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Luxury Ship-Within-a-Ship Cruises on Big Ships

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

A suite with a butler? Chilled Chardonnay (complimentary) whenever you please? No lines and no tipping? Say hello to VIP cruises!

These treats are usually associated with small luxury cruises, which deliver a more personalized cruise experience than big ships.

But what if you want the best of both worlds?

Seabourn is one of the finest small luxury cruises
Small luxury cruise line, Seabourn, pampers its guests with all-you-can-drink champagne and exceptional service (Credit: Seabourn)

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!

You know how you can get VIP treatment at hotels? Many big ships now have VIP sections that give you something similar, but better – that small ship experience on a big ship.

So what’s it like to get unlimited champagne and caviar on Seabourn? Read our Seabourn Odyssey review!

VIP Cruises

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, 24-hour butler service, luxurious accommodations and access to a beautiful private sundeck with pool cabanas.

VIP Cruises in The Haven
Guests of The Haven are steps away from an exclusive sundeck reserved just for them (Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line)

4 More Elite Ship Cruises

Now several more big ship cruise lines also offer 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 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 MSC 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.

MSC Yacht Club suite on the MSC Divina
MSC Divina “Yacht Club” suite (Credit: MSC Cruises)

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.

Ship within a ship: MSC Yacht Club
The “Yacht Club” staircase on MSC Fantasia glitters with Swarovski crystals (Credit: MSC Cruises)

Ships:

The Yacht Club is available on MSC’s four newest ships, Preziosa, Divina, Splendida and Fantasia (4,300+ passengers).

The line has also signed up for four more extravagant ships to be built with the MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club; the first of these is expected to debut in 2023.

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 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.

How about splashing out on the new Celebrity Edge – in one of six, two-storey villas, each with two bathrooms and 950 square feet of space? (Credit: Celebrity Cruises)

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?

Celebrity suite class: Book a suite, and you can dine in Luminae

Book a suite, and you can dine in Luminae, featuring special menus not offered to other guests (Credit: Celebrity Cruises)

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 Celebrity Cruises Suite Class include unlimited Internet and specialty dining, premium alcoholic drinks, laundry service twice per cruise, Frette robes and priority embarkation and disembarkation.

Celebrity suite class bathroom (Reflection suite)
Bathroom in a “Reflection” suite (Credit: Celebrity Cruises)

Ships:

The Suite Class experience is available on the line’s big ships (2,000 to 3,000+ passengers), but not its expedition ships.

Itineraries:  Alaska, Bermuda, Europe, Caribbean, Asia, Canada/New England, and Hawaii

Celebrity Concierge Class

If you can’t quite justify splurging on a suite, consider Celebrity Cruises Concierge Class.

Perks include a stateroom with sitting area, veranda with lounge seating, welcome sparkling wine, priority check-in, use of a special lounge on embarkation, priority seating at restaurants, daily canapes delivered to your stateroom and other little treats designed to make your cruise that much more comfortable.

3) Disney Cruise for Adults

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:

You can still have a “Disney cruise, adults only” experience, however.

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!)

Disney cruise for adults? Yes, no kids allowed in this pool
Disney for adults? Yes, no kids allowed in this pool (Credit: Disney Cruise Line)

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.

ship within a ship - Disney Remy restaurant
The adults-only Remy restaurant on Disney’s Fantasy and Dream (Credit: Matt Stroshane for Disney)

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.

There's lots of space in a Cunard Queens Grill suite!
There’s lots of space in a Queens Grill suite (Credit: Cunard)

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.

Welcome! Champagne and strawberries greet you in your suite - photo Cunard
Welcome! Champagne and strawberries greet you in your suite (Credit: Cunard)

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:

The Queens Grill experience can be booked on all three ships.

Itineraries:  Europe, Asia and around the world; transatlantic crossings (Queen Mary 2)

Check out these cool cruises!

Sailing on a clipper ship? Cruising the Canary Islands? How about an African river safari boat? Take a peek at these and other fabulous cruises in our epic Cruise Travel section.

You’ll find lots of great cruising tips too (like how much to pay in cruise gratuities).


Janice’s story on “Royal Treatment: 3 ship within a ship experiences” (PDF)  was published in ISLANDS magazine. The online version was published as “Four Big Caribbean Cruise Ships That Feel Like Small Ships.”

Royal-Treatment-ISLANDS-August-2016

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VIP Cruises

We could do with some coddling right now on a luxury ship within a ship cruise. How about you?


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Jenna Francisco

Sunday 14th of August 2016

Good to know! We actually took a MSC cruise at the beginning of this year and came upon the exclusive area at the front of the ship. I didn't know what it was but asked about it and learned that there was a separate gym and pool area for those guests. Sounds like a nice way to escape some of the more crowded areas that can exist on the rest of the cruise ship!

Janice and George

Monday 15th of August 2016

Yes, many of the big ships are reverting to the old-fashioned class system :-). It gives cruisers more options - and like you say, sometimes you want to retreat from some of the busier spaces...

Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats

Sunday 14th of August 2016

I like that mid-range cruise lines are adding more luxury rooms and areas for those who want to pay for upgraded service. However, I think I'd prefer to just book on a line which had high class standards across the board rather than more stratified service. We were impressed by Cunard's service and just had a Balcony room. We are hoping to get back on the QM2 next year (where we got married almost a year ago now!) - we were hoping to do it this year but have another trip planned. Hopefully!!

Janice and George

Sunday 14th of August 2016

As you discovered, Cunard does a great job across the board - you don't need the Princess Grill or Queens Grill to get good service and have a classy cruise experience :-). We don't doubt you'll be back on the QM2 some time soon - perhaps for an anniversary?

Michelle da Silva Richmond

Wednesday 10th of August 2016

What a great idea for an article! Wish I had thought of it. LOL. Seriously...it was great. Cruising is my favorite mode of travel!

Janice and George

Thursday 11th of August 2016

Thanks! We love cruising too - a very convenient way to see many places without having to unpack and pack up at every spot. And we love quiet moments on our balcony just watching the sea go by too...

Janice and George

Wednesday 10th of August 2016

Thanks! Janice is very happy to be writing for ISLANDS magazine :-).

Irene S. Levine

Monday 8th of August 2016

Thanks for including a link to my article. I love the concept of a ship within a ship!

Janice and George

Tuesday 9th of August 2016

It's a great idea - to get the best of both worlds.