Royal Caribbean has unveiled a new suite neighborhood on its newest and biggest ship, Wonder of the Seas, and my daughter and I are among the first to move in.
I’ve put down (temporary) roots in most of the major luxury cruise lines at sea, but I’ve never rented rooms in a suite enclave on a big, mass-market ship. For the hefty sum of $11,000, My Grand comes with not only sizable living quarters, but access to a VIP-only restaurant, lounge and sun deck, and a bevy of perks, from complimentary Wi-Fi to private beach access on Labadee.
It’s been half a week since I moved into this gated community, and it’s definitely elevated the experience of sailing with thousands of vacationers on a humongous cruise ship. Still, it’s not perfect.
Here are five things I love about Royal Caribbean’s new suite neighborhood, and three that could stand to be improved.
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My suite is huge, livable and has a TV hidden in the ceiling
My daughter and I get to call a Grand Suite home for the week. It’s the most common suite type in Wonder of the Seas’ Suite Neighborhood.
It’s 371 square feet with a 105-square-foot balcony. To put that in perspective, it’s double the size of a standard balcony cabin (which measures 182 square feet with a 50-square-foot balcony) and larger than a typical balcony suite on a line like Silversea Cruises or Seabourn. It has a living room with a full-size pullout couch and oversized square easy chairs, a long desk and large flat-screen TV. In other words, it’s party-sized, not that we’ve done much entertaining. However, I can work on my laptop while my daughter colors, with plenty of room to spare.
The spacious private balcony has a dining table for four, perfect for a room service meal. We’ve watched the waves on our two pillow-topped chairs, each with footstool for comfy lounging.
The bathroom does not have a double vanity, a luxury cruise ship hallmark. However, it features an enormous shower with a wand and a rain-showerhead and tons of storage. (Our room happens to be a wheelchair accessible cabin; I’m told typical Grand Suites have bathtubs with showerheads.)
Related: First look at Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas
Cool amenities include a Lavazza coffee and espresso maker, name-brand Malin + Goetz toiletries (with separate pump bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion) and a second TV that folds down from the wall above the bed when you press power on the remote. Seriously.
Perhaps the most useful suite feature for families is a blackout curtain that can be pulled shut to separate the living room from the bedroom area. I can put my daughter to bed, draw the curtain and read or work on the couch with the lights on. If you were traveling as a family of three or four, the adults could sleep the kids on the pullout couch, then snuggle in bed and watch TV after bedtime. The only downside is if you keep the curtains closed all night long, you’ve just created the world’s nicest inside cabin with no natural light for yourself. Womp womp.
The concierges make my life hassle free
I quickly learned that when you’re on a ship with 4,200 people (at full capacity, the ship can hold nearly 7,000!), reservations are a must. You want to see the ice skating show or the divers in the AquaTheater? You need to get tickets in advance. Care to dine at one of the specialty restaurants, such as the new Mason Jar restaurant? You better reserve a table on day one.
The average cruiser has to take their chances with the Royal Caribbean app (which didn’t always work for the reservations I wanted) or run around to various locations onboard to reserve each activity in person. I just roll across the hall from my suite to the Suite Lounge and rock up to Jorge and Willie’s desks. They’re the two concierges, and they handle everything for me.
Related: 7 reasons you should splurge for a suite on your next cruise
When our dining got switched from early seating to anytime dining that didn’t start until 6:45 p.m. (too late for the 8-year-old), they pulled some strings and got us switched back. When we wanted sought-after brunch reservations at the Mason Jar on the first sea day, they scored us a table.
Having their assistance takes much of the annoying logistical hassle out of big-ship cruising. We can spend more time enjoying the ship than planning our days, and that’s how a vacation should be.
Coastal Kitchen is elegant and kid-friendly
When asked if she had made any friends on the cruise, my daughter said yes and then named our dinner waiter at the Coastal Kitchen, the restaurant adjacent to the Suite Lounge that’s exclusive to suite guests and Pinnacle Crown & Anchor Society loyalty members.
Coastal Kitchen looks like a fancy, adults-only restaurant, but children are welcomed with open arms. It lets suite guests take a breather from the crowds in the main dining room and buffet without having to spend extra or worry about what their kids will eat.
The narrow, curved space is cleverly designed, so no matter where you sit, you’re only ever adjacent to a few other tables. All tables offer views out the floor-to-ceiling windows. We enjoyed watching the zip liners and basketball players in the Sports Neighborhood while we ate.
