How to Cruise Like Royalty

 In Outer First Class, Stress Less Travel

“I just got back from a cruise. It was great!”

This is what most people say when they come home from a cruise vacation. Unless you have a thankfully rare cruise disaster, it’s hard to not have a good time on a cruise ship – the cruise line will make sure you do. Great experiences make repeat cruisers!

“Here’s your cabin!”

So what do you think of when you imagine a cruise? Probably lots of sunshine, time at the pool, shore excursions in Jamaica, maybe a little too much alcohol, etc. But for many people it also conjures up images of minuscule cabins that you can’t turn around in without hitting your travel companion, piling on junk food at the buffet (I call it the trough), a crowded pool where you can’t find a lounge chair, long lines to get on and off the ship, and maybe a few bratty, screaming kids just to make things interesting.

For some cruises, this is typical. Some cruise lines are worse than others for this type of experience. But I’ll be perfectly honest with you – if you are getting a regular cabin on a regular cruise ship, you will be subject to one or more of these less-than-stellar things on a daily basis.

“This is my ship now!”

What if I told you (insert Morpheus voice here) that a cruise could be lavish? What if I told you that your every whim (pretty much) could be catered to? What if I told you that you could be on the same ship as everyone else and have a completely different experience? What if I told you a cruise could be…truly first class?

It’s the truth.

How do you do it? You book a high –level suite.

Each cruise line is different as far as what level suite you have to get to achieve first class cruiser status. Read closely when you are booking to make sure it says something like “concierge suite” or better yet, call a travel agent or the cruise line directly and speak with someone to make sure you are getting a room that includes the top-level services. This typically includes priority boarding, priority/exclusive dining, concierge and butler service, early access to certain events, and exclusive access to certain ship areas and events and more.

A view of The Haven courtyard area on some Norwegian ships.

When we first started looking at cruising, I wasn’t sure if the added cost would be worth it. This is not a bargain basement vacation. But thankfully my husband convinced me that we should do the suite. We did, and we have never looked back. Today I would rather stay home than go on a cruise in a “regular” room. Yes, you may call me spoiled. I’m okay with that.

To demonstrate why that is let me share with you some of our suite experiences over our seven cruises. (Note: we sail with Norwegian Cruise Line.)

First, the room. Our suites are always at least triple the size of a normal cabin and include a balcony, dining and living room area, large bed and a spacious bathroom with a full bathtub. We’ve also stayed in larger suites that included even more square footage, a second bathroom, and two balconies. The most amazing cruise we have ever been on was when we had the Garden Villa on the Norwegian Dawn. The villa was about the size of our house, had three bedrooms (each with their own bathroom), a giant living area with a grand piano, a kitchen area and a huge – I mean massive – private outdoor living space with a hot tub and a steam room.

Coffee and tea bar in one of our suites.

No – no shoeboxes for the first class cruiser.

Our suites always include a special breakfast and lunch exclusive to suite guests. While we were free to go to the main dining rooms or buffet, we found the private meals to be much more enjoyable. The wait staff was attentive, the food was expertly prepared and we had more high end options. For breakfast I often had the smoked salmon frittata and for lunch we enjoyed flounder and tuna. There were high quality options for all palettes. Afternoon canapes were also delivered to our room daily. We also learned that if you don’t see what you want, you ask for it. The majority of the time we were able to get whatever we asked for. The only time the answer was no was when it was literally not on the ship anywhere.

One of the great things about cruising in a suite is having a butler. Lounging by the pool and too lazy to get yourself a mojito? Call the butler. Stay out too late the night before and prefer to have breakfast delivered to your room? Call the butler. Questions, complaints or sad stories? Call the butler. Don’t know if you should call the butler or the concierge? Call the butler. You will recognize the worth of the extra cruise cost the first time you use the butler service.

My butler brought me this wine. How do you like me now?

There are also intangibles associated with cruising in a suite. They may not be listed benefits, but they are things we noticed while we were out and about on the ship. For example, if we forgot to make dinner plans at one of the specialty restaurants and arrived without a reservation, we may be told that the wait to get a table is an hour. Once we give them our room number, suddenly a table is ready in half the time. A miracle? Or influence? We noticed time and time again that the already wonderful level of service went even higher once the crew member looked at our room number and recognized it as a suite.

As amazing as it is being a suite, we noticed an exponentially greater level of service when we cruised in the Garden Villa. Being in a suite is like being nobility. Being in the villa, the largest suite on the ship, was like being royalty. Literally our every whim was catered to. Because we had the large outdoor area with the hot tub we spent the vast majority of the time in our room. We had meals delivered, we got top priority when we did want to get off the ship or dine out. We got super exclusive early access to the chocolate buffet and we had reserved seats at every single evening show whether we went or not.  (The ship has been refurbished since we stayed in the Villa, but you can see the videos I took here.)

Being in the giant room has an endless number of perks, but you do pay for it. We got a pretty good deal and it cost about $13,000 for a seven day cruise for two of us. At some point we will be able to do that every time. Maybe you are at that point right now – good! Do it!

If you’re not ready for that, any concierge level suite will give you an exceptional cruise experience. You will get spoiled. You will learn that it is worth it. When someone asks you how your cruise was you can say, “It wasn’t just great. It was first class!”

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