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Do Modern Cruise Ships Have First Class? (History, Premium Areas – Cruise Line Guide)

If you’re taking a cruise you may be wondering if they have any sort of class system onboard.  In this article we look at how ships have changed from the first, second and third class system operated by ocean liners, and look the modern day equivalent – exclusive areas only accessible to guests staying in the most expensive suites onboard. 

We also explore the more exclusive, small cruise lines that offer a “first class experience” to wealthier guests.

Do Cruise Ships Have First Class?

Modern cruise ships don’t have first, second, and third classes in the traditional sense but many cruise lines do have premium areas only accessible to those who have paid extra to stay in the most exclusive areas of the ship.

 A guest on a cruise will never be referred to as being in ‘first class’ regardless of the ticket that they buy.

Did Cruise Ships Used to Have First Class?

Ocean liners, the forerunners to cruise ships, were passenger ships that operated mostly between continents. They were built as a method of transportation for people, cargo or mail, rather than as a voyage for enjoyment.

Ocean liners were predominantly split into 3 classes – first, second and third (or steerage).

RMS Queen Mary

Passengers had to remain in their own, allocated parts of the ship.

First class was the most luxurious and exclusive part of the ship, reserved for celebrities, royalty and the wealthiest in society.  They often used ocean liners for holidays or leisure.

There are many, many famous Ocean liners including the ill-fated Titanic, and her sister ships the Olympic and the Britannic. 

All had a similar class system in operation.

What Was First Class on a Ship Like The Titanic Like?

First class passengers on the Titanic travelled in the ultimate luxury.  

Amenities found on the first class deck included:

Parisian Café
A La Carte Restaurant
Tea Gardens
Heated Swimming Pool
Gymnasium
Library
Squash court
Barbershop
Kennels for dogs
A Smoking Room
Turkish Baths
Dining Saloon
Reading and Writing Rooms
An enclosed promenade deck to walk and sit on.

titanic promenade deck

To learn more about what a swimming pool on an ocean liner would have been like, check out the swimming pool onboard the Queen Mary: Inside RMS Queen Mary’s Swimming Pool – Real Photos, Design, and Deaths

Many first class passengers had their pets with them on the voyage, three dogs survived the sinking of the Titanic!

As was standard at the time, many of the first class bathroom facilities were shared. Communal lavatories with illuminated signage could be found along the passageways, divided by gender. A passenger could take a bath by notifying a steward, who would run the bath for them.

Because of the need to conserve limited fresh water supplies, baths were supplied with sea water. Titanic had a good ratio of private bathrooms to passengers, more than any other ship in 1912.

Virtually all of the suites on B and C Decks featured en-suite bathrooms.

What Was Second Class on a Ship Like The Titanic Like?

Often second and third class areas were built closer to the ship’s engines, meaning that when a ship was at full speed, vibrations could be felt throughout these areas.

Second class area on ships often had a library, smoking room and an elevator and the third class had their own smoking room and common area.

Second class staterooms were very comfortable, featuring oak painted paneling, linoleum floors, mahogany furniture usually consisting of a large sofa, wardrobe, and dressing table with washbasin, mirror, and storage shelves. 

All the taps were connected to huge freshwater tanks located deep within the ship. Shared staterooms were segregated by sex, so that single women or men often shared staterooms with one another.

Unlike first class, which offered many staterooms with private bathrooms, second class bathroom facilities were all shared. Communal lavatories and bathrooms were separated by companionways (steps leading from one deck to another) and divided by sex.

A bath could be had on request to a steward and bed linen was changed daily.

What Was Third Class on a Ship Like The Titanic Like?

Third class was far simpler in its design, though relatively comfortable, and usually held the majority of passengers, with many using ocean liners to emigrate.  

Third class cabins on the Titanic had running water and electricity. Steerage passengers were provided with meals, whereas most steamships that carried steerage passengers at the time required them to bring their own food!

Passengers could clean up in their cabins in a wash basin.  However, only two bathtubs served all 700-plus third class men and women.

Bunk beds in third class had mattresses, pillows, and blankets, but no sheets or pillowcases. Cabins slept up to 10 people.

