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Choosing A Stateroom

What kind of stateroom do you want? Cruise staterooms are much smaller than hotel rooms, so if you’re worried about feeling claustrophobic or have more than two people sharing a room, you may want to consider booking two rooms or a suite.

Planning a cruise vacation involves many decisions. One of the most difficult is choosing your stateroom type and location. Looking at cruise ship layouts and decks online or in brochures, one of the first things you will notice is the many different stateroom categories. Sometimes there are over 20 different categories on a ship!

Despite the fact that some cruise lines present as many as 20 or more “categories” per ship, it’s helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel:

  • Inside: no window, in an inside corridor
  • Outside: window or porthole with a view to the outside
  • Balcony: includes a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck
  • Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks

It’s the size, location, amenities and price, for example of the four basic cabin types that can make choosing difficult, so we are providing a guide to help you make the selection that is best for you. Note: Staterooms designed for physically challenged guests can fall into any of the above categories and will not be separated out.

Categories Are Determined By Location Which Determines Price

Least Expensive Categories . . .

Lowest passenger deck forward Interior (closest to the front of ship)
Lowest passenger deck aft Interior (closest to the rear of the ship)
Lowest passenger deck mid ship Interior (this is the center of the ship)

Moving Up In Categories and Cost . . .

Move up one deck to the front of the ship, then the rear of the ship, and then the center of the ship. It continues in this pattern, front, back, middle, up one deck, front, back, middle, up one deck, front, back, middle, etc, etc, etc. This determines category pricing and why you can have ten different pricing options for an interior cabin, etc.

Now in keep in mind that the staff ratio on most cruise ships is 35 to 50 percent of the guest capacity. This means that if you have 3,000 guest on a ship you will have approximately 1,200 to 1,500 staff living on the ship. All of these staff members are housed on the decks below the guests which means there are several passenger decks located below the guest decks that are not included on the floor plans that guest use to select stateroom location.

The “real estate” that your stateroom occupies, no matter the type, can either make you seasick or keep you up all night with noise — or it can lull you like a baby and provide exquisite views of your surroundings. That’s why doing your homework is important.

Stability:

If you tend to get seasick, cabin location is really important. 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 stateroom with a balcony, choose the lowest level and the most midship one you can find.

Distance:

Some cruise travelers prefer their cabins to be near to (or far away from) specific areas of the ship. Sun-worshippers 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 choose a stateroom close to a bank of elevators.

Noise:

For some reason, most cruise lines assign their highest level of cabins to the highest decks, usually just below the Lido Deck (most likely because if you have a window or balcony, you have a more sweeping vista). Still, it’s the Lido Deck that often causes the most noise problems, so if you don’t want to hear scraping chairs at the crack of dawn, go down a level.

In fact, when it comes to noise, the best bet is to select a cabin that is both above and below other cabins.

Other pitfalls include service areas adjacent to or above your stateroom; show lounges or bars adjacent to, above or below your stateroom; and self-service launderettes across from your cabin. Other cabins that can be problematic are those that are low and aft (because of their proximity to engine noise, vibration and anchor) or low and forward (bow thrusters).

For Your Viewing Pleasure:

Aft balcony staterooms are 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 stern’s wake. Balconies are almost always at least 50 percent bigger than standard balconies located along the sides of the ship. There are a few drawbacks to this location, none of which serve to deter those who love these cabins. They are at the very back and therefore are far away from a lot of activities. In addition, they are almost always “stepped out,” allowing not only those in cabins above yours to see down into your balcony, but those looking over the rail from the Lido and other public decks at the aft as well.

Some standard rooms and many suites are located at the aft “corners” of a ship, with balconies that curve up the sides. Take one of those, and you can see where you’re going and where you’ve been at the same time!

Front-facing balcony cabins are almost always suites.

There are some passengers who love, and swear by, cabins located on the promenade deck, but you’ll mostly find these on older ships. Holland America’s Statendam-class ships have outside cabins that face the promenade deck and offer the advantage of easy access to fresh air without paying for a balcony. The line has been transforming many of these originally outside cabins into “lanai” cabins — with back doors that lead directly from the cabin onto the promenade. The two biggest drawbacks of promenade-deck staterooms are that they tend to be dark because of the wide overhang above the deck, and anyone can see into them when the lights are on. Close those drapes!

Other viewing pitfalls include balcony cabins under the Lido overhang, which limits visibility; cabins above or adjacent to the lifeboats; and forward balcony cabins located close to the bridge wing.

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 obstructed views and the obstructed (or fully obstructed) cabins are sold as outsides but often at the price of an inside. And look into the interior-view cabins, like the atrium views that look out onto the interior promenades and parks on many Royal Caribbean ships (including the Voyager, Freedom and Oasis classes). These are typically sold at a price that falls somewhere between the insides and outsides.

