You can get into some serious debates online about which luxury cruise line is "best" -- and both Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises have die-hard fans that will lobby for their respective causes. Both lines have a long history of providing carefully crafted service to passengers, and both continue to innovate: Crystal has expanded its offerings with a yacht (and a second on the way), a line of riverboats, three new cruise ships with onboard residences and the refurbishment of the S.S. United States, while Regent is upping its game with Seven Seas Explorer -- self-described as "the world's most luxurious cruise ship" -- and a $125-million refurbishment of the rest of its fleet.
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The line will introduce five riverboats, with the first launching in July 2016, and three Crystal Exclusive Class ships with onboard residences, the first of which will launch in 2019 with additional ships debuting thereafter (launch dates to be determined). Crystal Endeavour, a polar-class megayacht, debuts August 2018. The line also signed a purchase option to restore the historic ocean liner, the S.S. United States.
For the purpose of this story, we'll focus mainly on the cruise ships.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas has three cruise ships. The 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner launched in 2001 and 2003, respectively, and the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator launched in 1999.
The 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer will make its maiden voyage in July 2016. Through 2017, Regent will spend $125 million upgrading and refurbishing Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner.
While many cruise lines bandy about the term "all-inclusive," what is included in one line's cruise fare might not be in another's. That's why it's not always so simple to make an apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to the price of a luxury voyage. In the case at hand, Crystal fares will generally be lower than Regent's, since that line packages a lot of extras (including free Wi-Fi and shore tours) into its price. You really need to peel back the layers, determine what's included in the fare, and see if those inclusions match your cruise style. After all, is there any reason to pay more for a cruise that includes complimentary shore excursions if you never plan on leaving the ship?
Choose Crystal if you're looking for value.
Crystal strikes a good balance of including many sought-after extras in its cruise fares without weighting them down with too many options you might not exercise. Gratuities are included in the fare, as are complimentary wines and spirits throughout the ship. You can enjoy afternoon tea in Palm Court, order room service from a standard menu, and dine once for free at each of the three specialty restaurants: Prego, Nobu Matsuhisa's Silk Road and The Sushi Bar. Shore excursions cost extra.
If you do like more perks bundled into your cruise fare, book a Penthouse suite. With this level of accommodation, you can get afternoon tea served ensuite, receive an automatic and complimentary in-cabin bar setup, and order room service from any of the specialty restaurants.
Choose Regent if you want a truly all-inclusive cruise.
Regent's approach to pricing a voyage is to include as many extras as possible so passengers are treated to a seriously all-inclusive vacation. Expect to receive free roundtrip coach airfare (from select major U.S. gateways), free roundtrip business-class flights for European voyages when you book in the Penthouse category or higher, and a free one-night, pre-cruise hotel stay for those booked into Concierge or higher accommodations. Regent gives you unlimited free shore excursions, pays all gratuities on your behalf, includes all beverages (soda, coffee/tea and select wines, spirits and beer), replenishes your in-room minibar daily, and provides free Wi-Fi throughout your ship. There are no surcharges for any of Regent's specialty restaurants. This way of packaging options is ideal for anyone who wants to pull out all the stops and enjoy a carefree experience onboard.
Choose Crystal if you need to book a weeklong cruise.
All luxury lines offer amazing cruise calendars with itineraries that call on all corners of the earth, but they tend to be long voyages. Not all of us can -- or want to -- take off more than a week or so from work or family obligations back home. If you count yourself among that group, Crystal is an excellent alternative, with an average year offering 40+ voyages that last nine or fewer nights aboard Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony and the yacht, Crystal Esprit. Options might include an amazing seven nights in the Seychelles, weeklong Mediterranean itineraries, transpacific sailings, some Caribbean adventures and voyages within South America. During that same time period, Regent offers 30 itineraries of nine or fewer nights, with 13 of those sailings being one-week Alaska itineraries.
Or if you'd like to try different cruise styles.
Crystal is known for its two large-for-luxury cruise ships, but is expanding into other types of cruising with a fleet of five riverboats and a 62-person yacht. Crystal Mozart will sail a variety of 10-, 11- and 13-night itineraries, some out of Vienna along the Danube River with calls in countries including Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. Four more riverboats (Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Ravel and Crystal Mahler) will sail additional itineraries along the Rhine, Seine, Garonne and Main rivers.
Choose Regent if you want to cruise Alaska in style.
