MSC Yacht Club is an exclusive all-suite ship-within-a-ship offering – complete with personal butler and private facilities where guests can escape the madding crowd. Natalie O’Brien joins the club.

Matthew and Gabrielle Moss are making an entrance, sweeping down the Swarovski crystal staircase linking the suites on the 16th deck with the exclusive club lounge one floor below. The glammed-up former My Kitchen Rules contestants are on their way to sip cocktails with friends in the private lounge, before dining in the exclusive members-only Yacht Club restaurant on board MSC Splendida, one of the biggest ships in the MSC Cruises fleet.

Mossy and Gabe, as they are best known, are regulars in the Yacht Club. It is their sixth cruise with MSC and their fifth in the club. Gabe loves the facilities, the attentive staff and the atmosphere. But for the Sydney foodies, it is also all about the cuisine offered in the private club restaurant.

“We continue to be amazed by the high standard of food served in the Yacht Club. Not only is it fresh and plentiful, but the menus change daily and are usually themed to celebrate the cuisine of the port of the day,” says Gabe.

The couple is following in the footsteps of the ship’s most famous passenger, Italian screen legend Sophia Loren, who launched and then cruised on Splendida in 2009. The actress has been a regular on the MSC fleet, and she helped design a Royal Suite on MSC Divina, which is named in her honour.

The Yacht Club is a ship-within-a-ship concept that has been incorporated into MSC’s four biggest and most glamorous ships MSC Preziosa, Divina, Splendida and Fantasia.

The club consists of three decks, separated by key-card access from the rest of the ship. Its centrepiece is the executive lounge, which has 180-degree views across the bow out to sea and the Swarovski staircase which has 16 gold and glass steps each embedded with up to 50 crystals. The public areas also have Swarovski crystal staircases in silver.

Yacht Club on Splendida is limited to just 71 suites, all of which have a 24-hour personal butler service. They have their own private sun deck, pool, two whirlpools and bar, where drinks and nibbles, including breakfast and lunch are served during daylight hours.

Suites are decorated with rich wood panelling and Italian marble, and have a generous sitting area where we find a complimentary bottle of Italian bubbles, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a fresh fruit bowl waiting on the coffee table when we check in. Our suite has a walk-in wardrobe, a decent-sized bathtub, a menu for everything including the pillows, a Wii station on the interactive TV and a room-service menu that includes wood-fired pizzas. There is a spacious balcony and the block-out drapes are so good that one morning we sleep until midday.
In this haven, there are no chits to sign nor mounting drinks bills. Drinks in the club bars, executive lounge and the restaurant are all included, including a serious range of cocktails and spirits.

Yacht Club has a concierge, Vinod, who glides in and out of the club rooms making sure everything is running smoothly and club guests have everything they need. As club members, we are escorted on and off the ship with priority service and are escorted by club butlers around the ship and to the private members’ restaurant at the stern.

When we are outside the club decks, our key card gives us a priority elevator service back to the club.

This ship is all about glamour, and if you can drag yourself away from the cloistered luxury world of the Yacht Club, the Aurea Spa is one of the ship’s biggest attractions so it pays to be mindful of booking ahead. Club members have their own private entrance to the spa on deck 14, where there are Balinese spa treatments, 21 different styles of massage, 13 body treatments, hot stones, a sauna, solarium and a Turkish bath as well as the traditional beauty and hairdressing treatments.

If you don’t look relaxed enough after that, then there are the cosmetic enhancements. You can get off the ship looking younger than when you got on, with myriad anti-aging treatments including wrinkle and dermal filler treatments which get cheaper the more you buy – with the fourth treatment being half price.

Our cruise is three weeks from Brazil to Europe, including four consecutive sea days, crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

On the sea days, which are incredibly smooth sailing, there are numerous activities including country dancing and language classes. There is plenty of time to try out the bowling alley, the 4D cinema, the Formula One experience, and the entertainment arcade games.

Shopping is encouraged with heavy discounts at the onboard shops selling luxury brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Jeans, Ralph Lauren and a dazzling array of high-end watches. If you can’t be bothered leaving your room, free movies are offered all day and night.

