Being an avid traveler, myMEGusta is often asked which of the several cruise lines I have traveled is best.
Here’s a stab at a response, the short answer being “It depends.” And, the field I can comment on is limited to a handful, not a comprehensive look. So, if your favorite is not on the list, it’s not because I would not love it; it’s because I have not traveled with them, at least in the past 20 years.
So, here’s the list, all “excellent”, but with significant differences in style and costs.
My most recent experience was on the Crystal Symphony, sailing 25 days. The fact that I was NOT ready to leave the ship after all that time speaks volumes.
While not as upscale as Seabourn (for example, no unlimited, daily, high quality caviar), it vastly exceeded my expectations. The food was excellent (translation: top quality and great variety), both in the dining room and buffet and in the two specialty restaurants, Prego and Silk Road (Nobu), to which one is entitled one “free” dinner for each 10 days or fraction thereof (after which $30, a bargain for the quality). All inclusive, the Champagne (Jacquart, Roederer and one other French) flowed freely, as did reds, whites and roses (e.g. one from Tavel and one from Provence), and top shelf bar. Topping it all was the extraordinary service, professional and accommodating.
A major selling point for me, as a solo traveler, is that their normal single supplement is a reasonable 35%, and occasional sales bring it down to 10%. Another plus (although hardly a deal maker) was the Host Ambassadors, well-spoken gentlemen whose only job was to ensure that the ladies had partners for dancing. The entertainment was, by and large, very good, particularly the piano bar. I will definitely travel with them again.
This is a French company, only recently beginning to market actively in the United States, and was an absolute delight when I traveled with them a few years ago. One big plus is that sailing with them is truly a French experience (announcements first in French, then in English), and the vast majority of passengers are French, as is the culture of the ship, including the food and wines (all inclusive, including Veuve Cliquot pour).
The Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, whose cruises I have enjoyed a couple of times in the past on another line, is now working with Ponant, and so far two itineraries are scheduled. http://www.chambermusicsociety.org/support/2016_cruises
I do not know what their normal single supplement is, because my voyage was on a 0% single supplement sailing. Entertainment was really poor, unless you like unending variations (with little synthesizers!!!) of “Stwainjairs in the Nide.” Of course, that would be completely mitigated by access to world class chamber music.
Tip top, no question about it, Seabourn is an example of “you get what you pay for.” But, in my opinion, the price/quality difference with Crystal or Ponant is barely worth it, even before the 100% single supplement.
Other than the caviar, their food/wine (I forget what Champagne, but it was a top one) was not significantly better than Crystal’s or Ponant’s, nor were their wines. Entertainment was OK, nothing special. If they fix the single supplement, I would consider them in the future if they offer an itinerary not available on one of the other lines.
Food and service are very, very good, but in a different class entirely from the above mentioned three, and it is not all inclusive. Cabins are not fancy. But, the drawing card, and what drives their high costs, is their exotic locations and teams of scientists and photographers on board, not to mention enough zodiacs so that all passengers can get off at every spot. The “entertainment” is daily debriefings and lectures. I have traveled with them three times: Antarctica, Alaska, and Columbia River.
This is the only company I would recommend for Antarctica, where being on an ice breaker ship, sailed by a captain who plies the Southernmost and Northernmost waters most of the year, puts safety in the forefront. Plus the experience includes actually walking among the penguins and kayaking among the icebergs, versus drive-by photo ops.
Nothing to say yet about Silversea, which I am sailing later this year. It is reputedly on a parallel with Crystal, perhaps a little more formal and fancier cabins (“Every room has a walk in closet!” exclaimed one high maintenance fan), and they are solo-friendly with Host Ambassadors and a reasonable single supplement, at least on this itinerary. I am expecting excellence, so stay tuned!