I Put Cruising “First Class” In A Suite on Royal Caribbean To The Test
I Put Cruising “First Class” In A Suite on Royal Caribbean To The Test
When I think of Royal Caribbean, I think of feature-packed mega resort ships, with good value cabins. However, I have seen Royal Caribbean now has some of the biggest and most expensive suites at sea that money can buy.
So, instead of using some savings to book a smaller luxury cruise line that I usually would, I decided to splash that cash on a Royal Caribbean suite, to see if I would get all the service, glitz and glamour they promise in their “Royal Class Suites”.
What did it get me?
With $10,000 (£8,200) of savings I booked a one-bedroom Owner’s Suite on a Symphony of the Seas 7-night Western Mediterranean cruise. At the same time and for a similar route, I could have booked a small ship luxury cruise in a Veranda cabin on Viking, Oceania, or even on Seabourn ultra-luxury line. So, my expectations were high when I thought about those alternatives.
Issue #1: Not All Suites Are Equal
I did find out while booking that even within their suites there is a class system with big differences in perks on Royal Caribbean.
They split the suites into Sea, Sky, and Star. Sea is the lowest level and are junior suites. They cost about $6,000 (£5,000) for a week. Sky is the next level up, which is almost double that including suites like mine.
Then there’s Star Suites, which are at least double what I paid, and goes up to some like the Ultimate Family Suite, which can cost $60,000 a week.
So, what did I get at the Sky Suite level?
First a massive cabin, two to three times bigger than if I’d spent the same amount of money on those other smaller ship lines I mentioned earlier.
I got access to the suite-only Coastal Kitchen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and access to the Suite Lounge with two concierges. Then also a suite deck with bar overlooking the pool deck.
Priority embarkation and disembarkation too, as well as reserved seating areas in the shows. I will talk about the upsides and downsides of perks like this in practice.
They threw in some plush bathrobes, fancy mattress toppers, some pressing of my clothes on formal night, coffee machine and Zoom streaming Wi-Fi per person. It annoyed me as even though I had to pay for two people as a solo traveller, they still only gave me one device connection.
Gratuities were not included, though a promotional deal at the time I booked did include it.
I got more than the Sea level (those Junior Suites) as they just got dinner in the Coastal Kitchen, the coffee machine, and a luxury bathrobe.
The Star level got way more, like a butler (or what they call a “Royal Genie”). I just had a Cabin Steward, again I’ll talk more about the pros and cons of that later. They also got to dine in in any specialty restaurant, deluxe beverage package, stocked soft drinks mini bar, gratuities, best seats in all theatres and all their laundry and pressing.
Issue #2: Not A Suite Area
One thing I’d like to talk about before diving into the pros and cons of those suite perks and experience is unlike their direct resort-ship competitors, MSC Cruises Yacht Club and Norwegian Haven, Royal Caribbean have not created a “ship-with-a-ship” with all the suites and dedicated facilities in one place.
Instead, the suite areas were dotted around the ship, which made it all feel a bit less exclusive and cohesive. My cabin was on deck 11 amongst a range of balcony cabins, Coastal Kitchen, and the Lounge on deck 17, so meant fighting the busy lifts or taking the stairs. The Suite Deck was then down a deck, across the pool deck and up some stairs. It did make it feel a bit less special, and kind of tagged on.
Issue #3: What Worked and Did Not
So, what else was good, so-so, and not so good?
Suite Embarkation and Disembarkation
Both turned out to be a fantastic perk to get around having over 6,000 passengers getting on and off.
However, unlike MSC Yacht Club have, there was no separate drop off for suite guest luggage or special entrance through security. I had a queue up with everybody to get into the terminal, but once in had a suite line to check in quicker.
But the disembarkation perk was fantastic. I could decide what time I wanted to get off as soon as the ship was cleared. Getting off first did not require self-disembarkation and carrying all my own bags, as the suite bags were taken off ready for when the ship was cleared. I went to the Suite Lounge and a Concierge escorted me down an elevator allocated that day only for suite guests right to the gangway.
By the way, they would also do that if self-touring ports for an hour each morning too.
I liked the venue and the food quality in Coastal Kitchen. The menus were sizeable but were smaller than if I had gone on those luxury lines, and while the food was good, it was not as exotic or fancy.
Breakfast was a generous menu with all the expected items. Lunch menus were too, with 6 starters, 6 main courses and 4 deserts plus ice creams.
Dinner had a decent range of 4 starters and 5 mains that would change every day, plus 4 starters and 3 mains that would stay the same (salmon, chicken breast and sirloin steak) and 10 desserts!
I found the Maître de and waiters good, and they got to know me. It was a lighthearted, jokey kind of service, and they remembered quirks like me having Diet Sprite, sparkling water, and decaf coffee.
I ate most meals in here as it wasn’t packed out. After that hefty fare, I did not splash out on speciality dining, as the food in here was fine. I occasionally used Windjammer for lunch on port days when that was less busy, but pleased I had this nice quiet venue for breakfast!
