Cruise ship rooms, called cabins or staterooms, are akin to hotel rooms. Hotel rooms that are a bit more compact, in most cases. And like many hotels, cruise lines sell a dizzying array of cruise cabin types, often without little to distinguish them from one another without an untrained eye. Some cruise lines offer 20 or more room types per ship, which can complicate your decision even more.
Where is the best room on a cruise ship for you? The size, view, location, amenities and price are all factors in helping you choose. In addition to knowing your cabin options, you need to know yourself: Do you tend to get seasick? Do you prefer to nest peaceably in your cruise ship balcony room rather than hanging with the crowd around the pool area? Conversely, is your idea of a stateroom simply a place to flop into bed after midnight. -- no fancy extras necessary? Are there certain amenities you are willing to splurge on, or can you simply not justify paying for unnecessary perks? Answering these questions and following our guide below will help you pick the best room on a cruise ship for your next vacation.
Most cruise lines offer a dizzying array of cruise cabins that can be hard to decipher. However, there are essentially only five types of rooms on any cruise ship:
Interior Rooms: Small interior rooms are the most budget friendly on any cruise ship. Just keep in mind that they don't have windows to the sea.
Ocean View Rooms For those who want some sunlight and a glimpse of the ocean from their room, ocean views are a great compromise between the lower price of an interior room and the jump up to a full on balcony.
Balcony Rooms: Balcony rooms let you get a bit of fresh air from the comfort of your own room. That can be a blessing when you need a break from the lively vibes elsewhere on your cruise.
Suites: If you're looking for luxury on your cruise, suites offer the most space and best room locations, often with separate living and sleeping areas. They generally feature large balconies, and extra amenities and perks. In other words, a suite can be considered the best cabin on any cruise ship.
Outside Rooms: These rooms feature a window or porthole with a view to the sea, often similarly sized to an inside cabin (or a bit larger). Outside cabins are also referred to as oceanview rooms.
The best room location on any cruise ship can vary from person to person. It can also mean the difference between seasickness and noise that keeps you up all night -- or the sounds of waves lulling you to sleep like a baby or awesome views. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best room on a cruise ship.
If you tend to get seasick, selecting your cabin can be critical decision. It's a question of engineering, really. The lower and more central you are in a ship, the less roll and sway you will feel. Even if you choose a balcony room, choose a low level and a room closest to the ship's center. The higher decks and cabins at the front (forward) or back (aft) of the ship will rock and roll the most.
Related: Avoiding Seasickness on a Cruise
Depending on your desire to socialize, soak up the sun or enjoy some peace and quiet, you'll want to think strategically about where your cabin is aboard the cruise ship. That's particularly true as today's megaships -- like Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas -- can mean long walks to your room throughout the day.
Sunworshippers might prefer an upper-deck location close to the pools and sun decks, while partiers might want easy access to midship entertainment hubs. Travelers with mobility concerns may prefer a stateroom close to a bank of elevators. Alternatively, you might not want to hear any music or partying, which can mean a cabin that's farther away from the ship's liveliest areas.
The nicest and most expensive cabins on any ship are generally on the highest decks. That typically means just below the pool deck. However, the pool deck is often the loudest during the day (and often well into the night). So if you don't want to listen to early morning revelers, daytime DJs or pool parties from day into night, it's wise to pick a room a few decks lower.
When it comes to noise, the best bet is to select a cabin that is both above and below other cabins instead of public spaces. Check out the deck plans of your cruise to see where service areas are located; bar, theater, and nightclub locations; and self-service launderettes (all can be noisy at various times throughout the day).
Other rooms to avoid on a cruise ship are those situated low and at the back of cruise ships. These are closer to engine noise, which causes vibrations, and the anchor. Rooms that are low at the front of the ship will be closer to the bow thrusters.
Related: How to Sleep Better on Your Cruise
All cabins come with basic amenities, such as housekeeping and turndown service, basic toiletries, climate control, and the like. But certain room categories come with added perks. Suites, the most luxurious rooms on any cruise ship, come with a variety of extras and privileges. Those can include everything from priority boarding to in-cabin bars. Spa cabins will offer spa-related perks, such as yoga mats and pampering bath amenities. Concierge-level cabins will give you access to a concierge and niceties like afternoon canapes. Even solo cabins can come with extras, such as exclusive lounge access found on lines like Norwegian.
How do you want to be pampered on your vacation? Here are some cabin-related extras you may want to pay for on your cruise.
A concierge cabin comes with -- you guessed it -- easy access to a cruise concierge. That means hands-off dinner and spa reservations, shore excursion bookings, and requests from guest services. Their services are included in the price of many suites, and on some ships you'll find a concierge lounge where suite guests and loyal premium-level passengers can snack, drink and relax in private. Concierge cabins may also come with in-cabin amenities like welcome drinks, fruit baskets or afternoon canapes.
