Note to Readers: All cruise line page links were checked twice for integrity. In a few cases, we were unable to take you via link directly to the specific video or page (based on the way the line set up their site); in those cases, we take you to the main "platform" for the feature, so you may simply click on it to view. Enjoy!
The Lap of Luxury:
Virtual Tours on Pampering Ships
By Susan J. Young
If you're considering paying big bucks for a luxury cruise -- upwards of $400-$700 daily for a standard cabin or suite, you want to "know" ahead of time what the experience is about and "live it" a bit before booking.
While printed cruise atlases and brochures are helpful in making vacation choices, it's the virtual experiences with visual punch that many cruisers seek before plopping down their deposit.
We toured the major luxury lines' Web sites, and discovered that today's cruisers have many visual enticements. From photos to Web cams, videos to 360-degree tours, the luxury lines are doing their part to make the experience come alive for potential cruise guests.
And if you're a "repeat" luxury cruiser, it's still fun to look at what's onboard, reminisce about past voyages, and see what's new if you cruise again.
Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com).
Crystal Cruises has a plethora of live “snapshot” camera angles on this wonderful Live Views page. You never know what destination you might see from the bridge, starboard and port Web cams; it's the next best thing to being there.
We tuned in last week to see the Crystal Symphony docked near a park in Bordeaux, France, and the Crystal Serenity surrounded by other cruise line ships at a Venice, Italy, dock. Today, before loading this story we noticed that one ship had docked at Edinburgh, Scotland and another was sailing in the sparkling Mediterranean.
Editor’s Note: I personally enjoyed clicking on the live camera for the Computer University@ Sea. While at sea, I’m usually banging away at an online computer in a ship's Internet Cafe doing work, so it’s a hoot to think that someone at home might tune in and actually see me working away there!
In addition, from the Crystal page above, one can click on a link to a separate “visual” page for each ship. For example, visit Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity to view videos various stateroom categories.
You may not immediately notice the video options. Simply look within the listing of Stateroom Categories on the right side of the screen.
Scroll down through each category and you'll see the word "video" at the end -- along with large and small screen playback options.
Those individual ship pages mentioned above also include Photo Albums of ship exteriors, entertainment, dining (see photo above right*), accommodations, fitness and recreation and ship refurbishments.
Even if you’ve never been on a Crystal ship, you’ll get an excellent sense of what the voyage is all about and the style and level of luxury onboard.
Cunard Line (www.cunardline.com).
If you want to see razzle-dazzle on Cunard you have to navigate back into the site. No visual clues about virtual experiences are offered on the front page.
The easist way to find the Cunard virtual offerings is to head for the Ships category and then click on each individual ship -- Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth 2
For example, here is the Virtual Experience Page for Queen Mary 2. In this Virtual Experience Live page, you may access: the virtual experience, a bridge Web cam and photos of the ship.
Interested in where QM2 is today? Here's the Web Cam on Queen Mary 2. When we viewed the ship was at sea sailing on a foggy day to Southampton, England.
Queen Victoria is Cunard’s newest ship and not yet launched. To help potential cruisers understand what the new ship is about, head for the Virtual Tour of Queen Victoria. The virtual tour encompasses 360 degree views, graphics of deck plans and photos that move across the screen.
One interesting facet of Cunard's site is that it does offer a Virtual Tour To Go on its ship pages, which allows you to forego viewing your tour online and instead download it. Then you may view later without a Web connection.
Regent Seven Seas (www.theregentexperience.com)
When the home page loads, you have two choices -- Cruises or Regent Hotels. Click on Cruises. (Yes, you may also click on Videos at the bottom of this page, but our suggested "routing" is to go into the cruise site first and then navigate from there).
At the bottom of the Cruises home page, you'll see a topic entitled View Regent Videos. This is your gateway to Regent's multimedia page (see below*)
From here, you have the option of viewing three separate videos.
The first is "The Regent Experience" video; it's the line's promotional video describing the onboard experience, service ethic, pampering, attention to detail, and the cruise experience in general.
A second video, Circles of Interest provides a more targeted look at the line's specialized, enrichment options. These are themed cruises that focus on such interests as History and Archaeology or Art, Antiques and Shopping. The video features comments from guests and Jean Michel Cousteau.
A third video details an Antarctica cruise experience. It gives a good flavor of the experience on the White Continent.
In addition, on Regent's individual ship pages, there is a "ship tour" of photos that reflects such topics as Spa/Fitness or Dining.
Seabourn Cruise Line (www.seabourn.com)
Grab the popcorn! Seabourn Cruise Line offers a Virtual Theater on its Web site. Get started by entering your last name i.e. Ms. Young or Mr. Smith. The theater welcomes you aboard by name.
Then it begins to load the ship information. Soon, you're browsing 360 degree views of the lobby and a deck map showing that lobby. Then when you’re ready you click to the next scene (such as a suite or library).
In the Video Section of Seabourn’s site, you appear to have three choices for video play. In reality, we could only access two of them
The first is The Seabourn Video. This cerebral promotional video delves into the pampering of the line’s ultra-luxury experience and its worldwide itineraries.
We really enjoyed the second video called Shopping with the Chef. You’ll hear a short interview from the line’s chef de cuisine and then go on an experiential trip with the chef and Seabourn guests. Yes, it's off to the tender, ashore in the market and so on.
A Look from Above is the third video. But it doesn't appear to be loaded at this time.
Also, Seabourn offers video stories from guests – who explain what they enjoy about the service, the ships and the Seabourn experience. And you can may access 360 degree panoramas of public areas and accommodations around the ship.
Silversea Cruises (www.silversea.com)
On Silversea Cruises, you might enjoy the line's promotional video entitled Enjoy the Journey. It's accessible from the line's Front Page. (If you click the link above, then you'll see the clickable link for the video on the left side).
This is a promotional video that sets the scene for the overall style, ambience and grandeur of a Silversea cruise experience -- both onboard and ashore.
Want specifics for each ship’s experience? Simply head for this Virtual Ship Specifics page: One really helpful option is that you may create your own movie experience on whichever ship you choose.
For example, we randomly picked out the pool, suite, casino and restaurant on Silver Wind. Then those virtual experiences were combined so we could preview exactly the features that were of interest to us.
If you’ve ever wanted to see what a World Cruise is like, then go to Silversea’s World Cruise section. There, on the left side, you'll discover videos from the line’s 2007 World Cruise on Silver Shadow.
Among the choices are a pre-cruise event video as well as videos from several different cruise segments.
Tips for Online Viewing
If you’re going to look at videos online, it's a fact that you’ll have the best viewing experience with DSL or Broadband. The video loading could be extremely slow with Dial-Up connections.
If you have trouble viewing any of the virtual features, often the sites themselves will tell you why you're having problems. For example, I didn’t have the right Java plug-in for my browser when trying to access Cunard’s virtual options.
However, the Cunard page diagnosed the problem and took us to a free download page. We downloaded very simply and were pleased we could soon begin viewing the 360 degree looks.
The online viewing experience is sometimes not perfect, for sure. But increasingly, you have more options for checking out camera views, artistic tours of soon-to-be-launched ships, videos of the experience, 360 degree views of suites and cabins, and more.
It's a fun and relaxing way to spend a Saturday afternoon -- just browsing through the visual enticements of the world's top luxury lines.
Susan J. Young is the editor and publisher of SouthernCruising.com™ and SouthernTravelNews.com™
Screen capture views above were created by Susan J. Young; the lines' Web site content is owned and copyrighted by those lines. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy the above screen captures.