Single men and women were split up at the front and back with families in the middle. 

Why Doesn’t the Traditional ‘First Class’ on Cruise Ships Exist Anymore?

Segregation is Difficult and Expensive

Having different classes of passengers on a cruise ship would require physical segregation on the ship. You would need dining/entertainment areas that were only accessible to first class guests, for example. That would mean there were several venues that could only profit from that class of guests. 

Those venues would need to be staffed, so the cruise lines would need to employ more costly staff, and provide accommodation for them.  This would hit their profits with little gain.

anthem of the seas in norway

Class Systems Don’t Work The Same Way

Times have also changed. Although you may still be aware of class systems, it doesn’t have the same status as it once did.

Working class people can become middle and upper class by gaining a good education and going into a respected profession. 

Nobody Wants to be ‘Third Class’

People are now travelling solely for leisure purposes, rather than to travel cheaply from point A to point B.  They would not want to be referred to as ‘third class’ as this is seen as quite a derogatory term. 

The cruise lines want to market their cruises as affordable luxury, not as a third-rate experience. 

This Doesn’t Mean That There Aren’t Premium Areas

While most cruise line no longer have “classes” i.e. Titanic style. They do still have different grades of service. Many major cruise lines are working to provide higher levels of service to those willing to pay.

For example, the amenities you receive while in a suite on Royal Caribbean are much different than if you booked the cheapest inside cabin available.

Depending on the ship and class of suite purchased, these can range from something as simple as access to a suite lounge with happy hour and a special dining room for breakfast and lunch to an all-inclusive full access, where everything is included, including the minibar.

celebrity eclipse suite review

Do Modern Cruise Ships Have Separate Areas For Guests Paying a Premium?

The majority of mainstream cruise lines now have separate, exclusive areas for guests who are happy to pay a premium. 

Examples of what is offered by different cruise lines are listed below:

Celebrity Cruises – The Retreat For Suite Guests

Celebrity Cruises – The Retreat
Suite BenefitsAccess to the retreat lounge, a personal host, in-suite dining, priority check-in and reserved seating.

Suite guests have exclusive access to the “Luminae” restaurant at The Retreat. They can also have afternoon tea event hosted in The Retreat Lounge.

Guests receive complimentary 24-hour in-suite dining, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

They have a personal Retreat host and an onboard retreat Concierge service who can help to arrange specialty dining reservations and procure shore excursion tickets, and can even answer general questions about ports of call.  

Guests get priority check-in, departure, and port tendering/boarding along with reserved theatre seating on Evening Chic nights.

MSC – Yacht Club (Top Sail Lounge)

MSC Cruises – Yacht Club
BenefitsAccess to private areas, complimentary drinks, and concierge staff.

MSC Yacht Club is a premium selection of cabins found onboard most MSC ships.

msc virtuosa yacht club restaurant

The Top Sail Lounge is located on a top deck, passengers can enjoy beautiful views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Only yacht club cruisers can use this space.

If you book a Yacht Club cabin, you will have many amenities.

  • This includes access to lounges decked out with comfortable couches and TVs.
  • Complimentary drinks, finger foods and desserts are available all day long.
  • Unlimited drinks in bars and restaurants outside the Yacht Club.
  • Yacht Club passengers also have access to a private pool area and an alfresco bar serving food.

Concierge staff will make reservations for alternative dining venues and spa services, arrange private shore excursions and facilitate onboard shopping. Plus, your cabin’s personal butler, available 24 hours a day, will cater to your whims; he or she can help with unpacking, serve you afternoon tea and bring you your preferred newspaper daily.

This lounge is always open.

Norwegian Cruise Line – The Haven

Norwegian Cruise Line – The Haven
BenefitsPrivate areas, concierge services, private restaurant, priority embarkation.

The Haven is the all-suite section of Norwegian Cruise Line ships, accessible by keycard-holders only. 

The Haven allows passengers to enjoy everything from a private bar and lounge to a custom restaurant, secluded sun deck and calm courtyard, without ever leaving the suite complex.

