Cabins in two categories are the first to go whenever a cruise itinerary goes on sale: the most inexpensive staterooms and the top-of-the-line suites. It may surprise you that the priciest accommodations are snapped up first, but consider this: There are far fewer suites than regular cabins, so competition is fierce for these options that offer extra space and exclusive perks. If you're sailing with a posse, that elbow room will definitely come in handy.
One popular aspect of suite living, beyond lush furnishings, is the extra services most ships offer. You can 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 by the most luxe brands; butlers handle everything from dry-cleaning and unpacking to daily delivery of canapes and making reservations for the spa.
There's a larger variety of cruise suites than ever before, but some still 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. (Please note: Fares vary by itinerary and date. Prices listed are approximate and are subject to change.)
Best Cruise Ship Suites
Norwegian Cruise Line
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Disney Cruise Line
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Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity
Best Cruise Suite: Crystal Penthouse
Why? One of the most beautifully decorated suites at sea -- the Crystal Penthouse -- can be found on Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity. Spend just one night in this 1,345-square-foot suite, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows that afford sweeping views of the ocean, and you'll wish this was your very own apartment. Swarovski crystal sconces light the living space, which has natural wood floors and Italian mosaic tile accents. Neutral colors blend seamlessly with the high-quality wood and marble finishes throughout. If you love the outdoors, you'll enjoy the private deck that was designed for lounging. But first you'll have to tear yourself away from the exceedingly comfortable living and dining areas. The master bedroom has a spacious walk-in closet, and the TV room (separate from the formal living area) can double as a second bedroom thanks to the sofa bed and guest powder room that is outfitted with a shower. If you entertain often while at sea, you'll love the fact that this suite has a private butler entrance.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,762 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Celebrity's Solstice-Class Ships (Eclipse, Equinox, Reflection, Silhouette, Solstice)
Best Cruise Suites: Penthouse Suites
Why? 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 Penthouse Suite aboard Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Reflection includes a living room with plush furniture, hardwood floors and a throw rug; 52-inch LCD TV with surround sound; a baby grand piano; a separate dining room that accommodates eight; and a master bedroom with king-size bed and adjoining marble bath with double vanities, a humongous shower for two with dual Hansgrohe showerheads and separate whirlpool tub. These suites -- perfect for a romantic getaway -- can be found on each of Celebrity Cruises' Solstice-class ships, and are located midship, right across from the elevators and near the library on the Penthouse Deck. While you may never want to leave your Penthouse Suite, be sure to make a foray to Luminae -- the exclusive dining room for suite guests -- and Michael's Club, which is the exclusive domain for passengers booked in Celebrity's top suites. (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, separate living and dining areas, and a tub on the 194-square-foot balcony.)
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,100 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Oceania Cruises' Marina and Riviera
Best Cruise Suites: Owner's Suites
Why? There are three Owner's Suites onboard Oceania Cruises' Marina and Riviera, and the accommodations are among the most superb at sea. Size counts, for sure, and these measure 2,000 square feet apiece. Ralph Lauren Home furnishings are featured throughout the large living and dining room as well as the bedroom, which comes with king-sized bed. You'll also find his-and-her walk-in closets, a grand entryway with an ebony grand piano, and even a media nook with a professional entertainment system. There's one whirlpool tub in the bathroom, outfitted with Bulgari bath products, and another on the veranda, which also has an outdoor flat-screen television. What else do we love about Oceania's Owner's Suites? Their location. Each suite spans the width of the ship, facing aft, looking over the wake. Perks for Owner's Suite residents include access to the private Executive Lounge -- staffed by a dedicated concierge and featuring complimentary soft drinks, coffees and snacks throughout the day -- plus 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 miss ports of call and stay onboard.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,700 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas
Best Cruise Suites: Royal Loft Suites
Why? Those accustomed to luxury will feel right at home in the lush Royal Loft Suites that can be found on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas. At 1,599 square feet (not counting the massive 874-square-foot balcony with a whirlpool and dining area that wraps around this fabulous suite), these two-story dwellings accommodate up to six passengers and are larger than many city apartments. The suite is stunning with its two-story wall of windows, which affords panoramic views. The 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 nursing a martini as he reposes on the living room sofa (which converts to a double bed).
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,224 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2
Best Cruise Suites: The Balmoral and Sandringham Duplexes
Why? These grandiose two-story suites on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 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 the 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: Fares start at $2,628 per person, per night, for a transatlantic cruise.
Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel and Nowegian Pearl
Best Cruise Suites: Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villas
Why? These are the mack daddies of all the suites at sea, at up to 5,750 square feet. (Size varies by ship.) If you're planning a family get-together, this is the suite for you. Features include a vast living area, bar with seating for four, dining table that seats eight, three bedrooms with king or queen beds, and a private garden terrace with an outdoor dining area and raised hot tub with a thatched roof to provide shade. Add a butler, concierge team and stunning views from the windowed 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 Norwegian's big ships (Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Jade) with all of the fun and excitement that goes along with a cruise vacation. Garden Villas guests also have access to all Haven amenities including a private pool, sun deck and fitness room.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,200 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Regent Seven Seas Explorer
Best Cruise Suite: Regent Suite
Why? There is only one Regent Suite aboard Seven Seas Explorer. In fact, there's only one Regent Suite in the entire Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet. It was designed to be the most luxurious suite at sea; at 2,917 square feet (with a 958-square-foot balcony), its footprint is larger than that of the average American home. But it's not just the size that impresses: The suite comes complete with a private spa, including treatment area, sauna, ceramic heated relaxation loungers and multijet shower, and residents are entitled to unlimited -- and complimentary -- in-suite spa treatments. Other perks include sedan transfers to and from the airport; a private car with driver and guide in every port; and free unlimited laundry and pressing. The location of the suite on Deck 14 is stunning, with 270-degree views over the bow. Throughout the two-bedroom suite, you'll find high-end touches in marble and exotic wood. The lounge features beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows and a custom $250,000 Steinway Arabesque piano. The suite offers not one but two 4K ultra-high-definition televisions, and each room is accented with limited-edition art books, Murano glass bowls and other handcrafted elements.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $5,000 per person, per night. Air is included.
Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit
Best Cruise Suites: Owner's Suites
Why? 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 lazily catching the breeze by the glass doors, which open onto the 190-square-foot teak verandah. At 1,292 square feet (including the balcony), each of these suites is sophisticated, sexy and spacious. (You can expand to two bedrooms and 1,668 square feet 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 -- have the vibe of a swanky penthouse in London or Copenhagen. Your butler will make you feel right at home as you settle into the living room, which features subtle recessed lighting and a flat-screen TV as well as a work area with writing desk. You'll enjoy meals in the separate dining room (there's an Illy espresso machine for caffeine-packed pick-me-ups) and get a good night's sleep in the master bedroom, home to a sinfully comfortable queen-size bed dressed with Pratesi bed linens, down duvet and a selection of pillows. The master bathroom has marble throughout, plus a double vanity, shower and separate, full-size whirlpool tub. There's also a powder room for guests.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,200 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Seabourn Odyssey, Quest and Sojourn
Best Cruise Suites: Wintergarden Suites
Why? When you picture where a Broadway darling or literary star vacations, your mind's eye might just conjure up Seabourn's Wintergarden Suite, with its blond wood accents and deep red window treatments. Available on Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest and Seabourn Sojourn, these 1,097-square-foot accommodations comprise a living room with plenty of seating to host a gathering; a dining room with a table that accommodates six; a pantry with full wet bar; a comfortable master bedroom; and a master bath with separate whirlpool tub and shower. The expansive deck features a seating area with a table and a pair of loungers, while the glass-enclosed "solarium" offers a curtained daybed, a soaking tub and another set of chairs with a drinks table.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $1,714 per person, per night, for a Caribbean cruise.
Disney's Magic and Wonder
Best Cruise Suites: Concierge Royal Suites with Verandah
Why? If you're looking to deliver a fairytale vacation to your family, look no further than Disney Cruise Line's Concierge Royal Suites aboard Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. These two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath accommodations span 1,029 square feet and can sleep up to seven guests, delivering authentic Disney spirit amid plush surroundings. Parents can claim the bedroom outfitted with a queen bed while the kids opt for the twin beds in the second bedroom or the Murphy bed that pulls down from the wall in the living room. Kids will love the Disney character accents and entertainment options in the media room, while parents appreciate the separate living and dining areas, pantry and wet bar, and whirlpool tubs in the bathrooms. A concierge is also at your beck and call to make sure your Disney cruise exceeds your expectations.
Plan to Pay: Fares start at $710 per person, per night for a Caribbean cruise.
--By Andrea M. Rotondo, Cruise Critic contributor