When advisors talk “exclusive” to families thinking of a cruise vacation, one new option is Royal Caribbean International’s new “Ultimate Family Suite” on the new 6,680-passenger Symphony of the Seas. It's No. 1733 on Deck 17.
Our personal "take" after touring this Star-class suite, the upper echelon of suites on Royal Caribbean's vessel?
Let's just say it’s colorful, creative, spacious and definitely a bundle of fun. It can accommodate up to eight in a family group. But it’s also exclusive, and that brings a hefty price tag.
One European family booked this 1,346-square-foot enclave for $84,000 for the Christmas week, but it ranges from $45,000 to $80,000 or so for other weeks of the year, depending on seasonality and itinerary, according to Laura Hodges Bethge, Royal Caribbean's vice president, guest experience.
"Just like anything else [accommodations-wise], we revenue manage," she says. "On the holidays, even our regular staterooms come at a premium." She notes that this fare, though, reflects the "scarcity" of the experience, as it's limited to just one stateroom.
While the creative team asked itself, 'Should we have a few of them?' Bethge said: "Then it's not really the Ultimate Family Suite if there's more than one," at least on this prototype.
For the future, though, will the line take this concept and extend it to more family accommodations, some perhaps a bit less pricey? Let's just say that executives onboard indicated that this prototype is simply a creative starting point as the line designs family options for future ships.
For now, though, Bethge says "one special family" will find this suite over the top. We certainly felt that was the case. This suite goes well beyond "wow" for a family's onboard experience. Here's how:
- Kids can slide down a colorful, bright orange enclosed slide from the loft suite’s children’s bedroom to the main level.
- Families can enjoy movies on an 85-inch HDTV in a “private cinema” section of the first level living space
- In total, there are seven large flatscreen TVs throughout this suite
- Families can play air hockey inside, or serve up a game of table tennis outside on the balcony
- The suite has three full bathrooms -- one for mom/dad, another for the kids' room, and a third downstairs for those sleeping on the pull-out couch. Two have showers, and the kids' room has a combination tub/shower
- Kids can make their own creations with a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall
- And the list of family fun options goes on
"It's definitely an expression of what the ultimate, iconic family vacation is and how we believe in that segment," Bethge stresses.
First Floor Living Area
Bright and colorful—but comfortable too—is the vibe we had while exploring the main living area. Families will have enjoy lots of natural light via floor-to-ceiling glass that spans two levels.
The slide, which snakes from the loft to the living area, is sure to be a hit with kids, tweens and teens. It's been designed to accommodate the smaller weight of kids/teens so they won’t fly from the slide's end out into the room. Instead, after a fast zip down, they'll land gently, Bethge says.
Adjacent to the slide is a spiral orange staircase, which also leads directly down from the kids room. So if kids want to immediately repeat the slide experience, they can do so quickly. Also, they can take the stairs as the quickest way to their room.
Near the bottom of the slide (and behind the couch) is a swinging chair. One imagines that with kids in residence, it will likely never be still, but adults on our tour couldn't stay out of it either.
While the slide and swing are big features immediately noticed by visitors to suite, it's the smaller touches that impress as well.
For example, we liked the main seating area with a comfortable sofa with multiple pillows. We couldn't help smiling at one particularly endearing pillow with a French Bulldog face.
Two comfortable orange low-rise chairs are designed for adults, teens and kids to sink into, as they face a large flatscreen living room TV.
The entire space has a whimsical feel, and sometimes things change to fit the occasion.
For example, the first-floor living area also has a large air hockey table. It’s built with top surface framing that can accommodate "inserts” that turn it into a large dining room table.
That said, it likely will be just air hockey much of the time. Reporters in our group couldn't stay away from playing a game.
The air hockey/dining room table is ringed by blue seating - both chairs and backless seating.
On the adjacent wall is a humongous blackboard. Here the family is welcomed onboard with a personalized message.
During the cruise, the Royal Genie, the suite’s butler, can also write suggestions on this blackboard about the day’s activities or reminders about dining or show reservations. While touring another nearby suite, Luxury Travel Advisor ran into Reyno Varkevisser, one of the line’s best known Royal Genies.
He's a private butler who focuses on professional, yet casual, fun service. Royal Genies don't dress up in white gloves and formal attire. For a look at how Royal Genies serve guests, read our sister publication Travel Agent's recent feature article about Varkevisser.
"The Royal Genie can really make anything happen" for families, says Bethge. "So if they want to do Laser Tag [a new public space activity on the ship], they get premiere access to that."
