Following is a select rundown of luxury travel products available
throughout the world.
Cruises: Haute Cruising
There seems no end in sight to the cruise boom. Yet while ships
are getting bigger and bigger, small is still beautiful to the
Author Kay Showker in her "Unofficial Guide to Cruises 1999"
(MacMillan, 1999, $19.95), puts small boutique cruise vessels, such
as those in Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line fleets, at
the top of the deluxe cruise choices. She adds to this luxury inner
circle the two larger ships of Crystal Cruises.
"The Unofficial Cruise Guide" is strong on rating and ranking
cruise lines and ships, a useful feature for agents planning cruise
travel. Following are some of the guidelines excerpted and quoted
that Showker includes in her luxury cruising evaluations.
The 940-passenger Crystal Harmony, which made its debut in 1990
created a niche all its own, says Showker, for it is the size of
most superliners, but carries one-third less passengers; its twin
sister, the Crystal Symphony made its debut in 1995.
As a result, Showker says, "Crystal offers the best of all
possible worlds -- the facilities and spaciousness of a large ship
with the personalized, pampered service of a small vessel."Fellow passengers: "Professional and top level executives,
retired or semi-retired, experienced travelers, 45 to 70 in age.
The typical passenger is an affluent, active, fashion-conscious,
friendly 55- to 60-year-old couple or mature single."Recommended for: "Travelers who care about quality and
appreciate style with a bit of flash, who want the facilities of a
large ship, and who, whether first-time or repeat cruiser, can
(800) 446-6620; fax (310) 785-3891; www.crystal-cruises.com.
Ultra-luxury, all-suite ships, the Silver Wind and the Silver
Cloud are identical, carrying 296 passengers each, and according to
Showker are possibly the nicest accommodations afloat, although not
recommended for late night revelers or children. "On the water,"
she says, "Silversea is about as good as it gets."
Silver Wind operates in the Far East, South Pacific,
Mediterranean, India and Africa, and Silver Cloud cruises in South
America, Europe and the Baltic, Canada and New England.Fellow Passengers: "Experienced cruisers, they are convivial,
well-traveled and outgoing, ranging in age from young professionals
in their 30s to lively 80-year-olds. The majority, however, are
over 50 and most are American."Recommended for: "Sophisticated, knowledgeable travelers who
prefer a finely crafted ship and low-key atmosphere to glitz, fun
and games; those who appreciate fine details and expect exacting
service in an atmosphere of casual elegance."
(800) 722-6655; fax (305) 522-4499; www.silversea.com.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Built with a certain person in mind -- one who normally stays in
the best room at a luxury hotel and books a deluxe suite on a
luxury liner -- the Seabourn ships -- Seabourn Legend, Seabourn
Pride, Seabourn Spirit are tailored to those people who like the
space and facilities of a large ship, but want the exclusivity and
personalized service of a yacht. The result, a trio of six-deck
vessels which are almost identical, carrying a maximum of 212
passengers in all-suite accommodations.Fellow Passengers: "Sophisticated, well-heeled, experienced
travelers; 80% are from North America, and most are age 50 and
older, also some are young professionals and honeymooners with rich
parents. A high number, sometimes 50% or more, are repeaters."Recommended for: "Seasoned travelers accustomed to the best;
affluent passengers whose first priority is service; those who seek
exclusivity; people looking for a good trip rather than a good
The Seabourn Goddesses (the former Sea Goddesses acquired from
Cunard) will sail this winter as Seabourn Goddess I and Seabourn
Goddess II, each carrying a maximum of 116 passengers. Itineraries
for the rebranded vessels will focus on the Caribbean and
Mediterranean.Fellow Passengers: "Obviously affluent, they are successful
business and professional people, new money rather than old,
self-assured but not stuffy, active but not fanatic about fitness.
Almost all are couples, ranging in age from mid-30s to mid-60s or
more, and likely to be honeymooning or celebrating a birthday or
anniversary."Recommended for: "Clients looking for the ultimate sybaritic
fantasy: luxurious surroundings, gourmet cuisine, lazy days and
romantic evenings, activities and entertainment that are low-key
and minimum, indulgent spa care and people catering to every whim.
The small number of passengers results not only in highly
personalized service, but in shipboard camaraderie."
(800) 929-9595; fax (415) 391-8518; www.seabourn.com.
