Over The Yardarm: The Luxury Gap

April 6, 2017


Over The Yardarm - Cruise Musings

If there is one word that is usually guaranteed to shiver our timbers and get the Treadwell and Tenny household gnashing its nautical teeth in anguish, it is the one that is the most over-used in the whole cruising lexicon – and which should get people banned from ever writing about it again.

Princess Cruises were at it this week, but they are far from the only guilty party. It’s a common – and cringe-inducing – practice, and it persists with all the limpet-like quality of Captain Haddock’s blistering blue barnacles (younger readers: please see Tintin, the Adventures of, for clarification).

It’s there in brochures, in TV advertisements and in almost every phrase and utterance from cruise line executives, of companies large and small. And they simply can’t help themselves. Here’s what Princess group president Jan Swartz said with the advent of the new Majestic Princess in Trieste last weekend for its official debut:

“Majestic Princess has arrived and we are thrilled to add this new jewel to our crown representing the newest, most stylish and most luxurious flagship to our fleet.” 

Here’s what our dictionary says: Luxurious – adjective; characterised by opulence, sumptuousness or rich abundance; pleasure-loving; fond of luxury or self-indulgence; of the finest and richest kind.

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Now. Majestic Princess may be many things, including eye-catching, expansive, distinctive and high-quality in large-ship terms but, at 143,700 tons and carrying 3,560 passengers (plus another 1,346 crew) it simply isn’t luxurious, certainly not in terms “of the finest and richest kind.”

As a side note, you also can’t have “most luxurious” as a description of something; there are no degrees of luxury. You either are or aren’t, in the same way you can’t be “more unique,” which we also see in travel brochures from time to time. Ugh.

No, true luxury is a rare state, a refined condition of lavishness and opulence, richness and magnificence. Buckingham Palace represents genuine luxuriousness, the Tower of London (for all the fact it houses the Crown Jewels), does not; Harrods is the epitome of retail luxury, Selfridges, for all its variety and value, is not; the Four Seasons hotel group is distinctly luxurious, the Marriott chain, while offering some iconic hotels, is not.

Poor old Princess Cruises aren’t the only offender, of course. “Cruise in luxury,” proclaims the Royal Caribbean website, and “Retreat to the most spacious luxury suites at sea.” The Cruise Critic Internet agency, usually sticklers for accuracy and guardians of cruising’s moral high ground, actually lists “39 luxury cruise reviews for Norwegian Cruise Line.” And dear old P&O Cruises talk about their “luxurious salon and spa” aboard Arcadia. It’s a hair salon, for goodness sake.

PO Salon

That isn’t to say we aren’t happy to bob along the briny with any of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian or P&O. We are usually delighted to be at sea with anyone, as long as there is a comfortable sun-lounger to be lounged on and a decent umbrella drink within arm’s length.

All three cruise lines can be relaxing, rewarding, enjoyable and gratifying. They can be entertaining, quality-conscious, contemporary and even enchanting. In some cases they are positively jaw-dropping. But what they can’t be is extravagant, splendid, magnificent, or grand, all of which are synonyms for luxury, and which only a genuine handful of cruise experiences actually are.

Perhaps it is just the idea of cruising that leads people to go overboard, if you’ll pardon the phrase, in their praise for these modern-day leviathans, these gigantic floating resorts that boast all manner of mod cons but which are still, ultimately a mass-market experience.

Cruising, certainly in our day, was primarily an occasion for the well-heeled and well-to-do, a repository of the finest travel experiences distilled into a steel hull with mahogany bar tops. Dressing up was de rigueur, and passing the time in idle chatter, instead of bingo or bumper cars, was the height of good taste.

Now, of course, it is open to practically every taste and every holiday budget. Which is fine. We have no wish to be elitist or non-egalitarian. But stop bloody well calling it ‘luxury.’ It is both massively erroneous and confoundedly irritating.

Today’s use of language is difficult enough with things like grammar and spelling seemingly taking a back seat to ‘free expression’ (whatever that might be, except an excuse for teachers to avoid telling little Johnny that he is a complete dimwit who can’t tell an adverb from an advert), but let’s call a halt to this insidious practice of making the ordinary seem distinctive, and the above-average seem superb.

In reality, true, genuine luxury cruising is the purview of a handful of lines, and we were reminded of this by the latest piece of reporting from Cruise Industry News, who had an exclusive interview with Crystal Cruises chief operating officer Thomas Mazloum last week. He said:

“We are embarking on a strategy of providing our customers with a portfolio of luxury experiences. We have been looking very carefully at what other segments we should be in without compromising our core business or eroding our brand.”

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With that in mind, they are building three new expedition ships, each of 25,000 tons and carrying just 200 passengers, which ensures they can provide the onboard service and experience to match their usual quality. Expedition cruising is not renowned for its luxury component (only Silversea Cruises have so far invested in true ocean-going opulence for their more adventurous voyages), but Crystal recognise if they are going to maintain a consistent message and style, it is luxury or nothing.

And that’s a message with which we can be totally on board. Extravagantly.

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