The two downsides for me were the venue was surprisingly noisy at dinner, and having to book a time for dinner where on luxury lines it is open seated and no need. Both were a function of the numbers of suite guests on this huge ship.
Of course, a big upside was not having to navigate the main dining room or Windjammer. I had friends on the same sailing, and they found the whole main dining room quite a stressful situation with fixing anytime dining.
Suite Lounge and Concierge
The suite lounge had ups and downs.
I mentioned earlier that the lounge had two Concierge. One great thing that I haven’t had on luxury lines I’ve been on, is I got an email from the concierge about 10 days before the cruise introducing themselves and asking if I needed any help making bookings or had any questions.
I did clarify a few things around show bookings, and they set up all my Coastal Kitchen dinner bookings to get the times I wanted – as I could not do those on the App.
They were friendly, but possibly due to the numbers travelling in suites, they called me different names many days, and even asked me how the kids were doing on one occasion.
It was great to have them on hand to handle queries and avoid the lines at Guest Services. They also sent a daily email with activities, tips and how they could help. I liked that.
The lounge itself was a good size, and comfortable. The best thing being between 5pm and 8pm, they had a large canapes spread and free drinks. They did have a continental breakfast there, but I only used it on the last day.
The lounge though was not a quiet retreat and could get loud again due to numbers, and of course families are a key part of Royal Caribbean, so kids would be kids in there and in Coastal Kitchen at meals.
The Suite Deck for me was disappointing. I could always get a lounger and did not have to stress about getting one if was on the main pool deck, though this was a port intensive cruise so did not get to test that on a sunny sea day.
But it was quite noisy because it was slap bang above all the pools and the water slides, and while it had a bar, unlike MSC Yacht Club and Norwegian Haven, it didn’t have a pool or casual dining spot, just some hot tubs.
Show Reserved Seating
I really liked the reserved seating in the shows. Though the seating was not always the best seats, for example it was on the side for the Ice-Skating Shows and Upper Level for the Theatre shows, but knowing there would be plenty of seats held and not having to go too early to grab a seat was a plus, as they would be held back until 10 minutes before the show started.
However, I did notice the very best seats in the house were held and reserved in a different place for those in Star suite level, like slap bang centre stage for both the ice and theatre shows.
The only downside, again, comes back to the numbers in suites as the people manning the seats did not recognise who was or wasn’t in suite so they would be a bit assertive and demand to see my cabin card. So that ruined the sort of specialness a slight tad.
But I haven’t spoken about the suite enough yet!
It was enormous. That $10,000 bought me a dramatically bigger cabin than I would’ve had if I’d gone on those smaller luxury lines I mentioned were the same price. This is where the money goes, and for some I think is key to why this may make sense versus those.
It had a dining area, a large lounge area with sofa bed for kids or friends, a bedroom area with curtains and a bathroom. No second or separate toilet. That I felt was a miss as this cabin probably is what families with budget would go for and so just one bathroom with toilet in felt a miss, and there was so much space to have one.
It had the most enormous balcony with a table and lounges, great for a family group or friends sharing to hang out on.
I did have incredible sleeps in there, so that fancy mattress topper perk worked!
What Was Missing?
However, it lacked luxury touches I felt. The toiletries were not a luxury brand, just nondescript ones. I had a tiny little bowl of fruit when I arrived that was never replaced or replenished. I got some bottled water allocated at the beginning, but it wasn’t replaced. There were no flowers or kind of welcoming bottle of something. I did one day get some canapes, which I didn’t take a picture of because I assumed I would get them every day, but that was just one day.
The other miss versus luxury lines was service. I had a cabin steward and he looked after all the cabins along a large stretch of my deck on both sides of the corridor, as I had balcony cabins overlooking Central Park opposite me.
And so, things like I would normally expect in a suite, was missing. For example, on this cruise, I decided I wasn’t really going to get off the ship, so I’d asked him to do cabin when I was at breakfast. But that never happened despite asking often. I told him I was going to dinner every day at 6:30pm, but he would come at random times before then. So small but those little things add up to luxury feel.
Glimpse Into Big Ship “Luxury”
So, again I think that was another reminder that while the crew were good and worked hard, the number per guest still makes it hard to provide the personal, named, and detailed attention that smaller luxury can do.
I felt the suite experience gave me a way to tap into the upsides of this big ship (like the amazing shows and range of entertainment and huge casino) and gave me a way around some of the lines, bustle, dealing with the Main Dining Room, disembarkation crush, and not having to deal with Guest services.
It also meant having a way bigger cabin than the same money would buy on a luxury or ultra-luxury lines which was not a plus for me but would be if one was travelling with kids or friends.
But it was not really a luxury, pampered, made to feel special through personal attention and small details kind of experience. If I want that then I still think I need to spend my money on those other smaller ship luxury lines. Though they come with smaller cabin and without all those amazing attractions, shows and so on.
I came away not seeing the Royal Caribbean suite experience as an alternative to a luxury line but about having a big ship resort vacation with many of the downsides reduced or negated.
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