For most of us, booking a cruise is about trying to find the best price for an inside or an ocean view cabin — maybe a balcony, if we’re feeling flush. But there’s a whole other world of cruise ship cabins, one with private dining rooms and cushy furniture and even butlers. You could call it the suite life.
I got a look at the suite life on my recent cruise of the Eastern Caribbean. On board was a group from Cruise Critic, who let me tag along on what’s known as a “cabin crawl”. That’s a tour where members allow the rest of the group to see what their cabins look like. Since it’s a diverse group, there was a nice selection of cabins — including some of the most luxurious digs on the whole ship. And they were pretty sumptuous, as you’ll see.
It’s not that the members are all rich, although some obviously had some discretionary income to spend. But in the wake of the recent hurricanes, the cruise lines were hit with a wave of cancellations. So, many in the group took advantage of cut-rate upgrades to cruise in cabins a notch higher than they were used to.
To start off with, we visited a couple of ordinary inside and ocean view cabins. You’ve probably seen these, but for those who haven’t, here’s a look at my own ocean view cabin. It’s tight, at 155 square feet, but still comfortable, with a bathroom that’s well designed and functional, if not fancy.
However, that’s not what this post is about. So I’ll pick up the tour as we visited our first suite — in this case, a mini-suite. These are the next step up from a balcony cabin, only with a bigger couch and a real desk to sit at. The suite is also significantly bigger — 272 feet compared with about 200 — and the balcony is bigger too. The one we saw looked comfortable, but I’m not sure I’d pay too much extra to move up from a balcony cabin.
Forward-facing Penthouse with Balcony
This was a real suite, with a little dining area (though “little” is the operative word) and a balcony as big as my cabin. As well, this one had a bathroom with a real tub.
The Two-Bedroom Family Suite with Balcony
Next, we had a chance to look at a two-bedroom suite — the dream of anyone who wants to cruise in style but still bring the kids. This one had some real style, with a dining room table, a hutch, and a beautiful master bedroom. From the queen-sized bed, you had a view through the high-class ensuite bathroom to a window looking out on the sea.
The kids’ room, located just inside the entrance, had its own bathroom. But the room itself was pretty Spartan, with barely enough room to fit a bed. Oh, well, I guess if mom and dad bring you along on a luxury cruise, you can’t complain too loud.
The Owner’s Suite
Now we were getting into some high-priced real estate. The couple who had this suite got a good deal — but still, you don’t get digs like this for the price of a room at the Howard Johnson. This was a floating apartment, but one most of us would kill to live in. A good-sized living room and dining room led into a large, beautiful bedroom with a lookout onto a spacious balcony — that’s the photo at the top of this post.
Another door led from the bedroom to a bathroom like the ones in the movies — with a high-end bathtub and, of course, another sea view.
There was a second balcony off the living room. And like all the suites, this one came with butler and concierge service. The butler arrives at three with your favourite snacks and beverages, and anything you wanted is delivered whenever you want it. Sometimes life is tough.
Now we had reached the top. If a high-end suite isn’t good enough for you — or if you don’t like to mix with the huddled masses who inhabit the ship — you might need to book a cabin in The Haven. That’s a private part of the ship, located on the very top decks, that’s reserved only for its occupants, with its own amenities and its own staff.
The Haven isn’t open for groups, but my friend Diane and I were invited in for a sneak peek at the Two-Bedroom Family Villa with Balcony. It wasn’t particularly bigger or more luxurious than the other two-bedroom suite we’d seen. However, it did have a very comfortable living room, and the second bedroom was much nicer. There was the same beautiful master bedroom, with the same glorious view through the designer bathroom to the sea.
Of course, there are other villas on offer, some resembling large hotel rooms and some that beggar the imagination. If you really wanted to splash out, you could go for the 4,252-square-foot Three-Bedroom Garden Villa, which comes with multiple balconies — and a grand piano. And of course, you get almost unlimited service — the butler, the snack and drinks, free movies, and free reservations at any of the ship’s premium restaurants.
But the real draw for most of the people in The Haven is the exclusivity. We got a look at the private pool, with its own change rooms and hot tub, as well as the private deck upstairs — a scene right out of Vanity Fair.
That was the end of my tour of spectacular cruise ship cabins, and I returned to my own little shoe box with a little regret. But then, thinking of what it costs to rent one of these glitzy spaces for 10 days — likely around $5,000 per person for The Haven — I didn’t feel so bad. Still, if they’re giving out freebies …