Perks like free cocktails, an exclusive hangout and a concierge who makes restaurant and spa reservations are limited to small-ship, luxury cruises. Right?
Not necessarily! Several big-ship cruise lines wanting to coddle frequent cruisers and passengers residing in high-rent suites are now offering members-only concierge lounges as an attractive perk.
These lounges -- which in essence serve as private hideaways for passengers in the most expensive accommodations -- may be outfitted with couches and comfortable chairs, big-screen TVs and private bars, so elite passengers can relax or socialize as they see fit. Most importantly, lounges offer a small, exclusive cruise ship experience, even as travelers are trawling the seas in a 4,000-person behemoth.
Of course, the other major plus of a concierge lounge is the added service that's offered. There, dedicated staffers do all the niggling chores -- such as booking shore excursions or dinners at specialty restaurants, arranging shore tours or resolving issues -- that come up on cruise vacations. Don't want to wait on hold to change your dining time at a specialty restaurant? Ask the concierge to do it for you. A shore excursion is accidentally charged twice to your onboard account? Eschew the long lines at the purser's desk and let the concierge handle the matter for you.
But just because you're willing to splurge on a top-level suite or have attained the highest tier in a cruise line's loyalty program doesn't mean that you'll have lounge access on every cruise you take. That's because many cruise lines -- even those with concierge services -- don't have dedicated lounges. Carnival Cruise Lines doesn't offer concierge service at all. Also, note that cruise lines with concierge lounges don't necessarily have them on all ships. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line only has dedicated lounges on its three newest ships, while only Princess' two newest ships feature lounges.
Are you itching to get your foot in the door of one of these shipboard hideaways? Here's a sneak peek inside six big-ship concierge lounges -- as well as qualification requirements for acquiring the right key card so you can access all these perks on your next cruise.
1. Celebrity Cruises
Lounge Name: Michael's Club, fleetwide
How You Qualify: Passengers in concierge-level cabins, as well as Signature, Royal, Penthouse and Reflection suites and Captain's Club Zenith members all receive concierge services, though concierge-level cabin occupants may not use Michael's Club.
Amenities: Continental breakfast is served in Michael's every morning, while complimentary pre-dinner drinks and tapas are served from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The lounge also features a large-screen TV and reading chairs with a variety of magazines, newspapers and books on hand.
Concierge Services: The concierge helps to arrange specialty dining reservations and procure shore excursion tickets, and can even answer general questions about ports of call.
Open Hours: Michael's Club is open 24 hours a day, though the concierge desk hours vary by itinerary.
2. Holland America Line
Lounge Name: Neptune Lounge, available on all Holland America ships.
How You Qualify: Only passengers who book a deluxe verandah or penthouse suite are allowed in.
Amenities: This private relaxation area features a wide-screen TV; reading areas stocked with magazines, newspapers and books; and specialty coffees served throughout the day. Continental breakfast with coffee and tea is available until 11 a.m., with snacks (cookies, small pastries and sandwiches) served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Concierge Services: Concierge services include booking reservations at the Pinnacle Grill alternative restaurant, express booking for shore excursions (suite passengers get priority on tours), handling inquiries about car rentals or restaurants in ports of call and settling billing questions.
Open Hours: The Neptune Lounge is open every day from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
3. MSC Cruises
How You Qualify: Book a Yacht Club cabin, MSC Cruises' elite suites.
Amenities: The lounge is decked out with comfortable couches and TVs. Complimentary drinks, pastries and appetizers are available all day long. MSC's Top Sail also features gourmet light fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- a perk not found in most other cruise lines' concierge lounges. Because the aptly named Top Sail Lounge is located on a top deck, passengers can enjoy beautiful views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Yacht Club passengers also have access to a private pool area and an al fresco bar serving food.
Concierge Services: The concierge staff will make reservations for alternative dining venues and spa services, arrange private shore excursions and facilitate onboard shopping. Plus, your cabin's personal butler, available 24 hours a day, will cater to your whims; he or she can help with unpacking, serve you afternoon tea and arrange a private party in your cabin.
Open Hours: The lounge is always open.
4. Norwegian Cruise Line
Lounge Name: Norwegian employs a variety of spaces on its ships as VIP areas. Passengers staying in The Haven, the line's all-suite enclave, have access to a private cocktail bar and concierge desk but only Haven passengers on Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Breakaway also have access to an exclusive, private restaurant. On Gem-class ships (Norwegian Jewel, Gem, Jade, Pearl), Norwegian uses one of its specialty restaurants (typically Cagney's Steak House, but Moderno on Norwegian Jewel) to serve as a private dining area for suite and Haven passengers.
How You Qualify: Passengers booked in The Haven, villas, suites and penthouses qualify for these privileges.
Amenities: A lavish breakfast and lunch from a special menu are served to suite passengers in Cagney's (or The Haven Restaurant on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Epic). On several Norwegian ships (Norwegian Gem, Pearl, Jade, Dawn, Jewel and Star), the Star Bar becomes the VIP lounge. Norwegian Sky utilizes the Plantation Lounge for this purpose; Pride of America, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Spirit don't offer lounge privileges. Haven passengers also have access to a gorgeous private sun deck with pools, hot tubs and lounge beds.
Concierge Services: Based in The Haven, Star Bar or Plantation Lounge (or a section of the steakhouse or Italian restaurant for the lounge-less ships) during the day, a dedicated concierge is available to make dinner, entertainment and shore excursion reservations; book airport transfers and print boarding passes; answer questions and attend to special requests. The concierge will also facilitate priority disembarkation for suite passengers on port days and the last day of the cruise.
Open Hours: Hours for VIP lounges vary but are generally 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast and noon to 2 p.m. for lunch. The concierge is always available by phone, but is available for in-person consultations every day until 4 p.m.
5. Princess Cruises
Lounge Name: The Concierge Lounge.
How You Qualify: Suite passengers.
Amenities: Located only on Royal Princess and Regal Princess, the small Concierge Lounge offers light snacks and beverages. The lounge also is used as a private disembarkation lounge for suite passengers.
Concierge Services: Full front desk services are available to concierge-level passengers, plus the concierge can help with shore excursion, specialty dining and Lotus spa reservations.
Open Hours: The Concierge Lounge is open 24 hours, but a concierge is only on duty from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., noon to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. most days. (Hours vary on turnaround days.)
6. Royal Caribbean International
How You Qualify: Passengers must be Diamond-Plus Crown and Anchor Society members (175 "days" at sea -- suite days count double) or booked into a Grand Suite or higher suite category. On Freedom- and Oasis-class ships, Diamond members (at least 80 days) also have access to a similar lounge, called the Diamond Lounge.
Amenities: A continental breakfast is served in the Concierge Lounge every morning from 8 until 10 a.m., and hors d'oeuvres and petit fours are served before and after dinner. A self-service, no-fee bar is available in the evenings. DVDs and CDs are available to borrow during concierge hours. (There's no TV in the lounge.)
Concierge Services: The concierge will help VIP passengers make reservations for specialty restaurants, book shore excursions and spa appointments, assist with the arrangements for private parties, help with purchasing show tickets, offer personalized shopping advice and pre-order wine for dinner. The concierge can also assist passengers with business services, such as faxing or copying, for a fee.
Open Hours: The Concierge Lounge is open 24 hours a day; the concierge is on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
--By Dori Saltzman, News Editor