If you believe the cruise brochures, every ship offers a life of luxury. However, on some British ships the lux-factor is noticeably absent. These vessels tend to be older and lack the finer, more indulgent touches that are a hallmark of newer ships operated by Cunard, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.
However, we've done a bit of digging and found that there are a number of ships based on these shores where if you look hard enough you will find luxury, whether that's in the form of stunning suites, key-card access private lounges or restaurants only for those passengers travelling in higher cabin grades.
Here's where to find luxury on ships sailing from British ports.
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Cunard's restaurants correlate to the cabin category booked, with passengers occupying penthouses and suites dining in the Queen's or Princess Grill and having access to the elegant Grills Lounge and Grills Terrace. On Queen Mary 2 suites range from the beautifully-appointed 381 square feet Princess Grill Suites to the vast 1,600 square feet Grand Duplex Suites with a 649 square feet balcony. On Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria suites culminate in the two 1,100 square feet Master Suites and four 1,375 square feet Grand Suites.
The Britannia Club offers an excellent 'halfway house' between standard staterooms and Grill accommodation, with passengers enjoying anytime dining in the intimate Britannia Club Restaurant. And whatever accommodation you are in, Queen Mary 2's Britannia Restaurant will make you feel like you've stepped back into the Golden Age of cruising.
If you feel like pampering yourself on QM2, you can enjoy one of the best thermal suites at sea; on both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria cruisers can sign up for a Spa Passport providing access to the Royal Bath House with its indoor thalassotherapy pool and thermal suite.
Cunard's three ships sail from Southampton year-round, but note QE emabarks on an annual world cruise in early January.
There are a number of different suite types on Crown Princess, ranging from the Vista Suite to the top of the line Grand Suite, clocking in at an impressive 1,329 square feet. Perks for suite passengers include Club Class Dining in the main dining room and priority reservations for speciality dining in Sabatini's and Crown Grill (both complimentary on embarkation day). There's also an upgraded room service menu with full lunch and dinner selections.
Available to all passengers is The Sanctuary -- a delightful adults-only area. Overlooking the Lotus Spa Pool, it has blissfully comfortable sun-loungers, stewards that bring cold towels and fruit essence infused iced water, and a dedicated all-day snack menu. Amenities in the four cabanas include a TV with wireless headphones, sofas, robes and slippers, fully-stocked mini-bar, fruit and snacks. Two Lotus Spa cabanas, in an exclusive area, feature a TV, plush chairs and treatment area with two massage tables. Couples cabana massages can be arranged through the spa and the ultimate is the Royal Indulgence package for four people with an array of massages, treatments and gourmet food -- plus Dom Perignon Champagne and caviar served by butlers.
The 64 individually-designed balcony suites on Britannia have an understated, quintessentially British feel with a nod to nautical traditions, and sophisticated technology. The high-end, midships B1 grades comes in at 382 square feet and the B5s at the bow and stern are 490 square feet. Each comes with its own butler and goodies from The White Company in the over-sized bathrooms.
Open to all passengers for a daily surcharge is The Retreat, an exclusive outdoor spa area with plenty of wow-factor. There are super comfortable loungers, two whirlpools and cabanas for private, alfresco spa treatments. Stewards are on hand to offer bathrobes, cold flannels, fruit platters, smoothies and healthy food choices.
Gourmets are spoiled for choice in The Epicurean which rivals a posh restaurant on land. The award-winning concept, created by P&O's in-house culinary team, offers classic British dishes re-interpreted for modern palates. On sea days the restaurant hosts master patissier Eric Lanlard's outstanding Afternoon Tea. And Sindhu is arguably finest Indian restaurant at sea.
For passengers seeking the ultimate luxury on Celebrity Silhouette there are two 1,291 square feet Penthouse Suites, eight 590 square feet Royal Suites, 12 394 square feet Celebrity Suites and 44 Sky Suites at 300 square feet; plus four 575 square feet Family Ocean View Suites. Suite Class comes with a host of benefits such as personal butlers and an exclusive lounge with a dedicated concierge.
The suites-only restaurant Luminae has a dedicated team of chefs and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menus feature locally sourced, seasonal ingredients inspired by each destination. Special touches include tableside preparation of signature dishes and a gourmet chocolates and dessert trolley, plus wine pairings made by the restaurant's head sommelier. Other perks include Bulgari bath products and culinary treats delivered to the suite daily. Passengers also benefit from a complimentary Premium Beverage Package, choice of two bottles of spirits or wine, welcome Perrier Jouet Champagne and complimentary mini-bar restocked daily. They also have privileged access to Michael's Club, an intimate lounge with a large-screen TV, reading areas stocked with magazines, newspapers and books, continental breakfast and complimentary pre-dinner drinks and tapas. Its concierge can also book speciality dining and shore excursions.
