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Cruise Ships Building the Best of Both Worlds at Sea



Cruise ships today contain everything from ice-rinks and race tracks to indoor malls and water parks. In order to contain all those activities and the people who want to partake in those experiences, the ships have grown.

MSC Cruises recently revealed its 19-deck behemoth—which is three times as large as the biggest ship the line had in 2005—while major ships including Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean have topped 225,000 tons.

At the same time, cruisers are still craving that intimate feel of smaller, boutique ships. They want the best of both worlds. They want the restaurants, the activities and the choices, but they don’t want to feel like they’re simply one out of 5,000 nameless passengers.

“Tourists are increasingly looking for unique and exclusive experiences,” says Freddie Julius, CEO of Tourist England, a travel information site for visitors to Britain.

So what’s a mega-ship to do?

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They started creating ships within their ships, a boutique experience for those desiring that small ship feel while still having access to the activities on their mega-ships.

These boutique experiences typically include a smaller space that limits crowds, requires keycard entry, has a private lounge, a separate pool sans arguments about lounge chairs and a private dining room with top-notch servers, says Mathy Wasserman, a travel consultant with Flying Giraffe Travel in Los Angeles.

“The ship within a ship concept combines all of the best cruising experiences into one,” Wasserman says. “It creates a small ship luxury experience for guests who want to enjoy dining and entertainment options that only a mega-ship could offer.”

That’s exactly what Norwegian is doing.

On the very top of Norwegian Joy sits the Haven, where those who are willing to spend at least $3,000 per person (many spending up to $10,000 per person depending on the ship and itinerary) are invited to relax in the Haven’s member-only pool, private sundeck and private restaurant.

Essentially, they have their own mini-ship.

“Many cruise companies are trying to tap into this highly lucrative demographic by offering exclusive experiences like private pools, executive lounges and unique activities,” Julius says. “This trend is likely to become increasingly popular over the coming years.”

On Holland America, suite guests may use the Neptune Lounge exclusively. It’s a quiet spot where they can read or take advantage of their own concierge, says Erik Elvejord, spokesman for Holland America.

And on the MSC’s Yacht Club, they have their own pool, an exclusive restaurant, unlimited drinks, their own panoramic lounge and their own deck.

Royal Caribbean’s boutique ship program is called the “Star Class,” which is available to three classes of suites on Oasis, Anthem and Ovation ships. The boutique cruisers receive their own restaurant, lounge and sun deck, along with an exclusive area at Royal Caribbean’s private destination, Labadee.

PHOTO: The Retreat Sundeck. (photo via Celebrity Cruises)

Even Celebrity has created this small ship experience via The Retreat, which is available on Celebrity Edge and the Edge Class. Here’s there’s a private pool deck and lounge with 24-hour food service along with a private restaurant. It will soon be added to all ships.

“Everyone wants to feel special sometimes, especially on holiday. Who can blame them?” asked Shylar Bredewold, who owns both a travel agency that sells cruises and a tour business in Miami serving luxury cruise passengers. “They want the additional attention, and to have some additional space and quiet away from the other 4,500 passengers who don’t have access to the various clubs and lounges.”

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Royal Caribbean Makes Additional Comment on Future of Buffets



The buffet—as much a staple on cruise ships as anything—will live on in a different form, at least on Royal Caribbean vessels.

A week after Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, intimated that buffets would likely not exist when Royal Caribbean returns to the sea, reports something of an evolution on that stance.

Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, appeared on Coffee Chat, a weekly talk with travel advisors with host and Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support and Service Vicki Freed, and said buffets will change but not go away entirely.

“(Where) everybody reaches in and everybody touches the same tongs, you’re not going to see (that) on land or sea,” Fain said. “(But) it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a buffet. You might have it where all of that is served to you by other people. And there (are) other possibilities. But the point is that it will evolve.”

By way of example, Fain said to consider the Midnight Buffet.

“I don’t think anyone says, ‘Where’s the midnight buffet?’” he said. “You haven’t seen the midnight buffet for years and that was long before we had COVID-19. Tastes change and people change, and cruise lines change to accommodate.”

Fain told TravelWeekly, sister publication to, that cruisers will adapt, much as air travelers did in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“If you remember after (that), all of a sudden you had to do a strip search at the airport. You couldn’t take a bottle of water on the plane,” he said. “A lot of people said, ‘Nobody’s ever going to fly. Who’s going to want to go on an airplane?’ Airplane travel didn’t end. In fact, it grew. But it evolved. So it isn’t the same when you go today. You do go through security checks, and you do go through identity checks and frankly, we’ve become accustomed to it and the technology has helped make it easier.”

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