If you're an upscale cruiser, a sailing on a luxury cruise ship is one way to go. But an increasing number of cruisers are opting for a big, mass-market cruise ship outfitted with ship-within-a-ship VIP enclaves, luxurious perks or high-end stateroom categories with exclusive services.
What's the appeal? Today's hybrid cruises combine high-end havens or plush VIP services with the wide range of options and activities you can find on a large modern ship. In return for paying four to five times as much as you would for a standard stateroom, guests staying in these VIP enclaves or luxury suites typically receive a personal butler, concierge service, top-of-the-line accommodations, private restaurants and free drinks, with perhaps a private sun deck and swimming pool thrown in.
These high-end getaways are especially popular with multigenerational families, given that few luxury cruise lines cater to families. The solution? A ship that offers luxurious touches and quiet retreats while still offering kids' clubs, multiple restaurants, stage shows and all the razzle-dazzle of today's resort-like smart ships.
Here are five VIP enclaves and perks-heavy luxury suite classes you'll find on contemporary and premium cruise ships.
Ships: Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl
Here's how The Haven works on eight Norwegian Cruise Line ships: First, like Fight Club, you don't talk about The Haven. You may not even know it exists if you're one of the roughly 4,100 passengers aboard a ship such as the new Norwegian Escape. The Haven is the sealed-off private playground and exclusive enclave of 95 luxury suites discreetly perched high up in the forward part of the ship.
Passengers enter The Haven with a key card. The section of the ship features 24-hour butler service, a gorgeous sun deck/courtyard with a private pool, two whirlpools, sauna, fitness center, concierge service and a private entrance to the Mandara Spa (shhh!). On Norwegian Breakaway, Getaway and Epic, Haven guests get access to an exclusive, private restaurant; on other ships, you dine in one of the specialty restaurants, such as Cagney's Steak House or Moderno.
Other perks for Haven guests: a cordoned-off seating area up front during live stage productions, priority embarkation and disembarkation (no waiting in line), priority boarding on tenders to shore, fine linens on the bedding, gourmet treats delivered each evening, and plush bathrobes, slippers and oversized towels.
The size of The Haven varies by ship, ranging from 18 to 95 suites. The rooms range from spacious balcony suites to opulent three bedroom, 3.5 bathroom villas of more than 5,700 square feet, including a private garden and dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows. And the service rivals that of five-star hotels.
Cost? "Depending on the season, a room in the Haven might cost a couple $10,000 for a weeklong cruise vs. $3,000 for an ordinary stateroom elsewhere on the ship," the New York Times reported last month in a page one feature on the elite enclave phenomenon. Actually, it can run as much as $30,000 for a two-week cruise in a high-end suite, or as little as $3,000 for a balcony suite. The tab includes dining, drinks, wi-fi and shore excursions. The Haven is geared to couples, solo travelers, multi-generational family groups, spa enthusiasts and more.
Want to go? Norwegian offers seven-night Caribbean sailings on Norwegian Escape out of Miami with guest stays in a Haven Spa Suite with balcony priced from $3,113 US. Contact a Cruiseable travel advocate at 1-877-322-3773.
MSC Yacht Club
Ships: MSC Divina, MSC Preziosa, MSC Splendida, MSC Fantasia
On Italian-flavored MSC Cruises, the ship-within-a-ship concept takes the form of the members-only Yacht Club, which resides on the foredecks of four MSC ships. First-time and returning members get a key card to enter the Yacht Club and its Top Sail Lounge, which serves drinks and gourmet snacks). You also get access to a private sun deck with a swimming pool, two whirlpools and a bar and cafe, and a solarium. Inside the two-deck hideaway, an impressive curved main staircase sparkles with Swarovski crystals. Yacht Club members dine at a private high-end restaurant, such as Le Muse.
On MSC Divina, the Yacht Club offers 64 Deluxe Suites, from 295 to 344 square feet, including a 61-square-foot balcony. Two extravagantly designed Royal Suites are available at 562 square feet (which includes a 172-square foot balcony). Three Executive & Family Suites, at 462 to 547 square feet, are located on deck 12 and have no balconies but give gusts access to the Yacht Club on decks 15 and 16. Suites come with a marble bathroom, plush linens and a pillow menu and, while not as opulent as the massive suites in The Haven, they're relaxing and comfortable.
Other perks: Members receive a personal butler and 24-hour concierge service, priority embarkation and disembarkation, included shore excursions, specialty restaurant reservations and access to the ship's shops outside of normal hours. Yacht Club guests also enjoy complimentary select wines and spirits. They have their own entrance to the Aurea Spa and can use the Thermal Suite free of charge.
MSC plans to roll out a grander version of the Yacht Club on its upcoming ships MSC Seaside and MSC Meraviglia.
