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All About Cruise Ship Cabins

Woman in red dress sits on a chair on private balcony on cruise ship.

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Everything you need to know about finding your best berth.

En español | A cruise cabin might seem like a floating hotel room, but there’s a big difference. Your cabin is the base camp for your cruising vacation, and if it doesn't fit your needs it can detract from your trip. That doesn't mean you need to spring for a big, pricey room with ocean views and a balcony. The right cabin depends on the type of cruise, the kind of ship and your personal preference. You select your berth at booking, so it's important to take time to consider what's best for you beforehand.

A good travel agent specializing in cruises can help sort out your options, but it helps to know the basics.

Ship cabin with big double bed and window with

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A view of the water from your cruise ship cabin can add immeasurably to your enjoyment.

Inside vs. outside

Inside cabins, the smallest and least expensive rooms, can be an ideal choice. If your trip includes plenty of port stops and on-board activities, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway. And cruise companies like Royal Caribbean and Disney have cleverly added “virtual” portholes and balconies to some inside cabins. These high-res video screens show the actual view outside, giving a quite-convincing impression that you have a window on the world.

As for actual outside cabins, not all are created equal. Some windows are obstructed by lifeboats or offer uninspiring views of vents or plumbing. Most lines will note this at booking, but if you have any questions, ask. And remember, cruise ship portholes don’t open, so they won’t offer sea breezes. 

Location, location

Perhaps the most important consideration is the cabin’s position. Large vessels can have more than a dozen floors, which means climbing lots of steps or waiting for an elevator every time you leave the cabin. Consult a deck plan to gauge your distance from the dining, entertainment and pool areas where you’ll be spending most of your time. If you get around easily, the walk may be welcome. (There are plenty of eating opportunities on a cruise.) But if you have mobility issues, it could be a concern. Also check what’s above and below. If your cabin’s directly under a nightclub, expect to feel the thumping of speakers every night. 

Another concern is seasickness. If you’re prone, a lower deck cabin in the middle of the ship will be most stable. Finally, consider the itinerary. Taking a northbound trip to Alaska? Outside cabins on the starboard (right) side, sell out more quickly because they offer coastline views. Heading south? You’ll want to be portside.

Close up of chair and table on private balcony on cruise ship.

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Balcony cabins are more expensive, so make sure you'll really use yours.

To balcony or not

A veranda can be lovely, letting you soak in the scenery from your room. But it’s more expensive, so make sure you’ll really use it. Unless you have days at sea, much of your time is likely to be spent on shore. And with all the distractions on board, cruisers spend most of their time in the public areas. 

Balconies also can be cramped and offer little privacy. “On the few occasions we did book a balcony, we barely used it,” says Penny Reidy, who blogs about travel at ItchyFeetFamily.com.au. And on some cruise lines, smoking is allowed on balconies. Good to know if you’re a smoker, and worth noting if you’re not because most verandas offer minimal separation between neighboring cabins.

On a river cruise, having a balcony means that you’ll have less room in your cabin, says Tom Armstrong of Tauck, a global travel company. That’s because a river ship’s size is limited by the width of canal locks. Because ships can’t have balconies hanging off the side, the space comes from the cabin.

Family spends time in a large family size cabin on cruise ship.

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Cruise ship cabins generally are quite snug — unless you spring for a suite.

Cabin 2.0

As the cruise industry has evolved, so have cabins, says Chris Gray Faust of CruiseCritic.com. New layouts can sleep an extended family in larger suites and adjoining rooms. And berths have adapted to the digital age, with technological upgrades such as bedside USB ports, flat-screen TVs with on-demand movies and more electric outlets.

Whatever you choose, expect snug quarters. Unless you spring for a suite, your room will probably measure just a few hundred square feet, including bathroom. But there's more space than you might think: Cabins are cleverly designed with built-in cabinets, closets and under-the-bed stowage. Elizabeth Newcamp of the Dutch Dutch Goose travel blog even suggests bringing magnetic hooks, which will affix to metal walls. A room where you feel comfortable will help you enjoy your vacation at sea.

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