You can pay for extra pleasures by booking the ‘ship within the ship’ on many cruise lines
You have just boarded your ship and are making your way to your cabin, tired from a long morning of preparations.
Meanwhile, another group of passengers boarded early and are enjoying canapés and Dom Perignon Champagne in a private lounge overlooking the sea.
The difference? They paid three to five times what you paid for your trip.
Welcome to the growing concept of ship-within-a-ship travel. Aimed at upscale passengers, it offers one-percenters the amenities of a luxury cruise combined with the options and activities available on a mass-market ship.
If you’re a ordinary passenger on one of these cruises, you may not even know about the luxury-class passengers who are dining at special restaurants, swimming in private pools, enjoying large suites with extra perks and using the services of private butlers.
High-end travelers have long been able to access such services on premium lines such as Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Sea Cruises. But an increasing number of travelers are now sailing on bigger ships with VIP enclaves.
On the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, for example, 120 guests can access the Haven wing, which they do with a key card. Inside, they find spacious suites, a private garden, whirlpool, fitness center and other perks.
“It’s a collective secret,” said J.D. Lasica, editor at Cruiseable.com, a cruise-planning company.
“You’re not supposed to lord it over … hoi polloi that you have all these perks. And it’s in an area of the ship that’s sort of hidden, so most people don’t know about it,” he said.
“It offers the service of a luxury ship and the amenities of a big ship,” said Roberto Fusaro, president of MSC Cruises USA.
“People stay in one of 70 suites, get exclusive use of a pool, lounge and restaurant, but also enjoy the kind of entertainment a ship that holds 3,000 to 4,000 people offers: shows, bowling alley, a casino.”
MSC is in the middle of a major expansion; 11 ships are under construction. The first will launch in France in a few weeks, and another, to be based in Miami, is due in December.
Cunard Line‘s ship-within-a-ship concept is available on its royal threesome, the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2.
“It’s an enclave,” said Jackie Chase, Cunard director of public relations. “It offers the luxury experience and pampering our passengers expect.”
Exclusivity is old hat at Cunard, the grand dame of the cruise industry. The line’s upper-class accommodations are called Queens Grill and Princess Grill.
Perks include private restaurants, a lounge, sun terrace, priority boarding and concierge services.
Not all cruise lines offer full ship-within-a-ship amenities, but many now offer perks for high-end guests who book suites.
Celebrity Cruises, for instance, offers various amenities based on the type of cabin you book. At the top is Suite Class, which offers access to private restaurants, a lounge and special concierge services.
Lower on the scale is Aqua Class, with access to the Persian Garden (a relaxation room) and Blu, the private restaurant.
Holland America Line has a VIP area called Neptune Lounge, which offers passengers booking Neptune or Pinnacle Suites a place to relax, or arrange concierge services.
The line also offers non-suite guests a chance to personalize cruises by buying perks: You can, for instance, spend a day in a cabana for $55 to $85; dine at an alternative restaurant for $15-$35 per person.
Princess Cruises has just begun offering a premium stateroom category, Club Class Mini-Suites, that features VIP amenities and dining.
Full-suite passengers receive the same benefits, including priority check-in and debarkation. Dining perks for mini- and full-suite guests include exclusive menu options.
Here’s a sampling of cruises comparing normal pricing with ship-within-a-ship pricing, as researched by Cruiseable.com. All prices are per person, double occupancy.
MSC Divina, seven nights, July 1, Miami to Western Caribbean. Balcony from $1,082; Yacht Club Suite from $5,803
Cunard Queen Elizabeth, 17 nights, Feb. 5, San Francisco-Auckland, New Zealand. Inside cabin from $2,899; Grill suites from $8,599.
Norwegian Pearl, 15-day Panama Canal, Oct. 20, 2018, Los Angeles to Tampa, Fla. Inside cabin, from $1,399; Haven suite from $6,999.
Hate the lines the day you board your ship? Some cruise lines allow regular passengers to pay for the privilege of boarding early. Carnival, for instance, offers Faster to the Fun. It costs $49.95 per cabin for those sailing from Long Beach on a two- to four-day trip.
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