Want to go? Rates for the MSC Yacht Club Suites on MSC Divina’s 7-night Caribbean sailings start at $1,699 US per person (double occupancy). MSC also offers more adventurous itineraries around the world. MSC Yacht Club cruises offer many activities for kids on many sailings. Contact a Cruiseable travel advocate at 1-877-322-3773.
Queens & Princess Grill on Cunard Line
Ships: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Queen Mary 2
Cunard Line, founded 176 years ago, has for decades offered a tiered (some might say "class") system on its ships, with its Queens and Princess Grill class accommodations and restaurants. If you book those higher-end suites, your ticket gets you access to dine in the high-end Princess Grill and exclusive Queens Grill restaurants, which offer a single seating. Other perks for guests in Grills suites and penthouses: butler and concierge service, priority embarkation, pre-dinner canapés, a private lounge and terrace and in-suite dining with selections from the Queens Grill menu
This month Cunard's flagship, Queen Mary 2, is going into drydock in Germany for the most expensive ship refurbishment in Carnival UK’s history. She will return next month with new updated Grills suites.
Suite Class on Celebrity Cruises
Ships: Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Summit
While Celebrity Cruises doesn't offer ship-within-a-ship private enclaves or a separate sun deck or swimming pool for affluent travelers, it does offer guests a bevy of exclusive venues for guests who book a Suite Class room. Suite Class passengers receive access to a private restaurant and VIP club lounge, butler service, priority check-in and disembarkation, tender service, specialty restaurant and theater reservations, and in-suite dining. Suite guests also receive Bulgari toiletries and Perrier-Jouët Champagne upon arrival. Staying in a top-of-the-line suite? You'll receive unlimited Internet access, a stocked mini-bar and a premium beverage package at no extra cost.
On Celebrity Reflection, guests in the Reflection Suite gain access to a private area accessible by key card. The stateroom measures 1,636 square feet with a private 194-square-foot veranda and comes with a bathroom and all-glass shower cantilevered over the side of the ship. Yowza!
Royal Suite Class on Royal Caribbean
Ships: Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas
Will we see a ship within a ship enclave on Royal Caribbean any time soon? "That's not the mojo or the culture of Royal Caribbean" president Michael Bayley told the New York Times last month. "Segregating people into a class system is un-American."
That said, Royal is not to be out-perked. This month the world's second largest cruise line is introducing a new Royal Suite class of staterooms on its six new smart ships (including Harmony of the Seas, which debuts Sunday). The crème de la crème, a high-end set of Royal Suites called the Star Class, cost upward of $30,000 a week. This month the company is also rolling out its Royal Genie program, offering personal butlers to its highest spenders. The goal of the service is to learn guests' preferences — from favorite sports teams to wines and food — before they even embark and provide fun surprises and experiences throughout your vacation. Other perks include complimentary high-speed Internet, specialty dining, Ultimate Beverage Packages, access to the thermal suite at the spa and pre-paid gratuities.
Other contemporary cruise lines haven't followed suit with the ship-within-a-ship concept, though that's not to say there are no tiered services. Oh, yes, there are. Disney Cruise Line offers concierge-level suites on its two largest ships, Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream. And we'll likely see more cruise lines follow suit in the coming years.
Luxury cruise ships
Luxury cruise ships offer everything from butler service to included shore excursions to complimentary Champagne and wine (see our luxury series below). Some offer tiered services:
- In 2012, Oceania opened a private lounge for passengers in its Owner’s Suites.
- Guests sailing in Concierge-level suites (and higher) on any Regent Seven Seas ship receive such benefits as a one-night pre-cruise stay in a luxury hotel packages, free ground transfers, online shore excursion reservations, reservations at the Prime 7 and Signatures restaurants and complimentary wi-fi.
- Crystal Cruises is expanding headlong into more luxury travel experiences. Next year it will launch a customized Boeing 777 that ferries passengers on 14- or 28-day trips around the world.
Interested in taking one of these cruises?
We know this stuff. If you're interested in booking a cruise on one of these ships, at the best price and value — and with a Bonus Online Credit of $200 to $500. Contact a Cruiseable travel advocate in our Business Department at 1-877-322-3773.
How about you? Have you stayed in one of these private enclaves? Worth it?
In our series Luxury Cruises
- A taste of what you'll find on a luxury cruise
- Guide to all-inclusive pricing on cruise ships
- 20 most luxurious staterooms on a cruise ship
- Experiencing Alaska on a luxury ship
- Butler service: A blissful perk on high-end cruises
- Top amenities on a Crystal cruise
- Top luxury spas at high-end cruise lines
- 10 world class hotels
- Is a world cruise right for you?