Opulence on the oceans1 September 2022
Luxury has always been a key part of the cruise industry, but over the years a new trend has emerged in the form of VIP areas. Increasingly becoming a common option for many cruise lines, exclusive experiences offer guests the option of luxury wherever they sail. Phoebe Galbraith speaks to Cristian Comirla, brand performance director at MSC Cruises, and Eamonn Ferrin, vice-president of international business at Norwegian Cruise Line, about the rising trend of VIP areas and whether exclusivity is the way forward for luxury.
It has been over 100 years since the first purpose-built luxury cruise liner was conceived by Albert Ballin in 1899. While the lifetime of Prinzessin Victoria Luise was short-lived – crashing while on a Caribbean cruise in 1906 – Ballin’s ideas helped shaped what we know and love today in pleasure cruising.
And as cruises have evolved over the years, the role of luxury has taken centre stage as cruise liners have made efforts to reclaim the years of extravagance originally associated with the industry and challenge the offerings of hotels. However, typical luxury offerings are becoming more commonplace as guests are accustomed to a certain level of indulgence while on holiday, let alone a cruise. With these expectations of luxury, many cruise lines are stepping up to the challenge to provide many a hopeful traveller with the level of comfort they deserve.
One such company is Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), who have been working tirelessly to meet these expectations. As Eamonn Ferrin, vice-president of international business at NCL, states, “Guests are always at the forefront of our mind when it comes to making decisions at NCL, as we strive to offer consumers an ever-evolving and innovative premium luxury product. We are constantly aiming to deliver unforgettable guest experiences that go well beyond expectations – from accommodation to entertainment venues and dining areas.”
The shape of luxury
One form of luxury that cruises are offering is VIP sections – exclusive ship-within-a-ship areas that offer guests whole new heights of extravagance, without the additional cost of the more traditional luxury-dedicated cruises. Granted, access to these areas does not come cheap either, but they do offer guests the chance to enjoy the lap of luxury alongside the amenities and entertainment that only a big cruise ship can offer, as well as the ability to travel with family and friends who might not be able to afford the same level of high-end sailing.
For NCL, this ship-within-a-ship experience is delivered through The Haven by Norwegian, which is slated to provide an experience unlike no other. “From embarkation to debarkation, complete privacy and tranquillity are just steps away on a sundeck reserved exclusively for guests of The Haven by Norwegian. The exclusive accommodation proves ever popular with those looking to have an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime cruise experience,” adds Ferrin.
With a 24-hour butler, a personal escort on and off the ship, in-suite dining, and evening turndown service – with many more exclusive amenities – Ferrin is not wrong in claiming such a reputation. The Haven also offers an exclusive lounge, restaurant, courtyard and sundeck for Haven members as a perfect escape from the rest of the ship. “This year,” adds Ferrin, “to provide guests with an unrivalled experience in luxury cruising, The Haven by Norwegian on our brand-new ship Norwegian Prima has been elevated to offer our most exclusive and centralised suite complex.”
“Boasting our ship-within-a-ship concept, it’s a truly impressive space, spanning eight decks of suites and public areas,” says Ferrin. Available on nine different ships in different versions, NCL’s all-suite offering, accessible by key holders only, is the essence of exclusivity.
NCL is not the only one offering the luxury ship-within- a-ship concept. MSC was one of the first cruise lines to offer this concept in the form of its MSC Yacht Club, launched in 2008. “With the MSC Yacht Club, we are appealing to a specific audience who want a certain level of service, accommodation, and facilities. This is one of the benefits of larger ships as we can really offer that choice to cater to all needs,” says Cristian Comirla, brand performance director at MSC Cruises, who oversees the entire MSC Yacht Club product and guest experience.
Available on 11 ships by MSC, the Yacht Club was the cruise line’s response to the growing demand for private luxury in the industry. “Cruise holidaymakers have more options than they did ten years ago, and we need to provide choice for different types of guests,” says Comirla. “The MSC Yacht Club offers the exclusivity and privacy of a private club and also provides our guests with access to extensive amenities, venues and entertainment possibilities that the rest of the ship has to offer.”
