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Pick the right ship at the right price for a romantic trip at sea

For special romantic trips, particularly honeymoons, the ship you sail and the type of service and amenities the cruise line offers can make a huge difference in the quality of your experience. It’s important to choose the cruise that’s right for you and your loved one, and plan ahead in order to get the best price. To get you started, here are some of our picks for the most romantic cruises, plus tips on how to make your experience more intimate and less expensive.

Ultra-luxury small ship cruises

If you really want to be spoiled, a cruise aboard an ultra-luxury small ship can be worth the expense. And, while smaller ships may have fewer dining and activity options onboard than bigger vessels, that means fewer kids and access to more exotic ports that can’t accommodate mega liners.

The following cruise lines offer highly inclusive cruise fares so you don’t have to worry about extras (like alcoholic beverages and gratuities); dedicated staff members who go out of their way to serve you; extensive room service offerings and private dining options; and luxurious, adult-friendly amenities. These companies also give honeymooners and others celebrating special occasions free perks such as a cake-and-champagne reception.

SeaDream Yacht Club’s Sea Dream I and SeaDream II

When we asked independent travel writers to recommend their top choices for romantic cruises, the sailings that consistently received the highest praise were those aboard the SeaDream I and SeaDream II, twin “mega yachts” operated by the SeaDream Yacht Club. Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, calls a past trip with Sea Dream “the most romantic sailing I’ve ever been on.”

Cruises with this relatively new company, created by Seabourn Cruise Line founder Atle Brynestad, have the same kind of inclusiveness and service you’d find on a cruise line like Seabourn or Silversea but have a more casual atmosphere (there’s no formal dress code), more intimacy (only 55 couples can fit aboard), and a clientele that’s generally younger and more active (each ship has a retractable water sports marina with kayaks, wave runners, and other sporting equipment). On every cruise, couples can enjoy other romantic offerings such as outdoor Balinese sun beds that can be reserved for sleeping under the stars, or a complimentary beachside caviar-and-champagne reception.

SeaDream sails Caribbean, Mediterranean, transatlantic, and South American itineraries. Sale rates for seven-day Caribbean sailings start at $2,099. You can save substantially on brochure rates by booking early.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Paul Gauguin

Regent Seven Seas Cruises (formerly Radisson) has luxurious sailings all over the world, but its seven-night Tahiti cruises aboard the 320-passsenger Paul Gauguin attract the most honeymooners. All newlyweds onboard are treated to a complimentary Polynesian blessing ceremony on the island of Bora Bora with a champagne-and-cake reception afterwards. Plus, new brides and grooms receive a free pillow gift and a framed photograph of the blessing ceremony.

Cruises aboard the Paul Gauguin, which sails year-round in French Polynesia, have a laid-back ambiance and feature South Seas inspired decor and cuisine, plus entertainment by “Les Gauguines,” a troupe of Polynesian women who perform traditional arts and music onboard. Sale prices for seven-night cruises start at $1,795 per person. You can find other special offers like discounted airfares on the Regent Seven Seas website.

Silversea and Seabourn cruises

Sailings on the high-end cruise brands Silversea and Seabourn tend to appeal to older guests and have a more formal feel than the cruises mentioned above. They don’t attract as many younger honeymooners, but both cruise lines do host many couples over 50 celebrating a special occasion like an anniversary or second honeymoon.

Silversea and Seabourn both boast spacious suites and an extremely high level of service. Extra-special offerings you’d be hard pressed to find on other lines like course-by-course in-suite dining come standard with Silversea and Seabourn fares. Both cruise lines promote significant discounts, early-booking incentives, and other deals online. Currently, seven-day Caribbean cruises start at $1,797 (50-percent savings) on Silversea and $1,795 on Seabourn (60-percent savings). Many other international itineraries are available.

Motorized sailing ship cruises

Traveling on a ship with a sail can really up the romance factor, especially if the ship also has the upscale amenities of more traditional cruises such as a spa and room service. Two companies that offer this unique combination of laid-back luxury and high seas adventure—Windstar and Star Clipper—are popular with honeymooners and other travelers looking for romance at sea. Both lines have intimate sailing ships that can visit smaller, less-crowded ports such as Bequia in the Grenadines, and both also have motors for traveling in imperfect weather. Compared to small-ship luxury cruises, though, you’ll have fewer dining and activity options on these ships and have to pay for extras like alcoholic beverages.

Windstar’s Wind Surf

The 308-passenger Wind Surf, Windstar’s largest “motor sailing yacht,” is like an upscale cruise ship with sails. All rooms are outside staterooms, with amenities such as flat-screen TVs and L’Occitane bath products, and services such as course-by-course in-room dining and complimentary water sports. Couples can relax together in the WindSpa, in the ship’s comfortable lounges and bars, or in the hammocks built for two on the ship’s flying bridge. Honeymooners onboard receive a free cake. Packages including champagne, flowers, and keepsakes are available for purchase.

Wind Surf sails in the Caribbean and Europe. Sale rates for seven-night Caribbean cruises start at $1,749 per person. Windstar also has two smaller ships, the 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit.

Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper

Star Clipper’s five-masted tall ship Royal Clipper, the largest true clipper ship in the world today, provides a more authentic but still pampered sailing experience. The 439-foot long, 227-passenger ship manages to fit in 19,000 square feet of deck space with lots of nooks and crannies perfect for romance, plus three pools, a spa, a piano bar, and a water sports platform. Guests can help out with sailing if they like or just enjoy the view from the vessel’s widow’s net or the lookout stations on each of its five masts. Honeymooners receive a complimentary fruit basket and champagne.

