Secrets for selecting the best cruise ship cabin

If you’re trying to choose between 20 or more different categories of cruise ship cabins, you might be forgiven for suffering from decision paralysis.

The cure is to understand a little cruise-ship speak. There are actually only five main cabin types: inside, inside view, outside, balcony and suite. The other categories are variations of these cabin types, distinctive because of cabin size, view, physical and service amenities, and deck.

The price of each cabin depends on all these factors.

Inside cabins are typically the smallest, and have no port hole, window or door to the outside. On newer ships, they’re not as cramped as they were in the past.

On some ships, inside cabins have something called a “virtual” view. The cabin still has no porthole, window or outside door, but it has a video projected on a cabin wall of a virtual porthole, window, or balcony looking out on the ocean, to give you an outside cabin feel. There may be real curtains framing the video to make it seem more authentic.

Inside view cabins are on some of the new mega ships. They have windows and may have balconies, but instead of facing the ocean, they face an open exterior or interior central area of the ship.

Outside cabins face the outside of the ship, and have a port hole or large window facing the ocean.

Balcony cabins have a balcony (veranda) with access directly through a large glass door from the cabin which allows passengers to be outside without going to a public area of the ship.

Suites are the largest cabins on the ship, typically with bedrooms separate from the remainder of the cabin, and include a variety of amenities, such as butler service, as well as special perks. They may or may not have balconies.

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Here are my top tips to help you choose your cabin wisely:

Aft cabins often have larger balconies than other ships’ cabins but they’re over the rear thrusters of the ships, used to power and steer them, resulting in vibrations felt in the cabins, from time to time, which may annoy you.

Some forward cabins, on the lower decks, are above the bow thrusters used for critical maneuvering of the ships. Late sleepers, may be startled out of their sleep by their noise and vibration during early morning dockings.

The hallway position of cabins can be critical. Being near an elevator bank or stairwell may be convenient, but it’s usually noisy late into the evening, and perhaps into the wee hours as well.

Of course, if you have limited mobility, choosing a cabin near the elevators will cut down the distances you’re required to go, to get around the ship.

Outside noise can be a problem in some cabins. Use your ship’s deck plan to locate noisy public areas such as discos, lounges, casinos, stores and restaurants, to avoid them.

There are two areas of the ship to which you may want to pay particular attention, regarding noise. On some ships, cabins are located directly under the jogging track. Joggers are generally an early morning group, so if you’re a late sleeper, choose a different cabin. Some ships have self-service laundry rooms. They are often in operation almost 24×7, especially on cruises with lots of families. I try to choose cabins far from them.

Privacy can be a problem with inside view cabins on mega ships, such as Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. These ships have large public areas, both outside and some inside, between banks of cabins on multiple decks, on each side of the ship. These banks of cabins include both inside view cabins facing the central open areas and outside cabins facing the ocean.

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Passengers behind windows with open curtains and on balconies of inside view cabins have little privacy, because they are easily seen by passengers and crew in the central public areas facing the cabins, as well as from inside view cabins in the cabin bank across from them. Generally, these staterooms are also noisier.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, it’s important to know the stabilizer systems installed on today’s cruise ships are effective, reducing the ships’ pitching and rolling on the ocean. Except in bad weather and high winds, few passengers notice their ship’s movement, however, if you’re susceptible to seasickness, cabins on lower decks, centrally located between the bow and stern (midships), have less pronounced movement.

Obstructions such as large lifeboats can eliminate the main advantage of outside and balcony cabins. If you’re not sure a cabin’s view is unobstructed, ask.

There’s a lot to think about when choosing a cabin. Carefully look at your ship’s deck plans, as well as cabin descriptions, features, and amenities before you choose yours. Ask questions when you’re not sure about cabin choices. I use a travel agent to help me, even though I’m a veteran cruise passenger.

Ned Levi

Ned Levi has traveled the world as an engineer and business executive. He is the founder of NSL Associates, a technology consulting company, and is a professional photographer specializing in travel and wildlife photography.

  • VoR61

    Great information Ned …

    About your statement “Joggers are generally an early morning group”, on our latest NCL cruise they put chains across the jogging areas by the cabins with a sign prohibiting jogging before 8:30 AM and after 10:00 PM.

    Also, in terms of cost savings, we have found it helpful to stay in the lower decks and enjoy the many activities, lounge chairs, library, etc. rather than the cost of the more expensive suites. After all, we could stay home if we wanted to hang out in the room.

    And a smaller room gives us incentive to do just that.

    Nothing against the larger suites. I know they have value added for many cruisers …

  • Alan

    Good summary…A travel agent, while not a requirement, might be helpful for the first time cruiser.

  • Lindabator

    we also get special discounts the cruise lines do NOT offer direct bookers. :)

  • doug_jensen

    Be sure it is a travel agent that specializes in–or even does only–cruises.

  • Alan

    Good point!

  • sirwired

    I never take a cruise without a White Noise machine. (The “Lectrofan” is relatively inexpensive, compact, and can be powered with a USB jack.) Even a White Noise app on a SmartPhone can help.

  • IGoEverywhere

    As a travel agent of 45 years, I have been on many cruises, actually way too many. I guide my clients ship by ship, itinerary, and of course time of year. It is, in my opinion, the number one travel to work with an agent that had cruised many many different size ships and different lines. “I have been on RCCL 25 times” – run! That agent may try to sway you by their likes, not your needs. On the phone, the Carnival sales person is being timed to get you hooked and deposited. (as well as all lines) The article is pretty fair about what cabins tend to offer, but when is it the best time to use that cabin is what you need to know. It’s my first cruise or my 50th cruise makes no difference, there is always am interesting wrinkle that the cruiser never thought about to make the trip even better.

  • I spend so little time in the cabin it does not matter if it swanky. Have stayed in a
    fancy suite once, but like a simple one more than that fancy one.

  • jmtabb

    About 10 years ago we had a cruise with our 4 year old – chose a lower deck room with a porthole because we did not want a sliding glass door that a 4 year old could potentially open and get outside without us.

    That part was fine. But we didn’t realize when booking that in order to get to the hallway for our room we had to walk through the art gallery every single time. We were terrified that we’d end up having to pay for damage that our kid would do just getting to/from our room.

    It was poor placement decision on our part for sure, but also poor design. Who designs family rooms (the ones with bunks that drop down from the ceiling) that the kids have to walk through the art gallery to get to?

  • Whoa, that would have made me crazy! I went on my only cruise with 4 children a few years back. We were also in porthole cabins and it was actually really nice, but having to walk through the art gallery would have been insane! My boys were not quite 3 and not quite 6 at the time and I had twin 9 month olds (not mobile, thankfully). Eeek!

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