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The slickest suites at sea

Forget the cramped cruise cabin. In these floating suites, you definitely get more bang for your buck. Sail like royalty, find big suites for small budgets and more.
Image: Norwegian's Garden Villas
At 5,000 square feet, Norwegian's Garden Villas are the largest in the fleet. They're like mini mansions with all the amenities you can imagine — and a garden, hence the name.Courtesy Norweigan Cruise Line
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If you're like us, you get slightly seasick at the idea of spending a week inside a tiny cruise-ship cabin, with those tacky round portholes and bunk beds with lumpy mattresses. OK, maybe they're not like that anymore, but we'd rather not take chances. When we set sail, we'd much prefer, say, a private butler at our disposal. Or a private terrace large enough to ballroom-dance upon. Many of the better cruise lines now have at least one truly impressive suite onboard, the kind of room that would wow you even if you found it in a swank hotel. Some suites are a good bang for the buck, others cost a whole lot of bucks—but you won't feel cramped in any of them. And if you want to see what you're missing by not booking a crowded little cabin, you can always lock yourself in the walk-in closet.

For a complete slideshow of the Slickest Suites at Sea, click here.

1. Cunard Line
Queen Mary 2: Grand Duplex Apartments
Leave it to the Brits to do hierarchy well: These two duplex suites may be the best staterooms at sea. The names themselves—Balmoral and Sandringham—sound awfully regal, and the sea views through two-story glass walls overlooking the stern don't disappoint. Each duplex measures 2,249 square feet and can be combined with four other suites to total more than 9,000. (In which case you probably have a very big family or are claustrophobic.) The 1930s-era Art Deco feel hearkens back to the grand old days of cruising (or what we imagine them to be, anyway), with a premium on good lighting and gleaming dark wood. And if the three polished marble bathrooms don't make you feel giddy, then take several star turns on the sweeping staircase leading to the second floor (and massive bedroom). The in-suite dining room seats eight, so you can invite your new hoity-toity friends to join you for elegant predinner canapés, served each evening by your butler.

Best detail: On Cunard, cabin category determines where you're allowed to eat. Guests in the Grand Duplex Apartments feast in the Queens Grill, where caviar, truffles, foie gras, and Champagne are a few of the menu's delights.

Set sail: Summer, transatlantic crossings; winter, around-the-world voyages

Tel: 800 728 6273
Grand Duplex Apartments from $3,199 per person per night, based on double occupancy

2. Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner: Deluxe suites

When you realize that some seafaring suites can run more than $4,000 per night for a couple, an all-suite ship, such as the Seven Seas Voyager or Seven Seas Mariner, can start looking pretty good. A $556-per-person Deluxe Suite is 301 square feet with many of the same amenities as bigger, pricier suites, including a king-size bed with good linens, a separate sitting area, and free soft drinks and beer in the fridge. And while cruise-ship bathrooms are often dinky and dark, these are akin to a nice hotel room's facilities, with a surfeit of marble, full-size tubs, and separate showers. Of course, you could push up to a Penthouse-class suite, which is roughly the same size but includes a balcony and butler service. But we suggest you consider using those extra bucks on blow-out port excursions.

Best detail: Interactive TV systems allow you to order room service or book a shore excursion without picking up a phone. And room service is worth ordering—butlers bring silver-domed plates piled high with treats.

Set sail: Voyager: summer, Europe; winter, Caribbean and around-the-world voyages
Mariner: summer, Alaska; winter, around-the-world voyages

Tel: 877 505 5370
Deluxe suites from $556 per person per night, double occupancy

3. Norwegian Cruise Line
Garden Villas

Five thousand square feet. That's big enough to do laps in. Big enough to throw a big party. Big enough to ... well, you get it. Not only are the Garden Villas the largest in Norwegian's fleet, they're the most over-the-top. Built on the highest deck, they're like mini mansions, with living and dining rooms, three bedrooms, and three bathrooms. There's a hot tub and steam room located in the private garden (oh, yeah, there's a garden, hence the name). And for more privacy, pull the curtain on the cabana surrounding the hot tub. Not all of Norwegian's ships have Garden Villas, so be sure to ask when booking.

Best detail: Talk about being separated from the hoi polloi. Instead of buffet lines, Garden Villa guests order from a special room-service menu, complete with hors d'oeuvres such as escargots and caviar. Better yet, they enjoy priority embarkation, disembarkation, and luggage service.

