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 ships' most expensive accommodations -- are outfitted with couches and comfortable chairs, big-screen TV's and Internet stations, so elite passengers can relax or socialize in a semi-private environment. 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 any issues that might arise -- that come up on cruise vacations. Don't want to wait on hold to book dinner 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. For example, Celebrity Cruises
offers concierge services in high-end suites, but does not have a private lounge for these passengers; 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, Royal Caribbean
's older ships don't offer this perk at all, while its newest Freedom- and Oasis-class ships have two sets of lounges -- one for Diamond and one for Diamond-Plus members and suite passengers.
Are you itching to get your foot in the door of one of these shipboard hideaways? Here's a sneak peek inside our five favorite 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.
Holland America Line
Neptune Lounge, available on all Holland America
How you qualify:
Only passengers who book a deluxe verandah or penthouse suite are allowed in.
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 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.
The Neptune Lounge is open on sea days from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on port days from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The lounge cannot be reserved for private functions.
Top Sail Lounge, found on MSC Fantasia
and MSC Splendida
How you qualify:
Book one of the 99 Yacht Club cabins, MSC Cruises
' elite suites.
The lounge is decked out with comfortable couches, TV's, Internet stations and a kitchenette. Complimentary drinks, pastries and appetizers are available all day long. In a perk not otherwise found in most cruise lines' concierge lounges, MSC's Top Sail also features gourmet light fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because the aptly named Top Sail Lounge is located on a top deck, passengers can enjoy beautiful views through floor-to-ceiling windows and a transparent ceiling. Yacht Club passengers also have access to a private pool area, a grill and an al fresco bar.
Available 24 hours a day, 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 will be able to cater to your whims; he or she can help with unpacking, serve you afternoon tea and arrange a private party in your cabin.
The lounge is always open.
As noted, Yacht Club is only featured on MSC's Fantasia and Splendida; there are no plans to add it to other ships in the fleet.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Lounge Name: Norwegian
employs various spaces on all its ships as V.I.P. areas, but until Norwegian Epic
debuted in 2010, no ship had a dedicated concierge facility. Instead, Norwegian uses one of its restaurants (typically Cagney's Steak House, but also Il Adagio on Norwegian Sun
and Lazy J Steakhouse on Pride of America
) and an adjacent bar (typically the Star Bar, but also the Plantation Lounge on Norwegian Sky
) to serve as private dining and lounging areas for suite passengers.
How you qualify:
Passengers who are booked in Courtyard and Garden Villas and Penthouse and Owner's Suites qualify for these privileges.
A lavish breakfast and lunch from a special menu are served to suite passengers in Cagney's (or the aforementioned restaurants). During the day, these passengers have access to a private lounge where they can relax on overstuffed couches and watch programming on flat-screen TV's. On NCL's newer ships (Norwegian Gem
, Norwegian Pearl
, Norwegian Jade
, Norwegian Dawn
, Norwegian Jewel
and Norwegian Star
), the Star Bar becomes the V.I.P. lounge. Norwegian Sky utilizes the Plantation Lounge for this purpose; Pride of America, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Spirit
don't offer lounge privileges. Villa passengers also have access to a gorgeous private sun deck with pools, hot tubs and lounge beds.
Based in the 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 and shore excursion reservations, book airport transfers, 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.
Hours for V.I.P. lounges vary but are generally 7 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 during the lounges' open hours.
Royal Caribbean International
Concierge Club Lounge, found only on Enchantment of the Seas
and all Radiance-, Voyager-, Freedom- and Oasis-class ships
How you qualify:
Passengers must be Diamond-Plus Crown and Anchor Society members (175 "days" at sea -- suites 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") have access to a similar lounge, called the Diamond Lounge.
A continental breakfast is served 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. DVD's and CD's are available to borrow. (There's no TV in the lounge.)
The concierge will help V.I.P. passengers make reservations for specialty restaurants, book shore excursions and spa appointments, assist with the arrangements for private parties, distribute priority tickets for the ice-skating show, 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.
The lounge is open 24 hours a day.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor