Custom Cruising

Silversea Cruises put together a customized helicopter flightseeing tour along the Amalfi Coast and a guided tour of Capri for guests on a recent Silver Spirit voyage who desired a romantic lunch on the island.

Silversea Cruises put together a customized helicopter flightseeing tour along the Amalfi Coast and a guided tour of Capri for guests on a recent Silver Spirit voyage who desired a romantic lunch on the island.

When a guest on Seven Seas Mariner asked about finding the perfect space onboard to propose to his girlfriend, Regent Seven Seas Cruises jumped into action. The ship was set to sail from Venice that evening so the line secured a private open section of Deck 12. Regent set up a romantic table for two and decorated the table with rose petals. The woman, unaware of what was happening, was surprised as her boyfriend brought her up on deck to watch the sail-away.

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She and her future husband strolled along a red carpet illuminated by candle-like lighting. Their lovely table along the ship’s railing had great views and was set with fine linens, china and crystal. After a small ceremony between the couple, accompanied by champagne served by the butler, the woman said “yes.” The couple savored their special engagement dinner as the grandeur of Venice unfolded before them.

For luxury cruisers, a similar experience can often be arranged onboard by a butler or concierge. That said, more highly complex air, ground or onboard customized arrangements may require months of advance notice. Top tip? It’s best to talk with your luxury travel advisor as soon as possible. Here’s a fun snapshot of the possibilities.

Crystal Symphony’s two 982-square-foot Crystal Penthouses with Verandah are the most spacious suites for entertaining friends on the ship.Pictured: Crystal Symphony’s two 982-square-foot Crystal Penthouses with Verandah are the most spacious suites for entertaining friends on the ship.

En-Suite Personalization: While lines can’t always do “this” or “that,” they’ll try their best. They often go to great lengths to accomplish what the guest wants. When a Crystal Cruises butler on a recent cruise learned that a loyal guest really wanted a La-Z-Boy lounger for sitting and watching TV in his suite, the line bought him one; each time that guest returns, the lounger is waiting for him in the suite. Separately, for guests requesting to work out in a more private setting, Seabourn Cruise Line has occasionally placed rowing machines in its ships’ Wintergarden Suites.

Sometimes simple is best, though. We’d suggest movie buffs ask their butler or ship’s concierge for popcorn, snacks and favorite drinks to be brought in while an on-demand movie plays on the suite’s big screen TV. Or you can talk to the concierge about taking a private dance lesson from one of the ship’s entertainers or hosting one of the ship’s guest lecturers at your table for lunch or dinner.

Theming adds a celebratory touch. During a Singapore port call, a small group of guests on select lines can ask for a round of Singapore Slings and small plates of Asian hors-d’oeuvres.

Theming adds a celebratory touch. During a Singapore port call, a small group of guests on select lines can ask for a round of Singapore Slings and small plates of Asian hors-d’oeuvres.

For cruisers traveling with a small group of friends or if you’ve made new friends onboard, the lines are also often happy to arrange a small cocktail reception in your suite. On Crystal Symphony, the most spacious suites for entertaining are the two 982-square-foot Crystal Penthouses with Verandahs (CP category), Nos. 1022 or 1023. With enough notice, a luxury line can even print out invitations and have them delivered to the appropriate guest staterooms. Theming too adds a celebratory touch. During a Singapore port call, a small group of guests can ask for a round of Singapore Slings and small plates of Asian hors-d’oeuvres.

Alternatively, after a long day of touring châteaux, vineyards, villages and city sites in France’s Bordeaux region, a couple can ask their butler to pour them a glass of wine from either the Saint-Émilion or Pomerol appellations and then serve a course-by-course romantic dinner on their private balcony. What’s nifty is that guests of major luxury lines having dinner en suite can typically order from the ship’s restaurant menus — with far greater choices than offered via basic room service menus. On Seabourn, we’d opt for The Restaurant’s pepper seared beef tataki, followed by penne pasta with plum tomato sauce and then pan sautéed sea scallops, corn and scallion risotto with green asparagus and roasted sweet pepper puree. Flowers or a surprise gift previously purchased from the ship’s designer boutiques can add to the romantic aura.

Many luxury line inclusions foster better customization. Those sailing on Oceania Cruises in summer 2017 or winter 2017-18 who reserve their voyage prior to September 30, 2016, can tap into complimentary OLife choice amenities — including unlimited Internet access and a choice of either shore trips, an in-house beverage package or shipboard credit. Guests can use that credit, for example, to savor a Canyon Ranch SpaClub massage.

Making Public Spaces Private: Many lines offer a small private meeting or dining room for guest use by small groups or during celebratory occasions. With plenty of notice pre-sailing, guests can also —at certain times, not all — reserve a ship’s small specialty restaurant, wine tasting room or even Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Center; at the latter, a small group can learn to make tapas or other favorite specialties from a ship’s chef.

Silversea’s Special Services department recently helped an affluent couple on Silver Whisper celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary at the ship’s Le Champagne restaurant.

Silversea’s Special Services department recently helped an affluent couple on Silver Whisper celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary at the ship’s Le Champagne restaurant.

One couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary onboard Silversea CruisesSilver Whisper recently asked for private use of the ship’s Le Champagne restaurant (an intimate Relais and Châteaux venue) for an anniversary dinner with their traveling companions. Silversea’s Special Services department set that up and also created a menu that mirrored the exact meal the couple enjoyed at their wedding. The private group was serenaded by the ship’s musicians playing the same tunes heard at the original nuptials. To top the special occasion off, the ship’s chef created a smaller version of the couple’s original wedding cake. Silversea requests three months advance notice for similar arrangements.

Exploring Privately: Affluent guests are increasingly turning to private guides and drivers for customized shore excursions that range from flightseeing to culinary activities, from beach relaxation and water sports to wine tasting or archaeological immersion. Guests on a recent Silver Spirit voyage visiting Sorrento desired a romantic lunch on Capri, but didn’t want to deal with the crowded ferries to the island. The line put together a customized helicopter flightseeing tour along the Amalfi Coast, a guided tour of Capri and lunch at the island’s five-star Grand Hotel Quisisana. 

After lunch, guests flew to the nearby island of Ischia where they spent the afternoon on the beach, utilized a day room at a five-star hotel to freshen up, and then had a romantic dinner at the island’s best restaurant, Gardenia Mare. After dinner, guests boarded their private helicopter back to Sorrento and rejoined the ship late in the evening. All major upscale lines will similarly assist their guests.

Crystal’s shore excursion team recently arranged a custom private event for a group at the majestic Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia; the evening began with an elegant cocktail reception in the palace’s Nikolaevsky and Precioza Halls accompanied by Russian classical balalaika. Then the guests attended a ballet and opera performance in the Yusupov palace theater.

Multi-day add-ons are another good way to personalize the cruise vacation experience. Last fall, Robin West, Seabourn’s senior manager, expedition planning and operations, was approached well in advance by someone who’d booked a 24-day Antarctica sailing. The guest wanted to set up a surprise South Pole trip for his family. Seabourn assisted with highly complex arrangements. The guests flew their own private jet to Punta Arenas, Chile and then boarded a scheduled flight to Union Glacier camp on the ice cap. But no group flight to the South Pole was available due to scheduling limitations, so Crystal arranged a chartered plane to take the guests to the South Pole for the day and then back to Union Glacier camp. They spent several days there before returning to Punta Arenas, boarding their private jet, flying to Ushuaia and embarking the Seabourn Quest.

Regent Seven Seas’ “Executive Collection” offers private cars, vans and minibus options, one-of-a-kind special requests and custom designed tours. Earlier this year, guests sailing on the Seven Seas Mariner in South America asked the line for a three-night, private tour to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Iguacu/Iguazu Falls, two national parks — one in Brazil, another in Argentina. Guests were met privately at Rio de Janeiro’s airport and transferred to the Windsor Atlantica Hotel, which boasts panoramic views of Copacabana and Leme. After an overnight stay and a Brazilian breakfast, they were met by their private guide and transferred to the airport for their flight to Foz do Iguacu/Cataratas International Airport.

Greeted upon arrival by another private guide, they traveled to Brazil’s Iguacu National Park and had lunch at the Porto Canoas Restaurant, famed for traditional Brazilian cuisine and stunning falls’ views. The adventuresome guests then set out on a private, guided walking tour into the park, before crossing to the Argentinian side for an overnight stay. After breakfast, they toured the Argentine side of the falls — walking along catwalks deep into the park to hear the falls’ thunder and feel the spray. They chowed down on a yummy Argentine barbecue lunch at El Fortin Cataratas prior to a flight back to Rio de Janeiro.

New this year, Azamara Club Cruises has launched “Private Journeys,” a personalization program that enables guests both pre-cruise and onboard to work with a dedicated team of “Destination Insiders” to customize land tours worldwide. Guests can create a privately guided tour in Wadi Rum and Petra, Jordan or, alternatively, select top seats to an opera performance in Rome, among many other options.

Chartering the Entire Vessel: For the ultimate in customization, travelers could charter a small luxury vessel and “make it their own” for a week or so. Such small-ship luxury lines as Ponant, SeaDream Yacht Club and Windstar Cruises offer “full-ship charters,” as do some larger lines; Silversea recommends that those interested in charters contact them two years out.

In just four hours — the time between disembarkation of one cruise and embarkation for a small-ship charter on SeaDream II, SeaDream Yacht Club brought in 20 workers to create a new stage with TVs and a canvas of the charter guest’s personalized images. Workers also covered all onboard artwork and replaced those visuals with black-and-white photos of the charter guest’s invited guests; these photos had been taken in different settings over the past 15 years. To allow all guests on the charter to enjoy an intimate al fresco dinner around the pool, SeaDream built new tables and a stage over the pool.

Customizing Air: Crystal Luxury Air is one new option for those wishing to have exclusive use of a private aircraft. However, cruisers departing from the U.S. and Canada are also eligible for Crystal’s optional Personal Select Air Program. Cruisers can select flights from multiple itineraries or in consultation with the line’s air concierge.

What’s nice? If guests have a complicated routing or prefer a route other than those offered in the line’s standard selection, Crystal’s Air Concierge Desk will customize an air itinerary. So cruisers can arrive in the port city a day earlier, spend more time in the final destination after the cruise, or stop in a city en route to the ship, leave the ship and return to different cities, or just book a one-way itinerary. Many other lines will also customize air arrangements to the guest’s schedule and level of comfort desired. When it comes to customization, the sky’s the limit for cruise line creativeness.

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