Set sail: Summer, routes in Alaska, the Mediterranean, and Europe; winter, voyages in the Caribbean, Europe, and Mexico

Tel: 866 234 0292
Three-bedroom suites from $1,850 per person per night, based on double occupancy

4. Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Splendor: Cloud 9 Spa Suites

This mainstream line is known for pleasing the masses, not indulging the elite. But in July 2008, its newest ship, the Carnival Splendor, will introduce spa suites. (Where hotel trends go, cruise lines will eventually follow.) These 68 suites will have private access to the 21,000-square-foot spa through their own dedicated elevator. The real bonus is that you can slip down for a late-night steam—even when the spa is closed to other guests. The cabins themselves may not be the biggest or most special, but in addition to exclusive spa access, they also have in-room yoga mats and elastic fitness bands, so you can work away all that onboard eating without leaving your stateroom. Bonus: Aerobics classes are free to Cloud 9 Spa Suite guests.

Best detail: The spa, which stretches over part of a whopping two decks, will have a massive thalassotherapy pool. The pool will be popular—probably too popular—so skip it during the day and plan to go late at night, when you'll have it all to yourself.

Set sail: Summer, Europe; winter, the Caribbean

Tel: 800 227 6482
Cloud 9 Spa Suites from $300 per person per night, based on double occupancy

5. ResidenSea
The World: Three-bedroom apartments

These suites really could be apartments. And not just any run-of-the-mill condo in Florida, either: We're talking a renovated beauty you'd find in a prewar building on Park Avenue (all the surrounding water and gentle swaying notwithstanding). Picture recessed lighting, crown molding, and wood paneling, as well as built-in bookcases and striped wallpaper. With three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and totaling 3,242 square feet, these spaces cry out for three couples who like each other—especially considering that there is also a large terrace and a Jacuzzi tub. Hopefully one of you is a gourmet chef, as many of these apartments have spectacular kitchens with Viking ranges and Sub-Zero fridges, and are stocked with so much equipment that it would put "Top Chef's" setup to shame. (Kitchen amenities vary, though, so ask when booking.) Groceries are delivered from Fredy's Deli onboard or from local markets in port.

Best detail: The World's operations are more akin to a floating condo time-share than they are to a cruise ship. While the vessel's got cruise-ship amenities like a Banyan Tree spa and a full gym, the majority of cabins are individually owned, and rented out to passengers when not in use. Owners have a say in the itineraries, and the ship often makes for ports hosting major events, such as Monaco's Grand Prix, Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, and Valencia's America's Cup.

Set sail: Summer and winter, Europe

Tel: 954 538 8400
Three-bedroom apartments from $3,000 per night, with a six-night minimum

6. Holland America
Penthouse Verandahs

Holland America's style has always been traditional, with formal nights, assigned seating at meals, and bouillon and blankets provided deck-side on chilly days. Lately, the line has started loosening up in a bid to attract younger cruisers, but the best suites onboard still rely heavily on the classics, and to great effect. The Penthouse Verandahs' decor includes wallpaper, wood paneling, and deep leather couches. Actually, it feels pretty luxurious in an Old World sense, with an emphasis on service and details. These include free clothes pressing and shoe shines, corsages and boutonnieres for the first formal night, silver baskets of fruit, and personalized stationery. Who knows, you just might get used to all the rather dignified protocols.

Best detail: Guests get their own indoor public space, called the Neptune Lounge, which is reminiscent of a Club floor at a Ritz-Carlton. Best afternoon tea on the high seas.

Set sail: Summer, Alaska, Canada/New England, and transatlantic, and other voyages; winter, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Australia/New Zealand, South America, and Hawaii

Tel: 877 724 5425
Penthouse Verandah Suites from $550 per person per night, based on double occupancy

7. Celebrity Cruises
Millennium-class ships: Penthouse Suites

On a cool, cloudy day at sea, the most popular spot is often the outdoor hot tub. On those days, you're better off in a Penthouse Suite, so you won't have to rub wet elbows with Larry the Salesman from Boise and his charming wife, Louise, who, you know, like to party with other couples. Instead you'll have a 1,098-square-foot deck and whirlpool tub just for yourselves. The suites are big, with enough rooms to get lost in. There's the foyer, dining room, butler's pantry; a living room with a baby grand piano and wet bar; the master bedroom with a dressing room; and (deep breath!) a master bath with a whirlpool tub and separate shower; plus, a second bathroom with shower. "Um, honey? Where are you, anyway?"