Finally, take a good look at your cruise itinerary before selecting your cabin, specifically if you are choosing an outside or balcony. On a roundtrip Caribbean cruise or a transatlantic crossing, for example, the side of the ship you are on doesn’t really matter. If, on the other hand, you are doing a southbound Alaska cruise, or a trip from Barcelona to Rome, you might want to consider choosing a cabin on the side of the ship that faces the land. Sometimes the views can be breathtaking and you won’t get those views from the cabins that face out to the open sea.

Size Does Matter

In this age of mega-ships, cabins now come in all shapes and sizes. In addition to the typical boxy inside and outside cabins, you can find expansive suites, duplexes and lofts. Balconies also range in size from small affairs barely able to squeeze in two chairs and a drinks table to huge wraparound decks with outdoor dining tables and hot tubs.

On many ships, standard inside and outside cabins are usually the same size — the difference being that one has a porthole or picture window to let in natural light. Balcony cabins can also be the same size as standard insides and outsides, with the addition of the outdoor space on the verandah; sometimes the interior space is larger. With mini-suites on up, you get bigger and bigger indoor and outdoor spaces.

For many travelers, the decision on what size cabin to get is directly related to price. Who wouldn’t go for the huge suite if price were no obstacle? Yet it can be tricky to decide whether a balcony is worth the upgrade from a standard outside or just which suite to choose. Here are a few size-related considerations to take into account.

Outdoor Space: Do you need a balcony? Cruise travelers who spend all their time in the public areas — sun decks, lounges, restaurants — or on shore may be perfectly happy with standard-size cabins and no private outdoor space. Those who love to avoid the crowds and lounge quietly on their own verandahs or have private room-service meals outdoors will surely want balconies. Don’t forget to take your itinerary into account; on a chilly-weather cruise, you may not be spending too much time outside, so depending on how much space and light you need, a balcony may not be worth the splurge.

Cruise Stateroom Is Personal Choice

Past cruisers often recommend to new cruisers that they book the cheapest inside stateroom available since “they won’t be spending much time in there anyway”, however, that’s not really true for everyone. If you are on a 7-day or longer cruise, you will have days at sea that you might want to spend relaxing in your room, watching a TV-movie, or taking a nap. On a cruise ship, your stateroom is the one place you can get away from everything and everybody. We think selecting a stateroom type is as personal as deciding where to cruise and which ship to cruise on. Everyone is different, and what is not important to one person might well be important to you.

Is Stateroom Price Important?

Price is certainly a consideration, but if your vacation time is limited, you might be willing to pay more to get a stateroom better suited to your lifestyle. The best advice is to be informed about cruise ship staterooms and make the right decision for you.

A balcony (veranda) stateroom will cost you as little as 25% more to almost double the price of an inside stateroom. Some cruisers would prefer to go twice as often and stay in an inside stateroom. Others with more limited time might prefer to splurge on a balcony. Although I love a balcony stateroom, these staterooms are sometimes smaller than those with just a window since the balcony is replacing the inside space. Be sure to check when booking your cruise if size is more important to you than a balcony. This is a decision each person has to make on their own.

Types of Cruise Ship Staterooms

Let’s take a look at some different types of staterooms on cruise ships.

Standard Interior Stateroom (No Porthole or Window)

The least expensive, inside standard staterooms on a mainstream cruise ship run from about 120 square feet to 180 square feet. Since most cruise ships are relatively new or have been refurbished, the staterooms usually are tastefully decorated with twin beds that can be pushed together to make a queen-sized bed for couples. The staterooms have wall-to-wall carpeting, individually controlled air conditioning/heating, dresser or storage space, closet, telephone, and satellite television. The television usually has news, sports, local on-ship channels for broadcasting information on shore excursions or from guest lecturers, and movies. Some staterooms have VCRs or DVD players, and some televisions also have radio/music channels. The staterooms also usually have a night table, reading lamps, and a chair. Most modern cruise ships come with a hairdryer, so you won’t have to bring one from home. Some standard staterooms feature personal safes, table, desk with chair, convertible loveseat, mini-refrigerator, and even Internet access, although it is often much more costly than in the common Internet lounge. The cruise line brochure or Web site usually specifies what amenities are in each stateroom.

The standard stateroom bathrooms are usually tiny and most only have a shower (no tub). The shower usually has good water pressure, with the only complaint being the small size. Don’t be surprised if the shower curtain keeps trying to attack you! The bathroom also has a sink, toiletry shelves, and a noisy vacuum toilet like on an airplane. Often there is a small step up between the bedroom and bathroom, perfect for stubbing your toe. The bathrooms also usually have a retractable clothesline for drying your swimsuit or hand laundry.

Standard Ocean View Stateroom – (Porthole or Window)

Often times the ocean view standard staterooms and the inside standard staterooms are almost identical in size and layout. The only difference is the window. Most modern ships have large picture windows rather than portholes, but these windows cannot be opened. So, if you want to have a sea breeze in your room, you will need to get a balcony. Some ships have both porthole staterooms and those with windows. The porthole staterooms are on the lowest decks and are less expensive. About the only view you have from a porthole is whether it is daylight or dark. Sometimes you can also see the ocean waves splash against the porthole while sailing–I call these “washing machine” staterooms.

