When choosing a cruise ship balcony room, one factor to consider is whether you want to be toward the forward (front) or aft (back) of the ship (also known as the bow and stern, respectively). But first you need to know if there are any benefits to choosing one over the other. We break down the differences of forward versus aft balcony cabins so you know which might be right for you.
Aft Cabin Pros
Fans of aft balcony cabins love the expansive, uninterrupted ocean views over the wake, which are afforded by rooming at the back of the ship. These rooms also tend to be significantly bigger than standard balcony cabins. Aft rooms located at one of the ship's "corners" might have a balcony that wraps along the back and the side for double the viewing pleasure.
The aft portion of a cruise ship tends to be quieter, as well, as it's farther removed from the midship bustle of activity that might be just a few decks above or below you. (Think bars, lounges and the atrium.)
Aft Cabin Cons
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While not the worst cabins on a cruise ship for motion sickness, aft cabins can reflect the motion of the ocean; if you're super sensitive to this, consider something closer to the middle of the ship. Aft cabins might also experience vibrations from the engine or anchor, which can add to the feeling of motion.
Not a complaint for all cruise ships, but occasionally smoke or exhaust from the back of the ship might blow through your aft balcony. Exhaust funnels are aimed off the back, and breezes can sweep fumes and even soot backward in your direction.
Because aft balcony rooms are coveted, some cruise lines categorize them as higher-end cabins, which means they sell for higher prices than standard balcony cabins.
Forward Balcony Cabin Pros
Cruisers in cabins at the front of the ship are the first to see what's ahead. With such priority viewing, it's a nice way to sail into each port of call.
Some cruise lines use the forward space on their ships for unique cabin layouts and arrangements -- like those found in Royal Caribbean's panorama cabins -- that you can't find elsewhere on the ship. Ask your travel agent or the cruise line if the ship you're interested in booking has a special forward cabin class.
Are you a theater fan? Cruise ship theaters tend to be located at the forward of the ship; book a cabin near the front, just a few decks up or down from the theater so you can catch the evening show or afternoon lecture in a snap.
Being all the way at the front of the ship also means you don't risk getting turned around when you leave your cabin. No matter what, you're always heading toward the back. This can make it easier to get your bearings on your first day or two. (This rule also applies to aft cabins; when you leave them, you'll always be headed toward the front of the ship.)
Forward Balcony Cabin Cons
Forward cabins are the most affected by waves since they're the first to dip in rough seas. Even if you're on a lower deck, the forward of the ship might be the worst place to stay if you're prone to seasickness.
Even if you've booked a cabin with a view at the front of the ship, be wary of cabins with views blocked by the bridge wing. Check deck plans, or discuss the issue with a travel agent before booking a forward balcony cabin to ensure this isn't the case. The flip side is that obstructed view cabins typically cost less.
Another consideration of staying in a forward cruise ship cabin is the noise from the bow thrusters (propulsion devices used to maneuver the ship). That, paired with water smacking against the front of the ship (especially if you're on a lower deck), could make for some distracting sounds.
Forward vs. Aft: Bottom Line
If you want a cabin with a special view but are looking to save a little money and aren't sensitive to noise, a forward cabin might be right for you. Also choose a forward cabin if you're worried about exhaust, soot or cigarette smoke wafting across your verandah.
If you want to see what the hype is about or have your heart set on gazing out over the ship's wake, and you don't mind risking a bit of vibration, then an aft cabin might be right for you.
If seasickness is a worry, beware: The movement in aft cabins is less drastic than in forward cabins, but they do move. If you don't like motion at all -- and especially if your itinerary is prone to rough seas -- ditch the ends of the ship altogether for something located midship.