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I recently spent two nights on board the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, during a preview sailing for media. The ship has a dizzying array of features, but for families, chief among them — albeit one that’s out of range for most — is the Royal Caribbean Ultimate Family Suite. More modestly, it’s Room 1733. Right now, it’s the only one of its kind across the company’s entire fleet, though a second is coming next year to the Quantum of the Seas.
Though I couldn’t spend the night, I was able to spend a few hours exploring the palatial 1,346-square-foot suite. And you do need hours. It spans two decks and includes one of the most jaw-dropping balcony views on the entire ship.
Even if I never get to step foot in this suite again (and I probably won’t), it was fascinating to see what’s available for families with a hefty travel budget. The Ultimate Family Suite accommodates up to eight guests across two bedrooms and living room.
There’s a child safety gate leading into the kids’ room, a crawl-through nook from the adult bedroom to the kids’ room and what is possibly the loudest wallpaper my retinas have ever seen in the kids’ bathroom. Seriously, this is almost blinding.
There’s a private cinema room with an 85-inch 4K TV that streams movies, a popcorn machine and the latest gaming consoles. All of them. (Microsoft Xbox One X, Nintendo Switch and Sony PlayStation 4 Pro.) As if that weren’t enough, there’s also an air hockey table, a building block wall, table tennis on the balcony and a Luckey Climbers vertical maze.
It’s extra in every possible way. Parents who prefer toned-down, earthy hues should avert their eyes because this space is blue and orange and pink and purple and yellow and neon. Oh, and there’s a spectacularly bright in-suite slide, where even the biggest of kids can slide from the top floor. Speaking of the top floor, It’s worth noting that no beds (beyond the pull-out couch) are located on the ground floor, so stairs are a must to access much of the suite.
In some ways, this is the kind of thing that exists simply because it can.
I spoke with Laura Hodges Bethge, vice president of customer experience, in the Ultimate Family Suite. She explained that the suite was dreamed up by her creative team. “We wanted them to push the boundaries — to create something guests may not even think to ask for.”
Unlike many things that come out of this group, the Ultimate Family Suite required no lobbying. “It was an immediate hit,” said Bethge. “We’ll have one on every new ship going forward.”
What also caught my attention was the size. “This is the largest suite on the entire ship,” said Bethge. “Our ships tend to sell from the top down.” In other words, the priciest and most spacious accommodations are claimed first, followed by the standard rooms where the rest of us sleep.
As with the ship’s other suites, the Ultimate Family Suite includes a Royal Genie: basically a butler assigned to cater to the needs of suite guests. Cruisers who book this room will receive a text several weeks prior to departure from their Royal Genie in a bid to start the conversation about likes, dislikes and what the family is hoping to achieve on vacation.
According to Bethge, the genie assigned to the Ultimate Family Suite is trained at a renowned butler academy in the UK, and can be easily spotted on the ship thanks to his or her special purple garb.
While they kept the suite clear during our preview sailing, it’ll be occupied soon enough — despite the massive price tag.
It was booked for the ship’s first-ever passenger sailing out of its new Miami home, and is already spoken for on nearly 80% of available dates. That’s particularly impressive given that the cheapest it’ll sell for is around $20,000 for a weeklong sailing, while peak periods such as Christmas week will demand upward of $80,000. (And yes, if you’re curious, Christmas 2018 is already spoken for.) Talk about sticker shock.
Now, a small bright side is that price doesn’t move depending on the number of guests, so it breaks down to $2,500 per guest at the lowest rates (assuming a full house of eight) — which is, of course, still a big chunk of change.
Given the demand, I asked Bethge if Royal Caribbean would consider installing multiple Ultimate Family Suites per ship. She’s currently of the mind that one is enough — she appreciates that families can be the sole inhabitants of the most exclusive suite on the ship.
Beyond wanting more variation in size and configuration of these suites on each ship, I would love to see a corporate giving aspect to the room.
For example, a portion of each week’s proceeds could be donated to Make-A-Wish, with a goal to eventually host Make-A-Wish families in the Ultimate Family Suite on some sailings. But it’s early days for the product, so maybe one day.
Despite the astronomical price tag, multi-generational families with a (much) larger than average budget could see value here. The lack of effort required beyond making an initial booking is an incredible time saver. You pay for the week, ensure that you arrive to the dock on time and essentially everything else is taken care of for you. Your “genie” maps out activities and excursions for each member of your family, you get to enjoy being in the largest, most exclusive suite on the ship and you’re effectively guaranteed reservations at every ride or restaurant.
While it’s not as straightforward to exchange points and miles for a cruise as it is for a flight, we do have a guide that lays out a few of the best tips and tricks, as well as a guide to the best credit cards for booking cruises. Travelers should be aware, however, that in most cases when you redeem points at a fixed-value via your credit card’s travel portal, it’s usually at a less favorable rate then when transferring points to an airline or hotel partner.
If you’re a family gearing up for a cruise, be sure to check out more of our cruise stories:
- What I Learned on the World’s Largest Cruise Ship
- Cruising With a Family: Booking Two Staterooms for the Price of One
- How and Why We Booked Our First Cruise
- Cruising With Kids: 10 Mom-Tested Tips for Smooth Sailing
- An Overview of Cruise Line Loyalty Programs
Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.
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