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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (
MainStreet) -- The cruise line industry has been defined by a bigger-is-better mentality for too long, a trend peaking with ships such as the Oasis of the Seas and its sister ship Allure of the Seas -- the largest passenger cruise ships afloat, each about 1,181 feet long and holding some 6,296 tourists. For a more affluent demographic, larger doesn't always mean better, and some of the priciest and most exclusive ships are also some of the smallest in the industry.
Paul Gaugin is a one-ship fleet that cruises the waters off Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific throughout the year (a second ship is coming late this year to add seasonal international sailings). The ship is owned by
Pacific Beachcomber, which also owns several five-star resort properties in Bora Bora and Tahiti, as well as the forthcoming The Brando, opening this year on the actor's private island. Paul Gaugin was built specifically for the shallow waters of the region, with a designer aesthetic that can silence even the most opinionated of travelers.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises and its three 700-guest ships sail to more than 300 ports of call on all seven continents.
The ultimate boutique cruise experience, Paul Gaugin boasts a 58:1 space-to-guest ratio -- no more than 332 guests at a time. The ship is also home to a periodic educational series led by Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau's son, who highlights his ocean-based work in addition to leading dives from the ship. Those who prefer to stay above water find an impressive rooftop deck that exudes the style of a private yacht but with a shipboard spa by
Algotherm offering advanced skin therapies and cellular wraps you won't find on any yacht charter.
Seabourn sits atop a larger, glittery mast of just six liners that include three new ships in the past three years and a manifest of between 208 and 450 passengers per sailing. A subsidiary of
Carnival(CCL - Get Report), Seabourn attracts a higher-end travel segment looking for luxury dining and spa amenities with white-glove service that goes far beyond any large cruise ship. In lieu of campy Broadway shows and poolside horseracing, caviar parties and outdoor movie nights are what guests come to expect.