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McMansions of the Seas: The Dawn of the Affordable Suite

In the old days, your average mainstream ship might only have a handful suites, and they were generally snapped up at full fare by the big spenders. Now there are more options for rest of us.

There's hope yet for cruisers who crave five-star travel, but refuse to break the bank.

In the old days, your average mainstream ship might only have a handful of super over-the-top penthouse-style suites. They were generally snapped up at full fare right away by the big spenders. And they still often are, though now there are more options for rest of us.

In today's egalitarian world of cruise travel, you don't have to be Donald Trump or Bill Gates to spring for a suite. Most of the 2,000-passenger-plus big ships of Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, NCL, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Disney cruise lines, offer many categories and price levels of suites across multiple decks to ensure a greater number of passengers have access to the VIP treatment. Suite perks vary, but in the least typical extras include priority check-in, private cocktail parties, free champagne at embarkation, hand-delivered pre-dinner canapés, and more, depending on the suite category.

Snag the best suite rates by cruising off-season or on repositioning sailings, settling for a mid-level suite instead of the penthouse, and generally being flexible with your travel plans.

"If budget is important, be flexible and choose itineraries or dates that will get you the best deal. A three-night New Year's Eve cruise in a top suite, for instance, will probably cost more than the same accommodation on a seven-night western Caribbean cruise in September," says Florida-based travel agent and cruise blogger Sherry Laskin, owner of Vacation Shoppe (, who provided us with fares for our sample of sweet suite deals below.  

Carnival Liberty (

Captain's Suite
Feb. 27, 2010, 7-night eastern Caribbean round-trip from Miami costs $2,499 per person.

The 3,710-passenger mega cruiser has a pair of 500-square-foot "captain suites" with 150 square-foot balconies facing forward (just above the bridge). Amenities include a king bed, large closet, two flat-screen TVs, L-shaped sofabed, table and chairs, mini-bar and count 'em, two bathrooms (one with a tub!).

Holland America Westerdam (
Penthouse Veranda Suite
Oct 25, 2010, 18-night Transatlantic crossing from Civitavecchia/Rome to Ft. Lauderdale is $8,389 per person double occupany.

In keeping with the historical legacy of Holland America, guests in the 1,318-square-foot Penthouse Verandah Suites get treated to impressive art and antique collectables, including a 19th-century ivory and silver bust of a French queen, a nearly 4,000 year old terracotta figurine from Cyprus, and a classic antique still-life of fruit with an ornate wooden frame. Intriguing artifacts and art aside, penthouse luxuries include an expansive verandah with hot tub, dressing room, and pantry with microwave and refrigerator.

MSC Splendida (

Yacht Club Royal Suite
May 29, 2010, 7-night western Mediterranean cruise round-trip from Genoa starts at $3,039 per person double occupancy.

The ship's pair of Yacht Club Royal Suites comes with butler service, use of exclusive Yacht Club private lounge, solarium pool and bar, reserved area in main dining room, and complimentary wine at lunch and dinner as well as premium alcohol in the Yacht Club lounge. 

Celebrity Equinox

Penthouse Suite
April 19, 2010, 14-night transatlantic crossing from Ft. Lauderdale to Civitavecchia/Rome is going for $10,996 per person, double occupancy.

The cool, retro-style Penthouse Suite measures 1,291 square feet, with a sprawling wraparound veranda, king-sized bed, walk-in closet, full bar, enormous living room with dining table for 8 and surround-sound entertainment system with 52-inch TV. Tickle the ivories of the baby grand piano while gazing out through floor-to-ceiling sliding doors or spend hours in the lavish marble bathroom, complete with a double-headed shower stall, whirlpool tub, and 26" LCD TV.

Norwegian Gem (
Garden Villa

April 10, 2010, 14-night transatlantic cruise from New York to Venice costs $14,549 per person for the first two guests. Additional family members in the suite up to eight cruise for only $149 each.

Norwegian Pearl
Garden Villa
April 24, 2010, 7-nights west coast cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver costs $7,399 per person for the first two guests. Each additional passenger in the suite is only $29 each.

Norwegian Dawn
Garden Villa
April, 2010, 7-night Bermuda cruises round-trip from New York are going for $7,834 per person double occupancy; with the third to eighth passengers at $234 each.

NCL's mansion-sized 5,000-plus square-foot Garden Villas each have a living room, dining room, sundeck with hot tub, and private garden and terrace with outdoor dining area. The three separate bedrooms each have a king- or queen-size bed and bathroom. Of course there's butler service and a concierge. The pampering includes L'Occitane products, wireless internet access, espresso/cappuccino machine, free limo service on way home from the pier to airport, and even baby grand pianos in Gardens Villas aboard Jewel, Jade, Pearl and Gem.

Talk with fellow Frommer's cruisers on our Cruise Forum.