Class warfare: The rise of luxury enclaves at sea

Several cruise lines employ butlers in their exclusive accommodations. Onboard Royal Caribbean International’s ships, they are called Royal Genies.As the co-owner and president of a Virtuoso-affiliated agency, Paul Largay never had much interest in Norwegian Cruise Line. The Waterbury, Conn., travel seller had cultivated a luxury clientele who preferred upscale lines such as Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn.

But after Norwegian added the Haven to its ships, Largay began selling the line.

“It’s a very viable alternative,” he said.

The Haven, a secured enclave of luxury cabins around a courtyard, has re-engineered Norwegian into a line with both a mass-market and a luxury clientele, and its arrival on the scene has led almost every other operator of large cruise ships to tout some sort of exclusive accommodation.

Each has its own variation: MSC Cruises has the MSC Yacht Club, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have Suite Class, Disney has Concierge Level and Holland America Line offers the Neptune Lounge.

Even Carnival Cruise Line, the most egalitarian of the bunch, offers the Havana Cabana enclave on its newest ships.

The reasons that luxury enclaves have evolved on ships are many, but a common thread is the premium pricing that cruise lines can command by creating an aura of exclusivity to which guests can aspire.

Suites in the enclaves tend to be among the largest at sea, an attraction for some guests and yet another revenue enhancement.

In most cases, these cabins come with exclusive use of other areas, such as private pools, restaurants and lounges.

Guests with Suite Class accommodations aboard the Celebrity Silhouette have access to the exclusive Michael’s Club lounge.

 

Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, said, “I think it has created the aspiration for people to say, ‘How do I get to that next level? I want that perk, that experience. What do I have to do to get there?'”

Several agents compared the rise of luxury enclaves at sea to similar choices in other hospitality sectors, such as a business class on international airlines or private luxury railcars added to trains.

Airlines have started opening unadvertised invitation-only dining venues in some airports for their best customers. And hotels-within-hotels are proliferating, especially in Las Vegas. At the Wynn Tower Suites, located in the 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas, guests have a private entrance, a personal shopper, an exclusive restaurant and a private pool, with amenities.

Gaming also played a role in the creation of the Haven, which can trace its origins to large villa suites built for Star Cruises, an Asian line that shares common ownership interests with Norwegian through parent company Genting Group.

After acquiring Norwegian in 2000, Genting began to swap ships intended for Star Cruises into the Norwegian fleet. Ships such as Norwegian Dawn have a pair of three-bedroom, $25,000-a-week Garden Villas on the top deck. Those evolved into the Courtyard Villa, an enclave of 12 access-controlled suites when Norwegian launched its Jewel class of ships in 2005.

The exclusivity of the Courtyard Villas was one component of a package of extras that has continued to evolve. Rebranded as the Haven in 2011, the enclave cabins now come with access to a private restaurant, a private sun deck, private pool and a dedicated lounge and bar, all within the complex.

When Norwegian Cruise Line began offering the Courtyard Villa enclave in 2005, it opened the mass-market line to luxury clientele and prompted other cruise lines to follow suit. The Villa concept evolved into the Haven by 2011.
When Norwegian Cruise Line began offering the Courtyard Villa enclave in 2005, it opened the mass-market line to luxury clientele and prompted other cruise lines to follow suit. The Villa concept evolved into the Haven by 2011.

Other benefits include the services of a concierge and butler, priority embarkation, debarkation and tendering and preference for seating at shows and for shipwide dining reservations.

In-suite amenities include a cappuccino machine, white-tablecloth room-service dining and sparkling wine, fruit and bottled water on embarkation day.

Bathrobes, linens, bath products and mattresses are all top of the line.

Enclaves such as the Haven tend to be found on mass-market ships, or at least ships above a certain size. One reason is that smaller luxury ships have no need for a separate high-end product. Just as important, they don’t have the real estate.

Holland America Line, whose largest ship is the 2,650-passenger Koningsdam, does not offer a luxury enclave but does have the Neptune Lounge, a midship social area with refreshments and concierge service. It is reserved for guests booking the top Neptune and Pinnacle suite categories, who also get exclusive access to the ship’s premier Pinnacle Grill for breakfast.