Our first port of call is Buzios, nicknamed the St Tropez of Brazil after it was “discovered” by actress Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s.

The resort town, east of Rio de Janeiro, is fringed by beautiful beaches and has a laid-back rustic charm, although the seafront avenue has been nicknamed the Beverly Hills of Buzios for its sophisticated boutiques, restaurants and a bronze statue paying homage to Ms Bardot.

Tours organised by the ship include fully escorted excursions around the area or drop offs to one of the popular beaches for the day. We opt to wander around on our own, taking up the offer of an open-sided truck tour being touted on the wharf to get our bearings, before being dropped off in the town square looking for lunch.

We tuck into some tasty fried Brazilian delicacies in a picturesque side-street restaurant and then go shopping for extraordinarily cheap and stylish swimming costumes, which appear to be the most purchased item in town.

Our next ports are on the other side of the Atlantic in the Canary Islands, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and then Arrecife de Lanzarote, which are an interesting mix of cruisy island style and historical architecture and are easy to navigate. We take the hop-on hop-off bus in Tenerife, which is a great way to see the historical buildings and homes that line some of the upmarket boulevards.

The most popular port stop though is Vigo, Spain, where ship-organised tours take throngs of passengers to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site of Santiago de Compostela. This is the point where a number of ancient pilgrim walks come together at the tomb of St James. It took an hour-and-a-half by bus before we caught sight of the city church spires prompting joyful cheering and clapping from our fellow passengers.

We were worried we would not have enough time to see everything and would miss the bus back to the ship. We did only have enough time for a taste of what the historical city has to offer, but we did make it back to the ship, unlike two unfortunate travellers in the next port of Southampton.

They were on a day trip to London and missed the return bus. The ship couldn’t wait for them, but was delayed leaving port while their passports were off-loaded so they could make their own way to the next port in France to rejoin the ship. There was also a delay of several hours leaving the French port of Le Havre after tour buses were stuck in traffic jams bringing passengers back from the day in Paris.

The delay didn’t interrupt the ship’s onboard timetable and we whiled away the hours enjoying the free cocktails in the club lounge before heading to the L’Olivo restaurant where Mossy has set a record for eating three serves of his favourite dish – the lobster.

The Verdict

Highs: Exclusivity and privacy of a club with the benefits of a large and fun ship.
Lows: Wi-Fi connection was poor or nonexistent even though we paid for a package. Mad crush at disembarkation in Hamburg despite the club butler’s best attempts to shepherd us through.
Best suited to: Cruisers looking for pampering, privacy and good food.

Class action

What cruise lines are offering guests who expect that little bit more.

Norwegian Cruise Line
The Haven: All-suite enclave
How to access: Book a Haven suite, villa or penthouse.
Amenities: 24-hour butler service, private decks including sun deck, pool, hot tubs and fitness area, evening no-fee bar, free Wi-Fi, concierge facility, priority boarding and disembarkation.
Open hours: Concierge available 24 hours.

MSC Cruises
The Yacht Club: All-suite enclave
How to access: Book a Yacht Club suite on the top decks of MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida or MSC Preziosa.
Amenities: 24-hour butler service, private decks including club lounge, sun deck, pool, hot tubs and alfresco bar, unlimited beverages, private restaurant, concierge facility, free shore excursions, priority boarding and disembarkation.
Open hours: Concierge lounge open 24 hours.

Royal Caribbean
Diamond Lounge and Concierge Lounge
How to access: Available to Diamond Plus cruisers or by booking a grand suite or higher.
Amenities: Daily continental breakfast in private club lounge, hors d’oeuvres and petit fours served before and after dinner, no-fee bar in the evenings, concierge.
Open hours: Concierge lounge open 24 hours.

Celebrity Cruises
Michael’s Club
How to access: Available to Captains Club Zenith members or by booking a suite.
Amenities: A private lounge available exclusively 24 hours, reading areas stocked with magazines, newspapers and books, continental breakfast, complimentary pre-dinner drinks and tapas, dedicated concierge, specialty dining.
Open hours: Concierge lounge open 24 hours.