How to Choose the Best Cabin on Any Cruise (2024)

If you’ve never booked a cruise before, choosing a room can be a surprisingly complex undertaking. At a hotel or resort, you might be more focused on bed configurations while onboard a cruise ship, it’s typically all about the ever-changing view—or lack thereof. To add to the equation, each room type usually has multiple categories and decks to choose from.

From inside cabins with no windows to sprawling suites with multiple balconies and floors, cruise rooms can really run the gamut. Depending on the type of sailing you’re on, an upgrade could be worth the splurge or not. To help with your decision, familiarize yourself with these standard cruise room categories and the pros and cons of each.

What are rooms on a cruise ship called?

Rooms on a cruise ship are typically referred to as cabins or staterooms. These two terms are interchangeable and are both used to refer to rooms onboard a cruise ship. The terminology simply depends on each cruise line or individual.

What are the standard cruise cabin categories?

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Courtesy of Matt Stroshane/Disney Cruise Line

Inside or interior cabin

Inside or interior cabins are the entry-level cruise room category. Located along the inside hallways of a cruise ship, the name denotes that there is no window or porthole. While these windowless rooms are typically the smallest in terms of square footage on any given ship, some cruise lines offer inside staterooms suited to families. These budget-friendly accommodations sleep up to six people onboard Royal Caribbean, for example, with twin beds, a pullout sofa, and convertible bunk beds called Pullmans.

Some cruise lines, including Disney and Royal Caribbean, even offer rooms on select ships that can be considered inside cabins with a view. With the help of virtual portholes, piping in a live video feed, virtual portholes can depict footage of the outside to mimic that of a real window. Disney’s “Magical Portholes” also feature the occasional drop-in from your favorite animated characters like an appearance from Flounder and Scuttle of The Little Mermaid.

Outside or oceanview cabin

Oceanview cabins are somewhat self-explanatory in the sense that they offer some type of view, whether it’s through a picture window or porthole, and they typically feature slightly more square footage than their interior counterparts. However, this is where careful attention to deck plans—or a knowledgeable travel advisor—comes in handy; some categories of outside staterooms have an obstructed view, meaning they might come with a smaller price tag, but you’ll mostly be gazing at the underbelly of a lifeboat.

You’ll also want to consider which side of the ship you’re on. In nautical terms, if you’re facing the front of the ship, “port” means the left-hand side, and “starboard” is on the right. It can be hard to dictate the perfect vista for each port of call, but proactively choosing your location could affect whether you’ll be able to watch your arrival into port from the comfort of your cabin or you’re mostly staring out at the sea.

Balcony or veranda cabin

A balcony cabin and a veranda cabin are the same thing. On oceangoing ships, this category of cabins comes with a step-out balcony, allowing cruisers to privately enjoy some fresh ocean breeze over morning coffee. These rooms typically come with at least a small table and a set of chairs on your balcony, so you can read, soak up the sun, or indulge in alfresco room service. When you consider living space, note that cruise lines often factor the size of the balcony into the total square footage of a stateroom. Balcony cabins are typically scattered across a ship, including at the front, also referred to as the “forward” of the ship, or “aft,” meaning back of the ship. Consider whether you are someone who would rather watch the wake or gaze at the horizon. Preferred locations—like a wraparound balcony at the back of the ship—will vary in price and are typically the first cabins to be booked.

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Courtesy of Grant Sweetwood/Avalon Waterways

French balcony cabin

If you see the term “French balcony,” a room type common on river cruise ships, it means that you might have sliding glass doors that open to a railing but not the ability to fully step outside. Some room types classified as “mini suites” are really glorified balcony cabins, meaning they have slightly more square footage but few suite-style amenities. Read the fine print to make sure that the premium perks or amenities you might expect are included in the price before booking them.

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Courtesy of Seabourn

Suite

Suites are the most spacious and deluxe rooms on any cruise ship, but not all suites are created equal. Suites can vary in square footage from about 400 square feet up to 6,000-plus on a single ship, but they almost always feature at least one balcony. In recent years, cruise lines have begun organizing their top-tier cabins into categories, assigning certain levels of perks and freedoms depending on which type of suite a guest is booked into. For example, someone staying in an entry-level suite might be able to partake in priority embarkation, but only someone in the highest-level suite category has access to an unlimited mini-bar and private restaurant. From owner’s suites with grand pianos to loft suites with multiple stories, this is the most diverse category of staterooms.

Some cruise lines feature a suite complex or club area accessible only with a special key card, like Norwegian Cruise Line’s the Haven or MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club, which offer even more exclusive spaces and services for guests staying in designated suite areas. Some luxury cruise lines, like Silversea or Regent Seven Seas, only offer rooms categorized as suites on their ships, which all come with amenities like personalized butler service.

Single or studio cabin

The days of financial penalties for people who cruise alone are mostly in the rear view. While some cruise lines still charge a substantial fee to offset the cost of a single person to a cabin, many other cruise lines are building quaint staterooms designed—and priced—with a solo cruiser in mind. Solo cabin choices range from inside to outside cabins to rooms with balconies, depending on the ship. However, you’re most likely to find them as interior rooms, like those in Norwegian’s own area for solo cruisers called the Studio. While Studio staterooms are available fleetwide, only select Norwegian Cruise Line ships feature a dedicated lounge space so that independent cruisers can meet and mingle. Other cruise lines known for single cruiser accommodations include Cunard and Holland America Line.