A cruise with butler service can make you feel truly spoiled. Some cruise lines include butler service as part of your fare in suites and concierge cabins. So what is butler service on a cruise, exactly? That can vary. Sometimes it means bringing you room service from hard-to-get-into specialty restaurants, curated minibars or in-cabin meals served course by course. Butlers can also unpack and repack your bags, draw rose-petal baths and assist you in preparing in-suite cocktail parties.
Costa started the spa cabin trend, but many mainstream lines quickly followed suit. The concept is simple: Spa aficionados pay more for cabins decked out in Asian-inspired Zen decor that come with extra amenities, ranging from fancy showerheads and specialty bath products to fluffy bathrobes, yoga mats and healthier room service menus.
Spa cabin guests receive free access to spa restaurants (such as Celebrity's Blu or Costa's Ristorante Samsara), complimentary passes to spa pools and sauna/steam room areas, and may get free, discounted or priority spa treatments and fitness classes. And you don't always have to book a huge suite; on Holland America, several inside cabins have been designated as spa cabins with all the associated perks.
Some lines offer gated-access suite complexes where some of the most expensive accommodations are arranged around exclusive deck areas, including private pools, whirlpools, fitness centers, sun decks, restaurants and lounges; MSC Cruises' Yacht Club and Norwegian's Haven are two examples. Norwegian's studio cabins although they are small cruise ship cabins -- also include a special lounge reserved just for solo travelers.
Do you have to have a whirlpool bathtub or a walk-in closet? Will you be entertaining in your room and need a dining table that can seat six or eight? Do you want benefits like being the first in line to get on or off the ship? Do you want to be pampered with extra-plush linens and bathrobes, fancy bath products and in-suite coffee and booze? You can find those amenities and more in most of the upper-level suites.
In this age of mega-ships, cruise ship cabins now come in all shapes and sizes -- and are priced to match. In addition to the typical inside and oceanview cabins -- which are compact and are either windowless or have views to sea -- you can find minisuites, expansive suites, duplexes and lofts aboard many ships. Balcony cabins are a nice midway point when it comes to your vacation budget, but balconies range from those that barely hold two chairs to huge wraparound decks with hot tubs. You'll want to determine how much space you actually need and want to pay for before you book your room.
Interior rooms on a cruise ship are generally the cheapest option that you'll find on board. These typically have no windows, windows onto the ship's public interiors or -- as you'll find on NCL and other lines -- virtual balconies or portholes. If you're the kind of person who doesn't need a lot of space or amenities, and would prefer to save your budget for shore excursions, ship experiences, drink packages or speciality dining, these can be an economical choice.
Outside rooms and balcony cabins have one thing in common: They both let you look out to sea during your cruise. However, the cost can be significantly different.
Cruise travelers who spend all their time in the ship's public areas or on shore may be perfectly happy with standard-size cabins with nothing more than a window to sea. However, those who avoid crowds and prefer quiet ocean views should opt for a balcony. They can also give you more space to spread out.
Don't forget to take your itinerary into account. On a chilly-weather cruise to places like Alaska or the Norwegian Arctic, you might not be spending too much time outside. Consider how much space and light you need in this case as a balcony might not be worth the added cost.
Family rooms are often suites that feature a separate kids' room (or sectioned-off area) plus an area for a parent of parents. The spaces for kids can range from a small alcove with bunk beds to an entire adjoining cabin. Pullman beds or pullout sofas can also help families with sleeping arrangements. If you're going to squeeze your whole troupe into one cabin, make sure the space is big enough to accommodate everyone (and their luggage). However, Disney Cruises is known for offering larger standard rooms meant to accomodate families.
Very few ships actually have cabins dedicated to solo travelers. These will have sleeping space for one and can be quite small. The studio cabins on select Norwegian ships are the most famous example of this: The 100-square-foot staterooms each contain a full-size bed, nifty lighting effects and a large round window that looks out into the corridor. If you're a solo traveler, you'll want to price out the cost of a solo cabin (usually somewhat higher than the double-occupancy rate of a similarly sized stateroom) compared to the cost of paying the single supplement (an extra fee tacked on if there aren't two people in a cabin; the price can come out to as much as double the regular rate) for a standard cabin. And book early, as solo cabins sell out quickly.
When it comes to choosing suites, it's best to figure out how much space you really need, what amenities are important to you and what you can afford to spend. Suites on most ships are often the first category to sell out, partly because there are fewer of them, and partly because they often offer extremely good value. For this reason, it's important to decide early what kind of suite you'd like.
Suites come in all shapes and sizes. You'll find minisuites on many ships, which are a bit bigger than balcony cabins and more clearly defined sleeping areas and living spaces. Some lines only offer suites, like Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn. You'll also find massive suites like the Royal Loft on Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships.
Among the most over-the-top suites are Norwegian Cruise Line's 5,000-plus-square-foot, three-bedroom Garden Villa suites on its Jewel-class ships. These each feature a private terrace with a hot tub, spacious living and dining areas, and butler service, plus access to an exclusive-access deck area. Other suites may come with dining areas, wet bars, deluxe bathrooms, walk-in closets, multiple levels and even pianos.
