You would like to book your (next) cruise? You’ve found the perfect ship, route, and itinerary for your next holiday. Perfect! But now comes the hard part – which is the best side of a cruise ship to be on? What does guaranteed cabin mean? More importantly, how to choose the best cabin on a cruise ship?
Firstly, there is no such thing as the “perfect cabin” – rather, there’s a cabin to suit every preference. The first step is figuring out what is most important to you. Maybe you don’t want to walk too far for your meals, so a room close to the ship’s restaurant would be suitable for you? You’d really like a room with ocean views or a balcony? Or perhaps you value peace and quiet above all? Once you’ve established what you want in a cabin, you’ll have a far better chance of choosing the one that is suited to you.
For first-time cruisers in need of advice on the right accommodation type for you, here are a few hints and tips which should help you decide.
Cruise Ship Cabin Categories
Similar to hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins (or staterooms as they’re commonly called) vary in terms of size, position and luxuriousness. To help passengers choose the best cabin on a cruise ship for their budget and requirements, cruise lines split cabins into different categories — and you’ll need to understand what these are before making your booking.
There are generally four cabin categories that you can choose from on a cruise: Inside (Interior), Outside (Ocean View), Balcony (Verandah), and Suite.
If you’re budget-conscious, you’re probably more inclined to book an Inside cabin, the smallest and most affordable room options available aboard cruise ships, given that they have no windows and limited space. These compact cabins are fine for sleeping and changing clothes, but not much else. Many passengers are willing to compromise on comfort in order to save money, thinking that they’ll be able to enjoy the view from the public areas onboard – but then forget how many other passengers are on the ship who have the exact same idea. Only in the comfort of your own private balcony will you be guaranteed a sunny spot that no one can steal from you.
For passengers who enjoy natural light and ocean views, an Outside cabin can be an ideal option. These cabins are a similar size to inside cabins but feature a porthole that offers a glimpse of the ocean.
When searching for an Outside cabin, be aware of the words “obstructed view.” This means that your beautiful view will most likely be blocked by a lifeboat hanging in the way. While this compromise typically results in a slightly cheaper cabin, it’s often not worth the trade-off if you’re looking for a holiday full of romantic sunsets and ocean vistas.
An even more idyllic option is the Balcony cabin, also known as a verandah cabin. These cabins have a private balcony in addition to a large window or a sliding glass door. The exact size and shape of the balcony will vary from ship to ship, but most have a table and two chairs, so you can sit and sip cocktails while enjoying the fresh ocean breeze.
Suites offer a more luxurious experience. These spacious cabins can range from an extra-large balcony cabin with a separate living room and bedroom, to luxurious apartment-sized accommodations with whirlpools and a private butler. Some suites also offer direct access to the spa or exclusive parts of the ship. Naturally, suites are the most expensive cabin option money can buy.
So which cabin category is our personal favourite? We recommend booking a balcony cabin. Once you’ve watched the ship pull into harbor at sunrise from the privacy of your balcony as you sip your morning coffee, you’ll never look back.
Guarantee cabin: Money-saving trick or not worth the risk?
One clever way to save money is by booking a guarantee cabin. A guarantee cabin means you pick the category of cabin you’d like to stay in, but leave the exact cabin selection up to the cruise line, who will place you into an unsold cabin shortly before departure. If the category you selected sells out, you may be placed into a higher category – but you’re guaranteed to wind up in the cabin category you booked or above. This gamble can be an attractive choice for passengers who want to save money but don’t want to miss out on a bit of luxury.
However, the downside to this alternative is not being able to select the location of your individual cabin. This could mean you end up next to the lifts or above the anchor – all noisy spots that might disturb your night’s sleep.
For some passengers, the temptation of getting bumped into a higher category is worth the risk. But if you’d prefer to play it safe, it’s better pay the difference to pick your own cabin.
Seasick? Head to the middle!
The cabin category isn’t the only criteria to consider when selecting the best cabin (for you!) on a cruise ship. You’ve also got to think about where you’d like to be located on the ship. This is particularly important if you suffer from motion sickness. The movement of the waves is the least noticeable in the middle and the further down you are towards the bottom of the ship, the less you’ll feel the rolling of the waves. If you know you’ve got a tendency to get seasick, it’s definitely safer to book a cabin in the middle and down below. A balcony cabin or suite also has advantages, because fresh air and a view of the horizon can help when you start to feel unwell.
Location, Location, Location
If you thought choosing a cruise cabin was as simple as selecting from one of the four options above, think again. The location of your cabin could make a huge difference to how comfortable and accessible you find the accommodation.