Sally Andrews, vice president of public relations for Holland America, said it’s a question of economics.

“Dedicating private space for a segment of guests related to their accommodations really comes down to [return on investment] on use of that space for a small versus a larger number of guests,” Andrews said.

A table in the Queens Grill on Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria, which offers a sweeping view. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

A table in the Queens Grill on Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria, which offers a sweeping view. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

It began with 20 penthouses

Some observers trace the origins of the enclave idea to Queen Elizabeth 2.

In 1972, a refurbishment of the Cunard Line ship resulted in the addition of 20 penthouses to the 70,000-ton ship. A nearby bar/nightclub was converted to an exclusive restaurant called the Queen’s Grill.

By the time Carnival Corp. commissioned a successor for the ship in 1998, the Queen’s Grill accommodations had become a status symbol, and Carnival incorporated them into the Queen Mary 2, as well as into later ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.

Larry Pimentel, one-time president of Cunard and currently president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, said Cunard was a bridge between the transport era of passenger shipping and modern cruising.

Queen Elizabeth 2 was designed with separate classes in mind, with segregated spaces for each price level.

“They represented a bygone era of cruising, a bygone era of transport, actually,” Pimentel said.

Ships designed for cruising post-Queen Elizabeth 2 were one-class ships, Pimentel said. Only recently have separate classes crept back into the equation, in part to attract and keep a discerning type of customer.

The creation of a ship within a ship enables mass-market lines to pitch their cruises to more-affluent guests.

“While it is not strictly class-communicated, the reality is that there is a group of people who always want the best,” Pimentel said. “What’s happened in the industry is that there’s going to be a bigger and bigger play for these people who have these desires to have the most space, to have the most in elegance and luxury, have their own space, their own pools, their own restaurants, etc.”

The premium for staying in an enclave like the Haven can be five to 10 times the cost of an inside cabin, depending on deployment and time of year. MSC Cruises calculates that the per-person cost of staying in its Yacht Club enclave averages about $1,500 more than for a standard cabin.

One longtime observer of luxury cruising said it might or might not be worth the price.

“Theoretically, it’s good,” said Mark Conroy, managing director of the Americas for Silversea Cruises.

Conroy said one of the most appealing parts of the enclave idea is the ability to offer two ships in one. There’s an “uptown” sanctuary with refined furnishings and service and a “downtown” for energy, variety and scale. But to make it work, the “downtown” has to be worth going to, he said.

“The challenge is in the execution, and some companies have been better than others,” Conroy said.

Another way the uptown/downtown idea plays out is in attracting large family groups.

“It’s been wonderful for the multigen families,” said Valerie Wilson’s Wetty. “If you have a very luxury client, let’s say it’s grandparents, or mom and dad, but they might want to take the whole family, they’re not willing to compromise their standards.”

With an enclave, the luxury client can afford luxury accommodations without springing for a luxury ship for the entire group, she said.

A staircase embedded with Swarovski crystals connects two decks in MSC Cruises’ exclusive section, the MSC Yacht Club. Access to a concierge desk and the Top Sail Lounge are some of the perks for Yacht Club guests.
A staircase embedded with Swarovski crystals connects two decks in MSC Cruises’ exclusive section, the MSC Yacht Club. Access to a concierge desk and the Top Sail Lounge are some of the perks for Yacht Club guests.

MSC Cruises has earned a reputation for affordable family cruising with its kids-sail-free promotion. Its Miami-based ship, the MSC Divina, is one of five in its fleet equipped with an MSC Yacht Club enclave.

The enclave includes 66 suites arrayed over two decks connected by spiral staircases with embedded Swarovski crystals. There is a private lounge, a library and butler service for all Yacht Club guests. They also get an adjacent private pool, access to a VIP area of the disco and special access to the spa.

Bernard Stacher, vice president of hotel operations for MSC, said guests are paying for more than exclusivity.

“That’s a portion of it, but it’s not the majority,” Stacher said. “It also comes down to the personalized, tailored service, to really unique and fast access to the ship on and off, the choice of the finishings we choose and the no-questions-asked attitude from the staff in the Yacht Club. I think that plays a big part.