Hotels: Taming the Wilderness
Not every client will hear the call of the wild; but for those
who do, luxury is alive and well in the farthest corners of the
globe. Nowadays we find the most luxurious touches and services in
the most unlikely places all over the world. Just consider this
Located on private Wakaya Island set in the coral-ringed Koro
Sea, the Wakaya Club is a deluxe South Seas haven that was the
first member of the newly formed division of Abercrombie &
Kent's new hotel group. The club accommodates 18 guests in nine air
conditioned cottages, each with a large sitting area, wet bar and
fully stocked refrigerator, four-poster bed, soaking tub and
separate shower, hair dryers and large verandah; meals with fine
wines are included in the cost, as use of facilities such as pool
with waterfall, tennis, croquet, scuba diving, snorkeling,
glass-bottomed cruise boat, nine-hole golf course, windsurfing, and
of course hiking and nature walks in the rain forest. Access is via
a 50-minute flight on the resort's own Air Wakaya from Nandi.
The Oberoi on West Lombok Island provides clients with beach
resort joy and incredible architecture. Remote and exotic is an
easier sell when it comes with its classic pavilions and 50
luxurious thatched-roof accommodations, built on stilts over the
water, and with grand verandahs and expansive marble baths; three
swimming pools cascading into each other and the sea beyond,
tennis, health spa and guided tours to Mt. Rinjani waterfall and
Abercrombie & Kent's Tented Safari Camps bring comfort, and
luxury in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. The company pioneered
these alternative accommodations, which come with, among other
assets, bathrooms with hot showers and electric lights; beds with
standard mattresses; dinners accented with fresh linens and
silverware, served by white-gloved waiters.
For example, at A&K's tented safari camp, Kichwa Tembo, in
Kenya's great Masai Mara Game Reserve, clients can balance
authentic in-the-wild game viewing with such services as hot coffee
delivered to the tent in the morning and after-dinner drinks around
the campfire. Kirawire Camp in Tanzania's Western Serengeti also
fits under the A&K safari camp umbrella. Owned by the Aga Khan,
Kirawire is a shining example of extravagant simplicity: private
airstrip; 25 tents, fitted with four-poster beds, Victorian antique
furniture, and proper bathrooms, and your own valet.
(800) 323-7308 or (708) 954-2944.
The Al Maha Resort, an ecotourism project of Emirates airlines,
opened this year in a nature reserve desert setting that covers
3,500 acres. The lodgings, distinguished by arabesque decor, offer
two Royal suites and one Owners suite with two bedrooms, plus 27
luxurious Bedouin-style suites with such amenities as his and hers
dressing rooms, individual outdoor plunge pools, TV & VCR and
computer fax sockets. Guests dine on Mediterranean and Arab
specialties, and have the use of a landscaped pool, lounge and
The reserve is a resettlement point for indigenous fauna, such
as oryx, gazelle, ostrich and fox, and hotel activities focus on
Arabian heritage such as guided desert safaris to the Hajar
mountains and bedouin settlements, falconry, camel and horse
trekking and horseback riding. Guests may also go sand skiing and
take lessons in dune driving.
Reservations: (011) 971-4-303-4222; e-mail [email protected].
Tucked on the shores of Lake Pehoe at the heart of Torres del
Paine National Park in southern Chile, Explora Patagonia, views are
spectacular from almost any point in the 30-room hotel. Rooms offer
total comfort: handcrafted furnishings, big beds with feather
pillows and comforters, good reading lights, big baths featuring
towel warmers and terry robes. Views are panoramic from lounges and
bar, and from the dining rooms as well where hearty meals are
served with fine Chilean wines. Facilities also include a spa with
indoor heated pool, sauna, massage.
Activities include guided hikes, as well as horseback excursions
show off the grandeur of the national park, and are included in the
four- or seven-night packages, as are meals with wine, and van
transfers to/from Punta Arenas.
(011) 56-2-206-6060; fax (011) 56-2-228-4655.
Away from it all (a two-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta) on a
deserted 40-mile stretch of pristine beach, the Hotelito
Desconocido is an elegantly rustic eco-lodge resort with 21 cabanas
on stilts over a Pacific lagoon. It has no phone or faxes, but some
rather fanciful outdoor solar-heated showers, a menu of homegrown
product, and a sanctuary for wading birds and sea turtles.
Decorated by an Italian fashion designer, cabanas feature
locally crafted furnishings, king-size canopy beds, porches and
candle lighting. There is a beachfront pool with bar, steam bath,
yoga, watersports, horseback riding and turtle reserve tours. All
meals are included in the rates.
Nature rules the roost at Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, a
naturalist retreat at the southern end of Kenai Peninsula near
Homer (a scenic five-hour drive from Anchorage and 30 minutes by
boat). Accommodations are in three guest cabins nicely furnished
with living rooms electricity, wood stoves and private
Days are spent taking guided hikes and boat excursions to
observe the abundant wildlife and wildflowers, plus occasional
whales and porpoises. Evening meals are a feast of fresh catches of
salmon and trout. Open May 1 to Dec. 15, lodge packages include all
meals, guides services and boat transfers.
