Captain Dag Dvergastein, 20-year veteran of luxury cruising, explains how cruising has kept abreast and even ahead of consumer trends. Born with the seafaring gene, Captain Dag, as he is affectionately known to guests, is master of the 180-guest, six star Song of Flower. In April 2003, he will take command of Radisson Seven Seas’ 700-guest, all-balcony suite Seven Seas Voyager.

One reason that cruising is holding steady as the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry may be that it's also one of the most responsive to consumer trends. The trend that began in the early 1980s with the small luxury vessel Sea Goddess – more space per guest, and fewer guests – has now reached its apex as luxury operators keep their new builds relatively intimately scaled while offering more spacious, increasingly private accommodations to their discerning guests.

The skill of naval architects has only become more and more impressive in meeting consumer demands. Ten years ago when the trend-setting Radisson Diamond was launched with 70% of only ocean view accommodations boasting private balconies, inside staterooms were still a dominant feature of the industry. At the high end, Radisson Seven Seas and other luxury lines have built fleets without so much as a single inside cabin. In these same fleets guest bathrooms are now more akin to their land-based counterparts in a good luxury hotel than what was around when I first put out to sea. Marble appointments, separate showers and full tubs are all standard features in the huge bathrooms found aboard the all-suite (90% private balconies) Seven Seas Navigator. And yet such a ship is no mere floating hotel – her intimacy and generous allotments of personal space ensure that she is a life-enriching means of seeing and exploring our world.

And as luxury goes exploring, developments in the high end trickle down to other niches. Today even large-ship premium operators offer balcony suites – their most expensive category of accommodations. Ironically, this has led to a situation in which luxury lines operating smaller vessels can appeal to travelers with more affordably priced lead-in suites with balconies. The day may come when non-balcony suites are a quaint reminder of a bygone era. But that's quite a few nautical miles off with many a delightful advancement and innovation to enjoy along the way.

For instance, advanced pod propulsion marine technology has done away withrudders and shafts, thereby significantly reducing the sound and vibration levels generated as ships move through water. Less noise and less vibration have allowed designers to situate guest accommodations in areas of the ship that used to be less than desirable. On both the Seven Seas Mariner and the Seven Seas Voyager, this 21st century technology has made it possible to position balcony suites on the aft of the ship – impossible to do on vessels propelled by the old rudder-and-shaft systems. Now these aft-facing balcony suites may offer some of the most sought-after views at sea.

Saying that change is constant is just another way to note that cruising is always so up-to-date. The use of land-based chefs and culinary institutions to create the finest possible dining at sea is a well established trend which continues to reinvigorate itself. Great food, or as the chefs of Le Cordon Bleu put it, “the art of fine living”, is an inseparable part of a rewarding travel experience. Le Cordon Bleu and Radisson Seven Seas have created a mature partnership that includes hands-on cooking workshops for guests aboard select cruises of the line's two all-balcony suite ships as well as alternative shipboard restaurants permanently directed by Le Cordon Bleu chefs. And throughout the industry, celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Nobu Matsuhisa are placing shipboard dining on a par with the best shoreside restaurants.

Given the huge capital expenditures involved in new shipbuilding, it's nowonder lines work hard to distinguish themselves – if possible by owning a niche unto themselves like Radisson Seven Seas owns the all-balcony suite category. Size very definitely does matter – but not as much as space pe guest. At 50,000 tons, the 700-guest Seven Seas Voyager carries about four times as many guests as the 8,300 ton Song of Flower – yet she also affords more than twice the space per guest. And while Song of Flower is still one of luxury cruising's best values and most beloved ships, when I take the bridge of the Seven Seas Voyager in April 2003, I will command a ship that boasts the industry's largest lead-in suites at 356 square feet.

The biggest change in cruising is in our guests themselves. Today's guests take more for granted including exceptional value for their money. Yet even as they demand more, they are more comfortable and at ease with themselves. It's the reason dress codes have become far more relaxed even as luxury has become more complete. Perhaps that's to be expected in an age when one can explore the four corners of the world without losing contact with home via the Internet. That said, at the end of the day it's still the personal touch that matters most. As I like to say to guests of my small luxury vessels, “We receive you as our passenger, we treat you as our guest, when you depart, you depart as a friend.”

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