We’ve eaten breakfast and dinner at Coastal Kitchen, though it’s open for lunch, too. Service is outstanding, whether it’s the waiters making special chocolate milk and plates of berries for my daughter, or bringing me salsa and sambal when I was looking for a non-Tabasco hot sauce for my morning eggs. Everyone chats with us and calls my daughter “princess,” and we feel like royalty rather than apologizing for bringing rugrats into an upper-crust establishment.
The Suites Sun Deck is the trendy rooftop pool I’ve always wanted
I have spent enough time with my kid at the onboard splash park to know: The pool deck on Wonder of the Seas is a zoo.
There’s constant noise — music, pool games, the buzz of hundreds of people chatting — and hordes of people moving from pools to bars to the soft-serve ice cream station to the waterslides.
The Suites Sun Deck is the antidote to the Deck 15 crazy. It’s the neighborhood’s trendy rooftop pool, set on the roof of Coastal Kitchen and the Suite Lounge. It has the requisite bar, birdcage-inspired circular day beds, lounge chairs, and overstuffed patio chairs and couches. In one corner is an extra-large whirlpool overlooking a wading pool with lounge chairs set in the water.
Related: The best cruise ship waterslides and watery fun zones
I love it — but I’ve spent all of half an hour there. If I were here with my husband, I would definitely be a regular, lounging away my sea days reading, chatting and snoozing in the sun. Cruising with my daughter, I have a tougher time convincing her to leave the fun of the main pools for a quiet hot tub soak in our exclusive retreat. I hope the next version of this sun deck comes with a small plunge pool instead of the wading pool.
I could spend the whole day in my ‘hood if I wanted to
While I love the various Suite Neighborhood perks individually, the convenience of a central location seals the deal. If I’m in my suite, it’s easier to pop over to the Suite Lounge for continental breakfast than order room service in advance. I have a one-stop help desk when I don’t want to run all over the ship making reservations or asking questions. I have a quiet sun deck at my fingertips — even if the actual pool is not so far away.
Plus, if I had sensory overload from the hubbub of the Promenade and pool decks, I could eat all my meals, get all my wine and cocktails, and relax in good weather and bad all within the Suite Neighborhood. It defeats the purpose of booking a room on the world’s biggest cruise ship to do this, but there’s power in knowing you can.
But not everything is roses and sunshine in the ship’s luxury apartment complex. Here are a few areas for improvement.
Check-in was chaotic
Suite guests can check in an hour before or after our assigned check-in time on embarkation day, so we can start our cruise at our leisure. However, I stepped onboard the cruise ship into a chaotic indoor mall filled with people and luggage, and no one was waiting to greet me and tell me where I needed to go. Our rooms weren’t open earlier than the regular cabins, as happens on some ships, forcing us to lug our luggage around for two hours.
While it was nice to have the option to relax in the lounge or dine at Coastal Kitchen while waiting for the suites to be available, I found the boarding process to be less-than-welcoming, especially for new cruisers who have no idea what to expect or where to go. Some friendly crew stationed at the entrance would be useful — and not just for suite guests.
Our room steward is AWOL
On luxury cruises, my room stewards have been magical creatures who would always appear, with a big smile, any time I left my cabin and could somehow intuit when I was out of the room and clean it before I came back. They gave me tours of the suite amenities and offered choices of pillow types or toiletries.
I have seen my room steward exactly once on this trip — when I called him at 9:30 p.m. on the first day because he had not split the double bed into twins for my daughter and me. He did not show me around the cabin, explain any perks or even point out the TV in the ceiling. He didn’t put up a balloon or even make a towel animal for my daughter’s birthday.
We do see his sweet assistant, and she always greets us with a smile. But given that room stewards in standard cabins on mega-ships (let alone luxury ones) can be amazing, I’m surprised I have not seen more of him on this trip.
I have no place to put my socks and underwear
My friend’s standard balcony cabin comes with a bureau with drawers to store clothing you don’t want to hang up. Our Grand Suite has three narrow closets with some shelves and a vanity with four shallow drawers that are better for makeup or jewelry than clothing. The desk in the living room has a few deeper drawers, but it’s all the way across the room from where I’d store the rest of my outfits.
In short, I have no good place to stow my socks and underwear, and my bathing suits and workout clothes are sitting on the bottom of my closet where I’d normally put shoes. I don’t understand why in so spacious a room, the designers couldn’t find an obvious place to add shelves or drawers for standard clothing items.
Perhaps if I aim my remote at other areas of the room, some shelves will drop down from the ceiling.
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Featured image by Erica Silverstein/The Points Guy.