These days, not all inside cabins are the bottom-of-the-barrel inventory. Creative cabin designs like insides that sleep as few as one or as many as six, staterooms with virtual views or interior-facing windows, and Zen-like boudoirs with spa perks may not be the cheapest options -- but they're usually more affordable than similar cabins with actual ocean views or balconies. And don't forget about oddball cabins -- like the one-of-a-kind 281-square-foot accessible cabin 4479 on Norwegian Spirit -- that aren't going to be listed separately from the standard cabins in the same category, but can net you more space (and possibly a secret porthole). To find these, you'll want to pore over cruise line deck plans (as well as Cruise Critic's cabin reviews and message boards). And book early for these inside oddities, as other savvy stateroom hunters are eager to snap up these deals.
For a general overview of the highlights and lowlights of inside cabin categories across mainstream mega-ship cruise lines, here are our picks for the seven best inside cabins ... and three you may very well want to avoid.
Best Standard Inside Cabin
Winner: Carnival Cruise Lines' Standard Insides, 185 square feet
What You Get: Carnival, that everyman cruise line, does not feel that those who pay less for inside cabins should suffer in tiny digs. While other lines offer 120 or 140 square feet of cabin to those booking the lowest category of inside cabin, Carnival starts off with a whopping 185 square feet. (Runner up, size-wise, is Celebrity Cruises' Solstice class with insides starting at 183 square feet.)
Just like their suite-living shipmates, passengers in Carnival's standard insides get bathrobes for on-ship use, a mystery basket of assorted toiletries (one of our 20 favorite at-sea "freebies"), flat-screen TV's and very comfy beds and bedding. Carnival's newest ship, Carnival Breeze, adds some nifty storage options, like shelves that fold down or up in the bureau.
Carnival Cruise Fares:
Best "Deluxe" Inside Cabin
Winner: Holland America's Large Insides, 200 square feet (pictured top)
What You Get: Cramped and claustrophobic are two words not typically associated with HAL's Large Insides, a special category found on its Signature-class ships, Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, and Vista-class quartet, Noordam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam. The interior cabins on steroids on the newer Eurodam and Nieuw Amsteram get extra points for style. Frankly, they're some of the most charming window-free abodes we've seen in cruising, featuring tasteful splashes of blue, yellow and red. HAL also offers gratis robes and a complimentary shoeshine service to all passengers, a nice touch for a line that keeps one foot in the classic cruising camp. One key reminder: There is some cabin category overlap -- i.e. standard insides and Large Insides might be labeled in the same category. Consult your deck plan or ask your TA to be sure.
Holland America Cruise Fares:
Best Inside Cabin With a View
Winner: Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, 194 square feet
What You Get: Royal Caribbean invented the concept of the cabin with an interior-facing window. Its promenade cabins look onto the Royal Promenade, an enclosed shopping street lined with stores, restaurants and watering holes. Whether you love an inside cabin with a view or hate the lack of privacy (your across-street neighbors, promenade wanderers and the occasional fake cow can see in when the shades are up), you will find the biggest of the promenade cabins on the Oasis-class duo. (Smaller versions, including the notorious "Ben & Jerry's Sweet," are also found on the line's three Freedom-class ships, as well as its five Voyager-class ships [minus the sweet].)
Oasis of the Seas Cruise Fares:
Best Solo Inside Cabins
Winner: Norwegian Epic Studios, 100 square feet
What You Get: Norwegian Epic's pint-size Studios, make for one make a big impression for numerous reasons. They're dedicated as solo cabins in an industry that is based around couples and families, feature funky multi-color lighting effects and a round window that looks onto the corridor, and contain a full-size bed and lots of storage you can hog all to yourself.
But even better is that residency in these cabins gives exclusive access to the Living Room, a hip hangout where cruise travelers can watch TV, hang out with a coffee or beer, and socialize with other solos.
Norwegian Epic Cruise Fares:
Best Accessible Inside Cabin
Winner: Solstice-Class Accessible Insides, 245 square feet
What You Get: Six roomy inside cabins on the line's five Solstice-class ships, Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection, feature automatic cabin doors, roll-in showers, grab bars and ramped bathroom thresholds. The accessible cabins also showcase the modern Scandinavian design that punctuates the Solstice-class quintet, which are often considered the loveliest mega-ships afloat. (Celebrity's other five ships also feature accessible insides, but they're slightly smaller and don't have the automatic doors.) Beyond the accommodations, Celebrity typically gets high marks from disabled cruisers. Wheelchair users can appreciate pool and whirlpool lifts, as well as lowered casino tables and Guest Relations/Shore Excursions desks.
