During the past decade a few cruise lines have developed what they refer to as a “ship within the ship” concept. The idea is that you can emulate a luxury cruise experience by booking within a private oasis of suites that are exclusive — yet you still have access to all the big-ship amenities.
Is it better to book a big suite on a big ship, or a standard suite aboard a smaller, ultra-luxury cruise ship? Ultimately, the answer will be a personal one, but in order to help you decide, let’s first look at the suite ecosphere.
A number of big-ship cruise lines offer multiple levels of suites that attempt to rival the offerings on luxury lines. Norwegian was one of the first to realize the potential of the upscale suite when it introduced the Courtyard Villas aboard Norwegian Star in 2001. Since then, the line has re-branded the area as The Haven by Norwegian — a private, keycard-access only enclave that features suites of all shapes and sizes.
With The Haven, Norwegian recognized that a true suite isn’t just about space — it’s also about amenities. Guests who book Haven suites enjoy dining in a private dining room, plus they have exclusive access to a private bar, lounge, reception area. On the trendsetting Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway and the forthcoming Norwegian Getaway, The Haven features private pool and hot tub areas, private Cabana clubs and sun decks — and butler service.
Suites in The Haven on Norwegian Epic range from 322 square feet to 852 square feet. Both measurements include the balconies, so the interior space is slightly smaller. Because of their sizes and amenities, suites aboard Norwegian’s ships are some of the most diverse and desirable within the mainstream segment.
MSC Cruises has also gotten in on the action, creating the MSC Yacht Club. Also featuring private keycard access and exclusive lounges and public areas, the suites on MSC’s earliest ships weren’t all that impressive, but MSC Divina changed that.
Aboard MSC Divina, three grades of exclusive Yacht Club suites measure between 300 square feet and 570 square feet. Lavishly decorated in rich, nautical tones, these suites are situated within the best real estate on the ship and include features like separate bedrooms and living areas, Nintendo Wii consoles and full-sized bathrooms with tubs — not to mention expansive balconies.
These “ship-within-a-ship” concepts are, not surprisingly, immensely popular with families traveling together, or with couples looking to celebrate special occasions like honeymoons and anniversaries. The exclusive areas combine some impressive living spaces, along with exclusive features and amenities, while at the same time offering the array of entertainment and dining venues that lines like Norwegian and MSC are best known for.
So is it time to trade the ultra-luxury line standard suite for a big ship suite? It depends.
Suites aboard ultra-luxury ships — like those operated by Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn and Silversea Cruises — may not be quite as over-the-top lavish as the big-ship suites, but the ultra-luxury staterooms and suites make up for the differences in some desirable ways.
Even a standard oceanview stateroom on Silversea, for example, comes complete with the services of a butler who will unpack your luggage for you (and who appears genuinely pleased to do so).
You’ll also get complimentary champagne; complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages onboard; included gratuities; swanky Bvlgari toiletries; a pillow menu with more choices than you can ever sleep through on the average voyage; and some of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever slept on, adorned with luxury linens by Pratesi.
Besides the fine amenities and excellent service, suites aboard many ultra-luxury and small-ship cruise lines don’t skimp in the space department either. Suites aboard Seabourn’s striking Seabourn Quest range from a generous 295 square feet to more than 1,300 square feet.
In fact, Seabourn Quest’s Signature Suites — at 1,352 square feet — feature expansive ocean views, forward-facing windows, dining for four to six, a bathroom with whirlpool bathtub, guest bath, pantry with wet bar and two flat-screen TVs. Seabourn even throws in complimentary Internet/Wi-Fi service for the guest on the go — or those who want some seriously envious Facebook friends.
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In the end, small ultra-luxury ship suites are highly prized because of the experiences they — and the entire ship — provide. You’re on a smaller vessel with far more personalized service, traveling with like-minded cruisers who are typically there to have a relaxing, stress free holiday as opposed to the masses who are cruising to enjoy the entertainment, late-night partying and pools that may be crowded with kids.
Still, the decision comes down to what you’re looking for in a cruise. You’ll likely pay about the same for a big suite on a big ship as you will a standard suite on a small, ultra-luxury ship, so there are other factors that you’ll want to consider.
Choose the Big Ship Suite if:
You still want all the big-ship features, entertainment and dining venues.
You’re traveling with family or friends who would enjoy the big-ship amenities.
You’ve reached a higher level of loyalty with a particular mainstream line.
Choose the Ultra-Luxury Ship if:
You want a smaller ship that carries fewer guests.
You want more all-inclusive amenities.
You want a true luxury experience, with the service and culinary upgrades that luxury implies.
Avoid the Big Ship Suite if:
You disdain crowds, or can’t get behind the kind of fun mainstream cruising offers.
You’re expecting five-star, all the time.
You expect it to be cheap. It won’t be. These suites command luxury fares.
Avoid the Ultra-Luxury Ship if:
You need to be constantly stimulated.
You’re planning on bringing the whole family.
You want a lot of diversity, from huge fitness centers to multiple entertainment venues.
What are your thoughts? The next time you want to go big or go home, will you book a big suite on a big ship or a standard suite on an ultra-luxury ship?
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com