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The ‘ship within a ship’ concept on 4 luxury cruise lines

The ‘ship within a ship’ concept on 4 luxury cruise lines

Meet the idea that combines the best of big- and small-ship cruising and find out why it’s proving increasingly popular with discerning travellers of all ages.

The popularity of the ‘ship within a ship’ concept is growing with travellers, and more and more large-ship cruise lines have adopted the model in recent years.

This idea of cruise VIPs living the high life in their own hideaway is hardly new – consider the vast difference between First Class and steerage on board the ill-fated Titanic – but this new breed takes the concept further, serving as a private clubhouse for a select few within the wider ‘community’ of the ship.

In this way, the experience resembles small-ship cruising more than it does the family-friendly resort cruising of the past. Guests staying within these elevated accommodations need not leave their private precinct – everything they could need is there in a more intimate setting – but they also have the option of enjoying the blown-out facilities of these mega-liners. Meet four of the cruise lines that offer the best of both worlds.

Dream Cruises: The Palace

The once-a-voyage seafood barbecue is a highlight for all those staying in Dream Cruises’ sophisticated enclave. Here, in a boutique hotel environment, passengers are attended by personal butlers and treated to cocktails with the captain. On board Genting Dream, The Palace spans three decks, with an atrium spilling light from the pool deck, past the private restaurant and down to the plush casino. As well as having its own facilities set apart from the ship’s public areas, The Palace has 140 of its own ultra-indulgent suites, plus two villas sprawling over 224 square metres. One of the villas even has a grand piano in its salon, an addition that oozes cultured soirée style.

Beyond The Palace, attractions range from seeing world-class entertainment at the Zodiac Theatre to indulging in midnight spa treatments at the Crystal Life Asian Spa, the largest of its kind at sea, all organised with priority booking status by your concierge, of course. The ship-within-a-ship experience of The Palace seems made for multigenerational cruisers. Enjoy the seclusion with the whole family, or treat yourself to evenings of luxury while savouring days on the water slides, high ropes and mini-golf course with your younger sailors. Those staying in The Palace are able to bring in one guest each to share the added indulgence.

One of the two Palace villas on board Genting Dream
One of the two Palace villas on board Dream Cruise's Genting Dream © Ingrid Fiebak-Kremer

Tempted by the specialty restaurants on board? The Palace guests can enjoy set menus at each, without the supplementary cost. At his Seafood Grill and Prime Steakhouse, Australian chef Mark Best has designed a menu of refined international fare; think melt-in-the-mouth beef cheeks, scallop-topped saffron risotto, crispy-skinned salmon with spiced chickpea. Japanese restaurant Umi Uma delivers an unmissable teppanyaki experience, complementing the flair and fun of the chef’s showmanship with a mouthwatering meal.

Gourmands will have even more to savour when Dream Cruises begins hosting market tours in concert with cooking demonstrations later this year. The new program invites guests to go ashore with an onboard chef, visiting local markets and suppliers in search of produce to use in a cooking lesson inspired by the destination. Complement your newfound cooking knowledge with an evening of wine appreciation in the Penfolds Wine Vault. The experience includes a tasting of three of Penfolds’ most popular drops accompanied by tasty treats. The Palace rates also include a premium beverage package to ensure you can continue to build on your oenological expertise throughout the voyage.

The newly launched Explorer Dream has an even more intimate Palace retreat on board, comprising some 50 suites, penthouses and villas with unique style and design. Guests will have access to all the benefits The Palace bestows, including Wi-Fi, premium beverage package, specialty dining and 24-hour butler service.

Celebrity Cruises: The Retreat

The launch of Celebrity Edge in December 2018 heralded the arrival of The Retreat, a new concept elevating Celebrity Cruises’ existing Suite Class into a whole new experience. Now rolling out over the rest of the fleet as part of the Celebrity Revolution, The Retreat brings with it a chic resort-style sundeck; an exclusive restaurant, Luminae, with complimentary dishes designed by chef Daniel Boulud; and a private lounge to escape to with complimentary drinks and gourmet treats. Concierges and butlers are waiting to assist you in any way they can, be it pressing your clothes after unpacking or booking your place at one of the 29 food and beverage experiences on board. Acclaimed British designer Kelly Hoppen, MBE, was responsible for the ship’s suites, and they are a masterclass in understated glamour. Nothing but the best will do? The two Iconic Suites aboard Celebrity Edge are 240 square metres of contemporary living with two bedrooms, an outdoor hot tub and a butler’s pantry for entertaining.

The Retreat on board Celebrity Edge
The Retreat’s sundeck on Celebrity Edge © Quentin Bacon/Celebrity Cruises

Norwegian Cruise Line: The Haven

The Haven by Norwegian was one of the first ships-within-a-ship, combining the seclusion of a private enclave at the top of the ship with access to all that the supersized cruise liner has to offer. Guests in The Haven are quickly spirited away from the crowds, skipping the lines and personally escorted on and off the vessel. Butlers are on hand for round-the-clock service, and courtyard attendants hand out fresh fruit while you lounge beside the pool. Aboard the newest ship in the NCL fleet, the 4,004-passenger Norwegian Bliss, The Haven is a welcome, quiet retreat of 80 suites, penthouses and villas. The largest is the Deluxe Owner’s Suite with Large Balcony, which features two bedrooms over 135 square metres, while other vessels are home to the Three-Bedroom Garden Villa, a sanctuary of up to 622 square metres.

Read: Click here for a peek inside the staterooms

Norwegian Cruise Line: The Haven
The Haven Sundeck on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Bliss

MSC Cruises: MSC Yacht Club

The MSC Yacht Club is the pinnacle of accommodation aboard eight ships of this Mediterranean cruise line’s current fleet. The enclave amplifies the level of European sophistication with white-glove service, an exclusive restaurant and unlimited drinks anywhere in the Yacht Club domain (including from your mini-bar). The glamorous godmother to all of MSC Cruises’ ships, Sophia Loren, is the inspiration behind the sumptuous decor of the suites, complemented by Myform Memory mattresses, Dorelan pillow menus, Egyptian cotton linen and marble bathrooms. As well as a private pool and sundeck, the area’s privileged guests are treated to high tea and complimentary drinks at the Top Sail Lounge. Butlers can also arrange packing and unpacking services, shopping sessions outside normal onboard boutique opening hours or jewellery viewings in the privacy of your suite.

MSC Yacht Club pool aboard MSC Bellissima © Ivan Sarfatti/MSC Cruises
MSC Yacht Club pool aboard MSC Bellissima © Ivan Sarfatti/MSC Cruises

This article originally appeared in volume 34 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.