Three Key Players Offering Upper Premium Cruises | TravelResearchOnline

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Three Key Players Offering Upper Premium Cruises

For the sophisticated and experienced traveler who has been there and done that, Upper Premium cruise lines offer vacation opportunities that allow guests to delve deeper into the destinations that interest them most. Soon, cruisers will have three lines from which to choose.

You may never have heard the term Upper Premium used to describe cruise lines. It’s a term that we in the cruise industry sometimes use to differentiate companies that are positioned between the “Premium” category — which includes Celebrity CruisesHolland America Line and some Princess Cruises’ vessels — and the “Luxury” cruise sector, dominated by the likes of Crystal CruisesHapag-LloydRegent Seven Seas CruisesSeaDream Yacht ClubSeabourn and Silversea Cruises.

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Azamara Quest in Sorrento, Italy. @ 2013 Ralph Grizzle

The categories should be considered only as indicators of what to expect. For example, book an itinerary in theluxury category and that usually means that you’ll be sailing on ships that carry only a few hundred passengers, are all-inclusive, have large space-ratios (which essentially means the ships feel roomy) and are pricey (from US$300 per person, per day — and up).

Upper Premium, on the other hand, typically defines destination-driven cruises aboard small, yet feature-laden ships, that keep passenger counts relatively low and amenities high. Two good examples of Upper Premium cruise lines are Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises.

Both have similar objectives: to provide destination-immersive experiences that cater to well-educated, well-traveled guests looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainstream lines, at a price point that is still lower than similar itineraries aboard luxury vessels.

The prevailing trend in the upper premium market is longer stays in port and more overnights in destinations, so that passengers have more time to explore. Azamara Club Cruises, for example, not only offers long stays in port but also overnights and “night tourism,” a term the company coined to differentiate its tours from the typical day excursions.

To further distinguish themselves from their mainstream competitors, both Azamara and Oceania also include selected beverages as part of their cruise fares, along with enhanced cuisine and the more in-depth experiences ashore.

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Upper Premium = Small Ships

Capacity on Upper Premium cruise ships ranges from just under 700 guests to slightly more than 1,200. There are obvious advantages of small vessels. While eliminating the long lines, large crowds and bottlenecks that occasionally stall the fun on a larger cruise ships, smaller vessels have always offered more intimate and special experiences by taking fewer people to less-accessible destinations, including off-the-beaten-track waterways and tiny ports that passengers on large ships rarely get to see.

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Guests enjoy an uncrowded pool on the Oceania Riviera. @ 2012 Ralph Grizzle

Small-ship cruises on Upper Premium lines usually give passengers close-up views of the people, cities and cultures that they are visiting, whether the destination is a natural paradise, like Alaska or the Amazon, or a cultural capital, like the Rome or Stockholm. While major cruise lines do a great job designing ships that don’t “feel” crowded, Upper Premium vessels don’t have to create any illusion, because they truly are not crowded.

Coming In 2015, A New Player In The Upper Premium Segment

 

Viking Ocean Cruises has its sights aimed squarely at entering the Upper Premium segment when Viking Star sets sail in early 2015. The deep-ocean cruising arm of Viking River Cruises, Viking’s goal is to take the same inclusive amenities and features that have made river cruising so popular and bring those to the world of ocean cruising.

Initially, Viking’s offerings may not seem all that different from Azamara and Oceania. Viking Ocean, however, plans to provide complimentary Wi-Fi internet access to guests as well as other inclusions available on Upper Premium players, such as complimentary self-service laundry; complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks; fee-free specialty restaurants; free specialty coffees and teas; and all port charges and government taxes included in the cruise fare.

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Viking Star Infinity Pool rendering. Photo courtesy Viking Ocean Cruises

Viking is also bringing river cruising-style excursions to the Upper Premium market, by including most excursions in the cost of the cruise.

For travelers who want something different, who want to travel in small groups, and who want to know about the history, and music and ecology of the places they visit and to get to know the people — all while dining and living well on board — small Upper Premium ships may be the ideal choice.

 

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