We learned a few cruising experience secrets recently… the ones that “those fat cats on Wall Street don’t want you to know.” (I always cringe when I hear statements like that. It is usually some “click bait” trying to get you to read a sponsored site about a service you didn’t realize you needed—or even wanted!)
Disclaimer: If you feel compelled to buy something, you could use our Amazon link or select items we like on the review tab. It will not cost you a penny more! 🙂
Let’s start over by sharing what we found with our cruising experience on my birthday trip. There is another class level of service available on these mega-ships that carry 3,000+ passengers. We found this out through a series of fortunate events directly caused by our long-term cruise travel agent.
This time we booked a balcony room. Last time, our interior room was horrible!
We have taken this cruise route twice before with slightly altered destinations. The common theme did not change: We were able to drive from our home in Arizona to the Los Angeles port (San Pedro) in eight hours, take a seven-day cruise of the Pacific side of Mexico, and stop at Los Cabos San Lucas (Cabo) as the last destination before returning home.
Two years ago, we decided to go ultra-cheap on this trip with an inside cabin for $600 each—our worst cruise ever.
Our room was directly below the main kitchen for the buffet lines. Each morning, around 3 or 4 AM, we heard the sounds of equipment rolling across the floor and water running and draining. Directly outside our door was the entrance for the service employees to get their supplies and carts. It seemed like we never got any relaxation. The only upside was it was darker than a bat cave, which made it easy to fall asleep at night.
This was the first time in my years of cruising that we asked for, and moved to, a different inside cabin room that was quieter. We swore we would try not to save money this way again.
This time our cruising experience was in a balcony room
I asked our cruise agent to find us a deal for the week of my birthday. We definitely wanted a balcony room this time. She called back a few days later and mentioned there was a seven-day Mexico cruise and that, for only $198 more than we had planned to spend, we could upgrade to a mini-suite. Evidently, they had a sale going and she said we should try one to see if we liked it. I justified it: Heck, it’s my birthday and I deserve it!
About four weeks before the cruise, the agent told us about a call she had received from her Princess Cruise Lines representative. For an additional $798, we could upgrade to a penthouse suite. Of course that piqued my interest and I asked what it offered. Here is the list that I wrote down at the time: a larger room, free laundry service, a jetted tub, a walk-in closet, first-night dining in upscale restaurant for free, and a free mini-bar setup. After a quick discussion with my wife, I called the agent back and we jumped on the deal. You only live once (YOLO), I justified, and we deserve this!
The cruise day arrived. The room exceeded our expectations!
We couldn’t wait to get to our room to see what a suite on a cruise ship was like. This was our first glimpse:
How big is this room? We can’t even see the whole thing from the front door!
We slowly walked around the corner and noticed a double set of balcony doors. Then, behold the next sight:
The area around the bed is typically the size of the entire balcony room on this ship. But wait, there’s more!
We took a peek into the separate bathing area of the bathroom and came upon this:
We had a full shower and jetted tub… yikes! After gazing at the beautiful artisanship and spotlessly clean room, we looked at the walk-in closet. Yes, a walk-in closet with additional drawers, house robes, slippers, and assorted other goodies.
We quickly changed into shorts and went out to our double patio to gaze at the San Pedro docks.
I kept thinking, What a different experience compared to two years ago!
Time to settle into seven days of relaxation
Our room steward, Vitor, greeted us shortly after we arrived. We were still in shock and had not discovered all the little extras. The first thing he asked was, “Would you like a couple bottles of Champagne?” We love wine but typically don’t drink Champagne and my frugal gene was saying no way would I buy a bottle of something we don’t drink. He saw that look in our eyes and told us that the bottles were complimentary. We still said no because that is our default answer. Later we came to our senses and called room service to receive our free bottles.
Vitor pointed out the free stocked mini-bar and how we could re-order (that would cost money) any item we needed. He left a menu to order complimentary canapes to be delivered to our room at any time convenient for us. He volunteered to leave anything else we needed and told us to call on him 24/7. Now that is service.
We were still in shock when Vitor left and we sat down on the couch, ate a couple canapes, and enjoyed the largest grapes I have ever seen.
We unpacked, threw all the electronic devices into the safe (except mine needed for this picture) and decided to relax and take in the room. We glanced toward the patio doors and noticed a live orchid.
With years of travel and cruising experience, I can’t remember ever having a live plant in any room. Now this is the way to travel!
We discovered more perks each day
We found out quickly that having a suite opens up previously unavailable reservation times in the restaurants.
Our favorite was the Crown Grill, which served excellent grilled meats and seafood. It was our second night on the cruise when we discovered this wonderful location. On the way out, the maître d’ asked if we would be joining them for breakfast. Huh? As suite guests, we were entitled to an exclusive breakfast each morning in this restaurant. Every day, at 7:30 AM we greeted them at opening for a top-notch breakfast. The most tables I noticed full at any one time were four. We had four wait staff at our disposal, serving us freshly made pastries and breakfast each morning. How fast our lives changed—from a couple eggs or steel-cut oats in the morning to this level of service.
Prior to arriving in Cabo, we received our golden ticket to get off the ship whenever we wanted. Instead of waiting with the masses for a tender to the port, we simply showed our ticket and were walked to the next boat. This benefit was the same returning to the ship!
My wife wanted to get an access pass to the ship spa for the thermal spa with special heated chairs, sauna, and steam room. Normally this would cost an extra $150. She asked if there would be any cost since we were in a suite. Guess what, it was included at no cost!
And a couple more benefits for good measure: complimentary mimosas with breakfast, upgraded sheets, towels, pillows, and patio furniture. We had our laundry done twice. Price of laundry service was $0. Arriving home clean clothes? Priceless!
Conclusion: Was it worth the money to upsize?
We paid $3,100 for this suite that would have (at full price) cost $8,000 for the week – a 61% discount. Granted, at $3,100 we were paying over $400 a day for this trip. I would do it again without thinking twice if offered. Our experience is one we will remember for the rest of our lives.
Each day, we enjoyed a new benefit, like a private happy hour in a club that was perched at the back and tallest point of the ship with excellent, unobstructed views of the ocean. Only elite and suite members could enter. It was like a quite oasis away from the lines and busyness of the rest of the ship.
This has now made us wonder what the “mini-suite” cruising experience would be and if our taste for a suite and luxury has tainted our desire for a simple balcony room. Have we upsized our lives to the point that only really nice rooms will work for us from now on?
I don’t think so, but we are willing to find out since we plan on a 14-day Caribbean cruise one year from now.