Regent is probably your best bet for luxury cruising in Alaska. Each season the line brings noted anthropologist Terry Breen onboard to present lectures and lead wildlife spotting sessions from the deck. She is a well-regarded guest speaker and was voted "most popular and personable lecturer ever to board a Regent Seven Seas Cruises ship" by previous passengers. If you want a truly immersive and educational experience in Alaska without giving up all the creature comforts, this is the way to go. (Crystal does sail to Alaska, but only offers a few sailings each year.)
Or you're looking for longer voyages or a true World Cruise.
Regent is a leader when it comes to offering two-week or longer cruise segments as well as crossings and grand voyages that venture to diverse parts of the globe, from the Mediterranean to Africa to Asia. Regent Seven Seas Navigator also offers an annual world cruise of more than 100 nights.
Choose Crystal if you'd take advantage of exclusive events and private visits to museums and other cultural centers.
Crystal exceeds in offering shoreside tours that will make you feel like a VIP. They've built strong relationships with tour providers on land to make sure your experience off their ships is exceptional. In Venice, you can book a private visit to the Doge's Palace or a cocktail party at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Ms. Guggenheim's former home. In Bilboa, Spain, you can select a hard-hat visit -- accompanied by the project architect or technical adviser -- to Santa Maria Cathedral, a 13th-century church that is undergoing a massive restoration.
Choose Regent if you prefer more active shore tours.
Regent offers a nice mix of excursions that help you work up a bit of a sweat while seeing the region. Expect to find tours that include activities like hiking, biking, kayaking and more. For example, in Civitavecchia outside of Rome, you can take a cycling tour of the medieval walled city of Tarquinia. In Ko Samui, Thailand, you can ride an elephant and in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, you can kayak along a mangrove river that winds through a national park.
Choose Crystal if the design of the bathroom is important to you.
Sometimes a small thing can make a big difference in your comfort level. That can be the case when it comes to the layout of a cruise ship cabin's bathroom. Crystal's bathrooms are outfitted with marble and double sinks with a tub/shower combo. This edges out a few Regent accommodations that may only have a shower (though certain Regent cabin categories also offer tubs). Bath amenities are from Aveda.
Or if you need a hypoallergenic stateroom.
According to the cruise line, Crystal is the only company that offers a solution like this to allergy sufferers. The new Deluxe PURE Staterooms can be found in categories P1 and P2 aboard Crystal Serenity and A2 and A2 aboard Crystal Symphony. A comprehensive seven-step process purifies the air and all surfaces in the cabins, which are inspected every six months.
Choose Regent if you want a spacious cabin with a balcony.
When comparing cabin size between these lines, Regent's accommodations are larger in every category. For example, a Deluxe Veranda Suite aboard Regent Voyager is 306 square feet with a 50-foot balcony; Crystal's comparable cabin spans 269 square feet including the balcony. Regent also offers a greater variety of cabin types: seven on Seven Seas Voyager as compared to Crystal Serenity and Symphony's five. Regent's cabins offer a king or two twin beds while Crystal provides a queen or twins.
With the exception of Regent Navigator, every cabin on Regent's ships has a balcony. On Navigator, only 20 suites substitute the balcony for a picture window. So, if having a balcony is a deal breaker for you, go with Regent. That's because Crystal Symphony has nearly 200 cabins that lack a balcony and Serenity has 80.
Choose Crystal if you love sushi and other Asian cuisine.
Serenity and Symphony are the only two ships at sea that have restaurants (Silk Road and The Sushi Bar) with menus designed by famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. While you may wait weeks for a reservation at one of his venues on land, you're guaranteed at least one reservation per week at these oceangoing specialty restaurants. From spicy creamy king crab or broiled eggplant with saikyo miso sauce to stir-fried lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, Silk Road pleases the discerning palate.
Or you wish to sample some of the world's finest wines and Champagnes.
The Vintage Room -- on both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony -- offers "ultimate" dinners several times a year. Priced at about $250 per person, your meal will be paired with some of the rarest wines on the planet. Expect six to eight courses with cuisine like fillet of John Dory (a delicate white-fleshed saltwater fish) in a curry pesto sauce and green-olive-crusted lamb with a ragout of Mediterranean vegetables. Wine pairings could include a 2005 Bordeaux from Pavillion Blanc du Chateaux Margaux or a 1989 Piedmont from Barbaresco, Angelo Gaja. It's also not uncommon to sample a vintage Champagne from Krug.
Or you hanker for a delicious yet casual dining option in the evenings.
