Big, fancy, expensive suites, with butlers, are among the fastest growing accoutrements on cruise ships. Their size and number seem to increase with each new ship.
The top suites, which can cost $1,000 a day per person, or more, tend to be among the first accommodations sold out (along with the least expensive cabins to people on a tighter budget), an indication that an increasing number of well-heeled couples and families are willing to spend big chunks of their disposable income vacationing at sea.
Popularity and profitability explain why cruise lines, from luxury to mainstream, are putting new emphasis on their most spacious suites. They are hiring top designers and decorators to give top suites a dazzling look, adding the exclusiveness of private restaurants and lounge areas, as well as extras such as concierge or butler service, free laundry and Internet.
The best cruise ship suites and service staffs tend to be on the most luxurious cruise lines, such as Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal and Regent, which is bragging about a rate of $10,000 a day for two in the top suite on its new Seven Seas Explorer, to begin sailing next summer. That suite, at 3,875 square feet, is fully booked and wait-listed for all cruises currently available for sale, said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Regent’s parent company.
$10,000 per-day cost of the top suite on Regent Seven Seas Explorer, launching next summer
But if you are looking for a dazzling suite, don’t forget the premium and mainstream ships, which tout some of the biggest, grandest suites you can imagine, especially on the newer gigantic cruise vessels such as Norwegian’s Escape, Breakaway and Getaway and Royal Caribbean’s Anthem, Allure and Oasis of the Seas.
Norwegian invented the “ship within a ship,” and the impressive cluster of suites in its Haven work like an exclusive boutique hotel atop the bustle of restaurants, shows and waterworks below. Royal Caribbean’s largest ships have top-of-the-line two-story loft suites that range from 696 to 1,500 square feet. Popular top suites on premium lines include Celebrity’s Solstice ships, Oceania’s Marina and Riviera; and Disney’s Magic, Wonder, Fantasy and Dream, the latter two offering the nearly1,800-square-foot Walt E. Disney and Roy O. Disney suites.
Many of the largest cruise ship suites do start around $1,000 per person, per night for two people, but they charge lower rates for additional family members housed in your suite. Recently, on Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas, which cruises out of New York, I met travel agents who were figuring the cost of a cruise in one of the ship’s top suites for a large family. “About $30,000-$40,000,” said one agent. “I can sell that.”
A cruise ship’s top suites, which can cost $1,000 a day per person, or more, tend to be among the first accommodations to sell out
Just once in my life, I wanted to cruise in such fancy digs, which I dreamed would be on a well-staffed ship on the Mediterranean Sea. And just once I did.
For 10 nights in October, my wife and I lived in one of two Grand Suites at the bow on the top deck of luxury cruise line Silversea’s 540-passenger Silver Spirit. The ship was on a round trip out of the Athens port of Piraeus to Israel, Cyprus, Antalya and Alanya (Turkey), and three Greek islands.
The Grand Suite, which is listed in brochures at $1,164 to $1,825 per person, per day, depending on itinerary and season, measured about 1,400 square feet, larger than many apartments on land. Outside the bedroom were living and dining areas, a big marbled bathroom containing a double vanity, tub with whirlpool jets and a separate shower. The suite was wrapped on two sides by a private balcony of about 600 square feet, roomy enough for tables and chairs, including two loungers. It has been used, members of the crew said, for a dinner party of eight under the stars.
Best of all, we had a butler to make us feel at home — not ours, but one we could aspire to. In the first hour, he noticed that my evening shoes needed a shine; on the last day, he cleaned our luggage before we packed to go home (and he offered to do the packing).
In between, Priyesh Chowdhari, from Mumbai, was always ready for a special request, from room service breakfast on the deck to cocktails and a daily array of afternoon canapes. He always brought a white tablecloth to set a fine table, made espresso for my wife from a fancy Illy machine, and stopped to chat about what was happening aboard ship.
Living life like a millionaire was not in the vacation plans when we boarded the Silver Spirit in Athens and unpacked in our assigned cabin. All of the ship’s 270 cabins are ocean view and are at least 312 square feet (typical cruise cabins on mainstream ships are about 180 square feet). Silversea calls them suites because of a roomy sitting area that can be curtained off from the bed. The cabin’s outdoor private balcony housed two chairs that reclined, and a small table.
Silversea sees itself as offering the world’s highest level of luxury cruise ships, with rates to match its reputation. You can pay $600-$900 a night per person for two people in the basic suite, though I found travel agency ads for my 10 nights at less than $400 a day per person, as we were sailing in the less-expensive shoulder season, and the ship was only about two-thirds full. That is considered a good rate for a ship that is inclusive of most onboard expenses, including alcohol and gratuities for crew. All cabins get butler service.
That first afternoon we were offered an opportunity to move to a larger suite. “No thank you,” I was thinking. “I’ve already unpacked. Moving hardly could be worth some extra square feet or a bigger couch.”
But, with both Grand Suites on Deck 8 empty for the cruise, this turned out to be the granddaddy of all upgrades, with more closets than we had clothes, far more shelves than we had gadgets and devices, a living room area with seating for six, and, in the entrance hallway an additional bathroom for guests whom we never got around to inviting.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of www.TheTravelMavens.com.