By: Andrea M. Rotondo, Cruise Critic Contributor
Cabins in two categories are the first to go whenever a cruise itinerary goes on sale: the most inexpensive stateroom -- be it an inside cabin or porthole view -- and the top-of-the-line suite. It may surprise you that the priciest accommodations are snapped up first, but consider this: A suite offers additional space and enticing perks that aren't available to all cruisers.
The suites aboard today's newest vessels were purpose-built with the "wow" factor in mind, but even older ships offer a variety of options from multiroom suites (sometimes also referred to as family suites) to mini-suites and junior suites. The thing to remember is that these unique accommodations are sometimes sold at fares that aren't substantially higher than those charged for standard cabins.
One popular aspect of suite living, beyond lush furnishings, is the extra services most ships offer. You should expect concierge service, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and assistance when making reservations for alternative restaurants, spas and sold-out shore excursions. Butler service is offered with the most luxe, and they'll handle everything from dry-cleaning and unpacking to daily delivery of hors d'oeuvres and making reservations.
There may be more variety of suites than ever before, but there are still those that absolutely stand out from the competition. Here we offer our favorites among the industry's most drop-dead gorgeous, pampering and elegant accommodations at sea.
Celebrity Cruises' Solstice-Class Ships (Eclipse, Equinox, Reflection, Silhouette, Solstice)
Best Suites: Penthouse Suites
The 398-square-foot verandahs -- complete with hip patio furniture and outdoor whirlpools -- are themselves larger than many traditional staterooms. And, of course, each inviting verandah is attached to a 1,291-square-foot penthouse. Each well-designed space in these suites includes a living room with plush furniture, hardwood floors and a throw rug, 52-inch LCD TV with surround sound, and a baby grand piano; a separate dining room that accommodates eight; and a master bedroom with a king-size bed and adjoining marble bath with double vanities, a humongous shower for two with dual Hansgrohe showerheads and separate whirlpool tub.
Oceania Cruises' Marina and Riviera
Best Suites: Owner's Suites
There are three Owner's Suites onboard each of Oceania Cruises' two newest ships, Marina and Riviera, and they are among the most superb at sea. Size counts, for sure, and these measure 2,000 square feet apiece. Using furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, each features a large living and dining room, bedroom with king-sized bed, his and hers walk-in closets, a music room complete with an ebony grand piano, and even a media room with a professional entertainment system. There's one whirlpool tub in the bathroom and another on the verandah (the latter has a flat-screen television outdoors). Perks for Owner's Suite residents include 24-hour butler service and course-by-course in-suite meal delivery from any onboard restaurant.
Princess Cruises' Sapphire, Diamond and Caribbean Princess
Best Suites: Grand Suites
These three Princess Cruises ships (Sapphire Princess, Diamond Princess and Caribbean Princess) each have an exclusive hideout -- just one -- at the aft, with a gigantic verandah and elegant furnishings. This 1,329-square-foot, one-bedroom suite (1,279 square feet on Caribbean Princess) combines modern technology with old-world luxury: lush brocades, sumptuous bedding, a corner whirlpool tub and separate multijet shower, dining table inside for six and outside for four, a wet bar, two TVs and a computer for those who just can't leave business behind for a week.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager
Best Suite: The Grand Suite
Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager boasts four of these spectacular suites with luxurious contemporary decor. Dark teak cabinetry, cream-colored walls and furnishings, walk-in closets and guest baths add to the ambience of this exclusive hideaway. What makes the suite special, though, is the solarium off the bedroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a soaking tub looking out over the sea. It's lush and romantic and uber-elegant. The suite itself is 753 square feet, and the large balcony comes in at 123 square feet.
Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit
Best Suites: Owner's Suites
Walk into one of the two Owner's Suites aboard Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit, and you'll likely hear soft music playing (compliments of the Bang & Olufsen stereo system in the living room) and see sheer curtains drifting in the breeze by the glass doors opening onto the 190-square-foot teak verandah. At 1,292 square feet, including the balcony, each of these suites is sophisticated and spacious. Your butler will make you feel right at home as you settle into the living room with subtle recessed lighting and a flat-screen TV, enjoy a meal in the separate dining room or get a good night's sleep in the master bedroom with a sinfully comfortable queen-size bed with a down duvet and selection of nine types of pillows. The master bathroom has marble throughout with a double vanity, shower and separate full-size whirlpool tub.
For more information, and the full list of the top suites, visit The 13 Best Cruise Ship Suites.