Crystal Serenity offers lunch and dinner at Tastes in association with Sapphire Restaurant of Laguna Beach, California. "Global-inspired cuisine" ranges from California street tacos and butternut squash ravioli to Greek octopus salad and ahi tuna poke to chimichurri steak and saffron-marinated lamb kabobs.
Choose Regent if you love seafood and steak.
While the line gets accolades for Prime 7, its steakhouse that features prime grade and 28-day dry aged beef, the menu also has some standout seafood dishes. Try the jumbo lump crabcake or clam chowder for appetizers and then move on to 2 pounds of Alaskan king crab legs or a whole Maine lobster, both served with warm drawn butter. The steaks (a 32-ounce porterhouse, 12-ounce New York strip and 6- or 10-ounce filet mignons, all prime) are delectable, too. For dessert, go for the molten Callebaut chocolate cake.
Or if you prefer French cuisine.
Each Regent ship houses Signatures, which prepares authentic French food at dinnertime. Expect starters such as a foie gras terrine with prune marmalade or creamy mushroom soup with candied garlic. "Plats Principaux" may include fillet of halibut with pistachio sauce, tenderloin of veal with shallots braised in red wine, or Provencal vegetable gateau with goat cheese.
Or if you love dining course by course in your room.
Aboard Regent ships, everyone can order from any restaurant, including Signatures and Prime 7, and have the meal served course by course in their suite. (Aboard Crystal, anyone can offer off the main dining room menu, but only Penthouse or higher passengers may order room service from the specialty restaurants.)
Choose Crystal Cruises if you don't like signing for every drink.
Crystal's all-inclusive policy for beverages includes coffee/tea, bottled water, fresh juice and soda as well as select wines, Champagne and sparking wine, spirits and beer. It makes it easy to socialize with new friends at dinner or in the lounges, as no one has to worry about who's buying the drinks. In-room minibars are not replenished daily, with the exception of guests in Penthouse accommodations.
Choose Regent if you enjoy a nip in your suite in addition to complimentary beverages throughout the ship.
Like Crystal, Regent offers unlimited complimentary beverages, including wines, spirits and beer. Bars and lounges are open throughout the day, but your suite is also outfitted with a complete liquor bar setup and minibar that are replenished daily. Your room steward or butler will ask about your preferences when you board the ship if you didn't already notate them online.
Keep in mind that, in general, "nightlife" aboard a luxury ship is probably a bit more sedate than what you've come to expect on, say, a Celebrity or Royal Caribbean ship that offers multiple nightclubs and lavish productions in the theater.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you love to dance.
Crystal makes sure you'll always have a dance partner through its Ambassador Hosts program. These accomplished ballroom dancers are screened by the line to ensure you'll have plenty of shared interests to chat about as you twirl across the Stardust lounge dance floor for pre- or post-dinner dancing. Male hosts are on every sailing, and female hosts can be found on select sailings throughout the year. (Ballroom dancing is especially popular on Crystal ships, but you can also find opportunities to dance aboard Regent ships.)
Choose Regent Seven Seas Cruises if you enjoy a night at the theater.
Regent's two-level Constellation Theater pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood. Well-designed so every seat in the house has direct sightlines to the stage, Regent presents a variety of Broadway-style shows. Past programs have featured the music of "The Book of Mormon," "Jersey Boys" and "Rock of Ages." Cirque-style performances that combine modern dance with gravity-defying aerial antics are also popular onboard. Crystal also offers a variety of theater presentations but tends to gravitate more toward traditional performances such as a recent tribute to the music of Elton John and a medley of dance numbers highlighting jazz, hip hop, tango and salsa styles.
Choose Crystal if you are traveling with children and want a dedicated kids club.
Both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony house the Fantasia playroom that -- during specific sailings during the summer and holidays -- offers arts and crafts activities, plus board games and a large-screen TV for group viewing of movies and cartoons. Teens have a video arcade called Waves that is outfitted with Sony PlayStation, Wii and X Box 360 kiosks. Junior activities directors are only onboard during holiday voyages and some summer itineraries in order to offer families additional children's activities. Private babysitting is also an option. A children's menu is available across the fleet for angst-free dining with your kids or grandkids.
Choose Regent if you want a destination-based voyage so you can truly introduce your children to the world.
If your children are tweens or teens, Regent could be the right fit because it offers unlimited complimentary shore excursions. This means you can easily introduce your kids to the wildlife of Alaska or the ancient cities of Turkey and Greece without being out of pocket for guided tours. Regent also has its own Club Mariner Youth Program, which runs from June through August in Alaska, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and the Baltics. Trained counselors offer group activities around the ship, but there is no formal playroom.