There are a lot of things you have to decide when booking a cruise – which cruise line will you use? Where do you want to travel? What time of year do you want to cruise? As important as answers to these questions are, there is an even more important question that needs answering. What cabin will you choose?
Sounds simple enough. But there are a lot of things to take into consideration when picking a cabin. Should you get an interior room or an oceanview? A balcony or a suite? What’s the difference between the categories anyway? Is the front or the rear of the ship better? Does it even matter?
I’ll go into detail about all these questions and answer questions you might not even have thought about.
Answer These Before You Pick Your Room Category
Before you pick your room category, there are a few things you have to decide on first. And that means knowing yourself. What do I mean? Do you have a restricted budget? Are you concerned about seasickness? Do you like a pitch-black room with no outside light? Or do you suffer from claustrophobia? Will more than two people be staying in the cabin? Is being able to enjoy the ocean breeze important?
Let’s analyze each one so you can determine exactly what you want and what you don’t.
Budget is perhaps the biggest factor in determining what type of cabin you’ll choose. I’m going to discuss each category in detail later. But for the sake of the budget discussion, here’s the rule of thumb: If you’re working with a restricted budget, an interior stateroom might be the category to consider.
That’s a rule of thumb. It’s not a law. In some cases, you can get an oceanview cabin for a few dollars more than an interior stateroom. Compare prices before locking in on a particular cabin type.
Believe it or not, seasickness isn’t as big of a problem as in decades past. Ships that carry close to 4,000 or more passengers are so large you won’t feel anything. Add to that, these larger ships have stabilizers that smooth out the ride.
If seasickness is still a concern, you’ll want to strategically select your cabin. Think back to your high school physics class. Remember all that talk about low center of gravity? It comes into play here.
Cabin on upper decks will feel more motion than cabins on lower decks. This is true regardless of the category of the cabin. The lower the deck, the lower the center of gravity and less sway. You’ll also want to stay clear of the front and the rear of the ship. As it plows through the water, the front and rear of the ship are where you’ll feel the most bobbing.
So if seasickness is a concern, regardless of the category, pick a cabin closer to the lower decks near the center of the ship.
Let There Be Light
How do you feel about not being able to determine the time of day because of not seeing the sun? If this makes you uncomfortable, an interior or inside stateroom should be off your list.
On the other hand, if you like to sleep with absolutely no rays of light entering your room, then an inside stateroom is exactly what you want. All cruise ships have blackout curtains in cabins with windows. So even those rooms get really dark. Nonetheless, to sleep in a pitch-black room, select an interior stateroom.
Since we’re on the subject of interior staterooms, we should talk about claustrophobia. The very thing that makes interior staterooms great for sleeping turns it into a nightmare if you have claustrophobia.
So if this is something you suffer with, stay far away from inside staterooms.
How Many In the Room?
Are you a solo traveler? Or will you be bringing the spouse and kids? Perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle. Giving an honest answer to these questions will help you determine which cabin category you’ll need.
Let’s assume you’re traveling with family. Depending on the cruise line, you might be able to squeeze into an inside stateroom. Besides the two beds, there may be a pull-out couch. Some newer ships even have beds that come down from the ceiling for extra sleeping space.
But assuming you’re traveling with family, you’ll want something with a little more room. To satisfy this need, I’d recommend a suite. It will give your family more room to stretch out without feeling cramped. We’ll get into this later, but there are different kinds of suites. Hence, you’ll need to know how many are traveling with you. It might make more sense to get a lower category stateroom that joins like adjacent rooms in a hotel.
Feeling the Wind Through Your Hair
This brings us to our last introspective question. If you’ve determined that you need to see the sun, you’ve ruled out inside cabins. The question now is, do you need to see the sun? Or do you want to go outside of your room? It might be a cut and dry answer. But let’s look at it a little differently just to make sure we’ve got the full view.
Are you a private person? Can you tolerate crowds? How early do you like to rise?
Answering these questions will help you see whether or not you need a cabin with a balcony. Let’s examine the first two questions.
If you’re a private person, there’s a good chance you don’t like crowds. And yes, a cruise ship is a floating container with thousands of people. You’ll only notice them on embarkation day, port days and debarkation. All the other times, it’ll feel about the same as walking through a mall.
Going up to the pool deck, however, is another story. There is a concentration of people gathered near the pool. And it will feel like a lot of people. Assuming you can find a deck chair, there will be loud music playing, kids screaming and other distractions.
But you want to enjoy being outside. You might want to read a book or simply enjoy the refreshing ocean air without all the extras that come with being on the pool deck.
If this sounds like you, you probably want a balcony stateroom. It allows you to go outside and enjoy the ocean air without the loud music, noise, and distraction that comes with being at the pool. And because there is a door, you can do this without disturbing your traveling companion.
