Many ships offer superior cabins, speciality restaurants etc, but now some cruise lines have gone one step further. They have brought back First Class (in another name). This is probably perfect for many people.

First class is probably not ‘politically correct’ in today's ‘everything must be equal’ society, but the concept is the same. MSC calls it a ‘Ship within a ship’. Although you may board a ship carrying over 6,000 passengers, they have created an exclusive area that is totally self-contained. Celebrity and Norwegian have a similar product, but I have yet to try their offering. I tried MSC in December and was very impressed.

Do you want the choices but not the crowds?

With cruising becoming ever more popular there was a need for innovative ideas. Not long ago, 3,000 passengers were large, now the new ships carry 6,000 plus. By next year a new ship will be launched taking 7,600 passengers. There are smaller ‘exclusive’ ships, but they are both expensive and restricted in their sailings. It’s the big ships that offer the greatest availability of departure ports, dates, and destinations.

There is a great need to cater to those who don’t want to be in such a crowd. If you love cruises but don’t love the crowds, there is a choice. Bear in mind that nearby Barcelona is becoming a major cruise terminal, and Lisbon is growing fast. You don’t have to go far to get a cruise. This year there seems to be more departures from Lisbon. That makes a cruise ever more attractive to expat residents in Portugal.

What exactly does this new service offer?

Start with exclusivity. The MSC concept of a ‘ship within a ship’ is exactly what they offer. As soon as you arrive at the terminal you are ‘whisked’ off to a private check-in. Then to a private lounge where your documents etc are dealt with and you are given a wristband pass.

From there you are escorted, normally by your butler, to the ship and then shown quickly through the main part of the ship up to the Yacht Club. This exclusive part of the ship is located at the front and can only be accessed by your wristband pass.

Within this area everything is self-contained. You have no need to leave unless you wish to. All-inclusive à la carte meals are served at your preferred time in the private restaurant, unlimited drinks in all MSC Yacht Club areas or from your mini-bar, and exclusive access to the sun deck and Top Sail Lounge. So, if you’re looking for exclusivity and privacy look no further.

Butler service

Service is of a very high standard and their attention to detail is impressive. The cabins are well-equipped and more spacious than you would normally expect. Unlimited free Wi-Fi is offered on a 24/7 basis, and it is reasonably fast. Twenty-Four-hour butler service makes everything easy and stress-free. Your butler will take you down to the theatre and make sure you have a good seat and don’t have to queue. For some reason, the entertainment on offer falls a long way short of what you might expect of RCI or Celebrity. Essentially, it’s the same group and dancers every night, remixed to make each show a bit different. This is probably the only feature that MSC falls short on.

If you are going on a shore excursion your butler will take you down to the coach, and when you return there will be a Yacht Club representative waiting to take you back on board quickly and as a priority. The butler service is impressive and whatever you need, you can be fairly sure your butler will fix it. Breakfast in bed, cocktails, you name it.

Even the ship's main lifts have a feature that allows you to place your wrist pass close to the control outside the lifts, and a lift will be allocated to reach you quickly. MSC really have thought of everything.

Credits: TPN; Author: Paul Luckman;

Superb location at the front of the ship

With everything in the Yacht Club located at the front of the ship, you get the best views as well as exclusivity. The private sun deck, pool, and whirlpool as well as a buffet and very attentive waiter service is a big plus.

All drinks are complimentary as well as delights such as afternoon tea and a very good selection of pastries, snacks etc. My impression was that this is a ‘service’ that should meet the needs of many people. From what I have read it seems that MSC are the only cruise line that puts everything together in one place, behind secure doors. Other cruise lines seem to have similar products but may not offer a private area of the ship.

We wandered into the main ship a couple of times and were very appreciative of getting back behind those exclusive doors to the Yacht Club. Prices are higher than the normal cabins, but there are very good deals on offer. We used a travel agent, PDM in Lagos, and they found deals and offers we wouldn’t have found by ourselves online. They also arranged extra services we required. I have always been an ‘online’ booker, but now see that a good travel agent can offer more and reduce any stress. I am becoming convinced that letting the travel agent take the strain is a good idea. They also know the best deals on offer.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman