We have a bit of a conundrum for you this week, darlings: When is First Class travel not, actually, First Class travel?
You would think the cruise world would be ideally placed to answer this particular puzzle, seeing as how it was based on a multi-class experience for more than 100 years. Travelling First Class was simply THE way to travel, and it always meant by ship. Those new-fangled aeroplanes came along decades later and just spoiled the whole idea.
Yes, you would think so, and you would be completely and utterly wrong, because cruising is, increasingly, a hodge-podge of different ideas, styles and experiences once you’re on board. Nowadays, First Class is more likely to be called The Haven, The Retreat, The Yacht Club or some such equally obscure-but-pompously-significant label.
Sadly, it is a growing trend, initiated by Norwegian Cruise Line with the debut of their Norwegian Epic in 2009, which brought The Haven into being – a ship-within-a-ship concept of enhanced facilities and amenities – and it has been copied to various degrees by many of the mainstream cruise lines ever since, much to the detriment of all concerned.
For heaven’s sake, even the airlines have the decency to call their top-level service First Class, so why can’t cruising get back in line with common parlance. Is it too much to ask? But we digress…
This whole ship-within-a-ship thing isn’t a new notion in itself, and we’ve remarked on it several times in our weekly scribblings, but it has come back to the fore this week with the latest news from Virgin Voyages (yes, that IS what they’re calling their cruise line, in case you hadn’t been paying attention for the past couple of years!), who have announced some intriguing new ‘extras’ for their first ship in 2020.
The Scarlet Lady will begin sailing next April, offering seven-day itineraries to the Caribbean, and, as regular readers will surely know, we baulk at many of the ‘innovations’ being touted by Virgin in their bid to be different and, we’re told, ‘edgy.’
Just to start with, we will never get used to the idea of passengers being called ‘sailors,’ while the whole of idea of the entertainment including ‘interactive dance parties’ just sounds so terribly tacky and 1970s, not to mention ridiculously cheesy.
But, whisper it quietly, we have to admit there ARE some elements that Virgin are proposing that are actually enormously appealing.
Just to start with, ALL Virgin voyages will be adults-only. No under 18s are allowed on board, at any time. That’s a big attraction for us, ahem, 50-somethings who prefer the patter of tiny feet to be our dog and not someone else’s children. There are plenty of cruise lines that are completely family-orientated, and that is fine. Just don’t expect us to be on most of them.
Another major plus, especially for the germaphobes among us, is the total lack of buffets. That’s right – no buffets. At all. Not for breakfast, lunch nor any kind of in-between-meal occasion. Zero. Nought. None. Hurrah for Virgin Voyages!
And now there are Mega RockStar Suites. As their latest attempt to lure those who still think cruising is for the newly-wed and nearly-dead (and, apparently, there are still those kind of beliefs out there in non-sailor land), Virgin has gone all out with a new package of special perks and amenities purely for those in the 15 top-level suites. And, while we may not be fully ‘on board’ with the idea of Rock Star anything at sea, we DO recognise another version of First Class when we see it.
This could also be quite fun. Here’s what’s on offer by way of the ‘extras’ for those in the Massive, Fab, Posh and Gorgeous Suites:
• A dedicated hair and make-up crew upon request
• Unlimited complimentary beverages – including the alcoholic variety – in all bars and restaurants on board, plus a free, personalised in-room bar
• Complimentary access to the Spa’s thermal suite, which includes a hydrotherapy pool, mud room, salt room, cold plunge pools and quartz beds
• Complimentary laundry service (quite an imaginative extra, in our view; we love to be able to take home clean underwear)
• A series of bespoke shore excursions, from foodie experiences to private tours of local landmarks, in each port of call
• Upgraded premium Wi-Fi with streaming
All this is on top of the other previously announced perks, including express boarding (hello First Class once again!), backstage entertainment access (which definitely has that ‘Rock Star’ cache), access to Richard’s Rooftop (the VIP lounge for all suite guests) and even a ‘wardrobe team’ to help with the in-suite chore of packing and unpacking.
And it is all being highlighted by a specially-created video featuring Sir Richard (naturally) and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, which is just insouciant enough to be quite amusing – in a Rock Star kind of way, you understand.
In fact, we highly recommend you check it out on this video:
When you add in some of the other Virgin features, such as the unique call in the Bahamian island of Bimini, where The Beach Club has been set up in Branson’s inimitable style to give all his ‘Sailors’ (ugh, we just can’t get past that term) the chance for a totally chilled private island experience.
In fact, when you also learn that every suite comes with a dedicated Rock Star ‘Agent’ to attend to every need, well, that clinches it. That’s just a concierge by another name, and this is, most assuredly, another way to market First Class without calling it anything that old-fashioned.
It’s still being billed as a “luxury” experience, which is hard to imagine on a ship of 110,000 tons, with 14 passenger decks and 2,770 passengers, but we can forgive them the exaggeration just this once. It should certainly be a cut above the other mass-market lines, if not at the same level as the ultra-luxe variety.
Oh, and if you’d like one final clincher for this all-new experience, how about a woman captain for starters? Captain Wendy Williams will be the first Canadian woman to captain a ship of this size, and we are shouting a big “Huzzah!” of approval.
So, Rock Star cruising might just be ‘a thing,’ after all. In fact, get Mick Jagger on board, and we’ll be convinced. He’s even older than we are!
Treadwell & Tenny
Does Rock Star cruising appeal to you? What do you make of all the Virgin innovations? Tell us what you think in the Comments section below.