“Yes, you are away from the crowds, you have your own private pool, but it’s the sum of all the parts that make the Yacht Club so exciting,” Stacher said. “It’s not one thing.”

In marketing the enclaves, cruise executives walk a fine line between appealing to discriminating customers and coming off as elitist.

Wetty said exclusivity inevitably rubs some people the wrong way.

“There was a pushback in the industry of saying, ‘Hey, that doesn’t feel fair or right,'” she said. “How can you create a ship that you pay a certain price and you only get access to a certain part of the ship?”

Wetty said the key for lines that have made an enclave product successful was positioning it as an extra to an already handsome package.

“Those lines are creating a consistent experience for everybody, so nobody feels they got less than somebody else,” Wetty said. “But then if you pay more, you get something a little extra special.”

The Royal Loft Suite on the Anthem of the Seas.
The Royal Loft Suite on the Anthem of the Seas.
Not every line offering exclusive luxury accommodations has gone the route of building a full enclave.

Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, both brands owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., offer guests a Suite Class package of benefits that includes a separate lounge and restaurant, among other perks.

Suites are in different areas depending on which of Royal’s eight ship sizes they are sailing.

On Celebrity, Suite Class guests have the Luminae restaurant and Michael’s Club to themselves. On Royal, Suite Class includes a suite lounge and sun deck and the Coastal Kitchen restaurant on some ships.

Top suites come with Royal Genies, a name for what other cruise lines call butlers.

“We thought it was a fun twist on this idea of a butler,” Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley said. “We think part of our success is not taking ourselves too seriously.”Bayley said that Royal has the same package of amenities that competitors do, but “we just haven’t put them in one place.”  Royal guests, he said, “want to be engaging with the world around them.” Still, he said, he wouldn’t rule out building a dedicated luxury enclave area on future ships.

Even Carnival Cruise Line, which prides itself on being unpretentious, has cosied up to the enclave concept. On its latest ship, the Carnival Vista, it has created the Havana Cabana, an area of 61 cabins with a lounge and pool area with a tropical-leisure theme.

Most of the cabins are on deck five and feature a sliding door that opens to a 100-square-foot patio with a swing chair. A key-card gate keeps the aft part of the promenade that encircles Deck Five closed during the day. Also behind the gate is the aft pool and hot tub area. A few Havana cabins are located on decks six and seven and have enlarged balconies rather than patios; these cabins also include access to the pool.

In the Havana Cabana section onboard the Carnival Vista, guests have exclusive access to an aft pool area and a promenade. Carnival is expanding the 61-cabin exclusive section on the Horizon, due next year. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst
In the Havana Cabana section onboard the Carnival Vista, guests have exclusive access to an aft pool area and a promenade. Carnival is expanding the 61-cabin exclusive section on the Horizon, due next year. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy said that limiting access to the pool hasn’t caused any issues. The Havana Cabana is the only area on Carnival’s 25 ships that aren’t open to all passengers.

“We really haven’t had any complaints, as there are so many other options on the Carnival Vista,” Duffy said.

Carnival is expanding the area on the Horizon, due in April, by 18 cabins. Other luxury enclaves are also growing. The Yacht Club on MSC Seaside, which will be christened in Miami in December, will have 80 suites, the most ever.

In the future, cruise executives said, the enclave concept could be expanded to include more dedicated entertainment. MSC has a piano player in its Yacht Club, and it will rotate a violin duo into the mix on the Seaside.

Pimentel said that other ideas will percolate for small musical ensembles.

“I think it is possible that some of the units that have a lot of space begin to have venues for that space that could be a small, tiny jazz club,” Pimentel said. “I think the industry’s just going to push the edges on that one.”

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Work starts on MSC Seaside’s future Miami home

A rendering of PortMiami’s expanded and renovated Terminal F.

Construction has begun on PortMiami’s Terminal F, which will be expanded and renovated to accommodate the MSC Seaside, a ship due to enter service next December. Terminal F will also be home to the MSC Divina.

