You’ve taken the plunge and decided to book an ocean cruise. Now for the fun part – choosing the ship and cabin that will fit your needs and budget. Scroll through the cruise websites and you’ll quickly find that not all staterooms are created equal.
Just like first class, business class and economy in the air, there’s a hierarchy at sea, as well as VIP areas only those in certain staterooms can access. There’s a lot of choice and, depending on the cruise brand, it can take a bit of know-how to decipher which is the best fit, based on what you can afford and the experience you desire.
Inside cabins are typically the cheapest, but you might find a suite with one cruise company is less expensive than a balcony stateroom with another more luxurious brand.
An article in Escape makes it simple to decide and offers advice on how to get an upgrade.
The price is definitely right, but some cruisers may be worried that a voyage spent in an inside or internal cabin (with no window or balcony) might be a little claustrophobic.
Located in the middle of the deck, internal cabins are a budget-friendly option if you are planning on just using the cabin to sleep.
Some cruise lines excel in their offering. Royal Caribbean came up with the “virtual balcony”, where with floor-to-ceiling HD display screens that show live action footage of the sea. You can almost smell the sea air.
Carnival has a generous perk for those who choose a Cloud 9 Spa internal stateroom on Carnival Splendor, with the interior staterooms on Deck 10 affording private access to the spa. Guests are also eligible for exclusive spa packages and discounts, and rooms have additional spa-related amenities. As on any cruise ship, if you want fresh sea air as you slumber, you’ll need to pay extra for a balcony suite.
We all love a balcony. It gives us chance to live indoors and outdoors, to truly savour the cruising experience, so it’s no surprise that these staterooms are the most in demand.
Princess Cruises’ Stuart Allison says Balcony and Mini-Suite staterooms have become a firm favourite for Australian travellers in the past year.
“These rooms really make the experience personal, giving guests their own private slice of ocean view and delivering an elevated experience,” he says. He says guests love these rooms for the upgraded touches, including Champagne on arrival.
It’s a popular choice on smaller ships as well. Melanie Bernstein from Ponant says that their Deluxe Staterooms and Deluxe Suites sell out first.
“Guests have a preference for staterooms with balconies, especially to enjoy the destinations,” she says.
Ninety-five per cent of Ponant’s small-capacity luxury ships have private balconies. Meanwhile, Aurora Expeditions has increased the number of balcony staterooms on their newest vessel, the Sylvia Earle, due to demand.
“Our staterooms are some of the most spacious in the small ship category, all with underfloor heating,” Aurora’s Hayley Peacock Gower says.
Chandeliers, private plunge pools, Picasso artworks – travellers may be surprised at the level of opulence available in ship suites. According to Scenic’s Anthony Laver, cruise lines are saving their most extravagant design for top-tier passengers and the design and spaciousness is adapting, with some spaces larger than your average home or apartment.
“Guests are no longer putting off their once-in-a-lifetime trips,” he says. “They are spending more and on more lavish things so suites are catering to the YOLO customer who wants unparalleled service and luxury,” he says.
Laver says Scenic’s 195 sqm Owner’s Penthouse Suites on Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II (launching in April 2023) are the epitome of this trend and one of their most popular. The suite features a curved terrace with a personal private spa pool and sun loungers, a private lounge and dining area, and a super-sized bathroom.
Viking is also leading the way in luxury suites with their signature Scandinavian design. The top choice on their ocean cruise ships? The very suite that Viking chairman Torstein Hagen stays in when he’s on board – the Owner’s Suite. The 135 sqm space features his favourite art, books, music, games and personal memorabilia. It’s also the perfect entertainer featuring a dining room that comfortably seats six people, and a 12-seater boardroom with the world’s first “fireplace” at sea. There’s also a glass-encased dry sauna.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Seven Seas Grandeur, set to sail from November, features the giant 413 sqm Regent Suite. It’s what they call the “most exclusive address at sea” according to RSSC’s Lisa Pile.