“From embarkation to debarkation, complete privacy and tranquillity are just steps away on a sundeck reserved exclusively for guests of The Haven by Norwegian. ”
The percentage of expected passenger levels at the end of this year, compared to 2019.
In addition to this, MSC Yacht Club also offers a dedicated check-in and priority embarking and disembarking too, plus unlimited beverages and dining, Wi-Fi, minibar and 24/7 room service. “The guests absolutely love the glamorous and stylish private areas that the MSC Yacht Club offers, and all the personal touches carefully designed to enhance their holiday at sea,” Comirla adds. With MSC and NCL – and many more cruise lines – offering an exclusive experience for its guests, it is abundantly clear that VIP areas will only become more popular. But what does this mean for the future of luxury cruises? Is exclusivity the only way forward?
Meeting demand in style
As these expectations of luxury on board cruises grow more and more each day, cruises are having to find new and creative ways of meeting guest demands – and post-pandemic, that takes the form of exclusive and personalised experiences. “We’ve found that, following the pandemic, guests are seeking out more personalised experiences on board,” says Ferrin. “Our luxury and VIP spaces are extremely popular with guests wanting exclusivity and comfort wherever they sail and we can only predict that this will continue within the cruise industry.”
As such, demand for VIP offerings like The Haven and MSC Yacht Club are steadily increasing as guests expect more personalised space and the same, if not more, indulgence available at hotels. “When I joined the cruise industry in 2010, it was trailing behind land-based hospitality, mainly due to the complexity it takes to operate what is a floating hotel. We are now innovating the hospitality experience and travellers notice it,” says Comirla. With the easing of restrictions in 2022 and expectations of 101% of 2019 passenger levels by the end of this year – according to CLIA – the future is starting to brighten. In order to keep up with guest expectations of luxury, cruise lines need to stay innovative to attract passengers and maintain occupancy levels.
And with eager travellers looking for ways to make up for lost time, VIP spaces offer the perfect mix of luxury and travel. According to Ferrin, “In 2022 and beyond, we’re seeing increased demand for premium cabins, suites and our VIP spaces as travellers make up for lost time and plan to treat themselves. For example, in May 2021, Norwegian Prima became our most in-demand ship ever, with record bookings on the first day and week of sales.”
So, what does this demand mean for cruises? It is clear that there is a significant market of holidaymakers eager for the premium experience without compromising on the amenities and entertainment a bigger cruise vessel can offer. But does this mean exclusivity is the way forward for luxury cruising? For NCL, with 55 years of commitment to innovation, according to Ferrin, creating the best cruise experience anywhere in the world means putting the guest first.
“Our ‘Guests First’ philosophy puts guests at the heart of every decision, compelling us to innovate our product and destination offerings as consumer behaviour towards luxury evolves,” he notes. Those looking for luxury on board an NCL ship can find it in The Haven, a perfect choice for the added bonus of something special while sailing. But luxury, moreover, is just one element that makes up NCL’s offering, emphasising the cruise line’s adaptability to ensure the guest experience. “Every one of our 17 ships has something to offer all guests, be it couples, families or those exploring solo. Our family-friendly ships and extensive family offerings, including exciting activities and complimentary youth programmes, make for the best cruise for kids.”
It is clear that with cruise lines rising to meet the demands of guests and new heights of luxury being achieved, VIP offerings are going nowhere soon. Comirla agrees, emphasising the rising demand for premium cruises: “The demand for exclusivity in the cruise industry will continue to grow as seasoned cruise travellers look for an elevated experience,” he continues. “New-to-cruise guests are tempted by the service intimacy that the MSC Yacht Club offers while also benefitting from the great array of terrific experiences available on the rest of ship.”
With both Ferrin and Comirla in agreement, expectations for VIP sections are set to grow even more in the next few years as cruises continue to innovate their luxury offerings. As Ferrin concludes: “From high-end design and world-class dining options to exciting new excursions, a new generation of cruise ships is redefining luxury at sea.”