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VIP Cruises: 5 Luxury ship-within-a-ship cruises on big ships

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?

Small luxury cruise line, Seabourn, pampers its guests with all-you-can-drink champagne and exceptional service.
Small luxury cruise line, Seabourn, pampers its guests with all-you-can-drink champagne and exceptional service

VIP cruises

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.

The only problem with these VIP cruises is that they’re a bit like flying first or business class on an airplane. Once you try the experience, you won’t want to go back to “regular” cruising.

The following five cruise lines offer elite cruise perks to guests who sign up for their ship-within-a-ship program.

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

1) NCL Haven

The cruise line:

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is known for its “freestyle cruising” – laidback vibe, no dress codes, no set dining times, reasonable prices and lots of fun entertainment on board. Many ships carry more than 4,000 passengers.

NCL was also one of the first lines to get into the game of VIP cruises.

NCL Haven perks:

Guests of The Haven on Norwegian Encore are steps away from an exclusive sundeck reserved just for them.
Guests of The Haven are steps away from an exclusive sundeck reserved just for them (here’s The Haven on Norwegian Encore)

It starts with a welcome letter from the pre-cruise concierge asking what special requests you have – maybe 2% milk for your coffee, instead of cream? Then it skyrockets from there.

We’re talking about the Norwegian Haven experience.

Stay in The Haven, and you get showered with a host of privileges that give you the bespoke feeling of a small luxury ship – but on a large NCL ship.

Located on the upper decks of most NCL ships, The Haven is an exclusive area with gorgeous suites, complete with 24-hour butler service and concierge service.

A spacious penthouse suite with balcony on the Norwegian Bliss
A spacious penthouse suite with balcony on the Norwegian Bliss

On NCL’s newest ship, Norwegian Encore, Haven accommodations range from penthouse suites with large balconies to spa suites with a hot tub on the balcony to two-bedroom villas.

Newer ships also have their own Haven Restaurant and the private Haven Courtyard (with a retractable roof), decked out with a separate pool, cabanas and clamshell loungers.

Other Norwegian Haven perks?

  • Priority embarkation and disembarkation
  • Skip-the-line gangway escort at each port-of-call for shore excursions
  • Cell phones you can use throughout the ship (handy for calling your partner who’s having fun elsewhere on the ship: “Hey honey, I’m headed to the pool; I’ll see you back in our suite at 4:00pm!”)
  • Cappuccino machine in your suite, along with fresh flowers, fresh fruit and a welcome bottle of champagne chilling on ice
  • Mini-fridge stocked with complimentary liquor
  • Daily delivery of in-suite treats (you can never have too many chocolate-covered strawberries!)
  • Reserved VIP theater seating

And when you want to hit all the action, just take the elevator down to the other bars, restaurants and gathering places.

Ships:

Which NCL ships have The Haven? It’s available on Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Epic.

Itineraries: Alaska, Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, U.S. Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean and Mexico and more

2) Celebrity Suite Class, Aqua Class + Concierge 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.

As well, the cruise line recently upped its game (by announcing late in 2020) that all cruises on Celebrity now include complimentary drinks (wines by the glass, classic cocktails, specialty coffees, etc.), unlimited WiFi and cruise gratuities.

For a more exclusive experience, Celebrity offers three different VIP cruise levels:

  • Suite Class
  • Aqua Class
  • Concierge Class

Celebrity Cruises Suite Class benefits:

Two-storey villas on the Celebrity Edge ship have two bathrooms, a private plunge pool and 950 square feet of space.
How about splurging on the Celebrity Edge – in one of these two-storey villas, each with two bathrooms, private plunge pool and 950 square feet of space?

When you book a Celebrity Cruises suite on, you get a whole host of complimentary perks – included under the umbrella of The Retreat experience.

The Celebrity suite perks vary somewhat, depending on the type of suite you book – and there are several tiers of suites. On the latest ships, the suites range from Iconic (the largest), Edge Villa, Penthouse, Royal, Celebrity, Sky and Sunset.

All Suite Class guests, however, 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?

Another big benefit is access to The Retreat sundeck, an exclusive outdoor sanctuary, staffed by pool butlers to serve you drinks and snacks. On Celebrity Apex (one of the best new cruise ships for 2021) and Celebrity Edge, The Retreat sundeck has a pool, while other ships have a hot tub or water feature.

VIP Cruising: Kick back in a swinging pool chair in The Retreat on Celebrity Cruises
VIP cruising: Kick back in a swinging pool chair in The Retreat

As a Celebrity suite guest, you also get priority embarkation and disembarkation, Frette robes, Bulgari bath products and access to a private VIP lounge (called The Retreat on new ships or Michael’s Club – the concierge there can help book your shore excursions). A tuxedo-clad butler can shine your shoes and bring you afternoon tea too.

For the top suite tiers, other additional Celebrity suite benefits include unlimited Internet streaming, specialty dining, premium alcoholic drinks and a laundry service allowance.

Benefits of Aqua Class, Celebrity Cruises:

If you can’t quite justify splurging on a suite, look at Aqua Class (sometimes spelled as Celebrity AquaClass).

Aqua Class staterooms appeal to passengers who are particularly interested in wellness and spa-themed perks.

Celebrity Aqua Class benefits include:

  • Unlimited access to the SEA Thermal Suite (on the Celebrity Edge and Apex) or Persian Garden on other ships
  • A complimentary fitness pass
  • Aromatherapy diffusers in your stateroom or suite
  • Discounts on spa treatments
  • Complimentary dining at Blu

Reserved just for Aqua Class guests, the elegant Blu restaurant serves up “clean cuisine” for calorie-conscious guests. Mind you, the menu (which changes nightly) still features items like creamy crab bisque, blue cheese souffle and Cabernet-braised short ribs.

Blu restaurant for Aqua Class guests on the Celebrity Eclipse
Aqua Class guests on the Celebrity Eclipse have exclusive access to this Blu private dining venue

See the full list of benefits for Celebrity Aqua Class staterooms here.

Celebrity Concierge Class benefits:

Celebrity Concierge Class amenities and perks include:

  • A stateroom with sitting area
  • Veranda with lounge seating
  • Welcome sparkling wine
  • Fresh fruit and specialty bathroom products in your stateroom
  • Priority check-in and debarkation
  • Use of a special lounge with lunch on embarkation
  • Priority seating at restaurants
  • Daily canapes delivered to your stateroom
  • Other little treats designed to make your cruise more comfortable

See the full list of Celebrity Concierge Class perks here.

Is Celebrity Concierge Class worth it?

Priority boarding is a big plus when getting on a big ship (no one likes waiting in a lounge in the port). But whether the other perks are worth the extra cost is debatable.

If you’re going to upcharge your cruise, you’re probably best advised to go one step further and book Celebrity Aqua Class, where you get some noticeable added benefits (like dining at the Blu restaurant).

Ships:

The Celebrity Suite, Aqua and Concierge Class experiences are 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

3) 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

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

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.

4) 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

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; the Disney Remy restaurant
The adults-only Remy restaurant on Disney’s Fantasy and Dream

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)

5) 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

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.

Champagne and strawberries greet you in your suite on the Queen Mary 2.
Welcome! Champagne and strawberries greet you in your suite

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)

We could do with some coddling right now on a luxury ship-within-a ship cruise

How about you?

And let us know if you’ve gone for any VIP cruise perks – you can comment below.

Also check out these cool cruises!

Read our posts on:

Cruising the Canary Islands.

Sailing on a clipper ship in the Caribbean

An African river safari boat


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VIP Cruises

Photo credits: VIP cruise images courtesy the respective cruise lines


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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.