Cruising is not for everyone, but don’t try to convince my husband it’s not the best way to travel because he’s convinced cruises are the ‘only’ way to travel comfortably. Between the two of us, we’ve been on over 50 cruises in cabins ranging from an interior room to a Penthouse Suite.
Often, one of the biggest complaints about cruising revolves around the crowds. People complain about the lines at guest services, the crowded theatre, the lack of available pool loungers, and more. Those are just a few reasons we prefer to cruise in the exclusive areas, ‘the ship within a ship’ as NCL has referred to the Haven.
Access to exclusive suite-only areas like private restaurants, private sundeck, lounge, and bar allows you to feel like you’re on a cruise with a much smaller group of people. There’s usually some pampering involved whether it’s a butler bringing you a cappuccino first thing in the morning or preparing a bubble bath after a long day of excursions, or priority seating for shows.
In the past, we cruised almost exclusively on NCL in a Haven class room, although only sometimes in the ‘Haven proper’. Our favorite cabin is typically an aft suite because you can’t beat the views or the larger balcony. A minor drawback to the aft suites: they aren’t located in the Haven area on most NCL ships. However, you still have all of the Haven perks; just a longer walk to access the Haven pool, bar, restaurant, etc.
Last December we took advantage of an incredible deal and booked a cruise on the Celebrity Apex in a suite with Retreat access. And, somehow we were blessed by the upgrade fairy and upgraded to the Penthouse Suite. With 1,378 ft of space, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living area and a 197 sq ft balcony, we never wanted to leave our suite.
Did I mention the suite came with a butler that was only responsible for four cabins including ours and was always finding ways to surprise and delight us? I’ll share more about our suite experience in a separate article.
So, let’s answer the question: Which is better the Haven on NCL or the Retreat on Celebrity?
The answer depends on you and your personal preferences as they both have pros and cons.
The Haven Restaurant vs. Luminae in the Retreat
Food is subjective. Even within our family we have different opinions on what we enjoy eating. But, I give the nod to Luminae for food over The Haven. The reason I prefer Luminae: they rotate their lunch and dinner menus daily. Whereas The Haven restaurant menu does not change day to day, and so often by day three I have the menu memorized and I’m already bored with the choices. The one exception to this was a cruise we took last summer on the Escape, when the Haven chef often offered lunch and dinner specials. When you’re cruising for 7 nights or more, it’s great to have different items to choose from.
I also feel like the food quality overall on Celebrity is better. While cruising on the Apex in December we ate in Luminae as well as some of the specialty restaurants. All of our meals were enjoyable, some, like our dinner in Eden, was exceptional. Even our room service food on Celebrity was excellent, always warm, fresh and presented well.
Haven Bar vs. Retreat Lounge
Whether you prefer the atmosphere of the Haven Bar or that of the Retreat Lounge I think comes down to personal variables: Are you cruising with young kids? Do you like to socialize in the bar with other cruisers? What is your preferred cocktail/do you appreciate creative bartenders? Do you prefer a chill, swanky vibe or more of a laidback neighborhood bar type of vibe?
In the Haven, the bartenders have a lot more tools to work with than those on Celebrity cruises. Haven bartenders are mixologists and capable of creating cocktails unique to your preferences. They’re able to make smoky old fashioneds while you watch, which is both a fun and tasty experience. Behind the bar they have infused vermouths, specialty bitters and unique garnishes like cognac soaked amarena cherries. There’s several barstools available where cruisers can sit and watch the magic happen or just socialize with other passengers.
Also, the Haven bar’s location is in the same area as the concierge desk. Many passengers pass through that area when going to their suite, other areas of the ship or while waiting for someone so it can be busy and even noisy at certain times of the day. However, its a great spot for meeting new friends and being social.
If you’re in the Retreat Lounge, depending on the ship, you may not see your drinks being made as some of the bars are behind closed doors in the pantry area. They do offer signature cocktails in the Retreat Lounge like the: Rye Sangria made with
Jack Daniel rye, pineapple juice, Cointreau, cinnamon, lime, and red wine or the Spiked IPA made with vodka, lemon, grapefruit bitters, and pale ale. Retreat bartenders aren’t as creative or flexible as those in the Haven .
