Image: Cruise ship
Crystal Cruises
Travel from Auckland to Sydney aboard the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity. The Master Suite costs $3,608 per person per day.
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updated 4/7/2008 2:19:21 PM ET 2008-04-07T18:19:21

Albania today, Montenegro tomorrow. Cruise ships move around a lot and so do their rates, rising and falling on the whims of where the ship is going and when. And an ultra-expensive itinerary is often only available a few times a year, maybe even just once.

Antarctica is their single most expensive product, according to Regent Seven Seas President Mark Conroy. Not only is a South Pole voyage the trip of a lifetime, he says, there are operational challenges associated with cruising to Antarctica. That, plus, the season is super short and it’s costly to operate there. I’ll say. Try $954 per person—and twice that if you book the owner’s suite—for the January 14, 2009, Antarctica voyage aboard Regent’s 198-passenger Minerva.

Stein Kruse, president and CEO of Holland America, tells the same story. Antarctica definitely has cachet, he says, and so do Amazon River, Fjords of Norway and Black Sea itineraries.

Mediterranean and Baltics voyages are also coveted these days.

“Although rates may be high, the cost of a luxury cruise to the region is still a much better value when compared to a land stay at a five-star hotel property in Europe,” says David Morris, executive vice president of worldwide sales and marketing at Silversea Cruises.

Bargains are relative. For $1,170 per person a day, including open bar, you can spend seven days sailing between Istanbul and Piraeus/Athens aboard SeaDream Yacht Club’s 110-passenger SeaDream I in June and August of this year.

The weeklong Barcelona to Civitavecchia/Rome cruise aboard the 382-passenger Silver Whisper in August is a bit more affordable, starting at $650 per person per night, including open bar.

Silversea spokesman Brad Ball says their one-week Saturday-to-Saturday cruises are very appealing to busy executives with limited vacation time.

So is the thrill of getting there before anyone else does. Passengers are willing to pay top dollar to collect passport stamps from offbeat Asian ports in Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Japan, he adds. Eric Maryanov, president of All-Travel in Los Angeles, says there’s a good chance the priciest itineraries will include relatively undiscovered gems like Bhutan, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Sikkim and Tibet. Even newer to the cruise circuits are off-beat ports in Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia.

Of course, there’s also the one-upmanship factor that motivates people to choose their cruises. Like handbags, cellphones and sports cars, cruise itineraries go in and out of fashion for all kinds of reasons.

For some, though, the ports have little to do with it.

“Consumers in general, and our guests in particular, are looking for a return to tradition—proper, authentic experiences that reflect the way things used to be,” says Cunard’s president and managing director Carol Marlow.

Image: Cruise ship
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Sail between Stockholm & Copenhagen aboard the elegant Seven Seas Voyager. The master suite is priced at $2,764 per person per day.
You can’t get more traditional than a transatlantic crossing. Choose the QM2’s July 8, 2008, eastbound crossing from New York to Southampton and it’ll cost you a cool $757 per person for a low-category suite. It’s nearly $600 a night to occupy a standard cabin aboard the 64-passenger Sea Cloud in the Caribbean, a ship once owned by E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post and still dripping with gold, marble and mahogany details.

At the end of the day, for many experienced cruisers, the cushy cruise ship cocoon is all that matters.

The itinerary is often secondary to other factors, since the majority of passengers have already traveled to many of the ports of call, concedes Charlie Funk, co-owner of Just Cruisin’ Plus in Nashville.

“For people who have been-there-done-that and bought the t-shirt, an exclusive ultra-luxury cruise is the ticket, no matter where it’s going,” says Sherry Kennedy of the Vacation Shoppe in Satellite Beach, Fla. To them, the ship is the destination.

To identify the most expensive cruise itineraries, we calculated per diem rates, based on double occupancy, for each cruise so that length of cruise wasn’t the deciding factor. We based the comparison on each ship’s lowest-category cabins and we only considered vessels that had the capacity to carry 30 or more passengers.

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