Thursday, July 13, 2017

Luxury is personal and subjective...

A few days ago, I was hanging out on Cruise Critic's message forums when I decided to check the luxury cruising board.  Bill and I don't cruise a lot yet.  To date, we've taken a grand total of seven cruises with one planned for September.  Our first cruise was in June 2009.  We took a four night Baltics cruise on Royal Caribbean.  We liked that experience fine, but all the nickel and diming and crowded buffets made us decide that we'd prefer smaller ships that are all inclusive.

In April 2010, we booked our very first "luxury" cruise on SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I.  Although it was a five night cruise that wasn't that expensive relatively speaking, it was a bit of a stretch for us financially.  But we took the cruise and really enjoyed it.  With no more than 112 people on board, most of them adults, stellar food, all inclusive booze, and the chance to swim off the side of the boat, it seemed like a totally different animal than Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas.  It wasn't hard for the sales guy to talk us into booking another cruise for the following year.


Bill and I were celebrating our 9th anniversary on SeaDream I back in November 2011.

In November 2011, we sailed on SeaDream I for the second time.  It was time for our wedding anniversary and we journeyed to the southern Caribbean to commemorate our nine years of relative bliss.  That trip was also very magical.  I actually spent three hours in the spa and it was a bit too much.  We were blown away again, though, and it was no problem convincing me to book again for a third cruise.

Meanwhile, in November 2012, we decided to try Hebridean Island Cruises, a small British line I discovered by reading an article on Cruise Critic.  Like SeaDream's two mega yachts I and II, Hebridean Princess is a small ship that carries fewer than 50 passengers.  Like SeaDream, Hebridean cruises are all inclusive and expensive.  Unlike SeaDream, when Hebridean says they are all inclusive, they really mean it.  We did a back to back cruise with them and they took marvelous care of us.  I realized in some ways, I liked Hebridean even more than SeaDream, even though Bill and I are a bit younger (and much more American) than the typical passenger.


Bill and I celebrating anniversary #10... after haggis and whisky.

In May 2013, we took our third and latest SeaDream cruise to Italy and Greece.  Although the European cruise was probably my favorite of the three, I didn't feel moved to pre-book another cruise.  Consequently, we have not been back on SeaDream since May 2013.  


A shot taken from SeaDream I in Amalfi.

We have been on Hebridean again, though, having sailed in March 2016.  We will be sailing Hebridean again in September 2017... or, at least, I will be sailing.  Bill is supposed to join me, but may have to work.


On our last cruise in March 2016.

It's true that I haven't been on any of the big, well-known luxury cruise lines yet.  I have not tried Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal, or Regent.  I haven't even tried any of the so-called premium lines yet.  However, there is no doubt in my mind that both SeaDream and Hebridean are luxury cruises.  Both offer outstanding personalized service.  Both lines focus on pampering their guests.  I was perplexed when I saw Cruise Critic's top ten list of luxury cruise ships and Hebridean was not mentioned, but SeaDream was.  I posted a comment to that effect.  I know Queen Elizabeth II is not known for being overly concerned with luxury, but she's chartered Hebridean Princess twice.  

Very soon, I found myself in a discussion with a couple of other posters.  One lady, a Brit who knew about Hebdridean, agreed with me that Hebridean is a luxury ship.  Another poster, I'm guessing an American who had never heard of Hebridean, did not.  She seemed much more concerned with the size of the stateroom and toiletries than anything else.  And, you know, that's fine...  Because, as another poster eventually put it before also putting down Hebridean Princess as an "old ship", luxury is personal.  We all have our own ideas of what luxury means.  It's subjective.

Bill and I aren't especially hard to please, particularly on cruise lines that are all inclusive.  We like really good food, good booze, and personalized service.  We have gotten that on both SeaDream and Hebridean, even though the ships aren't the newest or the largest.  Frankly, I like them both for being small and being able to go to locations that are off limits to larger vessels.  I like the fact that there's no pressure to tip.  I don't actually have a problem with tipping, as long as I know what the protocol is and what to expect, but I would prefer not to have to worry about it.  I like it better when the crew members are paid well and do their jobs because they have pride in their work, not because they're expecting me to supplement their income with a monetary gift.  Feeling like I have to tip takes away from the guest experience for me and adds a level of stress.  So we pay big fares on small luxury lines to take away that stressor and others, like having to sign chits.

The lady on Cruise Critic who was responding to me seemed to think my ideas of what luxury is are all wrong.  It was as if it didn't occur to her that people can have differences in opinion.  She says she wouldn't want to be on an all British ship, even though she is married to a Brit.  Personally, I like sailing with Brits.  I actually prefer them to some of the other groups of people I have encountered while cruising-- and those people don't necessarily come from a specific country but are more of a "type" of personality.  I try not to judge a person from where they're from; my focus is more on how they behave.  Assholes come in all nationalities.  

I would say my favorite group from a specific country so far are Norwegians, who are friendly and fun loving, from what I can tell.  Some of the Brits I sailed with on SeaDream would beg to differ on that.  They thought the Norwegians on our cruise were extremely annoying.

I was feeling kind of frustrated by the Cruise Critic forum when another commenter wrote this...

I really think all these discussion become repetitive and boring. Let's just be grateful that there are cruise line out there which suit different people and we can choose what we like best. No need to tear down one line just because we prefer a different one.  

I must admit, I like the way she thinks...

One drawback to cruising on small ships is that sometimes you run into people with whom you don't mesh.  That has certainly happened to Bill and me.  Based on her comments on Cruise Critic, I have a feeling that I wouldn't enjoy the commenter who was so focused on her stateroom and where the fellow cruisers come from.  So the fact that she doesn't like sailing with Brits and thinks Hebridean is beneath her is fine with me.  I'd just as soon not have to see her on my next cruise.

Anyway... I have a feeling our next cruise will be on a barge in France.  That's what I'm hoping for... And since there are even fewer people on those vessels than on SeaDream or Hebridean, I pray that we all get along and enjoy the luxury... and the fact that we are able to take a vacation at all on ANY ship.  Many people are not that lucky.  


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