Cabin selection - inside, ocean view, balcony or suite?

Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel:

  • Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside

  • Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview

  • Balcony: a room featuring a veranda that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck

  • Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks

NOTE: on many high end ships - Such as Regent, Seabourn and Silversea they will refer to all cabins as suites, mainly because they tend to be much larger, up to double the size found on mid range ships. These top three almost always feature walk in robes, a seperate sitting area separated by a curtain, marble bathrooms that generally feature a separate bath and shower, along with double basins. 90% of these ships also have extra large balconies.

It's the permutations (size, view, location, amenities and price, for example) of the four basic cabin types that can make choosing difficult. In addition to knowing your cabin options, you need to know yourself: Do you tend to get seasick? Do you prefer to nest peaceably on your balcony rather than hanging with the crowd around the pool area? Conversely, is your idea of a cabin simply a place to flop into bed at 1 a.m. -- no fancy notions necessary? Are there certain amenities you are willing to splurge on, or can you simply not justify paying for unnecessary perks? The answers will help guide you toward selecting the best cabin for your money.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by choice, we'll help you get started with this guide to choosing the best cruise cabins for you and your travel party.

Note: Cabins designed for physically challenged guests can fall into any of the above categories and will not be separated out.

Cabin Location on the Ship

The "real estate" that your cabin occupies, no matter the type, can make you seasick or keep you up all night with noise -- or it can lull you like a baby and provide exquisite views of your surroundings. That's why doing your homework is important. Here are some factors to consider when picking your cabin's location on the ship.

Stability

If you tend to get seasick, cabin location is really important. It's a question of engineering, really. The lower and more central you are in a ship, the less roll and sway you will feel. Even if you choose a balconied cabin, choose the lowest level and the most midship one you can find. The higher decks and cabins at the very front (forward) or back (aft) of the ship will rock and roll the most.

Distance

Some cruise travellers prefer their cabins to be near to (or far away from) specific areas of the ship. Sun-worshippers might prefer an upper-deck location close to the pools and sun decks, while partiers might want easy access to midship entertainment hubs. Travellers with mobility concerns may prefer a cabin close to a bank of elevators.

Noise

For some reason, most cruise lines assign their nicest and most expensive cabins to the highest decks, usually just below the pool deck (most likely because if you have a window or balcony, you have a more sweeping vista). Still, it's the pool deck that often causes the most noise problems, so if you don't want to hear scraping chairs at the crack of dawn or the sound of pool parties until the wee hours, go down a level. In fact, when it comes to noise, the best bet is to select a cabin that is both above and below other cabins. Other pitfalls include service areas adjacent to or above your cabin; show lounges or bars adjacent to, above or below your cabin; and self-service launderettes across from your cabin. Other cabins that can be problematic are those that are situated low and at the back (because of their proximity to engine noise, vibration and anchor) or low and forward (because of bow thrusters).

Cabin Size

In this age of mega-ships, cabins now come in all shapes and sizes. In addition to the typical boxy inside and outside cabins, you can find expansive suites, duplexes and lofts. Balconies also range in size from small affairs barely able to squeeze in two chairs and a drinks table to huge wraparound decks with outdoor dining tables and hot tubs.

On many ships, basic inside and outside cabins are usually the same size, the difference being that one has a porthole or picture window to let in natural light. Balcony cabins can also be the same size as standard insides and outsides, with the addition of the outdoor space on the verandah; sometimes the interior space is larger. A basic cabin, regardless of category, is referred to as a "standard" unless there is something about it that makes it different (such as physical layout, being handicapped accessible or a designated family cabin). With minisuites on up, you get bigger and bigger indoor and outdoor spaces.

For many travellers, the decision on what size cabin to get is directly related to price. Who wouldn't go for the huge suite if price were no obstacle? Yet it can be tricky to decide whether a balcony is worth the upgrade from a standard outside, or which suite to choose. Here are a few size-related considerations to take into account.

Outdoor Space

Do you need a balcony? Cruise travellers who spend all their time in the public areas -- sun decks, lounges, restaurants -- or on shore may be perfectly happy with standard-size cabins and no private outdoor space. Those who love to avoid the crowds and lounge quietly on their own verandahs or have private room-service meals outdoors will surely want balconies. Don't forget to take your itinerary into account; on a chilly-weather cruise, you might not be spending too much time outside, so depending on how much space and light you need, a balcony might not be worth the splurge.

Unique Layouts

Pay attention to the unique cabin setups on your ship, as they're not all created equal. Carnival is also known for having larger-than-average standard cabins, while SilverseaRegent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn ships feature all-suite accommodations. Norwegian Epic cabins sport the "new wave" design, with curvy walls and separate rooms for showers and toilets; sinks are located in the main cabins. As mentioned earlier, cabins at the very front and back of a ship often have different layouts than the cookie-cutter cabins that run the length of the ship.