Any passengers can make reservations for some of the best speciality dining at sea. These include Murano, where the menu is a blend of classic and modern continental cuisine, with many dishes prepared tableside, Tuscan Grille which offers a contemporary take on Italian culinary classics, and the theatrical experience of Qsine.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Spirit has seven suites and 11 junior suites that the line calls Penthouse Suites, luxurious spaces with features that include oval-shaped whirlpools, living room areas with dining tables, walk-in closets, CD/DVD players and refrigerators. All Penthouse Suites and above come with butler and concierge service and access to Cagney's Steakhouse on an exclusive basis at breakfast and lunch. The concierge can make dinner and shore excursion reservations, set up special requests and airport transfers, and arrange for priority disembarkation.
There is no dedicated concierge lounge, but the concierge can be reached by phone or approached in person during breakfast at Cagney's.
High-end dining options include Le Bistro, which offers superb classical and contemporary French cuisine in a sumptuous setting; at Teppanyaki guests sit around the central cooking area watching chefs demonstrate their cooking -- and knife juggling -- skills. Cagney's is the ship's high-end traditional steakhouse with a 1930s style theme.
A gold-coloured SeaPass card is your passport to luxury aboard the perennially popular Independence of the Seas. This is given to occupants of the top suites which include the 1,209 square feet Presidential Family Suite which can sleep up to 14 family members in four bedrooms, and four 587 square feet Royal Family Suites. On Deck 10, the uppermost stateroom deck, there are six Owner's Suites at 596 square feet and 20 Grand Suites at 401 square feet. This deck is also the location of the sublime 1,358 square feet Royal Suite.
All suite passengers have access to the Concierge Club, which offers breakfast and complimentary evening drinks and canapes as well as priority access to services such as embarkation of tenders and restaurant reservations. Passengers also enjoy private breakfast and lunch in specialty restaurants, reserved prime seating in the main theatre and VIP pool deck seating.
Two alternative restaurants on Independence of the Seas open to all passengers for a surcharge. Chops Grille is renowned for its club-like ambiance and the menu, straight out of an American steakhouse, and includes 28-day aged premium steak and fresh seafood. The family-friendly Giovanni's Table features a wide variety of Italian dishes -- including rustic, classic and modern dishes.
Hebridean Island Cruises
The world's smallest luxury cruise ship has gained an enviable reputation for offering a harmonious, all-inclusive experience. Hebridean Princess is an amalgamation of snug hotel and sublime cruise ship with interiors straight out of Country Living, including polished brass clocks and an Inglenook fireplace, and the varnished teak decks are festooned with hanging baskets.
There are 20 richly decorated, boutique hotel-style twin and double cabins, and 10 comfortable single cabins. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Columba Restaurant has plenty of tables for two as well as one larger table hosted by a senior officer. Menus are written daily depending on the availability of fresh produce such as scallops from Orkney, langoustines from the Hebrides, Tweed Valley beef and Borders' lamb. There's also an abundance of Scottish cheeses and seasonal berries.
This quaint vessel enjoys one of the highest numbers of repeat passengers in the cruise industry. However one frequent guest gave her seal of approval in the form of a Royal Warrant. Her Majesty, The Queen chartered Hebridean Princess for her 80th birthday in the summer of 2006, and she enjoyed it so much another charter was arranged in July 2010 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Princess Royal. Recognition indeed for this most boutique of ships which commands a regal price tag -- but as we know, the best things in life don't come cheap.
Hebridean Princess sails from Greenock (Glasgow), Oban and Invergordan from spring through to autumn.
MSC Preziosa may not be the newest or the biggest of this Italian line, but it does include the fabled Yacht Club, that ship-within-a-ship, all-suite, keycard-access only area found on the more recent ships. The Yacht Club on Preziosa has 69 cabins, a 24-hour concierge, butler service, a private dining room, bar, lounge, sun deck and pool -- albeit a small one -- and separate elevator to the spa. All cabins have bathrooms with showers -- plus bathtubs in the Royal, Executive & Family and Deluxe Suites -- and are decorated in a light, contemporary style.
In terms of dining, MSC has teamed up with the Turin-based chain Eataly that champions gourmet Italian food and the leisurely "slow food" movement, which encourages leisurely dining. Situated on Deck 7, the minimalist 115-seat Eataly and sophisticated evening-only Ristorante Italia offer a la carte dining, where you pay for every item you order, as opposed to the alternative dining surcharge levied by other cruise lines.