Guests have access to a private concierge desk and adjacent cocktail lounge, as well as an exclusive restaurant and outdoor courtyard. 

The exclusive sun deck is at the very top of the ship and typically forward, meaning it’s the perfect place to sunbathe in peace or have a drink while you sail into a new port.

You don’t even have to leave for meals because The Haven includes its own, sophisticated restaurant, serving its clientele with a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu designed just for suite passengers.

Included in your cruise fare are the services of a concierge and butler. Priority embarkation, debarkation, seating at shows, and dining reservations are also included.

Princess Cruises – Suite Lounge

Princess Cruises – Suites
BenefitsExclusive areas, concierge services, priority embarkation.

Princess’ suite passengers are granted access to a suite lounge.  This Elite Lounge is outfitted with couches and chairs, a TV and a selection of books and magazines. It offers light snacks as well as coffee, water and juice throughout the day; there is no bar in the lounge.

The lounge also is used as a private disembarkation lounge for suite passengers.

They offer concierge services, full front desk services are available to concierge-level passengers, plus the concierge can help with shore excursion, specialty dining and Lotus spa reservations.

Suite guests also get priority embarkation & disembarkation at the beginning and end of the cruise.  Priority disembarkation at tender ports, priority onboard shore excursion reservations and a priority Line at the Guest Service Desk.

Royal Caribbean – Concierge or Diamond Club Lounges

Every Royal Caribbean ship is equipped with a Concierge or Diamond Club lounge.

Passengers must be Diamond Plus or Pinnacle Club members of the Crown & Anchor Society, or be booked into select suites to access the Concierge Lounge and receive Royal Caribbean suite perks.

On Freedom and Oasis class ships, as well as on Radiance of the Seas, Diamond members also have access to a similar lounge, called the Diamond Lounge.

A continental breakfast is served in the Concierge Lounge every morning from 8 until 10 a.m., and hors d’oeuvres and petits fours are served before and after dinner.

A self-service, no-fee bar is available during happy hour.

The concierge will help VIP passengers make reservations for specialty restaurants, book shore excursions and spa appointments, assist with the arrangements for private parties, help with purchasing show tickets, offer personalised shopping advice and pre-order wine for dinner. 

Virgin Voyages – Richard’s Rooftop.

Booking a “Rockstar” suite unlocks access to Richard’s Rooftop, the exclusive deck where according to Virgin “elegance meets exuberance“.

A lavish, elaborate and members-only outdoor space for stargazing parties and pre-dinner cocktail hours for you and the other rockstars.”

virgin voyages embarkation process

Guests get priority bookings to get prime access to eateries, events, onboard and offshore experiences.

Enjoy exclusive access to complimentary drinks and bottles of wine around the ship with a daily bar tab and complimentary access to the Thermal Suite in Redemption Spa.

Cunard – Grill Suites

Cunard offer a  Grills Lounge and Terrace with a peaceful atmosphere and plenty of space.  You can dine in the Queens Grill restaurant each evening or indulge in the Queens Grill afternoon tea. 

A Grills concierge service is offered. 

Optional in-suite dining is available from the Princess Grill menu.  

How Much Does it Cost to Upgrade to a Suite With Access to Premium Areas?

Prices vary greatly from one cruise line and Itinerary to another. 

Below I have compared a balcony cabin with a Suite cabin so that you can get an idea of the difference in cost. 

Virgin Voyages

August 2022 Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady, Mediterranean Sea Terrace  £1557  ($1870)

Rockstar suite £2978 ($3575)

Virgin Voyages
Balcony£1557 ($1870)
Suite£2978 ($3575)
Cost Increase (%)190%

Cunard

September  2022 Cunard Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic balcony cabin from £2399  ($2879)

Princess Grill suite £5149 ($6181)

Cunard
Balcony£2399  ($2879)
Suite£5149 ($6181)
Cost Increase (%)215%

It’s important to remember that as suites often come with other benefits these costs should be taken into account. For example, if a suite includes drinks, it may be worth adding the cost of a drinks package to a regular cabin to compare.

On occasion, it is cheaper to book one suite that holds many than multiple regular cabins. It’s always worth checking.

