For the uninitiated, picking your perfect spot can be something of a minefield with the risk of ending up in the bowels of the ship close to the clanking anchor (not the best early morning wake-up call) or having your view obscured by a lifeboat directly outside the window.
With the largest ships having as many as 40 accommodation grades, it’s easy to feel bamboozled but the key point to remember is there are just four main types of cabin or, as US cruise companies tend to call them, staterooms, with everything else being variations of these.
Different types of cabins
These are the cheapest cabins and have no window – hence, no view – but they come with all the facilities of the next cabin type up and, on more modern vessels, are generally the same size too at between 130 sq ft and 170 sq ft. On slightly older ships these cabins are likely to be roomier than on the newest mega-ships, such as those of MSC Cruises (msccruises.co.uk) and Norwegian Cruise Line (ncl.com), where they may be at the smaller end of the scale.
These cabins are ideal for guests not intending to spend much time in them, though anyone worried about feeling claustrophobic could opt for “virtual balconies” – on some Royal Caribbean International (royalcaribbean.com) ships, inside cabins have large screens depicting real-time views. Disney Cruise Line (disneycruise.disney.go.com) offers a similar option with virtual portholes, though real-time footage is spiced up with surprise appearances of Disney characters, so you might even spy Mickey surfing the waves.
Top tip: On summer cruises to Norway and the Land of the Midnight Sun, these are ideal for ensuring you can slumber in total darkness when there’s no-stop daylight.
These aren’t as al fresco as you might think. However, they do have their own window or porthole, though these cannot be opened, so there’s no chance of sea breezes. Such cabins also tend to be on the lower decks.
Top tip: If you’re looking forward to a sea view, check that the window will not be obstructed by a lifeboat, which can be the case for midship cabins in this category.
With their own outdoor space, these cabins are the most popular choice among passengers and have boomed in recent years with swathes added to new ships where they can account for at least 60% of the accommodation. It’s said that once guests experience a balcony cabin, they never look back. There’s a wealth of different options and even a variation on the balcony concept with Celebrity Cruises’ (celebritycruises.com) Infinite Veranda on its new Edge-class ships. Inspired by similar designs on river cruise ships, the cabin window moves down at the touch of a button to create a Juliette balcony area that can be closed off from the cabin with bi-fold doors.
Top tip: An absolute must if you love your sea views and especially for cruising the Norwegian fjords, Canada and Alaska where incredible vistas can be enjoyed from your own private space – and you can even relish balcony dining too.
The ultimate cabin type, offering more space and separate sleeping and living areas. But variations are immense, ranging from so-called mini-suites, that are just an extension of a regular balcony cabin, to duplexes, loft suites and vast palatial enclaves bigger than most people’s homes with butler service, private plunge pools, hot tubs and vast wraparound balconies. A newer innovation in this category is P&O Cruises’ (pocruises.com) Conservatory Mini-Suites with a sunroom and bifold doors opening on to the balcony.
Other sumptuous retreats include Norwegian Cruise Line’s three-bedroom Garden Villas, the largest at sea at more than 6,500sq ft with their own terrace, private dining area and hot tub, while the most lavish has to be luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises (rssc.com) two-bedroom Regent Suites that come in at around 4,000 sq ft with a private spa (for unlimited complimentary in-suite treatments), a hand-crafted king-size bed, custom-made Steinway piano and works of art by the likes of Picasso on the walls. If you fancy splurging on this, you’ll need to dig deep as the suite carries a jaw-dropping $11,000-a-night (£9,100) price tag yet often sells out.
Top tip: Suites are often at the top of the ship, so they can command the best views, and at the front too – but if you suffer from seasickness, this can also be the most stomach-churning place to be in choppy conditions, so beware.
Location is key
This is the key factor that determines varying prices and grades within each cabin type. As a rule of thumb, low-priced accommodation is at the bottom of the ship while the most expensive is at the top, and any cruise line will tell you that ships sell top and bottom first, before the rest fills in.
The cheapest lower deck cabins will also be found towards the back of the ship where there may be engine noise and vibration (though this isn’t such an issue on more modern ships), or near the front, where docking machinery is housed.
Examine the ship layout on the website or in the brochure as there may be structural quirks where some cabins have more space or larger balconies than their neighbours, while those directly at the fore and aft not only boast unobstructed views, but have a distinct and potentially more spacious layout.
Think about what ship facilities you want to be close to. Spa fans wanting to immerse themselves in the ship’s thermal suites could opt for a special spa cabin that includes various pampering benefits, easy access and even complimentary treatments as part of the package. Alternatively, if you’re a gym bunny, book a cabin that’s close to the fitness facilities.
Families might want to be nearer to children’s clubs and facilities for ease of access, while passengers not wanting to walk too far (especially on larger ships) should opt for cabins near the lifts and restaurants to save having the slog of traversing seemingly-endless corridors.
However, if you’re sensitive to noise, then steer away from such cabins as there will be more guests coming and going. Choose a cabin that is surrounded by others – both top and bottom – as this avoids the prospect of being underneath the pool deck, and enduring the noise of chairs scraping along above you, or close to the nightclub with its accompanying late night thump of music.
It’s also worth avoiding cabins with an inter-connecting door if you’re not booking both rooms as noise travels more easily between the two, and make sure you’re not close to the ship’s self-service launderette (if it has one), otherwise you’ll hear other passengers going to and fro.
If you’re concerned about being struck by the dreaded mal de mer, choose a midship cabin on a lower deck as these are in the centre of the ship, which is more stable and less susceptible to rocking. A balcony will guarantee fresh air, if you need it, and views of the horizon which are said to help ease feelings of nausea.
The inside track
Tony Andrews, deputy managing director for online cruise specialist Cruise.co.uk, says if first-timers are unsure which accommodation will suit them best, it’s worth trying an inside cabin so they can weigh up whether they’re the type of cruiser who likes spending more time around the ship, making it less necessary to splash out on their stateroom.
However, he also points out that the price differential between inside and oceanview cabins may not be as much as people think. “It could be as little as £10 per person per night,” he explained. “Jumping from that to a balcony would be at least £50pppn and stepping from a balcony to a suite would probably be around another £100-£150pppn. Though this is a very rough guide as there is so much variation.”
“My golden tip to customers is to study the deck plan when choosing the cabin and don’t just look at how far along the deck it is, but what is above and below it as well,” Andrews added.
“Even if you’re picking a suite, the same rules apply. It’s all about position and being aware of what’s around it. Modern cruise ships are not always built in straight lines, with some having a bulge in the middle which means some balcony cabins overlook others,” he said. “This is also the case where cabins are stepped out and overlooked from the decks above.”
Cabins situated around the midship area generally carry the highest premium as they have the benefit of being closest to the main amenities, but Andrews says that choosing a stateroom a little further towards either the back or the front of the ship can bring savings.
It’s also worth noting that on premium lines such as Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com) and Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com), cabin sizes are more generously proportioned and once you venture into “Six Star” territory with luxury lines, their ships are suite-only, which is one reason why the starting price of their cruises is higher than mainstream cruise brands.
However, passengers looking for a keen deal could opt for a guaranteed stateroom where the cruise line allocates your cabin. The disadvantage is that you can’t pick your location and may not find out your cabin number until you check in. However, the big plus is that you could end up with a cabin three or four grades higher (and certainly nothing lower) than you’ve booked, so if you don’t mind where you’ll be this could be a gamble worth taking.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.