Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Luxury Cruises: A Better Value On a Seabourn or SeaDream Ship vs. a Regent Seven Seas Ship? Let's Compare!

When I look for things to write about I admit that I take a gander over at Cruise Critic.  I do this not for information, but for inspiration.  There is a thread on the Regent Seven Seas board which is about a regular SeaDream guest's experience on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator and the differences he experienced.  You can read it here:  Navigator Review - June 8, 2011.

I am not going to focus on the misses on that Regent Seven Seas Navigator cruise (same misses year after year after year), but rather the excuse for them proffered by TravelCat2:  "Even if the service and food on the Navigator had been better, it would be difficult to compare a ship with approximately 108 people on board with a ship carrying 490. Giving personal service on Sea Dream and on the Seabourn's 209 [sic] passenger ships is considerably easier than on Regent."

I paused and pondered, noting that the Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn have 450 guests vs. Regent Seven Seas Navigator's 490:  "I have never had a cruise client say to me that they were willing to accept lesser cuisine or service for their $5,000+ cruise fare to be on a larger ship; no less when discussing a luxury cruise line."  So I responded:

"One thing that I think is a bit inaccurate is to say that you cannot really compare SeaDream to Regent because of the number of guests. Seabourn has two different size ships - 208 and 450 - and they are compared not only to each other, but to SeaDream. Cuisine and Service are easily compared...[I]t is about, in large part, what you are paying. I don't think it is fair or accurate to say that your $5,000+ per person is de facto a better deal on a smaller ship because you will get better cuisine and service. I cannot imagine a Seabourn guest saying, "I know the service won't be as good on the Seabourn Quest because she has 450 guests, so I will expect less than what I just had on the Seabourn Legend." The same can be said for a Silversea guest going from the Silver Cloud to the Silver Spirit.  Or, if you like, it should be better on [Regent Seven Seas] Navigator than Voyager...Of course there will be some differences (like all staff knowing your name) and more intimate venues, but the overall cruise quality should pretty much equal out for the same dollars."

I really don't have much more to say on that specific point because it seems, at least to me, so darn obvious.  But it does bring up a point about what it is a person should reasonably expect on a luxury cruise...or on a cruise line that markets itself as a luxury cruise line.  And that is where I believe the breakdown occurs!
 
Dictionary - rather than marketing - definitions really assist here.  Luxury has been defined as "The state of great comfort and extravagant living" or "wealth as evidenced by sumptuous living".  Sumptuous, in turn, has been defined as "deluxe: rich and superior in quality".  And, to me that is where the slippery slope of wannabes claiming they "ares" in the luxury market exist.
 
I, clearly, believe that Seabourn is the most luxurious of the main cruise lines.  Seabourn does not provide the ultimate in luxury experiences, but the ultimate in cruise luxury experiences.  No one could really challenge that Seabourn meets the definition of "sumptuous" and provides its guests with a "state of great comfort and extravagant living". 
 
While some may think the definition of luxury is "decadent" ("Luxuriously self-indulgent"); the Seabourn, or frankly, any cruise experience it is not about self-indulgence.  You have decided to share a good bit of your space with over 100 other people and, to be sure, those that are self-indulgent are the ones that offend because that trait tends to interfere with the sumptuous luxury experiences of the other guests.  (That is a whole 'nuther topic!)
 
Now without picking apart each cruise line's strengths and weaknesses, it is pretty consistently reported that SeaDream Yacht Club provides great service and great cuisine, but its cabins are very comfortable, but certainly not at the top of the luxury cruise market (and offer no balconies).  There are no discussions of needing to dine in a particular area to get good (not even great) service or of crowded areas (though a larger group can take over an area).  Shore excursions are intimate and less standardized.  There are truly private areas to do exceptional things (like the Bali Beds).  SeaDream provides a casual elegance as its "style".
 
I need not repeat all that Seabourn offers, but suffice it to say, on its 208 guest ships or its 450 guest ships, excellent service and cuisine abounds with some of the nicest suites at sea, consistently high levels of service, free flowing champagne, caviar, etc. with the highest passenger to space ratio at sea.  Its style is a bit less casual, but certainly not formal.  I call it "classy and elegant".
 
And then there is Regent Seven Seas.  It claims that, in a faux luxury marketing manner, everything is "free".  Let's pause:  "Free" and "Luxury" are by definition, two totally different concepts. A person seeking a "luxury" or "sumptuous" experience really has not considered the price. (It may limit those things, but it is not what one looks for.)  But Regent does this by increasing its fares to the highest in the industry and then provides standard shore excursions in larger groups (ala Oceania or Celebrity), admittedly marginal service (even on a premium line your water and wine glasses better be tended to and your food served together and hot), tired decor, crowding on its Navigator, but alas very nice suites and more venues and alternative dining (regardless of cuisine quality).
 
Pause here and ask yourself, "How many true luxury cruise guests are more attracted to the term "free" or the term "value"?  I think you will find that the true luxury cruise guest is more offended than not by the "free" because they did not reach the level of being able to afford luxury by not understanding that "nothing is free".  Value is the more powerful concept.
 
So with this you come to your travel agent looking to spend $5,000 to $10,000 per person for a 7-10 day luxury cruise.  Would you expect your travel agent to say, "Your really can't compare the two lines. Which one do you want to sail on?"
 
Or would you expect your travel agent to through the above and say to you, "You know, Regent Seven Seas service and cuisine really can't compare to what you get on SeaDream Yacht Club, and you may well have a sense of crowding, but since you get nicer suites and more venues you should sail on Regent." 
 
Oh, yes, you can compare SeaDream to Regent Seven Seas. 
You can compare cuisine. 
You can compare service. 
You can compare suites. 
You can compare facilities. 
You can compare styles. 
 
And you can decide which cruise line and ship offers you what you prefer...and that might, in the end, be a Regent Seven Seas cruise.
 
But...and it is a huge "but":  Do not ever believe that a larger ship in the luxury market means lesser cuisine or service.  The cruise line - not the ship - is in control of what is delivered to its luxury guests.  And sometimes, on some lines, the most truly "luxurious" thing it delivers is the brochure promising a luxury experience you aren't going to receive. 
 
Try, say, comparing the Seabourn Quest to the Regent Seven Seas Navigator (heck, they are within 40 guests of each other).  There is not a single aspect of the cruise experience that Regent Seven Seas exceeds Seabourn at...not one:  Service.  Cuisine.  Decor.  Guest Space.  Dining Venues.  Public Spaces. Style.  Oh, yes, and Value. 
 
Now compare the Seabourn Quest to SeaDream.  It gets interesting, doesn' t it!  (But that is for another article!)