Cabins in two categories are the first to go whenever a cruise itinerary goes on sale: the most inexpensive stateroom -- be it an inside cabin or porthole view -- and the top-of-the-line suite. It may surprise you that the priciest accommodations are snapped up first, but consider this: A suite offers additional space and enticing perks that aren't available to all cruisers.
The suites aboard today's newest vessels were purpose-built with the "wow" factor in mind, but even older ships offer a variety of options from multiroom suites (sometimes also referred to as family suites) to mini-suites and junior suites. The thing to remember is that these unique accommodations are sometimes sold at fares that aren't substantially higher than those charged for standard cabins.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Even the most mass-market ships will have suites with elaborate features.
The most popular suite is the mini-suite. But don't let the cruise line's marketing moniker fool you -- these are little more than slightly extended versions of standard balcony cabins and typically do not come with extra services or even significantly more elaborate amenities. They're still generally a good value for the price if space matters.
One popular aspect of suite living, beyond lush furnishings, is the extra services most ships offer. You should expect concierge service, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and assistance when making reservations for alternative restaurants, spas and sold-out shore excursions. Butler service is offered with the most luxe, and they'll handle everything from dry-cleaning and unpacking to daily delivery of hors d'oeuvres and making reservations.
There may be more variety of suites than ever before, but there are still those that absolutely stand out from the competition. Here we offer our favorites among the industry's most drop-dead gorgeous, pampering and elegant accommodations at sea. All come with butler or concierge service and other perquisites like laundry; catered cocktail parties; course-by-course dining room meals served en suite; priority for embarkation, alternative restaurants and shore excursions; and fresh fruit and flowers.
We've focused mostly on mainstream ships -- you won't find the same kind of elaborate features aboard adventure cruisers, river ships or barges. One of our selections is gigantic, the size of three average homes in the United States. Some are quite petite but feature such lovely furnishings and service extras that size doesn't necessarily matter. (Please note: Fares vary by itinerary and date. Prices listed are approximate and are subject to change.)
Celebrity's Solstice-Class Ships (Eclipse, Equinox, Reflection, Silhouette, Solstice)
Best Suites: Penthouse Suites
Because? The 398-square-foot verandahs -- complete with hip patio furniture and outdoor whirlpools -- are themselves larger than many traditional staterooms! And, of course, each inviting verandah is attached to a 1,291-square-foot penthouse. Each well-designed space in these Eclipse, Equinox, Silhouette, Solstice and Reflection suites includes a living room with plush furniture, hardwood floors and a throw rug, 52-inch LCD TV with surround sound, and a baby grand piano; a separate dining room that accommodates eight; and a master bedroom with a king-size bed and adjoining marble bath with double vanities, a humongous shower for two with dual Hansgrohe showerheads and separate whirlpool tub. Two of these suites -- perfect for a romantic getaway -- can be found on each of Celebrity Cruises' Solstice-class ships, midship, right across from the elevators and near the library on the Penthouse Deck. (And for even more of a doozy of a suite, try Reflection's 1,636-square-foot Reflection Suite, a two-bedroom affair with a cantilevered sea-view bathroom, living and dining areas, and a tub on the 194-square-foot balcony.)
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, is $1,060 for a Caribbean voyage.
Celebrity Silhouette Cruise Fares:
Oceania Cruises' Marina and Riviera
Best Suites: Owner's Suites
Because? There are three Owner's Suites onboard each of Oceania Cruises' two newest ships, Marina and Riviera, and are among the most superb at sea. Size counts, for sure, and these measure 2,000 square feet apiece. Using furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, each features a large living and dining room, bedroom with king-sized bed, his and hers walk-in closets, a music room complete with an ebony grand piano, and even a media room with a professional entertainment system. There's one whirlpool tub in the bathroom and another on the veranda (the latter has a flat-screen television outdoors). What we also love? Their location. Each of the suites spans the beam of the ship, facing aft, looking over the wake. Perks for Owner's Suite residents include 24-hour butler service and course-by-course in-suite meal delivery from any onboard restaurant. The biggest downside of a cruise in an Oceania Owner's Suite is that you'll feel so pampered and cosseted indoors you might well be tempted to give ports of call a miss to stay onboard.
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, is $1,395 for a Mediterranean voyage and $1,170 for a Caribbean cruise. (Note: The price includes air.)
