Cruising Like a VIP: The Ship-Within-A-Ship

cruise vip exclusive experience norwegian haven
Norwegian's "Haven" is an exclusive area of the ship for passengers willing to pay. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Wealthy cruisers have always had the option of booking luxurious suites, but in recent years, a new trend has emerged that takes the notion of a VIP experience to the next level. These "ship-within-a-ship" experiences are becoming increasingly common features on new ships, but not without a little bit of controversy.

What does “ship-within-a-ship” mean?

No, it’s not smaller ship they keep docked on board a larger ship like some billionaire Bond villain. “Ship-within-a-ship” means an exclusive, luxury-caliber experience on a typical, mainstream cruise ship. Think of it like the VIP section at a club, the skybox at a football game, or the club level in a hotel. You’re technically at the same event, but the exclusive, private area comes with nicer amenities and superior service.


What kind of perks do you get?

It varies by line, but the most common amenities are upgraded cabins (located in a separate area of the ship that can only be accessed with a special keycard), a private deck with pools and hot tubs, concierge service, special spa treatments, private restaurants and bars, complimentary beverage/internet packages, and priority check-in and debarkation.


vip cruise experience msc yacht club
MSC Yacht Club - Photo by MSC Cruises


Why not just book a luxury cruise instead?

While prices are often comparable to what you would pay on a luxury sailing, plenty of high-income cruisers (particularly families with kids) still like the wider range of activities and entertainment options of larger ships, but don’t want to deal with long lines or crowded pools. It also gives them a chance to sail with friends and family who can’t necessarily afford a high-end luxury sailing.


How much more does it cost?

It varies widely by ship, but you can expect prices to be 3 to 5 times higher than the cheapest inside cabin. If you get sticker shock when looking at luxury or high-end river cruises, you'll probably have the same reaction.


Does every line have a VIP experience?

It’s becoming increasingly common, much to the dismay of many average cruisers who are starting to feel like second-class passengers. Some lines are refusing to adopt the trend, however, with Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley telling the New York Times the ship-within-a-ship concept goes against the spirit of what Royal stands for. While people accept that those willing to pay more can receive more amenities, he drew the line at creating an exclusive area on the ship to keep VIP cruisers separate, arguing that "Segregating people into a class system is un-American." 


Top VIP Experiences

Norwegian’s "The Haven"

cruise vip norwegian haven courtyard pool
Norwegian Haven's private courtyard - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Top Perks: Haven cruisers have access to a private lounge and courtyard with pool, two whirlpools, sauna, and fitness center, and also receive preferential treatment during embarkation and disembarkation, priority boarding for tenders to shore, and an exclusive seating area for live shows. The Haven on Norwegian Breakaway, Getaway, and Epic also comes with access to a private restaurant.

Ships: Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Joy, and Norwegian Pearl


Norwegian Deals From  


MSC Cruises’ "MSC Yacht Club"

MSC Yacht Club's private pool - Photo by MSC Cruises

Top Perks: MSC Yacht Club members receive a personal butler and 24-hour concierge service, specialty restaurant reservations, and priority embarkation and disembarkation. They’ll also have exclusive access to a members-only sundeck with a pool, whirlpool, bar and grill, and a gelato cart, a private lounge with panoramic views for complimentary cocktails and afternoon tea, and a private spa entrance with dedicated treatment rooms.

Ships: MSC Bellissima, MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Seaside, MSC Seaview, and MSC Splendida.


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Celebrity Suite Class and "Retreat"

celebrity retreat cruise vip experience
Celebrity Retreat on Celebrity Edge - Photo by Celebrity Cruises

Top Perks: Celebrity’s Suite Class comes with access to a private lounge and a private restaurant Luminae, which features local dishes from the day’s port-of-call with locally sourced ingredients. The concept received a large overhaul on Celebrity Edge with "The Retreat", which comes with a private pool deck, a lounge with 24-hour butler service, a private restaurant, and (depending on the suite) complimentary beverage, dining, and internet packages.

Ships: Celebrity’s Suite Class is fleetwide, while Retreat will debut on Celebrity Edge. "Retreat" will be added to all ships in the coming years.


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Queens and Princess Grill on Cunard

Queens Grill Restaurant - Photo by Cunard

Top Perks: High-end cabins with marble bathrooms and luxury toiletries, concierge service, exclusive access to a private lounge and terrace, and a private restaurant.

Ships: All Cunard ships


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Other Notable VIP Experiences

- Princess Cruises has a premium stateroom category, Club Class Mini-Suites, with VIP amenities, priority check-in and debarkation, and exclusive menu options. (Full-suite guests receive the same benefits.)

- Holland America Line has a VIP area called Neptune Lounge, where VIP passengers booked in Neptune or Pinnacle Suites have a private place to relax or arrange concierge services.

Join the discussion

How do you feel about the "ship-within-a-ship"?

1 Comment

Posted by jbalzan

I believe that is Ok to have some VIP areas for those who like and are willing to pay a lot more for their VIP travel experience. However, this areas should be made in places that will not be noticed by the rest of passengers. I mean, I really do not care if there anyone having or enjoying a VIP restaurant or pool or whatever, if I have not seen the place at any moment during my cruise. Cruising experience is already a VIP experience even when travelling in the less expensive cabin and becomes somehow better if you upgrade your cabin to ocean view, balcony or suite .... I have personally booked every one of the last mentioned types of cabins; and my own VIP experience have been very nice an all of them. I have never booked on one of this "ship-within-a-ship" VIP experience but I am very sure that it will turn boring after the second day.... One of the best things of cruising is being social, share with love ones this greats moments to be remembered for ever and to ask this unknown person to please take this picture of us or taking this picture to this unknown couple that ask you for that, and many other social moments that you really will not enjoy being confined to a VIP area. I strongly believe that this VIP areas are the best place for those who love to have a lonely life and that's Ok with me. There is something that boders me more lately on some cruise lines and is that some stupid things aren't complementary and they should be. Just adding some bucks to the rate of the cruise and make everything included. Specialty restaurants, an ice cream cone, bowling and other amenities should me complementary in my opinion .

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