Celebrity Reflection Cruise Fares:
Best Standard Family Insides
Winner: Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, 200 square feet
What You Get: Always in a category of its own, Disney just does things differently than the other lines. Its Deluxe Inside Cabins -- its word for the standards -- are very family-friendly without being special family cabins. On all four ships, they feature the line's famous bath-and-a-half, featuring a room with a shower/tub and sink and another with a toilet and sink -- great for avoiding fuss at bed and bathtime.
A convertible sofa and a pull-down upper berth house the extra guests (kids or friends) and a curtain divides the room in half so Mom and Dad can stay up reading or chatting with the lights on while the wee ones snore away, visions of talking mice dancing in their heads. While Magic and Wonder have the bigger cabins (214 square feet), Fantasy and Dream get the nod for their fantastic touches: raised beds for easier luggage storage, iPod docking stations and virtual/magical portholes – faux windows that show a real-time video of the view outside the ship, enhanced with animation of Disney characters swimming or flying by.
Disney Fantasy Cruise Fares:
Best Special Inside Family Cabin
Winner: Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas at 323 square feet
What You Get: You can squeeze a family of four in a regular inside cabin, but it isn't pretty. If you've got a family of five or six, you could book two cabin -- or nab one of RCI's special family cabins instead. The biggest we found are on the line's Freedom Class ships and sleep up to six on two twin beds that convert into a queen, a pullout sofa and a Pullman bed. (Oasis-class family insides have a separate bunk room for the kiddos, but are significantly smaller at 260 square feet.)
The cabins feature plenty of storage space, but only have one bathroom. Mom and Dad, consider leaving the bathroom squabbles to the younguns and shower at the spa…
Freedom of the Seas Cruise Fares:
Best Inside "Spa" Cabin
Winner: Costa Cruises, several ships, 149 square feet
What You Get: Costa Cruises pioneered the "spa" cabin, specially designed accommodations clustered around a ship's wellness area. The insides, outsides and suites all have bamboo-effect doors and restful decor -- orchids in vases, calming colours combined with more sumptuous bedding than the standard cabins, as well as eco-cotton bathrobes, herbal teas and a box of Elemis goodies in the bathroom.
Beyond the accommodation, we love the perks: The spa cabin package includes a welcome consultation, two spa treatments, two classes, two tanning sessions, dining in the Samsara restaurant and unlimited access to the thermal suite.
And Three to Avoid
Cabin: Standard Inside Cabins on Majesty of the Seas, 114 square feet
What You Get: Feel the squeeze in the smallest standard cabins offered by a major mainstream cruise line. At 114 square feet, these insides are glorified closets -- but Royal Caribbean manages to stuff a lot into these cabins, including a vanity table with extendable working service and a private bathroom. With Pullman beds forming bunks, you could even sleep four in these tiny digs. Just don't all stand up at once.
Cabin: Carnival's Category 1A Cabins
What You Get: Carnival says its oddball 1A cabins measure 185 square feet, but Cruise Critic members with measuring tapes beg to differ. Booking a 1A is a bit of a crapshoot: Some have a bed and a pull-down bunkbed, others have a bed and pullout sofa, while others have side-by-side twins. Some, surprisingly, have porthole windows, meaning they're technically outsides. The 1A's are the odd-shaped, squeezed-into-corners cabins lumped into one cheap category, so their layouts vary by ship and even by cabin number. For the lowdown on the quirky cabin category, check the "Your 1A Stateroom Guide (Everything 1A)" thread.
Cabin: Bahamas Celebration Category 9 Cabins, 86 square feet
What You Get: Are the insides on Bahamas Celebration, a converted Baltic ferry, the smallest in cruise travel? Possibly. You might not mind booking an 86-square-foot cabin with bunkbeds if you're just cruising the Bahamas for two nights, but if you're not a solo, you'll be comfier with an upgrade. A small bathroom and a flat-screen TV round out the cabin amenities. Note: These are typically the cabins doled out as part of the infamous "free cruise" offer that's associated with Celebration. Unless the sly sales guy tries to upsell you, that is.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor, with reporting from Dan Askin, Senior Editor