CLIA Members Get Creative With Special Onboard Spaces

There’s so much to experience on today’s cruise ships and now, as ships create tucked away spots for private dining, sunning and small gatherings, cruisers can add seclusion to the diverse attractions of a value vacation at sea.

“Increasingly, cruise lines are creating intimate spaces for guests, even on the largest ships,” says Christine Duffy, President & CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). She notes that while vacationers love the entertainment and activity experiences of cruising, many are also looking for quiet time and increased personalized service—“and they can get this now from a concierge level cabin with its own lounge or by having a romantic dinner for two under the stars in a secret nook of the ship.”

Following is a sampling of some of the wonderful features that are being created on CLIA North American fleet cruise lines for passengers seeking a tranquil retreat or exclusive enclave.

Balconies are among the most popular privacy features, and ships, from luxury to mega, are upping the percentage of cabins with balconies. One line has even figured out a way to provide balconies for inside cabins. Disney Cruise Line’s newest ships have private verandahs on 70 percent of staterooms and suites. Princess Cruises’ new Royal Princess has balconies on all outside cabins. Royal Caribbean International’s refurbished Navigator of the Seas will emerge next year with “virtual” balconies – LED projection screens showing live images taken by exterior cameras–for interior cabins.

Club sections take exclusivity and pampering to new levels. Similar to luxury hotel concierge floors, many ships have club or concierge level cabins with upgraded services and intimate lounges. Holland America Line’s Neptune Lounge, open to guests in a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite, is a private lounge with a wide screen TV, continental breakfast and coffee, tea and snacks throughout the day as well as concierge service.

Cabanas, usually rentable by the day or for the whole cruise, put guests in the heart of the action while indulging them with special services. Celebrity Cruises’ “The Alcoves,” on Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection come with fresh fruit, chilled towels, use of a pre-loaded iPad and more. An attendant is also on hand to arrange for spa treatments, food and other services. Holland America Line’s “Cabana Club” on the Nieuw Amsterdam offers airy, tented cabanas with plush upholstered seating where guests receive extras such as bathrobes, chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne and a pre-loaded iPod.

Adults-only areas are becoming increasingly popular, especially on kid-friendly sailings. While spas have long been serene retreats, adults-only spaces for everything from dining to swimming and sunning are now popping on a wide array of ships. Disney Cruise Line’s Quiet Cove Pool and Cove Bar invites adults to sunbathe, swim, sip a cool drink or soak in a hot tub overlooking the ocean. Royal Caribbean International’s glass-canopied Solarium pool area and café, with cantilevered whirlpools that jut out over the sea, are popular adults-only spots. Carnival Cruises Lines’ Serenity adult-only area, offered on many of its ships, features plush lounge chairs, bar and food service, whirlpools and soothing music.

Hidden hot tubs, tree houses and more are also adding fun, new twists on serenity on many ships. Celebrity Cruises’ “The Hideaway,” available on Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection, resembles an avant-garde tree house with cozy suspended “nests” and pods where guests can try out Apple products from the Celebrity iLounge or cuddle up with a good book. Seabourn’s new ships, Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest, offer tucked away nooks such as the top deck Sun Terrace, with double sun-beds nestled behind a clear windscreen. And all Seabourn ships feature a secluded whirlpool spa on the open foredeck, ideal for a celebratory glass of champagne as the ship leaves port.

The cocooning concept goes one step further with the creation of the new wave of elite sections on some ships. Here, guests find everything they need in their own private retreat. MSC Cruises’ MSC Yacht Club, called a “ship within a ship,” wraps guests in a private pool, solarium, restaurant and butler-serviced suites. Norwegian Cruise Line’s “The Haven” has butler-serviced cabins that surround a private two-story courtyard with pools, whirlpools, a massage room, private restaurant, cocktail bar and concierge lounge.

Libraries aren’t just about books any more, either. Large or small, ship libraries offer quiet yet sociable spots for reading, writing and board games. Azamara Club Cruises’ Drawing Room by Assouline is a quiet spot to relax with its collection of lifestyle and travel books by Assouline. Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 has a large library which displays more than 9,500 books, audio books and publications in a relaxing setting for readers. Carnival Cruise Lines’ newest ships, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine, feature The Library Bar, where self-serve wine dispensers and bartenders set the mood for quiet conversation, board games, and yes, reading.

Exotic dining spaces set the scene for personal evenings. These very private areas can be ideal for special anniversaries or other occasions. Paul Gauguin Cruises’ M/s Paul Gauguin offers private dining on the water sports marina for up to four guests to enjoy gourmet cuisine at a table set with white linen, fine china and crystal glasses along with live Polynesian entertainment. Oceania Cruises’ Riviera and Marina both offer Privée, a dining room that can be reserved for up to 10 guests, where the plush décor features a white Venini glass chandelier, white baby crocodile throne chairs and backlit onyx-clad walls.

Cozy dining rooms with special wine and food pairings are another way ships are creating distinctive, intimate dining experiences. Crystal Cruises’ Vintage Room seats up to 14 for multi-course wine and food pairings at its private tasting table. Oceania Cruises’ Riviera and Marina offer seven-course wine and food pairings for up to 24 guests in its La Reserve by Wine Spectator room.

After dinner lounges, piano bars and jazz clubs provide a tranquil oasis on a wide array of ships, but on some, cigar bars and original designs add to the sense of exclusivity. Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 provides Churchill’s, a 12-seat salon for cigar and pipe smokers. Crystal Cruises’ Connoisseur Club offers a clubby Old World ambience for cigar smokers, while Pulse on the Crystal Serenity and Luxe on the Crystal Symphony are designed for quiet dancing, karaoke and relaxed conversation. Disney Cruise Line’s intimate lounges include Disney Fantasy’s Ooh La La, a French boudoir-style club, and Disney Dream’s Pink, a small, upscale cocktail lounge.

For expert advice, travelers can turn to CLIA travel professionals, who stay current on the latest offerings and trends, and can help their clients select the ship with the features that will fulfill their dreams. To find a CLIA travel professional in your area, visitwww.cruising.org and click on Vacations.

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Mike Faust

Mike Faust is an avid world traveler, often found traversing city streets in Asia and Europe rather than his home city of Boca Raton. Mike has touched down in 39 countries, set sail on 35 cruises, and flown over 400,000 lifetime miles.