, I quickly decided I could live on it. The finish on everything from the artwork to the public areas to the furniture in the cabins is superb. And so much space!
Now, before I announce my winner, I must just add that there are some cruise lines I’ve yet to experience and perhaps my favourite ship has not yet been built.
But the best I’ve experience to date must be… Crystal Serenity. My wife and I took a cruise from Venice to Monte Carlo in a penthouse suite with a huge balcony and our own butler. Many days, even in the most alluring of ports, we were happy to stay on board, having even more space around the ship to ourselves.
Every detail was impressive. Our walk-in wardrobe was like a separate room. The immaculate bathroom had a Jacuzzi as well as a shower. The balcony was so spacious we almost had to shout to each other from the padded sun loungers. And we had so much storage – cupboards, drawers and shelves – that not only was everything wonderfully organised but we had vast spaces left unused.
Best of all, there was our butler. He would bring breakfast, snacks and, on one occasion, dinner then – just when you thought you were getting peckish – he would appear with a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries, a selection of fruit, or a spread of cheese and crackers.
Crystal Serenity itself, with 13 decks for just over 1,000 passengers, has been consistently voted the best cruise ship in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. It has some of the highest space-per-guest and crew-to-passengers ratios at sea.
Looking pristine after she and sister ship Symphony underwent a £90million makeover, Serenity has a wraparound promenade deck, refined entertainment and the best china, crystal and table linens.
The main dining room operates like an intimate restaurant, with knowledgeable waiters and sommeliers seemingly with all the time in the world to discuss the food and wine on offer.
Breaking away, you can enjoy Italian at Prego, the cuisine of Nobu Matsuhisa at Silk Road and the Sushi Bar, snacks at the Bistro, burgers and hot dogs at the Trident Grill, ice cream at Scoops, a variety of global dishes at Tastes – or be overwhelmed with even more choice at the Lido Cafe buffet.
There are dozens of ways to spend your day, from films to talks to fitness classes, and as the light fades you can chill in a piano lounge, see a band in the Sunset Bar, watch shows in the theatre or dance at the Pulse night club.
Overall, the experience was of being treated not as passengers but as privileged guests. And isn’t that the greatest feeling of all?
But we’re all different, and we’d love to hear which vessel is your personal favourite. Comment below or on Twitter to tell us your favourite cruise ship. Or head over to our homepage to peruse the fantastic range of deals aboard the world’s finest cruise liners.