Ensure you’re cabin is close to a lift if you want to avoid spending your time walking up and down long hallways. Especially for new (read: big) ships, you can easily get your 10,000 steps in walking to and from the various restaurants, services, and shows throughout the ships. Most cruise ships have lifts fore, aft, and in the middle of the ship. If there’s a member of your group with limited mobility, or if you’re just not a fan of walking, you’ll be grateful if the lifts are close by.
On the other hand, don’t forget that lifts and stairways are high-traffic areas – at all hours. You might want to pack earplugs to make sure you aren’t disturbed by the noise of your fellow passengers as they walk past your door.
As a rule, always check the ship’s deck plan before you book your cabin and keep in mind that prices are a good indicator of the quality of its position within the ship depending on the position. Cabins also vary in size — even if they’re in the same category.
A little peace and quiet
On the topic of noise, don’t just check what’s located next to your cabin on the ship – check the decks above and below as well. While at first it might seem like a good idea to bunk up below the buffet – hello, being the first in line at breakfast! – you’ll soon regret your decision if you had any notions of sleeping in. Hours before the restaurant actually opens, the crew is already hard at work setting up and preparing the food, which can lead to a rude awakening in the early hours of the morning. If you’re sleeping directly under the sun deck, you won’t need to set an alarm either – the crew members clear the lounge chairs from the deck every evening, and bring them back in the morning. Equally risky are cabins located underneath the theatre, the casino, a bar, or a club. There, you can expect loud music late into the night. The best location is a cabin located between passenger decks, where you’ll have other passenger cabins above and below you.
Some cabins have a door connecting them to the next room over – a great option for groups and families. But be aware: these connecting doors don’t isolate sounds as well as normal walls, particularly on older ships. Sounds travel further through these doors – both into it and out of it. You can find out which cabins have connecting doors by checking the ship’s deck plans.
Sunny side up
Seasoned cruisers don‘t just have a single cabin that’s their favourite – they pick the best cabin on a cruise ship based on the route. But why? Well, think about it. If you’re booking a cruise to Alaska, for instance, you’ll be traveling along the west coast of North America – either northbound or southbound. If you’re on a northbound trip and you want to get a good look at the glaciers and coast lines you sail by, you’ll want to be on the starboard (right) side of the ship. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to have a romantic sunset dinner on your private balcony, you’ll want to make sure you’re on the west side – in this case, port side (left). For round-trip cruises, this difference is less pronounced: if you missed out on the coastline on the way there, you can always see it again on the way back.
If you’re traveling to a sunny destination, you’ll need to take the sun and the heat into consideration. Do you want your balcony to be in the optimal spot for the perfect tan? Or would you prefer to be protected from the harsh afternoon sun? Remember that the sun is stronger in the north and east in the morning, and south and west in the afternoon.
Cabins at the very front or very back of the ship have the advantage of both – at least on northbound or southbound itineraries. You’ll spend part of the day in sun and part of the day in shade. On an east/west itinerary, such as a transatlantic crossing, you might want to think about whether you’d prefer to watch the sun rise or set from the privacy of your cabin when deciding if you want to stay fore or aft. Additionally, cabins located at the front and back of the ship tend to have larger balconies with wider vistas.
Sun and sky – or not?
On many ships, the pool deck isn’t aligned with the other decks of the ship – to maximise space, it often juts out over the side. While this makes for a particularly beautiful view from the pool, it has a different effect on the balcony cabins beneath it: The cabins below have an extended roof over the balcony, meaning they’re particularly shady and the interiors much darker. In our experience, this is never a good thing – not even in the sun-drenched islands of the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. If you like a little bit of shadows every now and again, you’d be better off choosing a different cabin: as mentioned before, the sun moves throughout the day, so you’ll have plenty of time for both sun and shade in a cabin on the upper decks.
Another point to remember: Even the view is limited when you’ve got the pool deck above you. At the latest, you’ll notice this when you look over your holiday photos at home and notice that there’s a dark roof overhead where you expected a glamorous sunset to be.
Our cruise experts recommend: “Look carefully at photos of the ship and the deck plans before you select your cabin. Are there projecting roofs or other features that might impact your view? If so, try to pick a cabin at least two decks below it. Then you’ll be able to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the horizon and sky – and that’s the best part of cruising, after all.”
Are you already thinking about your perfect cabin on your next cruise? Our cruise experts are more than happy to help you find the perfect cabin. Call us on +61 1300 857 345 today or search for your dream cabin now.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated in September 2018 for comprehensiveness and accuracy.