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Ultra Luxury Six Star Cruises
The ultra luxury or six-star lines, offer the ultimate in opulence. These are certainly desirable but also costly (although often costing less than a land-based holiday of similar quality, even though more is included). We’re talking cruise lines with small ships, spacious suites and staterooms, plus open dining so you can eat when and with whom you want (paying these kind of prices means never being told when you can eat). These cruise lines often include all drinks, gratuities and speciality dining in the price and the crew offer the last word in personal service. Cruise lines that match this description include Silversea, Yachts of Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club and tiny Hebridean Island Cruises with its one 49-passenger ship, Hebridean Princess, which has become a firm favourite of the Queen.

Silversea Cruises: Italian hospitality has been raised to stellar heights on board these intimate, all-suite ships. Uncompromising service has been a byword for this company since it broke the mould of boutique-style cruising.
Seabourn Cruise Line: The design of the three vessels in this fleet ensures an intimate yet sophisticated on-board lifestyle. These paragons excel when it comes to fine dining, attentive service and every creature comfort imaginable.
Regent Seven Seas: This company is at the vanguard of all-inclusive cruising. Without doubt this consummate approach to decadent living at sea is the reason why many cruises sell out many months in advance.
Hebridean Princess: If ever a ship deserved its place in cruising’s hall of fame it’s this eclectic, country house at sea. The level of repeat passengers bears testimony to its sublime, on board lifestyle; little wonder Her Majesty has chartered it – twice.
SeaDream Yacht Club: With only 112 passengers each, the two recherché vessels abound with an indulgent yet casual lifestyle. Think private yacht cruising in the most decadent rivieras and serene havens – without the price-tag.

Then there is Crystal Cruises, which sits alone as it breaks all the ultra-luxury rules, its two ships hold around 1,000 passengers, alcohol costs extra and you will be told when to eat, but deserves every one of its six stars due, among other things, to its superior service and top-class cuisine. Combining luxury with attention to detail, the two Crystal ships offer some of the finest accommodations at sea. Peerless entertainment, exquisite speciality dining, creative itineraries and deferential service are the line’s hallmarks.

Five Star Elegance
One step down are the five-star Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises and Cunard, which have elegant big ships, we're talking 2,000-plus passengers with a more sophisticated ambience than the so-called mass-market vessels that charge for drinks, gratuities and speciality dining. Cruise with Cunard and dinner will be served in two sittings, unless you're in a Princess or Queens Grill suite. Oceania and Azamara Club Cruises also fall into this category but are slightly different as they have smaller ships (although Oceania is building another for 1,258 passengers). As does Hapag Lloyd's ship Europa. Oceania doesn't charge for speciality dining or soft drinks, Azamara serves free wine at dinner and includes tips. So why choose a five-star line rather than splash out on six stars? Price is the obvious answer. ‘Free’ or ‘included’ doesn’t mean you get it for nothing, but rather that you pay a higher price for the cruise. However, the different experiences the five-star and six-star lines offer also appeals to different people.

Our six-star cruisers tend to prefer the intimacy of a small ship and the fact they get to know the crew and fellow passengers. They are discerning people who are comfortable with their money but want everything included in the price so they don’t have to think about it. Comments like "The all-inclusive package engenders a great social ambience and takes away the British reticence over how much to tip. The staff-topassenger ratio and the little touches that made us feel pampered made it luxurious" are typical. Five-star cruisers, on the other hand, like bigger ships as it means there are more places to dine, big theatres with flashy entertainment and lavish spas.

The bigger ships also offer anonymity, which will appeal to some luxury lovers. Choose one of the top Penthouses on Crystal or Cunard and you can retreat to your private balcony and have meals served in the room, course by course, of course. You don’t have to be a celebrity to appreciate this but many, including Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, have cruised with Cunard, secure in the knowledge their privacy will be respected. There is also a sub-category of five-star cruise lines, comprising Windstar and Star Clippers. Both have tall ships that sail when the wind is in the right direction, but their vessels are small and simple. Forget theatres, balconies and choreographed entertainment. Days are spent lazing in the sun or learning to tie a reef knot. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but when the sails are billowing in the wind it’s impossible to imagine anything more romantic.