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You might have thought that First Class had disappeared with the advent of cruising in today’s purpose-built cruise ships. But while there are different classes of cabin in today’s ships, from Inside to Penthouse Suites, broadly speaking passengers in all accommodation classes, from suites to inside cabins, share the same facilities with each other. In recent years however that has begun to change – on some ships on some lines, passengers can buy what looks quite like a re-creation of the old First Class experience.

One line – Cunard – never entirely went away from First Class, although it didn’t call it that. But if you’re in either of the Grills Classes – Queens Grill or Princess Grill – then you will eat in a dedicated restaurant, and there are some areas of deck that are reserved for you. It’s interesting is that there are two Grills restaurants, Queens and Princess, not just one, so Cunard see some fine distinctions between the two (Queens Grill is for passengers in the very best suites, Princess Grill is for passengers in lesser suites.) And there is one other big difference between today’s Cunard Grills experience and the former First Class, and that’s that Grills class requires a suite-level cabin. In the old days – and not just on Cunard but also on other lines such as P&O and Union Castle – there were some quite low-quality First Class cabins, e.g. small Inside cabins (indeed, there were often a number of better cabins in Second class). But the crucial point was that however poor the cabin if it was defined as a First Class cabin it gave the cabin’s occupants access to all the First Class facilities, whereas the ‘better’ Second Class cabin was definitely in Second class, and the occupants could only access the ship’s second class facilities.

Next is Celebrity Cruises. They’ve been adding some extra benefits to what were perfectly ordinary cabins for quite a long time. First was Concierge class, which first appeared on the Millennium class ships. In those ships Concierge cabins – a type of balcony cabin – might have been very slightly larger than a standard balcony, although when the Solstice class came along, that advantage was lost. The Concierge class cabins were generally slightly better located – higher decks, for example – but their main advantage is more luxurious trimmings in the cabin – bedding and toiletries, for example. In all other respects Concierge class passengers shared the same facilities as other passengers. Celebrity then developed yet another type of cabin – Aqua class – for the Solstice class ships. This repeated the formula in that the positioning was better and cabin toiletries and bedding were better even than Concierge class, but there was one completely new and different advantage. Aqua class passengers dine in a separate restaurant, Blu. Here’s what Celebrity says about it” “Based on the concept of a “spa restaurant”, Blu specialises in light and healthy cuisine, while never compromising on flavour“.  But apart from the use of Blu, Aqua class passengers had to share all the other facilities of the ship with other passengers. (There’s also an arrangement by which suite passengers can use Blu.)

Now Celebrity have added another extra for Suite passengers. They now have their own restaurant, Luminae, which reads rather like their regular ‘fine dining’ restaurant, Murano. I’m not sure if meals in Luminae are cooked to order, but I’ve been told that passengers have had no problems getting changes made to dishes (e.g. “no bacon on the trout”) so it sounds like the dish is at least finished off to order. There are just 92 seats in Luminae on the Solstice class ships, and there are no sittings; in theory, you turn up and you’re seated. (In practice I don’t think it works quite as well as that as a result of Celebrity’s policy of allowing guests to make advance reservations, thus blocking places at popular times.)

In addition to Luminae there is one other advantage to being a suite passenger on Celebrity: they have (almost) exclusive access to Michael’s Club, a lounge. The Celebrity Cruises website says this about Michael’s Club: “This luxurious lounge features a large-screen TV, reading areas stocked with magazines, newspapers, and books, continental breakfast and complimentary pre-dinner drinks and tapas served daily“. (Actually, access to Michael’s Club isn’t restricted to Suite occupants – passengers at the top tier of Celebrity’s loyalty club also enjoy this access, and on some sailings they can considerably outnumber the suite passengers on that particular sailing.)

Finally (as far as I’m aware) there’s MSC who in the last couple of years have perhaps gone further than any other line in recreating a genuine First Class experience, in the form of their Yacht class. It’s a completely separate part of the ship reserved to passengers in the best suites only (there are some smaller suites that don’t include Yacht Club). MSC introduce the Yacht Club in this manner: “An exclusive haven  Discover a ship within a ship in the MSC Yacht Club, an exclusive area with 24-hour Butler service, private Concierge, luxurious suites and all-inclusive food and drinks. Guests of the Yacht Club can enjoy the luxury of a private yacht whilst still having access to all the things a big ship can offer“. There’s a Yacht Club restaurant, a forward-facing lounge (think of a Crow’s Nest reserved exclusively for Yacht Club passengers), and an area of open deck that includes a pool. Yacht Club passengers have the services of butlers; among other things the butler can do is arrange “exclusive out-of-hours shopping”. Yacht Club passengers can also use the services of their butler and the shore excursions team to design their own excursions. Finally, Yacht Club passengers have their own private lift to which them to the Aurea spa; but sadly when they get there they’ll have to mix with the rabble other passengers. Those suites that qualify their occupants for Yacht Club membership are clustered together on high decks at the front of the ship. There are two decks of accommodation, the lounge and the dining room, and then a deck above – part of the top deck on the ship – that holds the open areas and the pool. Yacht Club is available on the four ships of the Fantasia class – Fantasia, Splendida, Divina and Preziosa), on the new Meraviglia and her still-to-come sister, Bellissima, and will also be on the Seaside class ships – Seaside and Seaview.

Here are some links:


2 Responses to “The return of First Class?”

  1. Malcolm Oliver says:

    Hi Tom, NCL have ‘The Haven’ their ship-within-a-ship ‘private’ complex.

    I must admit I do wonder why somebody would pay a small fortune to have a suite/duplex etc. on a mass market ship. I wonder if that money might be better spent on a five star smaller-luxury ship.

    If somebody could kindly pay for me, I’d be happy to compare a 1st class experience on a big mass market ship with that of a smaller luxury ship.


    • @Malcolm – I second your plan to compare the ships 😉

      If I was travelling solo or as a couple, I’d be tempted to scope out the luxury lines and go for an entry-level suite on a smaller ship. However, as I travel with a child in tow, I need the family-friendly features only the larger ships can offer. I’ve pre-booked a duplex for my text trip purely as it was a bargain (cheaper than balcony cabins cost today). Seeing how the other half live is clearly half the attraction, a taste of the luxury lifestyle (albeit on a budget) is the other.

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