Another advantage of a balcony is that it is private. Unless you have a balcony on a Royal Caribbean ship where the balconies are facing the inside of the ship as opposed to the ocean, no one is going to see you. So if you’re an early riser and want to view the sun coming up over the ocean before you start your day, definitely book a balcony stateroom or suite.
Once you’ve done this self-evaluation and you know your likes and dislikes, you can begin selecting your room. A word of caution, though, before we begin. If you want a stateroom on the upper decks, reserve it early. Because those rooms go quickly. It doesn’t matter if it’s an interior room or balcony. If that’s where you want to be, lock it in.
This is also a good time to discuss something you will see when you book your room. You may be offered something called a “guaranteed stateroom”. What this means is that you are guaranteed that class of stateroom, “if” you agree to certain conditions.
The first one is the price. It will be lower than the same stateroom where you select the deck and room number. In return for that lower price, you also agree to allow the cruise line to select your room. That means they will select the deck the room will be located as well as where it will be (front or rear).
So if not being near the elevator means more than saving a few bucks, don’t agree to a guaranteed stateroom. If you want to be on a higher deck, leave guaranteed staterooms alone.
But before you toss guaranteed staterooms aside, there is an upside to agreeing to the terms of a guaranteed stateroom.
Let’s say you booked a guaranteed interior stateroom. It is not uncommon for the cruise line to bump you up to a balcony stateroom for the lower price you locked in. To increase your odds of this happening, plan your cruise during non-peak cruise season. So don’t book your cruise during spring break, holidays, or when kids are out of school. Basically, don’t book during periods when the ship will be full. If the ship is full, there won’t be any rooms to upgrade to. But if you time it right and don’t mind letting the ship pick where you’ll stay, a guaranteed stateroom can save you a lot of money.
You already have an idea of what to expect in an interior stateroom. So you know that it’s not going to be a large room. In fact, it will be more like a large closet. That doesn’t mean it’s dark and drab. Ok, when you turn the lights off, it will be very dark. But drab, no.
You’ll still get a closet and bathroom, desk, mirror, etc. Typically there will be two single beds that are separated. If you want them pushed together so it forms a queen bed, just let your stateroom attendant know and they’ll take care of everything for you.
Oceanview staterooms tend to be about the same size or slightly larger than interior staterooms. You get the same treatments but with the addition of a window.
I should note here that on some ships, particularly the smaller ones, oceanview categories can be split into two groups – obstructed and unobstructed views.
Each has a window. As the names suggest, some views are obstructed. This means that you don’t have a clear, direct line of sight out the window. A lifeboat or beam from the ship will be in your vision when you look out the window. You definitely won’t be taking pictures worth sharing with this type of cabin.
Unobstructed, on the other hand, is just that. There’s nothing to obstruct or block your view of outside. The real estate saying “location, location, location” applies here. Unobstructed views are more desirable than those that are obstructed. As such, rooms that are unobstructed cost more than obstructed view cabins.
This is why I asked earlier if being in a pitch-black room was a deal-breaker. If it is, an obstructed view cabin might be a better option. If the only thing you need is light coming into the room, get the obstructed view to save money. And you have the advantage of seeing outside. Not every obstructed view is horrible. Check out the deck plans to get an idea of what might be obstructing your view.
Balcony rooms are great if you want to get an outdoor feel without having to be surrounded by a lot of people. Balconies can make your cruise feel like you’re on a private yacht. Go out and read a book. Order room service and enjoy it on the balcony. Or even do nothing at all except watch the waves go by. If your travel mate wants to watch TV and you want to relax, go out on the balcony to get away from everyone.
Balcony rooms tend to be larger than most interior staterooms. That’s not a hard and fast rule. On some ships, the balcony is the same size as a large interior stateroom except there’s a door leading outside.
The size of a balcony stateroom relative to an interior stateroom varies from cruise line to cruise line and even from ship to ship within the same cruise line. Again, review the deck plans before making a selection.
Suites on a cruise ship are definitely larger than the other categories discussed so far. And everything will be larger. The bathrooms will be larger. The room itself will have more space. Depending on the cruise line, suites also tend to have more luxurious treatments.
Suites usually have balconies by default. And those balconies will offer more space than a typical balcony on the same ship, giving you more room to stretch out.
It’s a little challenging to go into detail beyond what I’ve already described regarding suites. That’s because cruise ships tend to have different categories within the suite class. Some have jacuzzis, others have multiple floors. Some ships like the MSC Meraviglia even have interior suites.
If this is the category of stateroom you think you want to book, carefully review the offerings available on your desired ship. And take note of where on the ship the suite is located, keeping in mind what we discussed earlier about seasickness.
If you have special needs, there no reason you can’t go on a cruise. Do you require the use of a wheelchair? There are handicapped cabins with wide doors and bigger staterooms than the same stateroom in that class. Check with your travel agent and discuss your needs so they can help you book the best cabin for you.
What cabin type is your favorite and why do you like it? Which cruise line has cabins that you like best? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.