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What's the difference between a balcony cabin and a suite on a cruise?

DCL Balcony

You’re planning your cruise and you want a cabin with more space. Do you go for the balcony cabin or do you upgrade to a suite? If you’re not familiar with cruise ship accommodations, it can be tricky to decide if you need a balcony cabin vs. a suite – especially since ships may have several types of balcony cabins and suites.

In this guide, we walk you through the similarities and differences, so you can pick the best cabin for your upcoming sailing.

What’s a balcony cabin?

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A balcony cabin is any cruise room with a private verandah. The balconies themselves tend to be small, with just enough room for two upright chairs and a drinks table, though you can find some balcony cabins with space enough for a lounge chair. The cabin interiors are the same size or a tad larger than outside cabins (which feature a window but no outdoor space).

Some balcony cabins are themed, such as spa cabins with Zen-like décor and perks at the ship’s spa. Others might come with concierge access and extra privileges. Celebrity’s infinite veranda cabins have an indoor/outdoor space with a window that can roll down to turn part of the cabin into an open-air balcony.

Balcony cabins typically sleep two to four people, but sometimes they can accommodate more. 

What’s a suite?

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A suite refers to any number of the top accommodations on a cruise ship. A true suite has the bedroom separated by walls from the living area, while a mini-suite or junior suite is often a more spacious version of a balcony cabin with the sleeping and living areas in the same room. Very rarely do you find a large suite that does not come with a private veranda.

Unlike the standard cabins, a suite might have a full living room area plus a dining table, an in-cabin bar, and multiple bathrooms. The master bathrooms can be incredibly spacious with whirlpool tubs, double vanities, and powder rooms or walk-in closets.

Suites are often found at the front and back corners of the ship, and might have multiple balconies or a large wrap-around veranda. On some ships, such as Royal Caribbean’s newest, suites can be two levels with bedrooms upstairs and living and dining spaces downstairs. Usually, suites are found on the higher decks.

Surprisingly, suites don’t always sleep more people than balcony cabins, despite being significantly larger. Often, they’re meant for two people. Some have pullout sofas, while family-themed suites might have separate bedrooms for kids or extended family.

What are the differences between a balcony and a suite?

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Price: Not surprisingly, a suite typically costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than a balcony cabin. For example, on a September Norwegian cruise to the Caribbean, a standard balcony cabin starts at $699 while a suite starts at $1,546 and a Haven suite at $2,197.

Size: One reason suites are more expensive than balcony cabins is because they are bigger. For example, a balcony cabin on Disney Dream measures 246 square feet (including the verandah area). A one-bedroom suite is 622 square feet, and the Royal Suite is 1,781 square feet. 

The Royal Loft Suite on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas spans 2,587 feet (1,744 indoors and an 843-square-foot veranda). A standard balcony on the same ship measures 232 square feet (a 182-square-foot cabin with a 50-square-foot veranda). In the middle, a one-bedroom Grand Suite is 476 square feet (371 inside, 105 outside).

Whereas balcony cabins are typically one big room with a bed, sitting area, desk/vanity, and closet, some suites may have multiple rooms with the bedroom separate from the living room or even a second bedroom. Some might have a second bathroom, as well.

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Amenities: Balcony cabins come with the standard amenities offered to inside and outside cabins. Suites get extras. Depending on the cruise line, ship, and suite category, you might find upgraded toiletries in the bathroom, bathrobes and slippers, in-cabin coffee or espresso maker, fancier showerhead or whirlpool tub, and multiple televisions. The more expensive the suite you book, the nicer the amenities you get.

Perks: The same is true about perks. Suite guests get the VIP treatment that balcony cabin occupants do not get, with a mix of special privileges and inclusions. Depending on the cruise line and suite type, you may have access to expedited boarding, disembarkation, and tendering; access to private eating areas and lounges, possibly even pools and sun decks; and butler or concierge service.

You also may receive included in your fare what other passengers pay for a la carte. These freebies could include complimentary gratuities, Wi-Fi, specialty dining, drink packages, and room service. Promotions like Norwegian’s Free at Sea tend to offer all the perks free for suite guests, but balcony guests may only be able to choose a few from the list.

Is it worth getting a suite on a cruise?

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If you’re trying to decide whether to go for the balcony vs. the suite, you’ll want to consider several factors. Sometimes it makes sense to splurge on a suite, but for many cruisers, a balcony suits their needs just fine.

Ask yourself these questions:

Can I afford a suite? Your budget is the most important consideration in the decision to book a balcony cabin or suite. If you can’t afford a suite, the choice is made for you. If paying the higher fares for the suite means you’ll have to skip other expenses – whether that be fun shore excursions in port, a second vacation later that year, or those guitar lessons you’ve always wanted – you might decide that a suite isn’t worth it. 

Be sure to do the math and add up the total vacation cost before making your decision. Cruisers who intend to pay a la carte for an internet package, a drinks package, several meals at specialty restaurants, and a priority boarding package (like Carnival’s Faster to the Fun) might find they’re spending more by buying these things individually. The fare difference to book a suite that includes these extras might be less, meaning you’d save on the total vacation cost by booking a suite.

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Do I need a suite? If you’re a couple who spends all their vacation time exploring in port and enjoying onboard activities, you might only hang out in your cabin to dress and sleep. It’s not worth booking a beautiful, large suite if you don't plan to hang out in it. The balcony cabin would be a smarter choice.

The same thinking applies to a port-intensive itinerary with no sea days. If you’re going to be off the ship every day, all day, you won’t be able to take advantage of that gorgeous veranda or lovely sitting area in your suite. Why waste your money on a suite you won’t use?

On the other hand, if you’re traveling with kids and need more space for them and their stuff, a suite – especially a family suite – could come in handy. Large families and groups traveling together would be smart to book at least one suite where the entire clan could gather for pre-dinner drinks and group hangouts. Social butterflies who love to make friends onboard and invite them back to their cabin for private cocktail parties will need the extra space of a suite for entertaining.

The answers to these questions should guide you in your decision about whether to book a balcony cabin vs. a suite. Either way, you’ll enjoy private outdoor space for relaxing sea day afternoons and scenic sailaways.