The Royal Clipper alternates between Caribbean and Mediterranean itineraries. At the present time, cruise-only rates for seven-night Caribbean sailings start at $1,675 per person for an inside cabin or $1,775 for an outside cabin. Early-booking discounts are available. The company also has twin four-masted ships, the Star Clipper and Star Flyer.

Large-ship cruises

Although big mainstream and premium cruise lines dominate the cruise market, the nature of large-ship cruising—big ships, tons of people, and less personalized service—may make it less appealing than other options for couples who want an intimate escape. On many large mainstream cruise ships, tables for two are hard to come by, room service offerings may be minimal, long lines and crowded sun decks are the norm, and you have to pay for everything extra.

Plus, most large ships get so many guests traveling for special occasions that complimentary perks for newlyweds are rare, although on some sailings the staff might bring out a small cake in the dining room or host a champagne reception for guests celebrating special occasions.

“Most cruise lines offer perks, but these days they are in the form of honeymoon or romance packages that you have to purchase,” says Linda Coffman, author of Fodor’s Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises. Romantic extras you can purchase on mainstream cruise lines might range from simple cakes and flowers available for just a few dollars or elaborate packages that include wine, roses, and other goodies for hundreds.

On the plus side, large ship cruises offer many more dining, entertainment, and shore-excursion options than smaller ships, and cruise fares can be much less expensive. If you’re willing to be creative when planning meals and activities and splurge a little bit on things like spa treatments or breakfast in bed with champagne, you can make a large ship cruise feel intimate.

Here are some tips to make large-ship cruising (or any kind of cruising) more romantic:

  • “The number one [way to make a cruise more romantic] would be to select a stateroom with its own private balcony,” says Coffman. A balcony can be a romantic refuge on a ship full of people, perfect for private room-service dining and quiet conversation. At the least, book an oceanview cabin with beds that can be reconfigured into a queen. Inside staterooms might be cheap, but there’s nothing romantic about staying in a box with bunk beds.
  • “Consider touring ports on your own rather than booking packaged excursions,” says Heidi Sarna, coauthor of Frommer’s Cruises: From US Homeports to the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii & More and Cruise Vacations for Dummies. Most small luxury ships have an onboard concierge who can set up private tours, but on most mainstream cruises, the cruise line will set up a private taxi or car service. However, with the help of a guidebook and some advance research, you can plan an excursion that gets you away from the crowds.
  • Make sure to build in some down time. “Romance really requires extra time, so don’t spend all your time on shore excursions that last all day,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown. “Days at sea when you can sleep in and get spa treatments are great. A transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2, for example, could be wonderful for this.”
  • If having tons of kids around isn’t your idea of romance, Sarna says, “avoid cruising during school vacation weeks and holidays; the slowest times are right after holidays and school vacation weeks.”
  • If you choose a large-ship cruise line, book a sailing on one of its smaller ships. For example, while Princess has mega-ships that hold more than 3,000 passengers, it also has the 670-passenger Tahitian Princess, which is, not surprisingly, the line’s most popular ship for honeymooners. Another option, the 94-passenger Celebrity Xpedition, offers adventurous itineraries in the Galapagos and luxurious extras like complimentary wine and champagne.
  • It’s hard to be romantic when you’re sitting at a table full of strangers. Newer cruise ships are including more tables for two in main dining areas, but even then, getting a private table on a large ship cruise can be difficult. Make your request for a table for two known to the maitre d’ early for the best chance of being accommodated. Alternatively, make reservations for the specialty restaurants, where you’re more likely to find privacy. Or, for a treat, why not order breakfast in bed with champagne for a lazy morning away from the buffet line?
  • Bring a few things from home to make your stateroom more sensual. Smuggling in outside liquor or candles might not be a good idea, but you can bring decorations to celebrate the occasion, plus your favorite music and scents.

Practical tips

Here are a few strategies to help make sure you find the right cruise for your romantic holiday at the right price:

  • Most cruise lines allow you to book directly with their agents online or over the phone, but going with an independent travel agent might be a smart idea if you’re planning a really special trip like a honeymoon, or if you’re totally new to cruising. An agent can help you find the ship and the itinerary that’s right for you, find the best stateroom at the best price, and make advance arrangements for romance packages, vow-renewal ceremonies, and other services.
  • While there’s no sure-fire “when-to-book” strategy that guarantees the lowest price, it’s generally best to book at least six months ahead for special occasions. You have a better chance of finding the stateroom you want and getting deals like early-booking discounts and free upgrades.
  • If you’d like to get your vows renewed on a cruise or have another celebration of some kind, be sure to find out what a cruise line offers before booking your fares. Most can arrange these ceremonies, but prices and offerings vary.
  • You’ll pay less by sailing during the off-season, such as cruising in the Caribbean in August or September. If youre traveling for a once-in-a-lifetime event, though, the risk of encountering poor conditions at sea may not be worth the savings.

When you’ve made up your mind and booked a sailing, you can relax, knowing that the hard part is done and all you have to do on the cruise is enjoy yourself. No schlepping to hotels, scheduling sightseeing itineraries, or figuring out where to eat. “A cruise is a great choice for a romantic vacation because it’s so easy,” says Heidi Sarna. “And it’s great for a honeymoon, especially after you’ve just spent weeks and months planning a wedding.”

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

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