You don’t need to be on a six-star ship to get six-star treatment.
Arriving at the cruise terminal a tail-coated butler took our luggage and guided us to the priority check-in, then whisked off with our cases. Within minutes we were on board and a private lift took us to our exclusive decks. We were greeted by name (how did they know?), offered a welcoming glass of bubbly and were amazed to find our luggage was already in our suite.
Six star cruise ship? No, MSC Yacht Club.
Traditionally, luxury cruise ships tended to be smaller and more intimate. That’s fine, but small ships cannot provide the range of facilities and entertainment offered by larger ships, so passengers had to compromise.
Not any more.
The ‘ship within a ship’ concept does away with the need to compromise by offering an exclusive six-star area within a larger ship. Celebrity Cruises is the latest cruise line to offer this concept. Suite guests receive priority check-in, complimentary drinks, unlimited internet access, exclusive dining facilities and the services of a butler. A sommelier also offers different wines for each course at dinner.
Norwegian Cruise Lines offer ‘The Haven’ for those looking for a luxury experience. As the name implies, the suites are in a unique and peaceful part of the ship accessed by a key card. Guests receive priority embarkation, disembarkation and boarding of tenders. Some suites can sleep up to six passengers, ideal for families. The Haven has its own exclusive pool, lounge, bar and restaurant. The menu may be limited but if you want something that’s available at another restaurant then the staff will get it for you.
There is concierge and butler service to make all your on-board and shore arrangements but it is not all-inclusive, guests still have to pay for drinks.
Cunard, arguably a luxury brand already, offers the Princess and Queens Grills, taking their already high standards even higher. Available on all three of their elegant ships, the dining rooms (Grills) and most suites occupy exclusive upper decks of the ship not accessible to other passengers. Suites range from 335 to an amazing 2,249 square feet, the size of an apartment, and some have wrap-around balconies.
Special services include priority luggage delivery, butler and concierge service and priority embarkation and disembarkation. Guests dine in the dedicated Princess or Queens Grill, dependent on their reservation. If you want to dine in your suite then the entire Grill menu is available to you. The exclusive area also contains a patio and outside relaxation area. Again, however, guests pay for drinks in addition.
As mentioned, the fourth offering of this concept is MSC’s Yacht Club. A large independent company, MSC’s Italian heritage and design flair can be seen everywhere on their ships, from the fine works of art to the gold and silver Swarovski Crystal staircases, each step worth around $14,000. (Tip – wear sunglasses inside the ship!)
The Yacht Club is available on MSC Preziosa, Divina, Splendida and Fantasia (which they pronounce ‘Fantaseeeya’). It occupies the two top passenger decks of the ship and is accessible via a private lift which requires the use of a key card, unless, of course, you have your butler with you! The private decks provide panoramic sea views, beautifully and individually decorated suites and 24-hour butler and concierge service, which also gives you a timely reminder of any bookings you have made.
Italian it may be, but traditional afternoon tea is served in Top Sail lounge. A bar, pool, sundeck and whirlpool baths are also available in the Yacht Club and there is a separate exclusive restaurant for formal dining. If you are not sure how to find it, your butler will lead the way.
Being asked what daily newspaper you prefer may seem a little unusual on a ship, but to have it delivered on a sea day is amazing, especially when it has been printed with your name on it!
The Yacht Club areas are all-inclusive and this extends to the mini-bars in the suites. So, whilst this is a more expensive way to travel, the cost is partly offset because passengers do not need to buy drinks, one of the more expensive add-ons of cruising.
Is there a downside to all this luxury and pampering?
Yes. Once you have tried it you probably won’t want to sail ‘ordinary’ class again!
More about Milke
I have spent much of my career in technical innovation, having pioneered home banking, smart-phone apps and smart TVs. As a result I have chaired or spoken at around fifty international conferences. I started travelling in my early teens. Our school had its own coach and each summer we would set off on a three week tour of Europe, organised and booked by the pupils with the teachers doing the driving. I have travelled extensively since then, especially in the last 15 years as my wife is a travel writer with a specialism in cruising. In total I have visited over forty countries and been aboard more than twenty cruise ships. On ‘retirement’ I spent several years with a cruise agency, dealing with all the cruise companies and putting together individual cruise package holidays for guests. I now work independently and help overseas destinations find UK tour operators to partner and promote their products to the UK market.