The Ins and Outs of Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin

Experts offer tips on how to select the best stateroom for you.

U.S. News & World Report

The Ins and Outs of Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin

Sunset onboard a cruise ship cabin.
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(Getty Images)

Too many options can be overwhelming.

With a variety of cruise ship cabin choices, it can be difficult for travelers to figure out what stateroom best suits their needs. That's why U.S. News consulted cruising experts to get their recommendations on how to make researching and booking a cruise cabin easier. Whether you're looking for a family-friendly cabin or you're traveling solo, you can find a cruise cabin that meets your price point and expectations. Read on for top tips and tricks for selecting the right stateroom for you.
Mature woman sitting on a lounge chair while staring into the ocean, while vacationing on a cruise ship
Credit

(Getty Images)

Identify what's important.

The best way to start searching for the right cruise cabin is to know your preferences, according to Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor at Cruise Critic. "Are you a night owl? Are you likely to spend most of your time away from your cabin? Or are you somebody who wants to relax and spend time in your cabin? That will help you figure out the [cabin] type," she says. According to McDaniel, if you plan to spend most of your time away from your cabin, you'll likely want to book an interior or ocean-view room. Meanwhile, a suite or balcony room can accommodate those who seek more space and a private terrace.
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Too many options can be overwhelming.

With a variety of cruise ship cabin choices, it can be difficult for travelers to figure out what stateroom best suits their needs. That's why U.S. News consulted cruising experts to get their recommendations on how to make researching and booking a cruise cabin easier. Whether you're looking for a family-friendly cabin or you're traveling solo, you can find a cruise cabin that meets your price point and expectations. Read on for top tips and tricks for selecting the right stateroom for you.

Identify what's important.

The best way to start searching for the right cruise cabin is to know your preferences, according to Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor at Cruise Critic. "Are you a night owl? Are you likely to spend most of your time away from your cabin? Or are you somebody who wants to relax and spend time in your cabin? That will help you figure out the [cabin] type," she says. According to McDaniel, if you plan to spend most of your time away from your cabin, you'll likely want to book an interior or ocean-view room. Meanwhile, a suite or balcony room can accommodate those who seek more space and a private terrace.

Consider your budget.

Narrowing down how much you are willing to spend will not only help you select what cruise line to sail on but also what cabin type best suits you. Inside cabins are generally the most affordable stateroom type, and while these cabins may receive criticism for their small size, John Heald, brand ambassador of Carnival Cruise Lines, describes them as superb. "They give the best night's sleep because once the lights are out, there's no window [and] you sleep for hours," he says.

Consult a travel agent.

Travel agents with cruising expertise can offer helpful insight for first-timers trying to decide on the perfect cabin. "They can provide the insider knowledge and recommendations to match guests with the right cruise line and the right stateroom for their individual needs, based on family configuration and budget," says Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales for Norwegian Cruise Line. McDaniel also recommends hiring a travel agent as they can assist with research and make booking much easier. The Cruise Lines International Association, a cruise industry trade group that promotes and educates travelers on cruising, offers a handy tool to search for travel agents.

Beware of the location.

There are certain areas to avoid on a cruise ship if you're seeking a restful night's sleep. "You don't want to be below the theater, below the galley or below the pool deck because there's a lot of activity all the time there," McDaniel says. She recommends consulting the ship's deck plans to find a cabin with stateroom decks above and below the room. McDaniel also advises steering clear of rooms near the elevators, even though the location may provide some convenience. "People congregate around elevators and stairways, they have conversations, elevators ding. It can be kind of a noisy spot to be," she says.

Weigh seasickness concerns.

Those who suffer from motion sickness should book midship cabins on the lower levels of the ship, since that's considered the most stable area on a cruise ship. "That said, newer ships really are very stable. Many people don't even feel the movement," McDaniel says. Heald and Olivere also say today's modern cruise ship technology allows for smooth rides, so cruisers shouldn't let that affect their cabin choice too heavily.

Check social media and message boards.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, can also aid in cruise cabin selection, according to Heald, who says cruisers should use social tools to their advantage as they research accommodation options. "Now we've got reviews of all the cabins, great photos, all the different amenities listed that you get inside the cabin," Heald says. "I definitely think social media comes into play here. [Travelers] can look at the reviews and where people have stayed." Meanwhile, McDaniel recommends checking cruise message boards on Cruise Critic to read first-hand experiences and cabin tips from previous cruisers.

Deluxe staterooms or suites may be best for families.

When choosing a cabin, consider your family's size and your children's ages. For example, a suite may be the best option for families with small sailors. "A suite will give you more room, it also might have something like a bathtub, which when you have a baby is really key," McDaniel says, adding that Royal Caribbean International and Disney Cruise Line offer ideal family suite options. Olivere also recommends Norwegian's multibedroom family suites. For families with older kids, Heald and McDaniel suggest booking connecting rooms, which can be found on most cruise ships. Heald also recommends Carnival's Family Deluxe Staterooms, which offer two bathrooms and can accommodate up to five passengers.

Groups should seek variety.

If you're traveling in a group, look for ships that offer a variety of cabin options, McDaniel says. That way, like-minded group members can bunk together. Some travelers might need to stay on a tight budget or are concerned about the possibility of seasickness and want a midship cabin on a lower level, while others may really want to experience a balcony cabin. McDaniel says MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all offer a plethora of cabin types.

Specialty cabins are best for solo travelers.

Some cruise lines cater to solo travelers with specialty staterooms built to accommodate one passenger. Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are a few companies that offer solo cabin categories on select ships. For example, on select Norwegian ships, including the Breakaway, Escape and Epic, studios are located in a private area, with a lounge and ample amenities, making it easy for single travelers to interact, Olivere says. These unique cabins are also a cost-effective option since there is no single supplement charge (a fee cruise lines impose to compensate for one cruiser rather than two using the cabin). River cruise lines, such as Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways, are also addressing the needs of solo travelers by waiving single supplement fees.

Book early.

Once you've decided what cabin type is the best for you, you should book it as soon as possible. "There's this misperception that there's always these empty cabins just sitting there waiting to be sold. The best way to ensure you get the cabin that you want is to book early," says Vance Gulliksen, Carnival's senior public relations manager, who adds that if you wait until the last minute, odds are you won't get the cabin of your choice. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to book your cruise several months in advance to secure the stateroom you want.

Don't expect an upgrade.

Many first-time cruisers may wonder if they can score a cabin upgrade either before or after boarding. But this practice is not as common in cruising as it is in the hotel industry, since most cruise ships sell to capacity. "Unlike at a hotel where guests are always coming and going, on a ship, everyone boards at once and leaves at once, so there isn't opportunity to move staterooms," Olivere says. However, cruisers who book a guarantee cabin (where they're assured the room category they booked) might be able to snag an upgrade if the cabins at the category level sell out and they get bumped to a higher category. Cruise lines such as Carnival and Seabourn offer this option.

Splurge if your budget allows.

For many travelers, a cruise vacation offers the perfect opportunity to treat yourself and enjoy some time off. If you can swing it, Heald recommends splurging on a balcony stateroom. "I always try to tell people if it's in their budget that they try and choose a balcony, because one of the best things about cruising is the sound and the sights and the smell of the sea," Heald says. However, Heald cautions: "Once you book a balcony cabin it's hard to go back to inside."
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