Reservations: (907) 235-8910; fax (907) 235-8911.
Tour Operators: Destination Specialists
On the 30th anniversary of the Hollywood film, "If It's Tuesday,
This Must Be Belgium," the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA)
released a survey that showed how tour products among its 57
members had changed since the days when touring meant boarding a
bus and seeing ten cities at a frenetic pace.
Broad outlines included many factors important to meeting the
demands of a changed marketplace with a more upscale audience:
escorted tours are far more flexible and less regimented today;
escorted tours are often the best way to go to out-of-the-way
destinations; hotels and motorcoaches are of high quality; tours
today are more likely to concentrate on a single country or region;
tours now emphasize "doing" rather than "seeing."
"If there was ever a time for agents to go for the luxury
market, it's now," says Robin Tauck, co-president of Tauck Tours,
in Westport, Conn., a USTOA member, "and our challenge is to
develop both domestic and international tours that deliver tops in
service and accommodations to the increasingly upscale and
Tauck points out that while her company's growth is in
international luxury tours, the luxury clients' demand for quality,
insider experiences is equally well met by taking a tour in the
"Clients who are visiting national parks, for example, will find
that escorted tours can offer not only the best accommodations, but
a way to travel that they can't do on their own and an itinerary
that guides them far from the maddening crowds."
According to Tauck, the same is true when exploring the
Southwest cultures or visiting Hawaii. "People ask why take a tour
to Hawaii?," and Tauck responds that the experience goes beyond the
islands' scenic beauty.
"In recommending a Hawaii tour, agents are providing their
clients with such deluxe elements as luxury accommodations and
customized flights, plus guides who deliver the enriched experience
of the differences among islands, their culture and people."
In addition, she pointed out, "when traveling anywhere, time is
precious to the luxury traveler who is willing to pay the price for
the destination expertise that a deluxe tour can deliver."
(800) 468-2825; fax (203) 227-1030; www.tauck.com.
Nathaniel Waring, president of the U.S. office of Cox &
Kings, in Tampa, says that clients who have the money to do
everything in the best way, usually want to do things
"Agents must first get an idea of a traveler's special
interests," he says. "in order to plan either the most satisfactory
FIT or, in the case of India and other such culturally demanding
countries, to realize that needs can best be met joining a
For the deluxe market, India is a destination served equally
well by both escorted tours and FIT arrangements, says Waring, who
pointed that two Cox & Kings tours, a three-week Classical
Journey of India and Nepal and a two-week Splendors of the North,
are designed for the deluxe traveler market, with plenty of leisure
time and a la carte dining.
The repeat traveler, he adds, tends to do South India including
Cochin, Madras and the southern temples, or the mountains, linking
the hill stations of Darjeeling with Sikim and Bhutan.
When it comes to "different," the company (founded in 1758 to
service the travel needs of India's British East India Company)
relies on its destination knowledge to tailor FIT itineraries with
such features as just the right suite in a Palace hotel or private
air charters that broaden the scope of what a client can do.
Further for travel with a difference for the most discerning
clients, Cox & Kings has developed a portfolio of 15 "Signature
Events," which for the first time are listed in the company's 2000
brochure. "We have known the maharajahs for so long," says Waring,
"that we can arrange lunch and conversations with some of the
leading families at their clubs, such as the Bombay Gymkhana (club
to the officers of the Raj), or attend a match at Delhi's Jaipur
Polo Grounds, as a guest of a premier polo player."
(800) 999-1758; fax (813) 258-3852; www.coxandkings.com.
Surveys, such as API's "LuxeReport" put South America at the top
of the most under-rated travel destination, and Michelle Shelburne,
president of Ladatco Tours, in Miami, reminds us that it is
"because the countries don't promote themselves and have no active
tourist offices in the U.S., agents and their clients do not find
it easy to understand all there is to see and how to see it."
Ladatco and other specialists in South America travel are
finding that today's luxury traveler is not presented with a big,
satisfying choice of escorted tours. "Many of us are not offering
scheduled departures any more, for what the high end of the market
is buying are customized travel arrangements," says Shelburne.
According to Shelburne, upscale travelers want to do it right:
They want the worry taken out of travel with private car
sightseeing, transfers, top accommodations in the cities (that
means hotels with style such as the Copacabana Palace in Rio and
the Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires) and the most amenities possible
in relatively undiscovered places.
