Rooms on cruise ships -- called "cabins" or "staterooms" -- are like hotel rooms in that each features a bed, desk or vanity, closet and drawer space, and en suite bathroom. You access your room with a keycard, and can put up "do not disturb" signs and order room service.
Cruise ship cabins are significantly smaller than hotel rooms and do not offer a choice of two double or queen beds as a standard feature. Storage space will be more limited, as well, and not all cruise ship accommodations have windows. Unlike at a hotel, it is also difficult to switch rooms once onboard should you have a problem or find your cabin not to your liking.
Cruise cabins run the gamut when it comes to size. Most cabins on the biggest cruise lines will be smaller than the average hotel room, which can make things feel a little cramped even with only two people. The biggest cabins are the suites, which can be large single-room spaces or multiroom, multideck areas where square footage rivals that of an apartment on land. In general, the bigger your cabin, the more you will pay.
Choosing a cruise ship cabin is a bit like choosing a seat on an airplane. You'll find deck plans on all cruise line websites, most travel agent sites and here on Cruise Critic, tied to our ship review pages. You can pick a cabin by specific room number, and deck plans will show you where cabins are in relationship to one another if you're booking multiple cabins. If exact cabin doesn't matter to you, deck plans are color coded so you can choose by cabin category, as well as how high or low on the ship you want to be or whether you want a room at the front, middle or back of the cruise ship.
You'll often see the term "cabin category" on a cruise or travel agent website. It refers to the type of cabin you book, and the price of your cruise is dependent on what type of room you choose. Essentially, you can book an inside cabin (this has no windows or view); an oceanview, also known as an outside (you'll have a window or porthole, so you can see outside, but you won't be able to open the window); a balcony (also called a "verandah" cabin, this will have a small balcony with two chairs and a small table); and a suite (large cabins that often include living and dining space separate from the bedroom and perks, such as a personal butler, full bar setup and advanced access to things like boarding and dinner reservations). Most cruise lines also offer adjoining cabins and wheelchair-accessible cabins across multiple categories, as well as specialty room types, such as family-focused cabins or spa-themed rooms. Find out more about choosing a cabin by reading our story.
Generally, cruise ship bathrooms are tiny but efficient. You'll have the necessities: toilet, shower, sink, mirror and small shelves. All cruise lines provide basic toiletries; some offer individual bars of soap and bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, but others go with a combo shampoo/conditioner in a dispenser. Usually, you'll find a clothesline in the shower for hanging wet bathing suits. Bathtubs are a rarity in lower-level cabins; Holland America Line and Disney Cruise Line are exceptions, along with some luxury lines. Hair dryers are often found in a drawer in the vanity and not in the bathroom.
If you bring a lot of toiletries, you might not have space to keep all of them spread out on the bathroom's counter and shelves. Hooks for hanging items tend to be limited, as well. Showers can also be tight and tricky to maneuver in if you're not a small person.
For the most part, each cabin includes two twin beds that can be pushed together to form a king- or queen-size bed. Mattresses and linens are similar to what you'll find in a good hotel. A standard linen setup doesn't include a top sheet, but you can request one, along with things like egg crate mattress toppers and hypoallergenic pillows. (Some high-end cruise lines or top suites will feature pillow menus.) In addition to the main bed, some cabins have Pullman beds, which drop from the ceiling to accommodate more passengers in a bunkbed-like setup. Other cruise line cabins have pull-out couches; portable cribs are available on request. Not all cabins sleep three or four with extra beds, so if you need this scenario, book a room that can accommodate everyone.
Cabins are designed with efficiency in mind, so storage options can be creative. Most standard cabins include closets with hanging or shelf space, and desks or vanities with drawer and shelf space. Other options, like nightstands with drawers and a few hooks for hanging jackets, are common. Some ships have above-bed storage units. Beds are high enough that you can store luggage beneath. Typically, two people sharing a room on a weeklong cruise will have plenty of storage space; add more people to the cabin and storage space can begin to get tight.
Most cruise line cabins include safes, low-wattage hair dryers, telephones, minibars or minifridges (usually, using items from these will incur a fee), TVs and stationery with a pen. Some cabins include robes and slippers for onboard use; for others, you'll have to request them even if they are complimentary. Ships that sail primarily with U.S. passengers feature outlets that accommodate U.S. plugs, but be warned: Most cabins have only a couple of outlets, which makes charging devices difficult, especially because power strips are also prohibited. You'll find life preservers in the closet, in case of an emergency.
You won't find a clothes iron: These are fire hazards and are prohibited. Unlike hotel rooms, many cruise ship rooms do not come with alarm clocks or coffee- or tea-making facilities. DVD players, radios or other music players might be available on some cruise lines or certain cabin types, but are not standard.
On cruise ships, you don't have a maid; you have a "cabin steward." Your steward will clean your cabin and make your bed each morning and turn down your bed each evening. He or she will also deliver the daily ship's newsletter, shore excursion tickets, reminders about dinner reservations and can handle simple special requests, such as bringing ice or taking laundry to be cleaned. This person is assigned a small block of cabins for which he or she is responsible. You'll probably hear a knock at the door the first day onboard from your steward, who will introduce himself or herself. This is the time to make special requests, such as "I like a full ice bucket each afternoon."
Cruise lines count on cabins having at least double occupancy and price their fares accordingly. When someone cruises alone, cruise lines charge a "single supplement" -- an additional fee that will cost the solo traveler an additional 10 percent to 100 percent of his or her cruise fare. Some cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, have created single cabins designed specifically for the solo cruiser. Passengers in these cabins don't have to pay a single supplement. However, solo cabins are limited and tend to sell out quickly.
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.
Updated January 08, 2020