The cruise industry is mostly an open society (I would have said democratic, but this is an election year and I didn't want to rile anyone): The price you pay traditionally determined the size of the room you occupy, but not much else. Yes, there are exceptions like the assignment of dining rooms on Cunard's Queens based on cabin category, and the new breed of special rooms for concierge and above levels on some lines.
But overall, other than your own private space, the rest of the ship and all of its facilities are open to everyone. So a common question among cruisers is, "Are suites worth the extra money?" I can't answer that for everyone, but if you are looking for larger spaces and balconies, suites may be the answer. If outside space is not a priority and you have no problem with regular sized rooms, suites may not be worth the extra money. If you're a family of four, such as the friends I recently traveled with, a suite may be better than a regular quad.
The Suite Life
Many cruise lines are now enticing suite guests with amenities that make an upgrade very appealing. Here are examples of what some mainstream lines are offering (beyond just the larger size of the room):
Carnival's Suite and Penthouse Suite guests all enjoy special VIP check-in; a wet bar; refrigerator; entertainment/sitting area with sofa, armchairs and coffee table; large vanity/dressing table with sink; VCR; three large closets and whirlpool bath.
Holland America is outfitting all Penthouse and Deluxe Verandah rooms with duvets, fully stocked mini-bars, personalized stationary and a VCR or DVD player with access to a well-stocked library. This is in addition to lots of enhancements being made as part of the line's Signature of Excellence program.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers its top suite guests a starter set of liquor/soda/water, butler and concierge service, CD and DVD library, upgraded linens and bath amenities, personalized stationary, unpacking and packing service, a personal computer with printer and a whole lot more.
Royal Caribbean offers guests in its top accommodations duvets, robes and slippers for on-board use and special bath amenities. Suite attendants have fewer rooms to handle so service for each is better. On Voyager- and Radiance-class ships, there is concierge service and a special lounge as well.
Luxury Has Its Privileges
Here are a couple of examples of what some lines are doing to satisfy those discriminating guests who like a touch of luxury:
Cunard's new Queen Mary has some special treats in store for its Grill Class guests including prebooking for Canyon Ranch treatments, a concierge lounge, Frette linens, priority reservations for specialty restaurants, and private (but not free) shore excursions. Queen's Grill guests get even more, including a private sundeck/Jacuzzi and Xbox Entertainment Systems.
To Suite or Not to Suite
It's still pretty much true that what you get is what you pay for. Everyone has different priorities. Study the different lines and categories to see what the array of increased room size and varying amenities can do to enhance your experience.