Like on the Bravo TV series Below Deck, I’ve fantasized many times about being the rich a-hole who charters a superyacht. But given that I’m neither an a-hole (my husband may differ on this point) nor rich (no one differs on this point), it didn’t seem to be in the cards.
So, I jumped when Brand g offered their first-ever luxury yacht ocean cruise to Spain, Morocco and the Canary Islands. (There are three of these “Atlas Class” cruises for 2024 and there will be three or four for 2025.) Here was my chance to live the billionaire life without having to go to prison for tax fraud.
And overall – with a couple of caveats – the cruise did not disappoint. (Brand g has addressed with Atlas the issues that will be mentioned.)
The luxury cruise experience begins the moment you enter the cruise terminal. There are crew members waiting to hand you a cold towel and champagne or nonalcoholic beverage (which also occurs every time you reboard the ship after a shore excursion). From there, you’re walked directly to your room – no waiting for keys to be handed out as on a river cruise – and the fun begins.
Decked out in glossy dark woods and marble, the rooms are modern glam. Larger than typical cruise cabins (which average 200 square feet), these start at 270, and they feel warm, comfortable and sophisticated. I especially liked the all-marble baths with a reasonably spacious glass shower that features multiple showerheads and L’Occitane products.
We had gotten a Journey Suite, which is a two-room affair that features a separate living room, mostly because we feared one or the both of us would have to do some work on this trip and we needed a separate space for Teams calls. It worked well in that regard, although the living room is small. (It does feature an entryway with cabinets that offer lots of additional small storage spaces, which is handy.) We toured one of the larger suites and the living room was considerably bigger, so there are definitely options for larger spaces if you plan to entertain in your suite. (What kind of entertaining you do is up to you. I don’t judge.)
I compared our bathroom to the bathrooms of friends who had standard veranda cabins, and they were identical, which was nice in that they didn’t save the glam bathroom experience for just suite guests.
The other pluses of our suite were a walk-in closet (plenty of storage AND hangers, which is always a bone of contention for me on a ship) and a long, spacious balcony (like 75-80 square feet). And a butler – although we didn’t meet him until the third day of the cruise. We’re not the type to ask him to perform tasks like unpacking our clothes (which of course, you can ask them to do), but it still would have been nice for him to make an appearance that first day and introduce himself. We did see him many subsequent days when we ordered breakfast or cocktails to the room, and he was a sweetheart. The other suggestion I made to Atlas was that they put a card on the desk in the suite listing a direct-dial phone number for him. I had no idea how to contact him when we wanted to order a round of drinks to our room. (I called the front desk and they were, of course, super accommodating.)
THE PUBLIC SPACES
The restaurants and lounge/performance spaces on the ship are beautifully decorated. As with the cabins, lots of dark glossy woods and sophisticated patterns and artwork. The Dome, on Deck 7, is a gorgeous lounge with a huge skylight and floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding you. It’s spectacular by day as you’re cruising, and at night it becomes a moodily-lit performance space.
The Vasco De Gama Auditorium is a theatre where lectures and such occur on standard cruises. This was where port talks were held, as well as performances by drag delusionist Miss Conception, since it’s a proscenium theatre space with a more sophisticated lighting setup than The Dome, and it worked super well for that.
Porto, the large “main” restaurant (there’s also Paula’s Pantry, 7 Aft Grill, and room service) is lovely – especially the outside-dining portion, which is on the aft of the ship (where there’s little wind). We dined out here much of the time and absolutely loved it.
7 Aft Grill is tucked away in a corner of the pool deck, and during the day it offers the usual poolside fare, albeit tarted up for a luxury crowd. But at dinnertime, it offers a steakhouse menu (filet and lobster tail, anyone?), so although I liked the ambience of the Porto outside deck better, it’s definitely worth trying for dinner. There is no extra charge, of course, but reservations are necessary since they only serve 40 or so people a night.
I can’t say enough good things about the staff. They were warm and fun, respectful in that “we’re working on a luxury ship” way, but willing to let down their hair if you invited them to. Overall, they were some of the hardest-working and most professional staff I’ve seen on a cruise. ALWAYS a smile. ALWAYS a yes. (They’re trained never to say no to a request if it’s within reason.)
One day, we took a fascinating tour of the bridge, led by one of the deck crew (who looked like he belonged on Below Deck – young and hot). Afterwards, a small group of us stood talking to him, and he opened up about what it was like working on this ship. He said he hopes his contract continues to be picked up – this is the happiest crew he’s ever worked with. He had extremely high marks for Atlas as a company to work for.
This was an area where in a couple of instances, we felt the cruise fell short (and it’s something Brand g has now addressed for subsequent Atlas cruises).
Some of it can’t be helped – traveling to Morocco requires docking at seaside ports and then busing the guests to the cities they want to see, like Rabat and Marrakech – but several of the tours required 1.5 to 2.5 hour bus rides each way, which makes for long tour days.
We’ve encountered this on large ocean cruises, too, and we understand it’s necessary when the city in question is inland from the port. But we had 4 days in Morocco, and if you took all of the long tours (a shorter option was always offered, as well), the days were generally 9 or 10 hours long.
The guides were also an issue – some were excellent, some not.
With that said, there were some great sights – like the Mausoleum complex in Rabat, or the souk in Marrakech – it was just a lot of exhausting days in a row. Brand g is addressing all of these issues, but I would just recommend that – if you take the 2024 Morocco cruise – you save your long days for Rabat and Marrakech, and do shorter excursions the other days.
Other tours – like to the volcano in Tanzarote in the Canary Islands – were excellent.
This was another stand-out item. We had three entertainers: Effie Passero, Miss Conception and Alison Jiear.
Alison is the Olivier-nominated star of the West End musical, Jerry Springer: The Opera, and is a seasoned, consummate performer of standards and pop. Miss Conception sets the bar for drag – she sings live, is nonstop hilarious, and her over-the-top costumes are as if the House of Gaga did drag. We have no idea how she gets all her luggage into her cabin. Effie Passero is a 30-ish former American Idol finalist who was such a smash that extra shows were added for her. Her phenomenal voice and ability to connect with the audience made her an absolute superstar with the guests.
One of my favorite things about Brand g cruises is that you get the chance to get to know these talented people as human beings, because they go on the shore excursions with us, dine with us, etc.
This cruise has spoiled us for mainstream cruises. The experience is such a notch up that we don’t want to travel any other way. And since Brand g never stops improving their trips, I know that the small issues we had will be rectified for future ones.
So, we’re booked on another Brand g Atlas Class cruises for 2024 – Norway and Iceland – and we’re planning another for 2025. Now, if I could just get Bravo to follow me around with a camera crew.