The number of ships in the ultra-luxury is growing but one operator says there is room for them.
Silversea's senior vice president and managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Adam Armstrong, says the main challenge was trying to attract passengers from outside the segment - where passengers can pay $1000 a day each and up for a suite.
''It's competitive but more so in the ultra-luxury or luxury area our guests in this sector tend to be more loyal - they find a brand that feels like home to them and they stay,'' he says.
Silversea is celebrating its 25th anniversary and over that time the most loyal New Zealand guest has spent 1200 nights on board while an international guest has spent close to 5000 nights on its ships.
• New standards for cruise ships operating in New Zealand
• Premium - Cruising: New developments in the cruise industry
• Premium - Bumper cruise ship season nears as other tourist sectors slow
• Cruise ship spending soars to $435 million
''Our biggest challenge as luxury operators is not poaching guests from each other, it's about finding newcomers into our segment.''
These came from two areas.
''All we need is a very small proportion of those who are in big ship cruisers to come and try a small ship. The other source is non-cruisers in the global tourism industry cruise is just 2 per cent and luxury cruise is just 2 per cent of the 2 per cent. We're less than a rounding error.''
The cruise line doesn't bar kids (although doesn't encourage them) and its passenger age is surprisingly youthful.
But Armstrong nails its target market firmly to the mast.
''The baby boomers are our core market - while some other cruise lines are going for a younger market we've got a long way to go with the boomers,'' he says. ''There's a lot of money in the baby boomers and a lot of inheritance coming their way in the next 10 to 15 years.''
Last year Royal Caribbean took a two-thirds stake in ultra-luxury cruise line, Silversea, in a deal valued at $1.6 billion that has allowed what was an Italian family-owned company to invest heavily in new ships.
Its latest ship, the Silver Moon, will enter service next year - the 10th ship in the fleet that calls at 1000 different places, by far the biggest number of destinations among cruise lines.
Armstrong said one of he reasons why Royal Caribbean bought into Silversea was because it didn't have a small luxury brand.
Norwegian has Oceania and Regent while Carnival has Seabourn.
''We all have these brand families, these portfolios and we try to keep our cruisers within families,'' he says.
Ultra-luxury operators are using different tactics.
Regent last month announced guests staying in the top suite of its Seven Seas Splendor would sleep on a $314,000 custom handmade mattress filled with horsetail hair, cushioning flax, slow-growing pine, ''superior wool'' and long-fibre cotton. Bed linens include virgin white down from Alaskan geese that keeps bodies at the correct temperature in the $16,000 a night suite that is twice the size of the average New Zealand house.
Armstrong says Silversea has luxurious ships but ''you won't find us talking extensively about the hard product as much as the soft (service) and the destinations.''
''We don't talk about the thread count or the chandeliers - our version of luxury is whispered luxury understated and it's the kind of luxury we think appeals to Kiwis and Australians.''
Expedition cruising was a rapidly expanding part of the luxury mix. Silversea would next year launch the all-suite Silver Origin, a ship built especially for the Galapagos.
''The concept is mixing the hard-core experience on land but having luxury offshore.''
Armstrong says the announcement by American Airlines it would be ramping up services from New Zealand would help the strong fly-cruise market here.
''What appeals to me about the New Zealand market for Silversea is the number of fly-cruise guests. More than 90 per cent of our guests fly long haul to Europe or Alaska,'' he says.
''I can fill the ships in New Zealand with overseas guests because they all want to come here and travel.''