Takings kids on a cruise doesn’t mean foregoing luxury. The most family-friendly companies are now building some of the biggest and best suites at sea
There are two options for the parent who wants a luxury cruise. The first is to book a holiday on one of the high-end lines that welcome kids on board. This means fine dining, beautifully appointed suites, all-inclusive drinks and excursions – but, more often than not, hardly an abundance of fun for the kids. Ultra-luxury tends not to mean bumper cars and multi-storey waterslides.
The other option is to embrace the family-friendly cruise lines – those who offer ridiculously over-the-top fun for kids and that have increasingly embraced the space and the service provided by luxury lines. It makes sense that some of the biggest ships – those in the fleets of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International – also have some of the biggest suites at sea.
Norwegian, for example, offers the Haven Three-Bedroom Garden Villa on board Norwegian Gem, Jade, Jewel and Pearl. At up to 5,750 sq f, these are made up of three bedrooms with king or queen beds, a huge living area including bar that seats four and dining table that seats eight, as well as a private garden terrace (and hot tub, of course).
On Disney Magic and Wonder are the Concierge Royal Suites that span 1,029 sq f and can sleep up to seven guests. While it may not be as elegantly decorated as some cruise ships, the sheer amount of space and the included concierge make it truly luxury experience. Royal Caribbean’s Loft suites – on its Oasis and Quantum-class ships – are not only massive at 1,599 sq f (plus a huge 874 sq f balcony), but are among the prettiest you’ll see. Spread over two storeys, they can house six and now come with a ‘Genie’ – a very Royal Caribbean take on the traditional butler.
Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas, its newest ship and the largest in the world, has space in abundance. Its 189 suites – including enormous Royal and Sky Lofts – are among the most impressive you’re likely to find anywhere. Stuart Leven, MD for UK and Ireland, explains how luxury is there if customers want it.
Cruise Adviser What sort of experience can guests expect from a Royal Caribbean suite?
Stuart Leven: We launched Suite Class in March. There’s three elements of suite class, the top level is Star, then you get Sky, then Sea. If you get Star class, you get a Royal Genie. The best way to describe them is differential service, the Royal Caribbean way: so if you take Carlson from Downton Abbey and Mary Poppins, you’d get our butlers. A genie will have a maximum of three suites to look after and we’ll probably have three to five genies on each ship. It’s really very, very top end. If you’re in Star class, everything is included: your drinks are included, your internet is included. What we had before was the great hardware, these beautiful suites, but what we didn’t have was the service element to pull it all together. If you’re a Star-class guest, you will get fast-tracked through the terminal, your cases will be taken off you and will arrive in your room before you get there, you can take advantage of the suite-class sun deck and the restaurants on board, such as coastal kitchen, that are only for suite-class. Guaranteed VIP seating in the Royal Theater for any show, any time.
The other thing we do is the desert island disc approach, which I love. We send a questionnaire before you come on, and ask: what was your childhood dream? Who would you like to meet on a desert island? If you could only read one book in your life, what would it be? We did this on Ovation of the Seas, and a girl came on and said her childhood dream was to be a DJ. So we arranged for her to DJ in the ship’s floating DJ box, so she did a set over the rollerdisco for an hour. The Royal Genie is all about making dreams come true.
Were you looking towards what the luxury lines do?
You do to an extent. The way I describe the Royal brand in general, which I think gives some insight into it, is: I think traditional cruise is a little bit Prince William, we’re Prince Harry. The Royal that doesn’t have to be king, and we’ve got a little glint in our eye. That’s us.
Are you trying to attract luxury customers now?
We always have offered that. If you take this ship [Harmony of the Seas], the cheapest stateroom you will get will be about £900, which will be doing a normal seven-night cruise. You’ll pay several thousand for a [top] suite, and we’re always full. One of the things I love about Royal is that we’re not a three-star, four-star or five-star cruise line. We can provide cruises for everyone. This ship is so big, with so many facilities on it – the dining in 150 Central Park is akin to any Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve opened up in London hotels in my life. We’ve got the full range in dining, from that right down to [burger joint] Johnny Rockets. You can be in Jazz On 4, enjoying sophisticated jazz and cocktails, or you can be in the karaoke bar! You can do the holiday your way.