And, if there is a bar in the lounge, like on the Apex, there’s not really an area to sit at the bar itself. There are plenty of seating areas just not at the bar itself, from chairs to sofas and even tables, but the vibe is more quiet and mellow. There are also coffee machines, fridges stocked with water and sodas, and afternoon snacks served during tea time. On our most recent cruise on the Edge, we occasionally ordered a drink from a server in the lounge but would sit outside to enjoy the views.
Haven Sundeck vs. Retreat Sundeck
Again, which one is better really depends on your preferences. The Haven sundeck area is exclusive to Haven guests and has age restrictions, use is limited to those 16 and older. There’s a hot tub and plenty of lounge chairs with servers rotating through the area to serve drinks.
The Retreat Sundeck is exclusive access for guests staying in suites. This reserved outdoor venue is located all the way forward on the ship and offers some of the best views. There are couches, loungers, rocking chairs and a few cabanas for seating along with a bar and dining area.
You’ll find the sundeck bartender is great with keeping up with the frozen cocktails, beers, waters and anything else to keep you hydrated. Servers are easy to find and can bring you drinks or light snacks from lunch until mid-day, and they offer a sorbet in the afternoons.
I prefer the Retreat sundeck because of the layout and the different seating options. It feels like its made to find both relaxation but also has plenty of areas where you can socialize with new friends or family. One of my favorite parts of the Retreat Sundeck are the hanging chairs in the pool area. That’s the perfect spot to enjoy a drink, read a book and escape from the world while the ship is in port and most passengers are off exploring.
Of course, NCL Haven pool area is able to be used no matter the weather since it is covered by a retractable roof. So, if pool time is important, keep this in mind.
Which cruise line has the best suite perks? Well, so much depends on the ship and the butler you are assigned. We’ve had some amazing butlers that anticipated our needs and would bring cookies, candy and more for our kids without us asking for anything. Our kids often return to the cabin, after spending time in the kids club, and are hungry! Once on NCL, we mentioned to the butler we’d planned on watching a movie that evening, and were surprised to find a bowl of popcorn and a bowl of M&Ms waiting in our cabin for ‘movie night’.
On our most recent Celebrity cruise we made some simple requests with our Butler, like warm cookies in the evening and chips & guac in the afternoons. This was before Celebrity eliminated dedicated butlers for sky suites. However, on previous cruises we had a sky suite butler that kept our fridge stocked with waters, juices, sodas and checked in with us often.
One perk that stands out for me that NCL offers and Celebrity does not, is priority elevator service to the Haven when returning to the ship in port. So, instead of waiting with hundreds of people for an elevator, NCL Haven butlers meet you after you’ve passed security and bring you back to the Haven in a crew elevator. They also offer priority boarding for tenders returning to the ship in crowded ports.
Both NCL and Celebrity offer exclusive suite boarding areas with light refreshments and beverages. It’s nice to sit in a designated area, away from crowds and be some of the first to board the ship. And, it’s absolutely wonderful to know if you have any issues like a lost seapass or key that stops working, there’s a concierge to assist you with little to no waiting, instead of the daunting guest services line. Concierges on both cruise lines have been fantastic in assisting us with everything from last minute bus tickets, helping retrieve an item left in security, reservations and so much more.
So Which is Better NCL Haven or Celebrity Cruises Retreat?
In the end it comes down to personal preference and how you use your time on the ship. For us, we like being able to eat on the Retreat sundeck and then work from a shaded spot outside. With The Retreat sundeck, there are plenty of areas to sit and relax or sit and work without feeling crowded. We also really enjoy the rotating menu in Luminae over the fixed menu in the Haven restaurant. However, NCL has more room options in The Haven that accomodate a family of four wanting two bedrooms and bathrooms. They also have more aft suites available than what Celebrity offers. So, there are many factors to consider from price, itinerary, personal preferences, cabin availabilty and more.