She also notes that the Royal Genie will make reservations for specialty dining venues or reserve priority seating at the onboard shows, like the ship's Broadway production show, Hairspray, offered in the Royal Theatre.
Private Cinema Area
Around the corner from the blackboard in the suite's living room level is a private cinema area. It's not separated from the living space by a wall, but there are curtains to pull and block out light.
This space has bean bag seating, video games, board games, a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall and other diversions. Atop bright red cabinetry is a Coca-Cola cooler, a popcorn maker and much more.
Yet, it’s the 85-inch HD TV in this space that wows. "We have it stocked with every kind of movie imaginable—lots of family movies—and the bean bags are around so the whole family can pile in," says Bethge.
The entertainment system also features streaming services, as well as video games playable from multiple consoles.
More on the First Level
Near the suite’s entryway is a full bathroom with a large shower. With a bold, blue-white-and-black-patterned design, it serves suite visitors, family members relaxing in in the living area, and those sleeping on the living room’s pull-out sofa during the cruise.
Sliding glass doors from the main living area lead to a 212-square-foot veranda/balcony that overlooks the miniature golf course, basketball court and the Boardwalk neighborhood; it's easy to see the curved balconies of staterooms there.
The expansive, covered balcony has several lounging spots plus a ping pong table, also used as a dining space.
Kids will likely love the Luckey Climber, a three-dimensional vertical maze, surrounded by safety netting. They can climb on and explore with this playground feature that's part jungle gym, part artwork.
For adults, a full-size whirlpool awaits in the far corner. Overall, this exterior space feels akin to a separate living space, not simply a balcony.
Atop the Loft
A regular staircase (separate from the spiral one adjacent to the slide) leads to the loft level. At the top of the stairs is a small nook with a writing desk; it’s the perfect space for getting out of the fray of kids’ activities and having a quieter place for working on a computer or writing a postcard to friends back home.
This nook also houses the roomy closet for the master suite, with plenty of hanging space. To the right is the king bed, ringed on two sides by glass panels topped with a railing; the space above those panels is open to the living area below.
Curtains on one side can be pulled around the master bedroom area (that's open to the living space below), thus providing visual privacy.
Could be improved? The master bedroom isn't totally private noise-wise, Bethge knows, and she says that Royal Caribbean is already working on how to improve that for this prototype and future accommodations.
Nearby is the master bathroom with a toilet, one sink and large shower; it's designed in hues of cream and brown. Another could-be-improved item from our perspective? We'd like to see two sinks in any master bathroom designed as an upscale suite in this price range.
Also on the loft level is the whimsical children’s bedroom. Its door has what the line calls a “Magic Door” crawl space on its lower section. Think cute “doggy door” in concept -- but it's just for small kids.
That said, we think parents will appreciate the lock from the master bedroom side, so mom and dad can stop the kids from repeatedly popping through that door, if they so desire.
The kids also have their own well-designed bathroom. One nice feature is the full tub, great for bathing small children.
This bathroom also was designed with two sinks and a separate toilet closet, which is helpful if multiple children are sailing at the same time, so more than one can use the bathroom simultaneously.
With the debut of the 228,081-grt ship Symphony of the Seas, the line now operates 25 ships, four of them Oasis-class, the world’s largest cruise ships.
After its inaugural voyage, which is under way this week, the new ship will sail the Mediterranean this summer from Barcelona. Calls include Palma de Mallorca, ports in southern France and at Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Rome (Civitavecchia) and Naples in Italy.
Starting on November 10, the ship will home port in Miami, becoming the line’s first Oasis-class ship positioned there. It will debut at the line’s new purpose-built Terminal A, and sail seven-night eastern and western Caribbean voyages.
It will call at CocoCay, which the line is updating/revamping with new features as part of its “Perfect Day” concept.
Bethge notes that when the new Spectrum of the Seas launches in 2019, it will also have an Ultimate Family Suite, which will be a bit wider than the one debuted on Symphony of the Seas.
Nothing just happens randomly in terms of guest features, she adds, stressing that extensive research and feedback from customers is what ultimately drives the new spaces and accommodations design.
One wish list item customers asked for in the line's research efforts was "a family accommodation that was also over the top. We're known for our over-the-top experiences so why not have that in an accommodation," Bethge stresses.
After inspecting the Ultimate Family Suite, there's no doubt the line definitely achieved that with this special family accommodation on the new ship.