In an age where luxury items and lifestyle pursuits can be purchased over the internet and enjoyed in almost any locale, finding a truly unique luxury experience is strangely becoming a hard endeavour.
As the Western world hurtles towards an increasingly materialistic future, for Katrina McAlpine, Senior Manager at luxury ocean travel company, Cunard, combining innovative luxuries with one age-old idea is a guaranteed way to satisfy today's modern traveler.
"For us, we've discovered that our guests want to forget about time," said Ms McAlpine. "For a lot of them, time is currency and they need to able to spend it wisely. We also need to get them somewhere to spend it."
High profile seas
The company, which manages luxury cruise ships the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, prides itself on being the pinnacle of luxury travel since 1840.
The Queen Elizabeth, or QE, recently docked in Melbourne to begin the start of an Australia tour. The QE's horns release a deep and mighty BRAAAM! of which Christopher Nolan would be proud.
From this port, guests can spend the next few months cruising between Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide and Auckland; before the ship departs for Japan on 30 March.
Of course, all of these destinations can be reached by air, but in an age of supersonic air travel and bullet trains, how you get there matters as much as where you're going.
Space is a luxury
Modern luxury can take many forms. For Cunard, the emphasis on your experience means each ship is designed to give you space as well as time.
"We have very large ships, but we've invested very heavily in their public spaces," said Ms McAlpine. "There are similar tonnage ships that have twice the amount of guests that we do. That's very unique to Cunard; that we have the time and the space for our guests to escape to an uncrowded world."
Likewise, if you seek space in your living quarters, you'll be spoiled for choice. Sure, there are modest rooms on offer, which can be enjoyed for the cost of a similar room at your local five-star hotel – but the true stars of the show are the Grill suites and Staterooms.
"The penthouse is two stories high, and you have the space in there to host parties," said Ms Mc Alpine. "We also have butlers on board who will come in and host the party with you, and can also help you host private dinners in your room."
At your service
Sure, you can get luxury service at 30,000 feet with the push of a button, but why bother with the tedium of air travel – the slog to the airport, checking in, rubbing elbows in the lounge, queuing for boarding, the boredom of taxiing, turbulence! – when you can have your own restaurant and butler service?
Along with assisting you to entertain, your butler will also unpack your luggage, serve nightly canapés, escort you to VIP cocktail parties and even assist you when dressing for special functions. Cue: all your Downton Abbey fantasies combined.
Food, glorious food
When it comes to cuisine, guests in a Grill suite also enjoy their own restaurant on top of 24-hour room service.
"When people think 'cruise', they think 'buffet'," said Ms McAlpine. "What we do is address those barriers head-on by providing you with quite an exclusive and unique experience. This is especially so when you stay in the Queens Grill suites and have your own restaurant."
Yes, yes, the image of the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet hangs heavy over the cruise ship industry, but for Cunard guests they can look forward to an experience focussed on quality, not quantity. This is complemented with a made-to-order service: "If there is something that you'd like to eat and it's not on the menu, the chef is very happy to cook it for you, provided they have the ingredients."
A healthy affair
The mindful traveller will find a number of welcome surprises aboard the QE. Sitting alongside the heritage of the company – "you can't find the 1950's Art Deco grandeur of a Cunard ship anywhere else" – Cunard have tailored activities to keep body, mind and soul engaged during your time at sea.
"You have to stay true to your identity as a brand as well as provide innovation," said Ms McAlpine. "But if we don't innovate and don't meet tomorrow's Cunard guests' expectations – like wellness options, such as health spas and exercise programs, or simply the walking track around the outside of the ship – then we won't be relevant."
To this end, before sailing to Melbourne, the QE spent a little time being fitted out with a new day spa. A co-creation between Cunard and luxury spa name, Canyon Ranch, the Mareel Wellness and Beauty spa is the first of its kind on a Cunard ship.
Australian travellers will be among the first in the world to enjoy Mareel, getting in a seaweed bath before their afternoon high tea, an open-air yoga class on deck, or simply enjoying some 'me time' in the meditation room.
When you consider the unique experiences like this, as well as the many other activities – like gala balls, lectures from leading authorities and penthouse dinner parties - luxury air travel just can't compete.