Family

Since cruising has become a popular family holiday, more new ships have built "family accommodations" into the actual design. These are often suites, each with a separate room for the kids -- sometimes a small alcove with bunk beds, sometimes an entire adjoining cabin. Families and groups can also take advantage of regular cabins with third or fourth berths found in pullout sofas or pull-down bunk beds (called Pullmans). If you're going to squeeze your whole troupe into one cabin, make sure the space is big enough to accommodate the lot of you ... and all your belongings.

Solo Cabins

Very few ships actually have cabins dedicated to solo travellers. These will have sleeping space for one and can be quite small. The studio cabins on select Norwegian ships are the most famous example of this: The 100-square-foot cabins each contain a full-size bed, nifty lighting effects and a large round window that looks out into the corridor. Royal Caribbean also has solo cabins on newer ships such as Ovation of the Seas. If you're a solo traveller, you'll want to price out the cost of a solo cabin (usually somewhat higher than the double-occupancy rate of a similarly sized cabin) compared to the cost of paying the single supplement (an extra fee tacked on if there aren't two people in a cabin; the price can come out to as much as double the regular rate) for a standard cabin. And book early, as solo cabins sell out quickly.

Suites

When it comes to choosing suite accommodations, it's best to figure out how much space you really need, what amenities are important to you and what you can afford to spend. Suites on most ships are often the first category to sell out, partly because there are fewer of them, and partly because they often offer extremely good value. For this reason, it's important to decide early what kind of suite you'd like.

Suites come in all shapes and sizes. For example, among the most over-the-top are Norwegian Cruise Line's 5,000-plus-square-foot, three-bedroom Garden Villa suites on its Jewel-class ships. These each feature a private terrace with a hot tub, spacious living and dining areas, and butler service, plus access to an exclusive-access deck area. Other suites may come with dining areas, wet bars, deluxe bathrooms, walk-in closets, multiple levels and even pianos. On the other end, a mini-suite (found on nearly all ships) is often just a bigger version of a standard balcony cabin, sometimes with more delineation between the living and sleeping areas.

Cabin Amenities

All cabins come with basic amenities, such as the services of a cabin steward to clean your room and turn down the beds, soap and shampoo in the bathroom, individual climate control, etc. But certain categories of cabins come with added perks. Suites come with a variety of extras and privileges, everything from priority boarding to in-cabin bar setups. Spa cabins will offer spa-related perks, such as yoga mats in the cabin or a fancy showerhead; concierge-level cabins will give you access to a concierge and niceties like afternoon canapes; and even solo cabins might offer extras, such as the use of an exclusive lounge. How do you want to be pampered on your holiday? Here are some extras you may want to sign up (and pay a premium) for.

Concierge Service

A concierge can take care of all those annoying practical matters you need to tend to on a cruise: making dinner and spa reservations, booking shore excursions, making requests of the front desk. Their services are included in the price of many suites, and on some ships the concierge has a desk in an exclusive concierge lounge where suite guests and high-level past passengers can snack, drink and relax in private. Concierge-level cabins may also come with in-cabins amenities including welcome drinks, fruit baskets or afternoon canapes.

Butlers

Having a personal butler can be a wonderfully pampering experience, and some cruise lines include the butler service as part of your fare when you select a suite or "concierge level" cabin. Look carefully at the difference in the cruise fare, and decide if it's really worth it. Beyond that, look at the services that are offered; some cruise line butlers really do provide extra value. For instance, some can bring you room service from hard-to-get-into alternative restaurants, refill your mini-bar to personal specifications, and serve in-cabin meals course-by-course. Butlers can also unpack and repack your bags, draw rose-petal baths and assist you in preparing in-suite cocktail parties.

Spa Cabins

The concept of spa cabins is simple: Spa aficionados pay more for cabins decked out in Asian-inspired Zen decor that come with extra amenities, ranging from fancy showerheads and specialty bath products to fluffy bathrobes, yoga mats and healthier room service menus. Spa cabin residents are granted free access to spa restaurants (such as Celebrity's Blu), complimentary passes to spa pools and sauna/steam room areas, and may get free, discounted or priority spa treatments and fitness classes. And you don't always have to book a huge suite; on Holland America, several inside cabins have been designated as spa cabins with all the associated perks.

 

Exclusive Spaces

Some lines offer gated-access suite complexes where some of the most expensive accommodations are arranged around exclusive deck areas, including private pools, whirlpools, fitness centres, sun decks, restaurants and lounges; Norwegian Cruise Lines' Haven is available in Australia. Norwegian's studio cabins -- although tiny inside affairs -- also gain you access to a special lounge reserved just for solo travellers.

Other Amenities

Do you have to have a whirlpool bathtub or a walk-in wardrobe? Will you be entertaining and thus in need of a dining table that can seat six or eight? Do you want benefits like priority dinner reservations and being first in line to get on or off the ship? Do you want to be pampered with extra-plush linens and bathrobes, fancy bath products and in-suite coffee and booze? You can find those amenities and more in most of the upper-level suites.

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