Marina Cruise Fares:
Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas
Best Suites: Royal Loft Suites
Because? Playboys (and girls) will feel right at home in these lush Royal Loft Suites situated on Decks 17 and 18. At 1,599 square feet (and that's not counting the massive 874-square-foot balcony with a whirlpool and dining area that wraps around this fabulous suite), these two-story Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas dwellings accommodate up to six passengers and are larger than many Los Angeles apartments. The suite is stunning with its two-story-high wall of windows, which affords panoramic views. The master bedroom is upstairs in the loft with a glass wall partition and blackout curtains. An adjoining bathroom features a tub, shower, dual sinks and a bidet. A second bath with a shower is found on the main level. It's easy to picture James Bond reposed on the living room sofa, nursing a martini.
Plan to Pay: Approximately $795 per person, per night, (based on a Caribbean cruise).
Oasis of the Seas Cruise Fares:
Cunard's Queen Mary 2
Best Suites: The Balmoral and Sandringham Duplexes
Because? These two-story grandiose Queen Mary 2 suites each have a curved, sweeping staircase to the bedrooms on the second floor, two marble baths with whirlpool tub and separate shower, a full guest bath, private exercise equipment and 2,249 square feet of living space. The terrace of each of these suites is unique in that it is visible from the public decks below (such as an aft pool area), so plan to "be seen" -- that can be a plus for some and a big minus for others. All of the amenities of the Queens Grill are yours to enjoy, including the dining room, a special lounge and a dedicated sunning deck.
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, is $4,170.
Queen Mary 2 Cruise Fares:
Holland America's Eurodam, Noordam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam
Best Suites: Penthouse Veranda Suites
Because? At more than 1,300 square feet, these midship suites on Eurodam, Noordam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam are certainly expansive, but what's more, they are styled in a contemporary manner with bright colors, elegant furnishings, original artwork and a sense of whimsy. Each zig-zag teak-lined balcony has its own hot tub and an inset banquette for alfresco lounging or dining. The suite also has a butler's pantry with fridge and microwave, and a dining table for eight. The enormous marble-clad bathroom features a full-sized whirlpool tub and separate shower stall.
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, is $2,900 for a Caribbean voyage.
Nieuw Amsterdam Cruise Fares:
MSC Cruises' Divina, Fantasia and Splendida
Best Suites: Yacht Club Royal Suites
Because? The Royal Suites -- each featuring a separate living room with balcony and a bedroom that curves around the front of the ship, with floor-to-ceiling windows instead of a balcony -- are spacious and cozy at the same time. The suites themselves measure 216 square feet, and the balconies are 177 square feet. Fun bells and whistles range from Wii on the living room television to fantastic butler service. Although this is the nicest of the cabins that qualify for Yacht Club status, just being in the Yacht Club on MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida is a big plus. You have a private club with full bar (no charge) and light, but definitely adventurous, food throughout the day. Yacht Club guests also have access to a private pool area, a grill and another bar.
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, varies by itinerary, but we've been quoted $535 to $630 per night for a Mediterranean cruise.
MSC Splendida Cruise Fares:
Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Jade
Best Suites: Garden Villas
Because? These are the mac-daddies of all the suites at sea, coming in at a whopping 3,355 to 6,694 square feet (size varies by ship). Features include three bedrooms, a private sunning deck, two private steam rooms and a six-person hot tub. Add a butler and a concierge team and stunning views from the window walls that surround the suite from its perch atop the ship, and you have a "wow" factor that's beyond compare. You can opt for total privacy, or take advantage of the fact that these suites are located on big ships (Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Jade) with all of the fun and excitement that goes along with a cruise vacation.
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, is $714 for a Caribbean voyage.
Norwegian Pearl Cruise Fares:
Best Suites: Penthouse Suites
Because? Fans of P&O Cruises are in love with this British line's smallest ship: 710-passenger Adonia. The adults-only vessel blends the great traditions of cruising with modern-day luxuries. There are six aft Penthouse Suites, two each on Decks A, B and C, and each is decorated to evoke old-world charm with hints of royal blue and gold, dark wood furniture, and a paneled ceiling. The footprint is 930 square feet, including the spacious balcony that has both lounge furniture and a table and chairs. From the king-size bed, you'll look directly out to sea through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. A separate living and dining area connects to the bedroom, as does the master bath with full-size whirlpool bath and shower. (There's also a guest powder room off the living room.) Adonia's Penthouse Suite is definitely for those with discerning tastes who'd like to pretend to be king or queen for the duration of the cruise.
Plan to Pay: Approximately £323 per person, per night (based on a December Mediterranean cruise).
