There are luxury cruise ships, and then there are luxury cruise ships


Cecile Mortel, master cruise counselor and senior travel consultant at Homestead Wings Travel in Hummelstown, has sailed on Crystal Cruises, a luxury line, at least five times. But until recently, she had never sailed on SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises or the Yachts of Seabourn. When she had the opportunity to take a Baltic cruise on Silversea’s Silver Cloud this summer she jumped at the chance because she wanted to compare small luxury ships with large luxury ships.

In the cruise industry, the term “large” is relative. Currently, Royal Caribbean’s three Freedom Class ships are the largest ships afloat in terms of passenger count, with capacities of 3,634 each. However, among luxury cruise lines, “large” is much smaller. Crystal falls into the large ship category with passenger capacities of 940 on the Serenity and 1,080 on the Symphony.

In contrast, the ships of Silversea, which falls into the small ship category, have passenger capacities ranging from 132 to 540.

Mortel, who unabashedly loves Crystal, described her Silversea cruise as awesome. She found a basic similarity between the two lines: Both offer nothing but the best. That includes such amenities as extra soft bed linens, fresh flowers, well-appointed staterooms and exceptionally high levels of service.

However, she did find Silversea to be different from Crystal in three key ways: the docking locations, the shore excursions and life on board the ship.

Because of their size, smaller ships can pull into prime docking spots. During Mortel’s Baltic cruise, the Silver Cloud made a stop in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the ship docked about a half mile from the Winter Palace. Off in the distance she could see the much-larger Queen Mary 2, docked an estimated 45 minutes from the center of the city.

The shore excursions tend to be more exclusive on the smaller ships than the larger ships. For example, Mortel says, Silversea arranged an after-hours concert inside the famous Hermitage solely for its passengers.

Silver Cloud’s atmosphere and activities were quite different from those on the Crystal ships. Mortel felt an overall slower pace and a quieter, more intimate atmosphere. Where she had to pencil in time to relax on her balcony during her Crystal cruises, she says half in jest, she had plenty of time to read during her Silver Cloud cruise because there wasn’t much else to do.

Passengers on the Silver Cloud had only a few onboard activities to choose from — visits to the spa, casino or gym and a few evening entertainment options — and only three dinner entrees each evening. However, Mortel says her fellow passengers enjoyed the smallness of their ship rather than feeling limited by it.

What she learned from her summer cruise was that luxury ships are not alike, and passengers need to understand the differences so they can make informed decisions. From a personal perspective, Mortel says she will choose the size of her luxury ship for future cruises based on the itinerary.