Miami-Dade County is funding the $38 million project, which will enable the terminal to manage embarkation loads of up to 6,000 passengers, according to the county. The MSC Seaside will accommodate 4,140 passengers at double occupancy but will have a maximum of more than 5,000.

MSC Cruises said it has been “actively involved in the entire process of designing the new cruise terminal.” Under an agreement between the county and MSC Cruises, the port was obligated to expand the terminal.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/hSNjY-UF-go?rel=0Planned enhancements include an expanded waiting area with seating for 1,500, a larger VIP waiting area for MSC Yacht Club passengers, an improved baggage-claim area and the implementation of technology for faster embarkation and disembarkation.

The terminal is expected to be ready by Dec. 1 next year, just prior to the MSC Seaside’s arrival in PortMiami on Dec. 21.

MSC Cruises enhances dining experience

Image result for msc dining

MSC Cruises introduces – starting with MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside – even greater dining options with added flexibility on how, when and where to dine on board

MSC Cruises revealed today new dining concepts that will be available first to guests on MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside. Designed to meet the needs of today’s cruise guests, the two ships – the first two of a total of 11 new mega-ships due to come into service starting this year, in June and December, respectively – will introduce highly flexible dining options and a choice of dining packages that can be booked at any time prior to embarkation as well as whilst on board. All of which means that MSC Cruises guests can dine as they want, when they want and in an even wider range of speciality restaurants and international dining experiences.

MSC Cruises’ Head of Product Development and Guest Experience, Andrea Gangale, commented: “At MSC Cruises, we strive to create memorable holiday experiences for our guests whilst they are on board one of our cruise ships. And dining is and has always been a key feature of our offering.”

Mr Gangale continued: “We are driving innovation in cruising at many levels, now also in the onboard dining experience. The new dining concepts are being introduced to cater to the needs of today’s cruise guests, who are looking for flexibility and choices. Starting with MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside, we are introducing new ways for guests to manage their choices – through cutting-edge onboard technology – and offering an even greater selection of international restaurants to deliver culinary experiences from around the world, all of this so that guests can enjoy their holiday even more.”

New Dining Styles

One of the new dining concepts that MSC Cruises is introducing is Flexi Dining. This new dining style allows guests to pre-select a time slot for their evening meal, with the ability to change it at any time during their cruise. This way guests can get the most out of their holiday by more easily adapting the dining experience around their plans for each day.

The Classic cruise dining experience will still be available, with a choice of two sittings each evening. This traditional dining style is popular with guests who prefer a dedicated table each night so that they can enjoy personalised service from the same waiter who will know them by name, know their dining preferences and how to accommodate them. This way, they can also socialise with the same guests each evening.

In addition to this, MSC Yacht Club guests will also benefit from free-time dining in the dedicated MSC Yacht Club restaurant, with the option of reserving a table in advance if one so desires.

Casual dining venues are available for all guests 20 hours-a-day, offering a wide range of freshly prepared dishes. The MSC Cruises buffet – already one of the richest at sea — has been further enhanced with a wide range of different international food experiences with dishes to tempt everyone’s tastes. MSC Seaside, in particular, will feature two casual dining venues, one of which will be dedicated to families, serving family-friendly options and featuring child-friendly seating.

Even More International Speciality Restaurants

Speciality restaurants are another standout feature on MSC Cruises’ ships, one that gives guests the opportunity to experience an ever-growing range of cuisines from around the world even while at sea. To this end, MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside will feature restaurants with innovative ‘open kitchens’, following the trend in restaurant design that makes dining a true sensorial experience and that allows guests to see, smell and hear expert chefs at work. Selected restaurants on MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside will also feature a Chef’s Table, a dining concept designed for those seeking a true gastronomic experience.

Following the success and popularity of the Kaito Sushi Bar, serving fresh fish, sashimi and tempura, MSC Cruises will introduce a brand new Kaito Teppanyaki restaurant on board MSC Meraviglia to complement the ship’s Kaito Sushi Bar. With a modern twist on Asian cuisine, guests can sit at the cooking stations to watch their delicious Japanese dishes come to life in front of their eyes. Expert chefs will cook with flare on an open grill – a visual spectacle and feast for the senses with flames and sizzling ingredients all coming together to form flavoursome dishes.