Best detail: As in a state-of-the-art hotel room, everything is automated or motorized, from the draperies and lighting to the security system. The suite also comes with flat-screen TVs (two of 'em) and a PC connected to the Internet, in case you want to e-mail pics of yourself in your Jacuzzi to your friends back home. Or Larry and Louise.

Set sail: Summer, Alaska and Europe; winter, the South Pacific and Caribbean

Tel: 800 647 2251
Penthouse Suites from $378 per person per night, based on double occupancy

8. Silversea Cruises
Owner's Suites

Silversea has always been rather, well, select, so it's no surprise that the line has mastered the art of the opulent suite. The Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper each host two Owner's Suites, which each have two bedrooms and two private teak verandas. The living room has a full-size sofa, a coffee table, club chairs, and a plasma TV. And did we mention there's also a dining area with a stocked (and complimentary) private bar? Beat the morning-after hangover with your own in-room Lavazza espresso maker. Each of the bedrooms, meanwhile, has walk-in closets, two marble baths with separate showers, a powder room, and a full-size Jacuzzi. Life's very hard on the seas, you know.

Best detail: While the suite is understated and elegant, service is over-the-top. A butler keeps the place stocked with Pommery Champagne, fresh fruit and flowers. And thanks to the ship's all-inclusive laundry service, this may be the first trip from which you return home with a suitcase full of clean laundry—washed, folded, and even packed by your butler.

Set sail: Silver Shadow: summer, the Pacific Northwest; winter, the Caribbean
Silver Whisper: summer, the Mediterranean; winter, Asia

Tel: 800 722 9955
Owner's Suites from $2,400 per person per night, based on double occupancy

9. Princess Cruises
Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess: Grand Suite

The best part of these aft suites? The view from the spacious balconies, with a panoramic vista of the ship's wake and a parting shot of whichever fabulous port you've just sailed from. And this is no Juliet balcony, either: The deck is large enough for a pair of lounge chairs and a dining table for four. You'll get all-day enjoyment from the terrace, from an outdoor breakfast to sunset cocktails. At $560 per passenger per day, the Grand suites are the budgetary middle ground. Measuring 1,329 square feet, including the balcony, the suites feature a dining area, two flat-screen televisions, a large walk-in closet, a tub with whirlpool jets and a separate multihead shower, and a wet bar.

Best detail: These ships are known for their large Internet cafés—but book one of these suites, and you'll have in-room e-mail access from your own personal computer.

Set sail: Diamond Princess: summer, Alaska; winter, Asia
Sapphire Princess: summer, Alaska; winter, Mexico

Tel: 800 774 6237
Grand Suites from $560 per person per day, based on double occupancy

10. Crystal Cruises
Crystal Penthouse

Crystal's strengths have always been in the "soft goods," like attentive service and the superlative quality of the food—those small things that have a big impact on your experience. And sometimes just feeling that somebody is looking out for you can be the best thing of all. Guests in the Penthouses get limousine transfers to and from the airport, thus eliminating the most unpleasant act of most cruise vacations: crowding onto the shuttle bus and waiting with the other passengers until everyone is ready. When you do arrive, you'll find bathrooms decked out with Swarovski crystal faucets, custom-etched glass sinks, and bidets. Living rooms have DVD players with a library of selections, and stereos are Bang & Olufsen. As for the food and drink: Not only can you can order room service from the celeb chef restaurants aboard, courtesy of Valentino chef Piero Selvaggio and Nobu Matsuhisa (how about sashimi on your balcony as you sail out of Venice?), but the room is also outfitted with free wine, beer, and liquor.

Best detail: Your suite also comes with a personal gym—including a treadmill or stationary bicycle—in which to work off those Valentino King Crab Cakes and cocktails.

Set sail: Crystal Symphony: summer, northern Europe; winter, the Caribbean
Crystal Serenity: summer, the Mediterranean; winter, South and Central America

Tel: 888 722 0021
Crystal Penthouse from $1,398 per person per night, based on double occupancy