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Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Guarantee cabin

One of the vaguer terms that’s thrown around when booking a cruise is a “guarantee cabin.” Initially enticing because of its discounted price, these rooms are the leftover inventory and are typically not assigned until shortly before your sail date. While there is nothing wrong with securing a bargain on your vacation, leaving this decision to fate could result in an unappealing location with late-night noise or other bugaboos. Yes, there is a slim chance of a surprise upgrade by booking a guarantee cabin, but more often than not you’re simply forfeiting the chance to choose your own room. This type of cabin should only be selected by the very flexible who are willing to bet on their chances.

Accessible cabin

Accessibility on cruise ships applies to a host of accommodations for the hearing impaired; blind or low vision; those requiring a special dietary menu, medical device, or service animal; and cognitive impairments like autism. However, the accessible category mostly pertains to mobility. These rooms, available across the majority of cruise lines and ships, offer wider hallways and entryways, more maneuverability, and bathrooms with features like roll bars, shower seats, and lowered sinks to accommodate wheelchair users. Due to limited availability, these cabins usually sell out in advance. If you require the features of an accessible stateroom, be sure to contact the cruise line well before your preferred sail date.

What is the cheapest cabin on a cruise ship?

Cruise fares are typically priced in ascending order of room type, from interior cabins up to suites. The cheapest cabin in terms of base price on any cruise ship will usually be an interior room, but keep in mind the overall value of what you’re booking before you have a knee-jerk reaction to the dollar amount. If you plan on spending all your time in the spa, some cruise lines offer spa staterooms that bundle access to the thermal suite or even a spa treatment along with proximity to the onboard wellness facilities, making the slightly higher cabin price worth the splurge. Guarantee cabins, regardless of cabin category, will also tempt your wallet, depending on if you are game for a gamble.

Keep in mind that unlike a hotel room, a cruise cabin is often priced per person based on a double occupancy (two people per room) rate. That means that you and your fellow cruiser are both paying the price listed for the cabin, which includes the cost of meals, entertainment, and more. As a ballpark figure, a cheap cruise is considered to be anywhere from $50 to $100 per person, per night.

What cabins should you avoid on a cruise ship?

While each cruise ship is different, there are some general types of cabins to consider avoiding. If you know or suspect that you are sensitive to motion or are prone to seasickness, consider avoiding cabins located on the highest decks of the ship or at the very front or back of the vessel. This is where you will mostly likely feel the pitching and rolling associated with choppy seas. The best type of cabin to book for the least amount of motion is on a deck in the middle of the ship and centrally located within that deck.

If you have small children or treasure your rest, also be on the lookout for noisy areas of the ship, like above or below the nightclub, buffet, or pool deck. Also keep an eye on whether your room is close to the elevator banks or crew areas, where chiming buttons or slamming doors can continue at all hours. A travel advisor or online reviews from fellow cruisers might be able to help steer you away from some of these problematic cruise cabins on a ship-by-ship basis. When in doubt, book a room on a deck that’s sandwiched between other passenger decks consisting only of cabins and not public spaces.

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Courtesy of Michel Verdure/Celebrity Cruises

Is it worth getting a balcony?

A balcony stateroom is normally the most popular room category on any given ship. However, the value of a balcony room is something that will differ depending on where you’re cruising and why. If it’s a voyage with a bunch of friends and you’re not planning on spending much time in the room, it might be worth shaving off a few hundred dollars by booking a cheaper room without a balcony. But if you’re planning a romantic anniversary cruise to Hawai‘i or a bucket-list journey through the Norwegian fjords, the ability to step out of bed and onto your balcony to soak in the scenery could be well worth the extra charge.

Some itineraries, most notably Alaska, have scenic sailing days built into the cruise schedule. These are days spent at sea, navigating stunning landscapes that might include calving glaciers or breaching whales. Sure, you can get out on deck with the masses to scope out the views, but access to your balcony any time of day or night (in your robe or pjs) could add that special reminder that your floating resort is in fact moving from place to place.

Travelers prone to seasickness might also want to consider a balcony. This room feature not only provides quick access to fresh air but also lets you focus on the horizon line, which is said to help orientate your equilibrium.

What is the best room on a cruise ship?

Between a cozy inside cabin and a splash-out penthouse suite, the best room on a cruise ship is the one you can afford. That might sound cheesy, but it’s true. Paying a cruise fare includes so much more than where you’ll be resting your head, so consider the entire package before making your selection. Some promotions include all-inclusive beverages or Wi-Fi, while some upscale cruise lines include costs like airfare in the price of your cabin booking. The best room, whether you call it a cabin or a stateroom, is the one that comfortably suits the needs of you and your fellow cruisers.

Brittany Chrusciel

Brittany Chrusciel circumnavigated the globe aboard a ship long before becoming a cruise expert. After studying abroad on Semester at Sea, she joined the editorial team at Cruise Critic, where she specialized in destinations. She now freelances, including for Afar.

How to Choose the Best Cabin on Any Cruise (2024)

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