A suite is an especially large room within a cruise ship's top tier of cabins. Passengers who book a suite often receive special perks, such as quicker boarding, a dedicated butler, or even a separate restaurant, lounge, pool or sun deck. Some luxury lines refer to all rooms on their ships as suites, regardless of size or amenities.
Technically, a true suite has a separate bedroom and living space. But cruise lines stretch the term a bit with cabin categories of various names, such as "mini suites," "junior suites," "sky suites," etc. While most of these cabins will have more square footage than a regular cabin, not all will actually have two separate rooms. (In addition, some of these "suites" may not qualify for the extra perks that come with booking the most expensive cabins.)
If a true two-room cabin is what you're looking for, read the descriptions carefully; specifically, look for words that describe the number of bedrooms. A suite described as "one-bedroom" is likely to have that bedroom separated from the remainder of the suite.
Looking to really splurge? The sky's the limit on the cruise ship's most luxe suites, with some having dining rooms, multiple levels, balcony hot tubs, wet bars, exercise equipment, in-room spa treatment areas and even grand pianos.
In general, suites are designed to sleep two people, though most have a sofa that pulls out to accommodate a third passenger. Some suites that are specifically designated for families have room for four, five, six or even more. (For example, certain Royal Caribbean top suites can accommodate up to 14!)
When booking, check with your travel agent to see how many people could comfortably fit in the space, and ask whether additional passengers are accommodated in a separate bedroom or on pullout sofas or bunks in the main sleeping area.
Suites tend to be grouped on the highest passenger decks, as well as the front and back corners of those decks, so suite passengers can catch the best views. Keep in mind that these locations are also the worst for people who suffer from seasickness. If you hate the motion of the ocean, look for a suite that's located a bit more toward the middle.
On some ships, there is a keycard-access-only area with suites and spaces exclusive to suite guests, but often there are some suites located outside of this enclave.
On most cruise ships, suite passengers have a variety of extras included in their (higher) fares, although these differ from line to line. If you book a suite, you can usually expect to have a full complement of brand-name toiletries, a large balcony, a shower with a bathtub, a pillow menu and a walk-in closet; sometimes umbrellas or binoculars are included for use free of charge. Other in-cabin perks could include fresh flowers, fresh fruit, a complimentary bottle of wine or Champagne or box of chocolates, a stocked minibar, and afternoon tea or daily canapes delivered to your cabin.
Suite passengers are usually allowed to embark and disembark from the ship before other people. On some ships, they have a separate lounge/concierge room (which often includes free food and drinks, as well as access to a concierge), a separate reception/welcome party with the ship's officers, reserved seating at the pool or entertainment venues, an expanded room service menu and priority dinner, excursion and show reservations.
Many will have access to a butler, rather than a regular room steward. Some lines throw in complimentary dinners at their specialty restaurants (or even a dedicated restaurant for suite members), drink packages, free Internet minutes, spa treatments, gratuities or free laundry/dry cleaning.
Top level luxury suites may also include airfare, private port tours and private transportation to and from the ship.
Like hotel concierges, cruise ship concierges are staffers that serve to make life easier for suite passengers. These in-the-know helpers will do all sorts of scheduling tasks for you, such as making specialty restaurant, theater and spa reservations; booking your shore excursions or other services on land; and handling billing questions. They will also assist with you any special requests or concerns you might have, or simply answer questions about the cruise.
You can call your concierge on the phone, but many ships also have concierge lounges where their suite passengers can meet with dedicated staff, as well as relax and hang out. Often these rooms have free snacks and food around the clock, comfortable seating and televisions; some even have happy hours and private bars.
Cruise ship butlers specialize in small personal tasks that can make your life easier and/or more pleasant. This includes packing and unpacking your clothes, making reservations for you in alternative restaurants, delivering canapes and full meals from the main dining room, helping with laundry and dry cleaning, polishing shoes, drawing a bath and arranging cocktail or dinner parties in your room.
On ships without concierge services for suite guests, the butler may perform scheduling-type services a concierge would normally handle for you.
More and more, cruise lines are setting aside restaurants specifically for people staying in suites and higher-class cabins. Celebrity, for example, has added the restaurant Luminae on many of its ships for the exclusive use of suite passengers. Cunard ships have different restaurants for passengers staying in its Princess and Queens Grill Suites. Norwegian Cruise Line's Haven and MSC Cruises' Yacht Club are examples of exclusive-access suite areas with their own pools, sundecks, bars and even restaurants for residents.
In addition, suite guest may have access to exclusive bars and lounges and sun decks.
Don't know what to do with all that extra space? Why not have a party! Your butler can deliver invitations, set up the bar and order food for your guests. They'll even clean up after you (which makes it much more enticing than entertaining at home).
Even though they are significantly more expensive than regular cruise rooms, suites on most ships are often the first category to sell out, simply because there are fewer of them. They are also popular options for multigenerational families traveling together.
If you have your eye on a particular suite and your dates aren't flexible, it's best to snag it as soon after bookings open as you can. Cruise deposits are refundable, so you don't have much to lose by reserving a suite and making the final decision about the cruise at a later date.
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The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.