Finding an exclusive haven away from the crowd

Cruise ships, like hotels and resorts, figured out years ago how to accommodate travelers who were willing to pay extra for exclusivity. They designed a concierge deck or floor, adding special perks such as a comfy sitting area with food, cocktails, and a big TV, as well as a savvy employee to make arrangements for meals, shows, and excursions.

The latest trend in cruise accommodations aboard big ships is to take that concierge level another step up the luxury ladder.

On their newest vessels, cruise lines operating big ships have increased their concierge perks, especially for passengers staying in top suites, offering better lounges, more frequent access to specialty restaurants, and designing cabin enclaves such as Celebrity’s AquaClass, which is for people who want to center their vacations — activities and meals — around the spa. MSC’s Yacht Club has 24-hour concierge service and exclusive restaurant, lounge and pool; it will be available on the MSC Divina, which will make Miami its home port beginning in November.

The cruise line goal is to attract affluent passengers who want the exclusivity of small ship accommodations and services, with big ship choices and activities, especially on multi-generational trips that include children.

In the big ship race for these passengers, Norwegian Cruise Line is the leader.

Nearly a decade ago, Norwegian developed a concept called a “ship within a ship,” a cluster of top deck cabins that provided a group of passengers with a separate, well-equipped living area away from the hubbub of the rest of the ship.

The cabin cluster, introduced on Norwegian Jewel in 2005, has evolved into The Haven, which, with each new ship, gets better, operating like a boutique hotel amid the buzz of a major city.

Today’s concept is that The Haven serves affluent passengers who want to enjoy all the choices that a large vessel offers — restaurants, bars, shows, an expansive spa, and athletic facilities — followed by a quick retreat to a quiet, well-managed sanctuary that is only an elevator ride away.

On the new 4,028-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, which began cruising out of New York City year-round in May, and on its next ship, Norwegian Getaway, which will begin cruising year-round out of Miami next February, The Haven has 42 suites (including a two-bedroom villa) with butler.

Haven passengers have their own restaurant, bar, pool, outdoor living room, fitness area, hot tub, and sun deck with a retractable roof.

Travel agents aboard Norwegian Breakaway in May said they like the Haven model, which no other cruise line does as well for passengers who want that level of exclusivity on a big ship.

The Haven has proved so popular with affluent travelers that Virtuoso, one the world’s top travel agency groups that concentrates on luxury and exclusive accommodations, sells The Haven as a separate product, as if the other staterooms on the Norwegian ships don’t exist.

“The Haven fills the step between a big ship suite and a luxury ship,” said Bill Smith, a former cruise executive and now vice president of cruise sales for Virtuoso. “I’ve talked with clients who don’t usually like big ships, but they love The Haven for its concierge, great breakfasts, and butler. They go out on the [ship’s] town each night, then back to their quiet hotel with a piano bar.”

Another agent said that The Haven answers the question for affluent travelers who want to vacation with their children or grandchildren, but who prefer accommodations in an exclusive environment.

“My children would not forgive me if I took them on vacation to cruise on a luxury ship,” he said. “They would be bored and unhappy.”

Rates in The Haven start at about $2,500 per person for two people, for seven nights in a suite on a Breakaway voyage out of New York in September. That compares to about $1,000 for a cabin with a balcony, and about $750 for an inside cabin.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of

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