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Upper Premium Cruise Reviews

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.

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 Cruises, Holland America Line as well as some Princess Cruises’ vessels — and the “Luxury” cruise sector, dominated by the likes of Crystal Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd, Regent Seven Seas CruisesSeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn and Silversea Cruises.

The categories should be considered only indicators of what to expect. For example, book an itinerary in the luxury 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 (another term, which essentially means the ships feel roomy) and are pricey (from US$300 per person, per day — and up).

Upper Premium 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-driven 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, 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. 

Upper Premium = Small Ships

Capacity on Upper Premium cruise ships ranges from slightly less than 700 guests to just over 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.

A lot depends on the destination, of course, but a small ship can get you closer to the scenery and the wildlife while also providing access to shore activities that are more authentic or strenuous or both. 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, a small ship doesn’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.

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.

Upper Premium Cruise Reviews By Company

Upper Premium Cruise Reviews By Ship

To read a review of a particular ship, click the link under "Read the Review." If applicable, our Live Voyage Reports offer a day-by-day overview of an actual cruise onboard. In some cases, there may be more than one report, to be sure to see if your favorite destination is represented.
Cruise LineShip ReviewLive Voyage Report
Azamara CruisesAzamara Journey Review
Azamara CruisesAzamara Quest Review
Oceania CruisesMarina Review
Oceania CruisesNautica Review
Oceania CruisesRegatta Review
Oceania CruisesRiviera Review
Viking CruisesViking Star Review