Most luxury travelers choose two- or three-week itineraries,
says Shelburne, focusing on a region, such as the ancient
civilization centers of Ecuador, Peru and Lake Titicaca, or the
scenic southern zone of Chile and Argentina, perhaps with Rio added
Additionally, Ecuador's Galapagos Islands cruise, aboard newly
upgraded vessels with suite accommodations such as the Santa Cruz
and Galapagos Explorer II, as well as the Isabela II and the
Polaris, is South America's most popular soft adventure experience
for affluent travelers.
To fill the information void on selling South America, Shelburne
advises travel agents to take advantage of every opportunity to
join fam trips to South America's leading destinations; attend
educational seminars (and there are many of those, sponsored by
airlines and tour companies); establish a clip file of magazine and
newspaper articles; get on the Web to become familiar with
available travel products.
(800) 327-6162; fax (305) 285-0504; www.ladatco.com.
Costa Rica, the darling of ecotourism destinations, is a Latin
American country that is well known and popular with all
However, Dan Conaway, chairman of Elegant Adventures, in
Atlanta, says "being a popular destination is not enough for the
luxury market whose agents need reliable advice on what a
particular inn, or rain forest, or river-rafting trip is really
Conaway's best planning tips for Costa Rica start with the
essential personal meeting and transfer on arrival at the airport
and include custom-tailored arrangements that move clients easily
from point to point by private car and driver, or alternatively
when suitable, by private charter flights.
Affluent travelers are usually very savvy about Costa Rica's
inventory of jungle lodges and seaside hideaways, says Conaway, and
among those properties he feels deliver the greatest comfort and
the best experiences in their respective environments are: the
Monteverde Lodge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a favorite
nesting ground for the resplendent quetzal; Villas Si Como No whose
villa complex overlooks the Pacific at Manuel Antonio National
Park; Punta Islita, a remote tropical retreat on the Nicoya
peninsula, worthy of being a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the
World; Capitan Suizo, a seaside resort member of the Small
Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica on Tamarindo Beach.
On the Caribbean coast, at the Tortuguero National Park where
the green sea turtle comes ashore to nest in July and August, he
says you can't beat the Tortuguero Lodge for both families and
fishermen; on the Osa Peninsula, he chooses the award-winning
deluxe eco-lodge, Lapa Rios; and coming up on the favorites horizon
at Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula is the Aguila de Osa Inn, with
its own fishing charter boats and scuba diving trips to Cano
(800) 451-4398; fax (770) 859-0250; www.elegantadventures.com.API Survey Goes to Agents For Take on Client
API travel consultants serving affluent clients at affiliated
agencies returned 3,500 survey responses in a poll conducted last
year to identify the hottest travel trends and travel habits of
America's affluent. Here are some excerpts from the findings.The hottest trends among all travelers responding are adventure
travel (35%), traveling with children (24%), educational travel
(10%) and more frequent and shorter trips (9%).The hottest trends among API's affluent travelers (34 to 52
years of age) include small-ship and expedition cruises (31%),
adventure travel (22%), traveling with children (11%).The most popular country in 1999 (as forecast by API's survey
in 1998) is Italy, followed by France, Australia, England and
Mexico.The most underrated (or underbooked) travel destinations are
South America (34%), Canada (19%), Eastern Europe (13%) and Asia
(12%).The most popular family destinations are Orlando/Disney (63%),
cruises (11%), Hawaii (9%), Colorado (7%) and the Caribbean
(4%).The hottest 1999 adventure travel destination is Costa Rica
followed by Africa, Alaska, South America, the Galapagos Islands
and Australia.Europe is far and away the most popular area for hiking and
biking (54%).For More Information
Agents need the most current information in serving the affluent
market, or any market, says Lyn Sorenson, consultant and founder of
TravelStrength in San Carlos, Calif. Sorenson, who will present a
seminar at this year's ASTA Congress Nov. 7 to 12 in Strasbourg,
France, offers some key information sources, on the Web and
To locate ground services anywhere in the world, there are three
major associations of destination management companies and
receptive services operators. Each has a searchable database of
ground operators and the services they offer. They are:World Association of Travel Agencies: www.wata.net.American Sightseeing International: www.sightseeing.com.Gray Line International: www.grayline.com.
ASTA members can check the ASTA Membership Directory for
international members. The best sources for hotel information are
the STAR Service, (800) 360-0015, and the Hotel & Travel Index,
For off-the-beaten-track tours, accommodations and ground
services, see Specialty Travel Index at www.spectrav.com.
For tour operator listings, see Travel Weekly's "The Source,"
coming as an insert in the Sept. 30 issue.
For consolidators, use Index to Air Travel Consolidators &
Wholesalers, (800) 241-9299.
A useful who's who in travel is Fairchild's Travel Industry
Personnel Directory, issued annually, (800) 927-9792.