Princess Cruises' Sapphire, Diamond and Caribbean Princess
Best Suites: Grand Suites
Because? These three Princess Cruises ships (Sapphire Princess, Diamond Princess and Caribbean Princess) each have an exclusive hideout -- just one -- at the aft, with a gigantic verandah and elegant furnishings. This 1,329-square-foot, one-bedroom suite (1,279 square feet on Caribbean Princess) combines modern technology with old-world luxury: lush brocades, sumptuous bedding, a corner whirlpool tub and separate multijet shower, dining table inside for six and outside for four, a wet bar, two TVs and a computer for those who just can't leave business behind for a week. Oddly, Princess did not build Grand Suites on its newer ships.
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, is $572.
Sapphire Princess Cruise Fares:
Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager
Best Suite: The Grand Suite
Because? Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager boasts four of these spectacular suites with luxurious contemporary decor. Dark teak cabinetry, cream-colored walls and furnishings, walk-in closets and guest baths add to the ambience of this exclusive hideaway. What makes the suite special, though, is the solarium off the bedroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a soaking tub looking out over the sea. It's lush and romantic and uber-elegant. The suite itself is 753 square feet, and the large balcony comes in at 123 square feet.
Plan to Pay: Average price is $916 per person, per night.
Seven Seas Voyager Cruise Fares:
Best Suites: Owner's Suites: Lady Marjorie's and Sir Edward's
Because? Suites on this vintage sailing vessel -- at 410 square feet and 366 square feet, respectively -- aren't big by modern standards, but oh my! More like suites on, say, a royal yacht than a cruise ship, these accommodations were originally designed in 1931 by owner Marjorie Meriwether Post (who owned the ship with husband E.F. Hutton). While Sea Cloud, a now-German-owned ship, has undergone many refurbishments, these fabulous suites were merely restored and remain almost identical to the way they were decorated in the olden days, with the addition of some modern conveniences. Marjorie's suite is more feminine and plush, with white walls and gold gilt wainscoting, a draped bed and a large, elegant carrera marble bath with two portholes. Sir Edward's suite is clubby, with knotty pine paneled walls, dark furniture and an equally large bath. Both rooms have decorative fireplaces and just ooze romance.
Plan to Pay: Cost averages $1,290 per person, per night, in either of these suites.
Sea Cloud Cruise Fares:
SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I and II
Best Suite: Owner's Suite
Because? As SeaDream likes to say, "This is your own private villa at sea." The 447-square-foot Owner's Suites on SeaDream I and SeaDream II aren't the flashiest of accommodations, but the best-trained crew at sea -- they seem clairvoyant at times -- masterfully tend to passengers, and that's why they made our list of heavy-hitters. Located on Deck 3, the suite is appointed in blue and beige with a decidedly "yacht club" flair. There's a private master bedroom/bathroom suite -- complete with a soaking tub with an ocean view -- and a living room with sofa and chairs, plus a separate dining area that accommodates four. This is the spot on the yacht for a pre-dinner cocktail party or a romantic meal for two, served course by course.
Plan to Pay: Approximately $1,120 per person, per night, (based on a Caribbean cruise).
Sea Dream I Cruise Fares:
Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit
Best Suites: Owner's Suites
Because? Walk into one of the two Owner's Suites aboard Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit, and you'll likely hear soft music playing (compliments of the Bang & Olufsen stereo system in the living room) and see sheer curtains drifting lazily in the breeze by the glass doors opening onto the 190-square-foot teak verandah. At 1,292 square feet, including the balcony, each of these suites is sophisticated, sexy and spacious. (A two-bedroom option -- 1,668 square feet -- is also available by booking the adjoining Vista Suite.) Tucked amidships on Deck 8, these stylish apartments at sea -- designed with sleek blond wood, wide striped wallpaper and modern furniture -- make you feel like you've stepped into a swanky penthouse in London or Copenhagen. Your butler will make you feel right at home as you settle into the living room with subtle recessed lighting and a flat-screen TV, enjoy a meal in the separate dining room or get a good night's sleep in the master bedroom with a sinfully comfortable queen-size bed with a down duvet and selection of nine types of pillows. The master bathroom has marble throughout with a double vanity, shower and separate full-size whirlpool tub. (There's also a powder room for guests.)
Plan to Pay: Average cost per person, per night, for a Caribbean voyage is $1,300.
Silver Spirit Cruise Fares:
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--by Andrea M. Rotondo, Cruise Critic Contributor