Are There ‘First Class’ Cruise Lines? 

There are a range of luxury cruise lines to choose from. 

Arguably people are now split between cruise lines rather than between different classes on one ship.

  There are many luxury cruise lines to choose from, including:

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Cruises say they are “ the only truly all-inclusive luxury cruise line “ They include Unlimited Shore Excursions to explore however it suits you, and they sail to the over 450 ports of call that we sail to across the globe. 

Ships hold around 750 passengers and over 550 crew.

Oceania Cruises

Oceania cruises say:

“Each of our voyages is an invitation to discover your next travel story and reignite your passions. Experience faraway places that you have always dreamed of. Encounter new ways of looking at the world and travel to the far corners of the globe”.

They offer tours that they say will “immerse you in the heart of the destination’s culinary and cultural traditions.” 

Typically ships hold in the region of 1250 guests and have a crew of around 800.

Silversea

Silversea’s small luxury ships are designed for those “who delight in the thrill of discovery while indulging mind and body in the most lavish surroundings imaginable.” All accommodations are spacious, ocean-view suites that include butler service, and most include private verandas.

Silversea voyages and cruise expeditions sail to over 900 destinations on all seven continents, more than any other cruise line. 

Silversea’s cruise ships hold between 300 and 600 passengers, but they also do smaller “expedition” cruises that hold between 100 and 250 guests. 

Viking

Viking advertises that you can “Experience the world in depth, and at a relaxed pace.”

Their small-sized, elegant, 930-passenger ships give passengers access to fascinating ports that larger ships cannot reach. Their ocean and world cruises “traverse six continents and offer enriching cultural experiences.” 

Cruise ships typically have 930 guests and over 450 crew members.

viking cruises umbrella
Me with the Viking Sea in Norway

Seabourn

Pioneered small-ship, ultra-luxury cruising, and say they continue to “represent the pinnacle of that unique style of travel.”

Their fleet of intimate, all-suite ships, carries between 458 and 600 guests each, and sail to desirable destinations at their peak seasons.

Windstar

A multi-award-winning cruise line, Windstar Cruises operates a small fleet of boutique-style masted sailing ships and small all-suite yachts, and travels extensively around Europe, North and Central America, and the South Pacific.

With their slogan “180° from ordinary”, Windstar Cruises prides itself on outstanding service, destination authenticity, and exclusively personal travel experiences. 

Ships typically have between 150 and 310 guests aboard.

Scenic

Scenic say that “luxury comes as standard” if you travel with them. They provide award-winning service to our cruise guests and promise “We go to the Nth Degree for your comfort, luxury, and satisfaction.

Gourmet meals, exceptional service and unforgettable excursions and experiences are all included in the price – guaranteeing total relaxation and cultural immersion on water and land.”

Ships hold an average of 200 passengers and over 170 crew members.

Do Loyalty Programs Give Guests Premium Status?

Many cruise lines give regular passengers the opportunity to join their loyalty programs, allowing them to access a number of free benefits or perks without paying extra. 

Free specialty meals, free laundry, free gifts – perks vary from one cruise line to another and loyalty tier you are a member of.  Always worth researching these, and MSC have a loyalty match programme, where you can take your loyalty status from another cruise line and they will match it to their own.  A little like being a VIP with no extra cost involved!

To learn more about MSC Status match, check out this post: MSC Status Match – Step by Step Application Guide and Chart

Some Cruise Lines Have Different ‘Grades’ of Cabins With Extra Perks

MSC – Cabin Experiences

There are several levels of service on MSC, depending on how much you pay when booking.

Basic is Bella, slightly higher grade is Fantastica and more exclusive is Aurea. 

Aurea grade also gives you access to the solarium and discounts on spa treatments . Room service varies according to the package you have booked – Bella can use the service but are charged delivery.

The delivery itself is free in the Fantastica and Aurea for room service. The items on the menu are chargeable, with the exception of the very limited breakfast menu served between 07:30 and 10:00.

I always book the cheaper grade when cruising with MSC. To find out how this worked for me on my last MSC cruise, check out this video:

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