MSC Seaside's Asian Market Kitchen
MSC Seaside’s Asian Market Kitchen

Another new restaurant concept will be an authentic American Steakhouse – the Butcher’s Cut, celebrating the craft heritage of America blended with the skilful mastery of the butcher. Guests can select their favourite steak from glass-fronted meat ageing fridges and then watch the skilled chefs preparing their flavoursome fresh dishes in the open kitchen. The wine list is bold and features an appealing selection from the New World to complement the dishes. Cocktails are also inspired by American heritage, while guests can also savour some of the best craft beers.

A highlight of the dining on MSC Seaside will be the Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi. The three distinct restaurants created by the innovative Japanese-American chef will consist of an à la carte restaurant serving gourmet Asian creations in a stylish venue with incredible sea views, a Sushi Bar and Teppanyaki Grill, each offering an authentic pan-Asian dining experience at sea.

MSC Seaside will also feature signature seafood restaurant, Ocean Cay. This stylish restaurant will serve American-style fish dishes with a Mediterranean twist. A simple menu with delicious signature dishes will include locally-sourced Stone Crabs, a delicacy in the homeport of Miami, beautiful fresh Sea Bass, flown in from the Mediterranean and homemade spaghetti alle vongole (with clams).

Even More Collaborations With Renowned Chefs

MSC Cruises is committed to partnering with world-class experts in their fields and the dining experience on the new ships is no exception. The collaboration with world-renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi on MSC Seaside extends way beyond the creation of the menus. As part of the partnership, Chef Yamaguchi will be personally involved in conceptualising and designing every element of the new pan-Asian restaurant, bringing his creative flair and vision to every single detail of the guest’s experience. This includes everything from creating the recipes, menus, selecting chinaware to enhance the dishes, music selection to create the right ambience all the way through to the wine pairings to complement the food and even the choice of the paper stock for the menus.

A long-standing partnership with two-star Michelin chef Carlo Cracco will now encompass the development of signature dishes for the main restaurant menus on MSC Meraviglia as well as for the Christmas and New Year menus. Meanwhile, on board MSC Meraviglia, a partnership with award winningFrench chocolatier and pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury will tempt guests with incredible sweet creations. Jean-Philippe Chocolat & Café will feature an open chocolate atelier whilst Jean-Philippe Crêpes & Gelato serve tasty treats that can be savoured while enjoying oneself on the ship’s Mediterranean-style promenade.

Image result for carlo cracco MSC
two-star Michelin chef Carlo Cracco

The chef collaborations extend beyond the new ships as part of MSC Cruises’ focus on international fine dining. MSC Cruises is for example collaborating with international Chinese chef, Jereme Leung. Globally recognised for his contemporary interpretation of Chinese cuisine, Chef Leung’s modern approach has long caught the attention of top international restaurant critic and he has brought his contemporary Chinese cuisine to MSC Lirica. Chef Leung collaborated with MSC Cruises to design new and innovative dining concepts tailored to the tastes of Chinese guests, an exclusive range of signature dishes as well as enhancing existing menus with his creative and distinctive flair.

New Dining Packages For All Tastes

To help guests better plan their onboard dining experiences and make the most of their time on board, MSC Cruises is introducing a range of dining packages that can be booked prior to the cruise. For example:

MSC Cruises guests on board MSC Meraviglia will be able to book a Dinner & Show package where they will enjoy an exclusive table d’hôte menu and then experience the breathtaking Cirque du Soleil at Sea performance in the impressive purpose-built Carousel Lounge.

A special dining package is available for the Eataly Chef’s Table on board MSC Meraviglia, which includes a dedicated chef and sommelier for the night, seven gourmet dishes cooked to perfection and all perfectly matched with seven wines – this really is a food lover’s dream.

For those who want to explore each of the speciality restaurants, a special package can be booked in advance meaning guests can benefit from a discount on the onboard prices.

Find out about all of the new dining packages at www.msccruises.co.uk/en-gb/Already-Booked/Cruise-Upgrade/Speciality-Restaurants