“Unique design choices include rare works of art to the grander features like an in-suite master bathroom spa retreat – a first for any cruise ship,” says Pile.
Meanwhile Silversea Cruises’ new Silver Nova, which debuts later this year, will feature an entirely new design approach for the luxury cruise line. Inspired by Silversea’s new wellness program, Otium, the 123 sqm Otium Suite will offer a 270-degree view and a private whirlpool.
Secrets to getting an upgrade
Michael Middleton, from My Cruises, says many cruise lines now offer incredible value-for-money upgrades, especially when booking early.
“Some cruise lines are now offering an upgrade bid system (like airlines do) for upgraded cabins,” he says. His advice? As soon as an itinerary is released, jump on it. “Remember some of the top-grade rooms always go first,” Middleton says.
Ryan Taibel from Seabourn recommends joining a loyalty program. “While upgrades are never guaranteed, joining the Seabourn Club will offer you enhanced benefits on board and unlocking an extra five per cent in savings,” he says. Some bonuses of an upgrade include increased perks. Aurora Expeditions, for example, has a Suite Benefits program that offers passengers staying in a suite a free pair of binoculars, a bottle of Champagne and a stocked mini-bar. “It also includes a one-hour spa treatment per person,” says Aurora Expeditions’ Hayley Peacock Gower. A definite plus.
A popular trend in cruise ship design is the “ship within a ship” concept – a separate “business class” section of the ship for VIPs. According to Ben Angell from Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s the ideal compromise for those who love the opulence and intimacy of a smaller vessel, but want to enjoy the broad range of dining, activity and entertainment options you can only experience on board a larger ship.
On NCL’s newest vessel, Norwegian Prima, The Haven guests have exclusive access to a private restaurant, bar and lounge, infinity pool, sundeck, spa, and sauna as well as 24-hour butler service, complimentary in-suite dining and key-card access via a designated elevator. The suites and public areas have been designed by renowned Italian architect Piero Lissoni.
On Celebrity Cruises, the suites in The Retreat are the largest rooms on board. Guests in The Retreat have access to the private restaurant, Luminae, an exclusive lounge and sundeck, as well as premium beverage packages and unlimited Wi-Fi. The pick of the suites here is the Edge Villa, a two-storey residence with a private terrace and plunge pool.
On Oceania Cruises, those staying in Concierge Level staterooms receive an additional measure of exclusive amenities and benefits such as an expanded room service menu, free laundry services and unlimited access to the Aquamar Spa Terrace. “On board Marina, Riveria and our newest ship, Vista (launching May 2023), guests also have access to the private Concierge Lounge staffed with a dedicated concierge,” says Oceania Cruises’ Jason Worth.
MSC Cruises offers the MSC Yacht Club, with 24-hour butler service and access to a private swimming pool, whirlpool baths, sun deck and bar.
Lisa Teiotu from MSC Cruises says that since the end of lockdowns, guests are trending towards once-in- a-lifetime experiences. “This has seen a rise in the popularity of bookings in the MSC Yacht Club. We believe this trend will continue to be popular as the affordable luxury option,” Teiotu says.
Most large-ship cruise lines offer what they call specialty dining, which are more intimate restaurants that come with a surcharge. According to My Cruises general manager Michael Middleton, they are an enhanced next-level dining experience and often themed – such as steakhouse, Italian or Japanese. His advice? Book a table.
“These restaurants offer an incredible experience and can be as little as $US25 cover charge which, compared to what you pay on land, is sensational value,” he says.
Luxury lines such as Scenic, Silversea and Viking are all-inclusive, so specialty dining is included in the price.
For example, all speciality restaurants on Viking are included for all stateroom categories, but some stateroom categories have access to priority reservations. On Scenic, there’s an invite-only Chef’s Table 10-person private dégustation dining experience reserved for a wait list, but those staying in the owner’s suites have priority dining invitations.
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