|Editor's Picks and "Best of the Best" reflect the personal opinion of Paul Motter, CruiseMates' editor-in-chief. Read Paul Motter's Bio|
First of all, let's look at the types of cabins available on cruise ships. The five basic categories are:
Inside: cabins that reside in the interior of the ship rather than next to the hull. This means they have no windows at all, and tend to be smaller, darker, usually (but not always) quieter, and the most affordable cabins on the ship.
Outside: also known as "oceanview", these cabins are next to the hull and have a window that allows natural light into the room. The window usually does not open up, however, in the vast majority of cases. There are some older ships with outside cabins with a porthiole or a sliding window that will open up to fresh air, but on ships built since circa 1994, if the room is high enough to allow open air access they usually built a balcony instead of just a window.
Balcony Cabins: these cabins are often furnished identically to an outside cabin, except they have a balcony. The question on many ships is whether the balcony is "added on" to the room, mean the interior of the room has the same square footage as a standard outside cabin, or if the square footage for the balcony was deducted from the interior space of an outside cabin. Obviously the former is preferable to the latter, but any balcony cabin is preferable to a standard inside or outside stateroom. Princess and newer Celebrity ships tend to "add on" the balconies, while on most other ships it is part of what was formerly interior space.
Suites: these staterooms come in all shapes and sizes. Many ships have "mini-suites" which are little more than glorified balcony cabins, usually with a bathtub and a very small area for in-cabin dining set up. True suites have soundproof doors between the sleeping and waking areas of the stateroom, each room has a separate televisions. These cabins also have larger balconies, often with an area adjacent to the sleeping quarters separate from the area next to the living quarters.
Penthouse, Owner's, Presidential Suites and the like: these are the top suites on any ship and they generally have a full living room with a separate bathroom, a dining area that seats at least four people, a butler's pantry (with a separate outside entrance) where the butler can support in cabin dining with a microwave and refrigerator, a master bedroom with a king-size bed, bath with jacuzzi-style tub and a walk-in closet, and often a separate bedroom for additional guests or family members, often with a separate shower. In newer penthouses flat-screen televisions with DVD players are everywhere, and a hot-tub, sometimes two (on inside and one outside) are common.
However, there is a NEW type of cabin on the block, the cabin with exclusive access to a private outseide pool and spa area. These suites are usually on the top deck, and may be called the Aqua-suites or Garden Villa suites. The concept started on Norwegian Cruise Lines with some of the most amazing suites we have ever seen.
Also new with Norwegian Epic will be the "Studio Staterooms" which will have a common living area but the actual cabin will be little more than a bedtroom and bathroom. The idea is that some people only use their cabin to change clothes and sleep, but they ar eout enjoying the ship the rest of the time. They will be able to enjoy a semi-private area for studio guests only with a bar, large screen televisions, snacks and games. This area is only accessible with studio cabin keycards.
Now you will find the same on the new Carnival ships, as well as the Costa and MSC ships in Europe. In addition to an outdoor area with pool, hot tub and private cabanas where you can "dial-up" a masseuse to come and knead you, these suites generally have private access to this area,requiring a special key to get in.
Holland America started putting "Concierge Suites" on their ships several years ago with private access to a "concierge lounge" in the center which the suite passengers could only enter with their key. Inside was espresso, magazines, a big screen TV with DVDs to let (also could be used in the passenger suites) and an actual concierge who would make dinner reservations, book shore excursions and do other such services.
All of this was probably presaged by the Cunard system of having two different kinds of suite staterooms, the Queen's Grill suites on the old Queen Elizabeth 2, and then adding the "Princess Grill" suites on Queen Mary 2. In the old days, the only difference was where you dined, which had a much higher level of cuisine, but on the latest Cunard Liner, Queen Victoria, sailing in either a Queen's Grill or Princess Grill suite means private access to several public rooms and even anexclsuive deck area.
That is the history of special category suites, becoming more and more common on newer ships. Below is a listing of the best "general" cabins in the cruise fleet.
Oasis of the Seas Loft Suites:Another new stateroom paradign arrives with Oasis of the Seas (December 2009 debut) and the two-story loft suites. These rooms have two stories with an internal staircase. The highlight is a full two-story picture window looking out on the balcony. Oasis will also have the first balcony cabins at sea that face inwards towards public areas on the ship rather than out to sea.
|Loft Suite Balcony||Loft Suite Dining Area||Loft Suite Interior|
(*) Denotes nearly identical sister ships
TOP INSIDE STATEROOMS
Budget Inside Cabins:
Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Victory* (Carnival Cruise Lines) -- Larger than almost any other cruise line, these cabins are 195 sq. ft. inside, among the most spacious afloat in the "bargain" category. Somewhat utilitarian in decor.
Mid-Price Inside Cabins
Celebrity Constellation, Infinity, Millennium, Summit -- standard inside are 171 sq. feet and outside, 172 sq feet. But size isn't everything as they come with mini-bar, lots of closet space, color TV and bath robes.
Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy* (Disney Cruise Line) -- among the best cabins afloat, color TV, sofa, mini bar; inside and outside are a generous 169 sq. feet all have a bath and a half, with an actual bathtub, except the lowest category inside rooms. These rooms come with a "virtual porthole" which is a video window on the outside world - acting almost exactly like a real window althjough the image comes from a real-time camera. Just for amusement the image will also have Micky, Goofy or some otjher Disney character occasionally fly by and wave.
Holland America -- among the most spacious at sea at 182 sq, ft. and more comfortably decorated than Carnival.
Luxury Inside Cabins
Wind Spirit, Wind Star and Wind Surf (Windstar Cruises) -- have beautifully decorated standard cabins measuring 180 sq. ft, all with ample closet space, TV/VCR, portholes, desk, minibar. Aboard Windsurf, "suites" are two connecting cabins, measuring 360 sq. ft. Luxury.
TOP OUTSIDE (OCEANVIEW) CABINS
Budget Outside Cabins:
Carnival Destiny and Conquest Class (Carnival Cruise Lines) -- at 220 sq ft. in category 6A, you also get a 12 sq ft window for plenty of light and visual access. Ample drawer and closet space, private facilities (shower, basin and toilet), telephone, color TV, and sitting area with sofa. Convertible king bed & an upper bed optional.
Royal Caribbean Voyager and Freedom Class Category F at 211 sq ft. gives you a 12.3 sq ft window for plenty of light and visual access. Category FO is the "family oceanview, at 265 sq ft it gives you 3 beds on the floor (a king and two singles). These are the only ocean-view (non-balcony) contenders on these ships as the average outside cabin is a mere 180 sq. ft.
Mid-Price Outside Cabins
Holland America Noordam, Zuiderdam, Oosterdam and Westerdam* -- among the most spacious at sea, these outside cabins are a generous 194 sq. feet equipped with television, telephone and multi-channel music, bathtub and shower. Two lower beds convertible to a queen-size bed.
Celebrity Solstice has a unique Family Ocean View with Veranda: these cabins are immense and roomy at 575 square feet. Situated fully forward of the ship below the bridge, they come with slanted walls and a small verandah barely big enough for a chair and table, but with a solid steel windbreak. The beauty is that while they are sold as "oceanview" they actually have a small balcony.
Princess Cruises: On all ships built since 1996, Sun class through Crown Princess, while inside cabins are a smallish 135-148 sq. ft., outside cabins are spacious at 178 sq. ft.
Celebrity Constellation, Infinity, Millennium, Summit* -- standard outside are a generous 172 sq feet with mini-bar, lots of closet space, color TV, bath robes.
Disney Magic, Disney Wonder* (Disney Cruise Line) -- among the best outside cabins afloat, all have a bath and a half, color TV, sofa, mini bar, these outside cabins are a generous 173 sq. feet.
Luxury Outside Cabins
Crystal Symphony (Crystal Cruises) -- Large and very cozy; standard outside cabins measuring 202 sq. ft.
Seven Seas Navigator (Regent Seven Seas) -- a generous 301 sq. ft. for all-outside standard cabins with large picture window and all the luxuries.
Seabourn Cruises Measuring 277 sq. feet, with separate sitting area, walk-in closets, marble bath with shower, tub, hair dryers and designer toiletries, TV/VCR, tables that convert for in-suite dining, fully-stocked bar, and large marble vanities. These ships don't have balconies, but rather feature "French Windows" which are sliding glass doors which open up to let in fresh air. There is a small landing outside just under 12 inches deep. At least a baby step outside to get a breath of fresh air.
Silver Shadow/Silver Whisper* (Silversea Cruises) -- For Silversea, the minimum-category Vista cabins are outside cabins with generous picture windows (no balcony). They measure 287 sq. ft. while the standard balcony staterooms, Veranda, are 345 sq. ft., either large enough for a two-week cruise.
TOP BALCONY CABINS
Budget Balcony Cabins
Carnival Spirit, Legend, Pride and Miracle* (Carnival Cruise Lines) -- at 185 sq ft. inside plus a 40 sq ft balcony, families get a lot of mileage with seatings areas and extra beds. Ample drawer and closet space, private facilities (shower, basin and toilet), telephone, color TV, and sitting area with sofa. Convertible king bed & an upper bed optional.
Mid-Priced Balcony Cabins
Celebrity Solstice At 195 sq. ft., these balcony cabins are comfy and beautifully decorated. "Concierge Class" staterooms offer a number of upgraded services including welcome aboard champagne, fresh flowers, fruit, afternoon canapes, a leather key holder, personalized stationery, oversized tote bag, upgraded mattresses and bedding. However, all of the verandah staterooms are identical in decor, with 32-inch flat-panel televisions and extra-roomy bathrooms. If you don't ned the fruit & flowers, opt for the lower-priced verandah staterooms and save some money.
