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Royal Caribbean is the latest mainstream line to introduce a raft of luxurious perks for its high paying passengers. From plush Suite Class extras to exclusive “ship within a ship” enclaves, these premium offerings are modelled after the kind of experience usually found only on a high end small ship – but sitting alongside 4,000 other passengers on a resort-style mid-range vessel.

These private areas house a small number of suites along with restaurants, lounges, pools and sun decks just for the use of a lucky few. The common areas on large ships can tend to get very crowded (and often very rowdy), but these areas remain calm and quiet even when the ship is full. There are often only a couple of hundred guests in the private areas, creating a clubby atmosphere and familiarity with the crew. Children are allowed in these areas, though most reports suggest that you won’t find many staying there (especially outside of school holidays). The entry-level fare for any of these exclusive cabins is at least four or five times that for the rest of the ship, but they come with a raft of other inclusions that can make it good value.

So how do these premium options stack up in comparison to a genuine luxury vessel? In terms of price, there’s not much difference. A seven-night Mediterranean cruise onboard an all-inclusive luxury vessel from Silversea starts from around $700 per person per night. A similar cruise staying in Norwegian’s The Haven starts from around $650 per person per night and in the MSC Yacht Club prices start from around $520 per person per night. The fare covers a lot of the same inclusions – butler service, premium restaurants, beverages and priority treatment.

It’s in terms of facilities that these megaliners really come into their own. You won’t find waterslides, ropes courses, bowling alleys, Broadway shows, flashy nightclubs, casinos and jogging tracks on boutique ships. Drinking and dining options are almost endless. Large ships are incredibly kid-friendly, with huge kids’ clubs for all ages and organised activities on all throughout the day.

MSC Cruises
MSC Yacht Club
Found on: MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Splendida

The Yacht Clubs sit on the foredecks of four of MSC’s newest ships. Suites start from 26 square metres and have a private balcony or panoramic window, plus extras like a marble bathroom, plush linens and a pillow menu. There’s a private sun deck with a swimming pool, two whirlpools and a bar on the top deck. Each ship has a different fine dining restaurant exclusively for club guests as well as a private lounge. Beverages are complimentary in the restaurant, bar, lounge and in-suite mini bar. Each suite has butler service and guests receive extras like priority embarkation/disembarkation, shore excursions, specialty restaurant reservations and can access the shops outside of normal hours. Yacht Club guests have their own entrance to the Aurea Spa and are able to use the Thermal Suite free of charge.

Norwegian Cruise Lines
The Haven
Found on: Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Escape (launching October 2015)

Norwegian’s Haven complexes range in size from 18 to 60 suites depending on the ship. The suites themselves range from spacious balcony suites to truly enormous three bedroom, 3.5 bathroom villas with a private garden and more than 530 square metres of floor space. Haven guests have access to The Courtyard, a keycard-only area with a pool, hot tub, fitness centre, sun deck, restaurant and bar. There’s also 24-hour butler service, valet service by the pool, white tablecloth dining in your suite and lots of VIP extras at port. If you want to see any of the shows or make a reservation in the spa, Haven guests gets priority treatment.

Celebrity Cruises
Suite Class
Found on: Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Summit

Celebrity suite passengers aren’t tucked away in their own private area, but they can still expect some special treatment. There is a private restaurant and club for suite guests but no separate sun deck or swimming pool. Butler service is standard across all suites as well as priority embarkation/disembarkation, tender service, restaurant and theatre reservations, and in-suite dining. Top end suites include premium beverage packages and stocked mini bars, specialty dining and internet access.

In online cruise forums many passengers have expressed their dismay that these exclusive areas represent a return to “class cruising”, where passengers were segregated into first, second and third class. Others argue that if people are willing to pay for the extras then they should be able to have them.

What do you think?