Stateroom with Balcony or Verandas

The next category above an outside stateroom is one with a balcony (veranda). These staterooms have sliding glass doors, giving you access to the outside. The sliding doors also mean you can see outside from anywhere in the stateroom, i.e. lie on the bed and still see the ocean outside. Usually the balcony staterooms are also larger than the standard staterooms, and some qualify as mini-suites which mean they have a small sitting area with a loveseat or convertible sofa. The mini-suites also usually have a curtain that can be drawn to separate the sleeping and sitting areas.

Most balcony staterooms do not have verandas large enough for a lounge chair where you can lie down and sunbathe in private. The balconies are often narrow, just wide enough for two chairs and a small table. If you want a larger balcony, look for a stateroom on the rear of the ship. The balconies on some ships offer no privacy. You will often find yourself standing at the balcony admiring the view and finding your neighbors doing the same!

Suites

A “suite” can mean you have (1) a small sitting area, (2) a curtain to separate the bed from the sitting area, or (3) a separate bedroom. It’s important to ask and look at the stateroom layouts before booking since the name can be somewhat misleading. Suites always have balconies. The suites are larger, and many have bigger bathrooms with tubs. A suite will have all the amenities found in the other stateroom categories, and you might even have butler service. Suites come in all shapes, sizes, and locations. They are a wonderful treat, especially if you have a lot of sea days or want to spend a lot of time together in your stateroom. Some luxury lines have all of their staterooms as mini-suites or suites.

Stateroom Locations and Descriptions

Location is the third major factor in cruise category other than size and type. Sometimes cruise ships will offer passengers a “guarantee” stateroom, which means you are paying for a category rather than a specific stateroom. A guarantee stateroom can be less expensive than choosing a specific stateroom, but it might not give you the location you desire. You are taking a chance and leaving it up to the cruise line to assign you a stateroom in a given category. Be sure to do your research before you book a “guarantee” stateroom (or any stateroom). You might be delighted in the value for get for your dollar, but you might also be disappointed if other staterooms in the same category are in much better locations. When reviewing deck plans be sure to check out what is above, below, or next to your stateroom.

Lower Deck Staterooms

The inside staterooms on the lowest decks are usually the least expensive cruise ship staterooms. Although the lower deck staterooms will give you a smoother ride in rough seas, they are also the furthest from the common areas such as the pool and lounges. You will be hiking the stairs or riding the elevators more from a lower deck, but you can also work off some of those extra calories. Therefore, even though standard inside staterooms are all the same size and layout on a ship, you can save a few hundred dollars by choosing to be on a lower deck. The same applies for standard ocean view staterooms, but you might want to inquire about the size of the window, since the lower deck ocean views might only have portholes or a smaller window. Two problems that you might experience with staterooms on the lower decks are engine noise and anchor noise. If your stateroom is near the front of the ship, it can sound like the ship has hit a coral reef when the anchor is dropped.

Higher Deck Staterooms

Staterooms on the upper decks usually cost more than those on the lower decks. Since these staterooms are nearer the pool and sun decks, they are more desirable for those on warm weather cruises who plan to use these amenities. However, you will get more rocking motion up high, so on smaller ships those who are seasick prone might want to avoid a higher deck stateroom.

Midship Staterooms

Sometimes midship standard staterooms are a good choice due to their central location and less motion. They are excellent for those who have mobility problems or who are seasick prone. However, a midship stateroom can have more traffic outside in the hallways since other passengers will often be passing by. Some cruise ships charge slightly more for midship staterooms or even have them in a separate category. If you are thinking of a midship stateroom, be sure to check out the location of the tenders or lifeboats. They can block your view and be noisy when raised or lowered. Most cruise lines will tell you if a stateroom has a blocked or limited view, but it is wise to check for yourself.

Bow (Forward) Staterooms

Staterooms on the front of the ship get the most motion and appeal to those who feel they are “real” sailors. You will get more wind and spray on the front. In rough seas, a bow stateroom can definitely be exciting! Note that the windows on staterooms on the front are sometimes smaller and slanted or recessed, meaning you can’t see as much as you might on the side or rear of the ship. Cruise ships often put suites on the front of the ships to take advantage of the unusual shape and opportunity to provide the passengers with larger balconies.

Aft (Rear) Staterooms

If you want a large balcony with your stateroom, look to the rear of the ship. These staterooms also provide a panoramic view of where you have sailed. Staterooms in the aft of the ship have more motion than centrally located staterooms, but less than those forward. One disadvantage–depending on the shape of the ship, sometimes passengers in the lounges or restaurants can look down on the balconies of the aft staterooms.

If all of this information is confusing, it just demonstrates how much diversity there is among cruise ship staterooms. When planning your next cruise, study the layout and architecture of the ship’s deck plans before selecting your stateroom. Query your travel agent and others who have sailed the ship. Think about what is important to you and consider the cost differential. If your vacation time is limited, you might want to spend a few more dollars for a better stateroom.

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