Disney Magic /Disney Magic* (Disney Cruise Line) -- cabins with private verandas measure a whopping 253 sq. feet, among the largest in the cruise industry.
Maasdam, Ryndam, Statendam, Veendam*; Volendam/Zaandam*; Rotterdam/Amsterdam* (Holland America) -- 234 sq. feet plus a 50 sq.ft. veranda. Whirlpool bath and shower, sitting area, private verandah, VCR, mini-bar, refrigerator. All staterooms feature TV, telephone and multi-channel music. Queen bed & sofa, queen bed & crib, queen bed & two upper beds, two twin beds, two twin beds & sofa, two twin beds & crib.
Norwegian Pearl, Jewel, Jade, Gem (Norwegian Cruise Lines) The Mini-suite (category AF) at 234 sq. ft is more generous than the standard balcony cabin (162 sq ft, 38 ft balcony) for not much more money. Not truly a suite as this ship has many more suite categories above it. Balcony is 54 sq ft. They feature two lower beds that convert to a double bed, a larger sitting area (some with a convertible sofa bed), luxurious private bathroom with tub and shower, refrigerator, minisafe, remote-controlled television, music console, direct-dial telephone, and a hairdryer. Concierge Services available.
TOP SUITE STATEROOMS
Princess Cruises The Princess mini-suite is a better than average balcony cabin that Princess has generously endowed in abundance on most of its modern ships. Living area with sofa, two TV sets (side by side but different viewing angles), refrigerator, bath with tub and shower, walk-in closet, private balcony. Queen bed, and/or two twin beds & two upper beds, two twin beds & one upper bed. These mini-suites are often available for just over $1000 pp. A bargain on a price per sq ft basis.
Norwegian Pearl, Jewel, Jade, Gem (Norwegian Cruise Lines) The Penthouse (category AB) at 490 sq ft is a best buy on the ship for a luxury room. They feature a separate bedroom queen-sized bed, a separate childrean's bedroom, a living and dining area, luxurious private bathroom with whirlpool tub and shower. Suites also include: refrigerator, CD/DVD libary, minisafe, remote-controlled television, music console, direct-dial telephone, and a hairdryer. Butler and Concierge Services available. Balcony is 54 sq ft.
Oceania Cruises The two newest ships; the Marina and Riviera, boast some of the most lavish staterooms at sea with decor and linens by Ralph Lauren. The suites on these ships are especially lavish - amd large, encompassing the entire width of the ship with a balcony on the stern that actually curves around both the port and starboard corners.
Seven Seas Mariner / Seven Seas Voyager (Regent Seven Seas) -- All suite, all balcony vessels, measuring between 301 sq. ft and 2,002 sq. ft.
Silver Whisper/Silver Shadow* (Silversea Cruises) -- the Veranda suites are 345 sq. ft. But my favorite cabin on the ship is the 701-sq. ft. Silver Suite, providing a large living room with dining area, a good-sized bedroom corDoned off with French doors, and and extra long balcony.
Crystal Cruises Crystal's two ship feature two basic categories, veranda suite or penthouse. They both boast wonderfully comfortable sofas and beds. The Penthouse (caregory PH) is 367 sq. ft and is one big room with veranda. The Penthouse Suite is closer to 500 sq. ft and has a sleeping area with a massive light-guarding drape to separate it from the living area. Both feature beautiful, immaculate bathrooms with gold-plated hardware and marble sinks and generous tubs.
While almost all ships in the budget to mid-price range seem to max out suite sizes at just over 500 sq. ft., there are a few notable exceptions out there.
Silver Whisper/Silver Shadow* (Silversea Cruises) -- My pick for the best cabin on the ship is the 701-sq. ft. Silver Suite, providing a large living room with dining area, a good-sized bedroom separated by French doors and large balcony running the entire width of the suite. Beyond the 701-sq. ft. Silver Suite come the following jaw-droppingly beautiful staterooms: the Royal Suite at up to 1352 sq. ft. (two-bedroom version 1697 sq. ft.), The Grand Suite at up to 1435 sq. ft. (two-bedroom version 1780 sq. ft.), and the Owner's Suite at 1553 sq. ft. All of these suites cost about $750 per person per day or more.
Norwegian Pearl, Jewel, Jade, Gem (Norwegian Cruise Lines) The Garden Villa on Pearl at a whopping 2320 sq. ft is four times larger than most cruise line's biggest Owner's Suite. On Pride of Hawaii, the two Garden Villas are combined into one massive mansion at sea almost 5000 sq. ft. Pearl's Garden Villa Suites have floor-to-ceiling windows with a sliding glass door that opens to a private balcony with deck furniture. They feature a separate bedroom with a king-size bed, a luxurious private bathroom with whirlpool tub and shower. There are also two additional bedrooms with their own private bathrooms with showers. Garden Villas have a living room and dining room, minibar, refrigerator, CD/DVD libary, minisafe, remote-controlled television, music console, direct-dial telephone, and a hairdryer. Balcony is 1035 sq ft.