If your topic of conversation with friends is bragging how cheaply you bought your last cruise fare , or if you cruise to party, then this post may not be for you. But if you have never cruised or if you have, and have been secretly longing to try an upscale cruise line from the one you have been sailing but are not sure it’s worth the higher fare, read on.

1. Ask anyone who has sailed on a river cruise, or a premium or luxury ocean liner, “what is the difference?”, and you’ll find many cannot give you one major difference. The reason? It’s the little things you experience. And little things piled on little things changes your whole cruise experience. So what are some examples you may ask? I always have breakfast on my balcony to enjoy the morning sunshine in a relaxing atmosphere before beginning the day. On a contemporary line recently, my breakfast tray came with salt and pepper in paper packets, with paper napkins, and juice from a mix. Sailing even one step up on a premium line, I would instead have received real salt and pepper shakers, linen napkins and freshly squeezed orange juice. In the dining room of the lower priced lines, one observes the service is not as attentive as there are more tables to serve with less waiters, and the tables are closer together. You also notice that your stateroom won’t have the expensive toiletries, the WIFii, the big screen TV, or even the tub that you were used to on your luxury line. On an upscale line, you won’t be peppered by those annoying announcements about ship board activities all day long. As I said, it is the little things that add up to a lot.

luxury in cruising - room service details

It’s the Little Things

luxury in cruising - Uniworld stateroom

River cruise stateroom ( Courtesy: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Line)

2. Every line is different but in general, the atmosphere is not only more relaxed but refined as well. Premium and luxury usually have enrichment courses and lectures in cooking, art, science, politics, and more by experts in their field giving special presentations. Chances are you would never have access to these at home and if so, would be paying a premium entry fee to attend courses or lectures of this quality.

3. Upscale lines also have smaller ships and the itineraries, while including popular ports of call, also include unique and unusual ports that cannot accommodate large ships or the large influx of tourists they bring. Stays often are overnight too so you have longer to explore. Itineraries on are different as well exploring all areas of the world not just the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Alaska and Northern Europe. Think of cruising to the Galapagos, Antarctica, Dubai, Singapore, the South Seas, the Maldives and so on.

luxury in cruising - cooking class

Learn something new on board: Cooking class

luxury in cruising - wine tasting

New on shore experiences

4. Upscale lines usually offer pre and post stays, and if you watch for specials, sometimes these are included in your fare. A smart cruiser arrives at least one day before departure so why not take advantage to explore your embarkation city and have this pre-cruise stay included. Ditto the end of your cruise when flights may not be convenient or available upon disembarkation day.

5. One of the biggest advantages in my opinion is that many luxury lines and river cruises have excursions and drinks included in your fare. Unless you are one of the very few who will not have soft drinks or alcoholic drinks, who never takes an excursion in port, who never eats in specialty restaurants, and adheres rigidly to just the cruise fare paid amenities, try completing this little exercise next cruise. Add up all the extras you paid for on your “inexpensive” cruise, and compare this to a similar itinerary on a luxury cruise line such as Regent Seven Seas or a comparable length river cruise where all these items are included in your fare. You will find the “luxury” fare is not that much different in the end and you receive so much more.

My favorite anecdote is getting the final billing shoved under my stateroom door for a 7 day river cruise and seeing the bottom line of $18.00 for extras bought on the cruise. Was I suitably impressed ! My final on board billing is usually in the area of $500 for a comparable length ocean cruise on a contemporary line. And that would be just my bill, not my husband’s, which could equal or surpass that amount. And on my $18.00 of extras luxury river cruise, I had everything I desired and then some.

One warning: The only downside of premium or luxury cruising as I see it, is that once you’ve tried it, it will be difficult to go back to the contemporary (mass market) lines again.

luxury in cruising - Halong bay junk

On some cruises, you can overnight in a Halong Bay junk!

luxury in cruising - cocktails

Normal luxury inclusions can add up on a mass market cruise

Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock unless otherwise indicated.