A suite with a butler? Chilled Chardonnay (complimentary) whenever you please? No lines and no tipping?
These treats are usually associated with small ships, which typically deliver a more personalized, luxury cruise experience than big ships.
(We still drool remembering the included French wines and yummy stinky cheeses on French-flagged Ponant, the latest small ship line to woo us over.)
But what if you want the best of both worlds?
You want the deluxe perks associated with small ship cruising. But you don’t want to give up the benefits of big ship cruising – like lots of entertainment and restaurant options.
Say “hello” to the exclusive ship within a ship concept.
Many big ships now have VIP sections that give you that small ship experience on a big ship.
Norwegian Cruise Line was one of the first to get into the game. Stay in The Haven, and you get showered with a host of privileges, like priority disembarkation for excursions and access to a beautiful, private sundeck with pool cabanas.
Here are 4 other cruise lines offering an elite ship within a ship experience
The only problem is they’re a bit like first or business class on an airplane. Once you try these ship within a ship experiences, you won’t want to go back to “regular” cruising.
1. MSC Cruises’ “Yacht Club”
The cruise line: MSC Cruises serves up a superior, mega-ship cruise experience with an Italian flair. Expect to practise your French or Italian, as fellow passengers are often mainly European.
Perks: The “Yacht Club” is a private enclave at the front of the ship containing the suites, exclusive pool and sundeck, and lounge with panoramic views for complimentary cocktails and afternoon tea. After your butler escorts you to your suite, pop open the chilled Prosecco waiting for you, then check out your balcony, Italian marble bathroom and walk-in closet.
Put your Ray-Bans on! The Swarovski crystal staircase that leads to a 24-hour, concierge-staffed reception glitters brightly.
When you feel like a massage (lounging by the club’s exclusive pool is tiring, after all), a private elevator whisks you discreetly to the spa.
And while the restaurant reserved for club guests is at the other end of the ship, it gets rave reviews for its rich Bolognese. Wine is included, of course.
Ships: The “Yacht Club” is available on MSC’s four newest ships, Preziosa, Divina, Splendida and Fantasia (4,300+ passengers).
Itineraries: A heavy focus on Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises
To read more about what it’s like to cruise in the “Yacht Club” on MSC Divina, see “Cruising Italian Style on the MSC Yacht Club” by fellow travel writer, Irene Levine.
2. Celebrity Cruises’ “Suite Class”
The cruise line: Celebrity Cruises adds an extra touch of class to mainstream cruising with avant-garde art, elegant dining and chilled facecloths when returning from shore excursions.
Perks: When you book a suite, you can dine in Luminae (reserved exclusively for suite passengers), where the menu features eclectic, local dishes from the ports-of-call visited (with locally-sourced ingredients) – maybe Maine lobster tagliatelle with roasted artichoke or cote de boeuf?
As well, you get access to a private VIP lounge, Michael’s Club; the concierge can help book your shore excursions. A tuxedo-clad butler will also shine your shoes and bring you afternoon tea.
Other free perks in “Suite Class” include unlimited Internet and specialty dining, premium alcoholic drinks, laundry service twice per cruise, and priority embarkation and disembarkation.
Ships: “Suite Class” is available on 11 of the line’s big ships (2,000 to 3,000+ passengers); Celebrity Xpedition excluded.
Itineraries: Alaska, Bermuda, Europe, Caribbean, Asia, Canada/New England, and Hawaii
3. Disney Cruise Line’s “Adult-Only” Areas
The cruise line: Geared to families, Disney Cruise Line offers hugs with Mickey and Cinderella characters, magic shows, and kids and teen activity programs. Entertainment is top-notch.
Perks: A collection of adult-only hideaways – Disney’s concept of a ship within a ship – means you can have fun on these kid-centric ships even if cruising without kids. (We were surprised to learn that Disney Cruise Line is popular with honeymooners!)
Start your day with a specialty coffee in the art-deco Cove Café, swim in the pool with swim-up bar, work out in the gym, indulge in a spa treatment, take a sommelier-led wine-tasting seminar, dine on lobster-and-mascarpone ravioli or garlic-roasted rack of lamb in the 270-degree ocean view Palo restaurant (Northern Italian cuisine) or French-inspired Remy (Dream and Fantasy), then dance the night away in a nightclub – all in venues just for adults.
On Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island visited on Bahamas and Caribbean cruises, escape for the day to the adult-only beach with morning yoga, couples hammocks and separate barbeque lunch.
Ships: All four Disney ships have adult-only refuges. The newest, Fantasy (2,500 to 4,000 passengers), has an added splash pool with cascading rain curtain.
Itineraries: Bahamas, Caribbean and Europe (7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises on Fantasy)
4. Cunard “Queens Grill”
The cruise line: Cunard’s newly refurbished Queen Mary 2 (2,600+ passengers) and smaller Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria recreate the golden age of sea travel with opulent interiors, formal dining and white-glove service.
Perks: Your “Queens Grill” suite will have a marble bathroom (or two!) with bespoke perfumer Penhaligon’s toiletries and a complimentary mini-bar stocked with your choice of wines and spirits. Maybe you’ll pick the 2,200+ sq.ft. “grand duplex” on Queen Mary 2? Don’t worry about mundane things like unpacking your suitcase – your butler is happy to do that for you.
You can dine when you want in the Queens Grill restaurant (reserved for Queens Grill passengers); order anything off the menu if you wish.
Priority embarkation, personalized stationery and daily delivery of fresh fruit and flowers to your suite are also included.
Ships: “Queens Grill” can be booked on all three ships.
Itineraries: Europe, Asia and around the world; transatlantic crossings (Queen Mary 2)
Janice’s ISLANDS magazine story on VIP cruising
Janice’s story on “Royal Treatment: 3 ship within a ship experiences” (PDF) was just published in the August, 2016 issue of ISLANDS magazine. The online version was published as “Four Big Caribbean Cruise Ships That Feel Like Small Ships.”
We could do with some coddling right now on a luxury ship within a ship cruise. How about you?
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We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.