Passage to privacy

Cruises: When the ship gets too noisy or crowed, escape to the comfort and seclusion of your own veranda.

February 06, 2000|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On my first cruise, I was thrilled to have an outside cabin with a small porthole that provided a patch of natural light and a glimpse of cobalt sea.

On my last cruise, I griped because my private veranda was not large enough to accommodate all four chaises I insisted the steward set out so my husband and I could lounge al fresco with two new friends we had met on board.

What a difference five years makes.

Once a rare amenity of only the ritziest ships' most expensive cabins, private balconies have become commonplace on every cruise line's newest offspring. From the haute suites aboard Silversea's Silver Cloud and Silver Wind to the family cabins on Disney's Magic and Wonder and the staterooms on Carnival's budget-conscious Destiny and Triumph, these little -- or large -- pieces of outdoor turf are perfect antidotes to the company of strangers -- sometimes many, many strangers -- in public spaces.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I relish this refuge from loud-mouths at my favorite topside perch and poolside bands that blast into action just as I'm drifting into a sun-baked snooze.

Trust me, after you have savored a balcony at sea, you will never go deck-less again.

Prices for a cabin with a veranda vary with the size of the stateroom and grandeur of the ship. Modest-sized cabins with terraces aboard Carnival's Destiny and Triumph start at about $1,800 per person for a seven-day Caribbean cruise, while a week in Europe in one of the Queen Elizabeth 2's huge Duplex Suites (yes, two stories!), can run a cool $17,000 per person.

The good news is that cabins with verandas often are not priced prohibitively higher than outside rooms without them. "Cruisers with a good travel agent or a sharp eye for advertised discounts -- especially at dips in the cruising season -- can get inexpensive upgrades that make moving up -- and out -- a bargain," said Mike Driscoll, publisher of Cruise Week, a trade newsletter.

Responding to a Sunday newspaper ad, my in-laws recently nabbed an outside cabin with veranda on Royal Caribbean's new, much ballyhooed Voyager of the Seas for $1,250 per person, which was less than the brochure price of an inside room. They may never use the indoor ice skating rink, rock climbing wall or giant roulette wheel players actually sit in, but they already have claimed bragging rights for being among the first to cruise on the largest ship at sea.

A seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's new 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky has a brochure price of $3,139 per person, double occupancy, for the best outside cabin without a balcony and $3,519 for a cabin with a balcony -- a difference of $380. If you booked early (three months or more ahead of the cruise), the line offered those same cabins for $1,459 and $1,649 respectively -- a difference of just $190. You could have gotten a balcony cabin at nearly half the cost of the brochure price of a stateroom with no balcony.

In any case, the veranda experience is so delicious it may be worth anteing up a bit more for the joy of relaxing outside on your own oasis with an engrossing book, a copacetic mate and/or a good glass of wine.

Even on a big ship teeming with passengers, you'll feel like you're on your own private yacht as you ease into the morning in your bathrobe with an outdoor room-service breakfast (available at no extra charge on many ships), toast the sunset a deux snuggling in your chaises, and drift to sleep with fresh salty air breezing through your open door and a lullaby of waves breaking off the side of the ship.

On an increasing number of ships, cabins at the balcony price-level entitle you to the services of a concierge or butler -- a kind of personal valet who will handle arrangements for shore excursions, sort out any shipboard problems, and may bring you fresh fruit each morning, late-afternoon tea and hors d'oeuvres, and chocolates at bedtime.

Stateroom balconies range in size from diminutive (the terrace of our lovely family cabin aboard the Disney Wonder accommodated two chairs and a tiny table) to enormous -- with hot tubs, multiple seating areas and wrap-around views.

Indoors, the grandest balcony suites may have formal dining rooms, kitchens, four-poster king-size beds, several bathrooms, sophisticated entertainment systems and other attributes usually found only in ultra-swank land-based lodgings.

The two 1,029-square-foot Royal Suites aboard Disney's Magic and Wonder have two bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, walk-in closets, a pantry, wet-bar and a baby grand piano (what, you didn't bring your accompanist?).

The Crystal Penthouse Suites on the Crystal Symphony and Harmony and the Owner's Suite on the Seabourn Sun (formerly the Royal Viking Sun) provide ocean views from the master-bath Jacuzzi tubs.

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