First European Cements Hilton Deal

April 1, 2003
First European Cruises (known in Europe as Festival) has sealed-the-deal on an onboard program it's launching with Hilton International. Dubbed "Hilton Floating Resorts on Festival Cruises," specially-designated suites will be set aside on the fleet's Mistral, European Vision and European Stars. Passengers who book a First European/Hilton suite -- and it's open to anyone not just Hilton's frequent guest members -- pay an eight percent surcharge. In return, they receive special services. Some are more worthwhile than others; in a press release, the company says that "Hilton Suite" guests are offered special check-in and private to-stateroom escort from passport control. Suites will contain a complimentary array of goodies, like champagne, chocolate and fruit. Other extras? Free champagne during gala dinners, complementary after-dinner liqueurs and a 20-percent discount off of the cruise line's wine list are bona fides. These folks also will receive priority booking for limited-number shore excursions and a 10 percent discount in the gift shop. And in the "nice touch" category comes "special" in-cabin breakfast service (only major differences from regular offerings are fresh squeezed o.j. as opposed to the "other kind" and a vague reference to "nicer presentation," though no details are provided. We were a little puzzled by the press release's reference to "free access to the Fitness Center offering step, running, rowing and weight machines with a sweeping sea view." Which brings up an obvious question: Is First European/Festival now charging its hoi polloi passengers to use the gym? Is this yet another example of the continuing a'la-cartization of the onboard cruise experience? Nah, relax. A spokeswoman replies that free access to fitness facilities still reigns. For all. The program will go into effect on a gradual basis. Look for the "Hilton Suites" concept to debut on European Stars on April 6, on European Vision on May 3, and Mistral on May 17. And here's a tip: the company's offering, as a limited-time-only special, a waiver of the 8 percent surcharge. Up until May 31, passengers can book a "Hilton Suite"  for the same rate as a regular suite.