Looking for a view and fresh sea breezes from your cabin? A balcony cabin is probably for you. These are some of the most popular rooms on any cruise ship and generally fall somewhere in the middle on the cost spectrum. Consider both the direction in which your room faces, as well as any obstructed views before booking. You'll also find that even inside rooms on some cruise ships are considered balcony cabins, so carefully check out what you're getting if that's not for you.
The vast majority of balcony rooms are standard balcony cabins or slightly larger rooms along either side of a cruise ship -- the port and starboard sides. It's hard to beat a direct sea view (or port view in some cases), and equally wonderful to leave a ship's public areas and soak up the sun, views, or breezes from the comfort of your own cabin.
Do your research, though, as not all balconies are created the same. Some barely fit two chairs while others come complete with loungers and cocktail tables. Additionally, on one-way cruises where shore views matter most, you'll want to plan carefully for which side of the ship is right for you.
Aft cabins on a cruise ship (the ones at the very back of the ship) can be the most prized standard balcony cabins afloat. Why? Because they can make you feel as though you are at the end of the world, offering 180-degree views over the ship's wake. Balconies in aft cabins are often much larger than balconies along the ship's sides.
However, aft cabin balconies are almost always stepped out, allowing passengers in cabins above yours as well as higher deck public space to see down onto your balcony. On some ships, aft cabins may also be far from dining and drinking venues, as well as entertainment. However, on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, the main dining room, buffet, specialty restaurants, and kid-friendly attractions are at the back of the ship. Front-facing balcony cabins are almost always suites.
Related: Forward vs. Aft: A Cabin Comparison
Like plenty of beach resorts on dry land, cruise lines also occasionally overstate the ocean views available in some of their oceanview cabins. Structural designs can lead to balcony cabins that are, in fact, obstructed-view cabins. The primary offender in this category include cabins above or adjacent to life boats, as well as forward balcony cabins located close to the bridge wing. Rooms underneath a pool deck overhang may also have obstructed views. The upside to obstructed view cabins? They can be a good deal.
If the amount of view you get relative to the amount of money you spend is important to you, look for "secret porthole" insides or "obstructed view" outsides. The secret porthole cabins are those sold as inside cabins that actually have windows with blocked views and the partially or fully obstructed cabins are sold as outsides but often at the price of an inside.
As mentioned above, special consideration should be paid on itineraries where more than the ocean or sea is on display. On a roundtrip Caribbean cruise or a transatlantic crossing, for example, the side of the ship you are on doesn't really matter. However, one-way sailings such as a southbound Alaska cruise or a trip from Barcelona to Rome means that scenery is, in fact, one of the biggest reasons to sail. Plan ahead before booking your cabin to see on which side of the ship you'll want your balcony room.
In the end, price is probably the most important (and unavoidable) factor in the type of room you book on your cruise ship. Generally, standard inside and outside cabins will be your cheapest bets, with balcony cabins costing a bit more, and suites and anything higher being the most expensive. You can expect to pay more the more amenities and additions to service that you want. Even so, there are a few ways you can save money before you book.
Cruise fares fluctuate like airfares (Read: They can change daily). You'll generally find the lowest room rates by booking early (eight months or more prior to sailing) or booking late (two to six weeks before departure). Often, fares drop just after final payment is due (about two months before sailing). But waiting for a higher-category cabin to come down in price to fit into your travel budget is risky; if the cabin category is selling well, fares will only go up.
When trying to determine what type of cabin you can afford on your cruise, don't forget to factor in the cost of the rest of your trip. If you have to spend a lot on airfare, pre-cruise hotels and activities in port, you might need to adjust your cabin budget lower. If you're using frequent-flyer miles or don't need to book a hotel, you'll have more money for cruise fare. Additionally, look for value-added promotions through cruise lines and travel agents. Offers for onboard credits, prepaid tips or included airfare can free up some money to pay for that balcony view
While you can't count on the upgrade fairy to pay you a visit after you've booked that low-tier cabin, you can look out for upgrade deals before you book. One common cruise-line promotion is to offer outside cabins for the price of insides, or balconies for the price of outsides.
Just be wary of any offer promising a two-category upgrade (or similar). The fine print usually indicates that the line will give you a so-called better cabin within the same category. That can simply mean you are upgraded from a standard inside cabin to a slightly larger inside cabin. You will then be stuck with whichever cabin they give you -- whether you agree it's better or not.
A guarantee cabin is a room with a low rate that is a specific cabin type (inside, outside, etc.). However, the cruise line selects the actual cabin for you. If you luck out, you could get assigned to a higher-category cabin, like scoring a balcony for a standard outside cabin price.
On the flip side, you might get the worst cabin in the category you chose -- the one that's slightly smaller, has an obstructed view or is in a noisy corner of the ship. Letting the cruise line choose your cabin is risky, so be sure you'll be happy no matter which cabin you get assigned.
For more cabin-selection tips and to ask questions of other cruisers, visit the Cruise Critic message boards.