Forbes
The Disney Wonder
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updated 6/1/2005 4:58:04 PM ET 2005-06-01T20:58:04

What is it about cruises that provoke such reactions of love or hate in people? To many, they are seagoing Utopias, oases of hedonism and peace unsullied by guilt, or the need to clean up after oneself. To others, they are maritime assisted-living communities that encourage overeating and indolence.

These two polar views of the $25.4 billion cruise industry is not unlike people's reactions to cauliflower: No matter how much somebody likes it, someone else finds it awful. But, that is most likely because the majority of the 10.5 million people worldwide who take cruises are herded aboard 20,000-person floating shopping malls, shuffleboarding their ways across the Caribbean.

However, as cruising has become increasingly popular, there has been a natural backlash among potential passengers who can afford a first-class experience but are turned off by the prospect of hobnobbing with the black-socks-and-sandals crowd. For people who already have a swimming pool at home, belong to a country club, go to spas, regularly drink fine wine and employ staff to make their beds at home, it's important to offer an even higher standard of luxury and activities.

That means going the extra fathom by offering helicopter pick-ups, access to exclusive nightclubs ashore and even, amidst all this indulgence, some self-improvement as well. "Our guests are discerning--they want to know that they are learning from an expert in the field," says Mimi Weisband, vice president of public relations at Crystal Cruises, which offers Berlitz language courses, wellness seminars, Tai Chi and wine-tasting classes on board. If that's not enough learning for you, each cruise features guest lecturers, such as former presidential-cabinet members and famous artists. "We found that people want to come away learning something to enrich their lives and that would leave them stimulated."

For first-class passengers aboard Cunard's--which is owned by Carnival--the recently-launched Queen Mary 2 features Olympian pampering, including such offerings as an onboard planetarium, playing field, a Canyon Ranch spa, a casino and a theater offering shows straight from London's West End theater district.

Of course, no matter how many amenities there may be--or if you're yacht is in dry-dock for the season--some people prefer the privacy and scale of smaller cruises. "With 'premium' cruise lines, they have so many people on board that it's hard to get a personal touch. In a big ship, it's impossible. That's what luxury cruising is all about--a waiter remembering your drink, service that makes it memorable and keeps people coming back," says Amanda Densmore, luxury cruise specialist at Admiral Travel, a Florida-based full-service travel agency and member of the Virtuoso luxury travel network, which is comprised of over 6,000 high-end travel specialists and tallies over $3.5 billion in total annual sales.

To cater to these passengers, Greek entrepreneur Andreas Liveras will introduce his second custom-designed, super-yacht in July. Just like its twin-sister ship, the 280-foot Annaliesse, the brand-new Alysia offers its partial owners private arrival, via helicopter, directly onto the ship's helicopter landing pad, as well as a full crew of over 30, including a masseuse and chef de cuisine, engineers and sailing officers, and a health and beauty center complete with saunas, steam rooms, cold plunge pools, Jacuzzis, a beauty salon and massage facilities. In addition, you'll find a cinema, business center and library on board.

The Alysia is available for purchase to no more than five private owners who guarantee themselves four weeks aboard the yacht annually for a mere €9 million (approximately $11.6 million at current exchange rates).

If four weeks alone with a crew of 30 sounds a bit solitary, consider purchasing a residence on board The World, a 165-cabin cruise ship that is continually circumnavigating the globe and putting in at such ports as Cannes, Monaco and Rio. Owners may enjoy their private cabins, which range in price from $1.3 million to $6.3 million, or rent them out. Guests have access to four onboard restaurants, a night club and casino, art gallery, running track, medical center and worship space on this continuous tour of the world.

Another advantage to luxury cruises is that, given the wretched state of the dollar nowadays, they can be especially good values. Pay for your dining, accommodation, entertainment and transportation in dollars stateside--and then sit back and enjoy Europe's finest delicacies, exchange rate be damned. SilverSea gives passengers on their poshest routes complimentary onboard spending credits for as much as $1,000, and for around-the-world tickets sends limos to pick up passengers before boarding. An onboard concierge or tour manager can arrange for performance tickets, a private car or visits to historic sites. And while these charges are in addition to the cruise package, the $1,000 spending credit can be applied towards the fee. The Yamal, one of the only surface ships ever to reach the North Pole, even carries two helicopters on board for passenger excursions.

But you better book fast.

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"It's crazy, crazy, busy, busy," says Densmore. As the summer approaches, Densmore is seeing luxury cruises go at the rate of 40 per week, with an average price of around $5,000 per person for a ten-day voyage. "People are going towards more luxury, all-inclusive packages," she explains, where the ships are smaller and the quality of the food and service is much higher.

Summer is a particularly popular time for a cruise. "Families are booking and traveling together while their children are on vacation," explains Brian Major, director of public relations at Cruise Lines International Association, a non-profit organization, based in New York, which supports and trains travel agents to book and sell cruises. "Multi-generational groups are one of the biggest growth areas for the industry," he adds.

Especially with high-end cruises where a butler is on hand to plan, "shore excursions can be tailored to appeal to everyone in the group," no matter the age, according to Misty Ewing, director of public relations at Virtuoso.

To qualify as the most expensive summer cruise, the itinerary departure date had to fall on or after June 21 (the first official day of summer) and the cruise had to finish by Sept. 22 (first official day of autumn). To calculate the priciest routes, we took the per person rate for the ship's most expensive room and divided by the number of days on board. That way, a transatlantic cruise wouldn't be unfairly skewed towards most expensive.

Oh, and by the way: Some of the rates quoted here are brochure rates, and a little finagling would almost definitely bring the price down.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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