by Chris Dikmen
After choosing your cruise line and ship, the next important task you have to accomplish when booking a cruise is selecting a room. To do this successfully, it is important to understand cruise line lingo.
A stateroom and a cabin are the same thing, both being generic terms that refer to any accommodations aboard a ship. A balcony and a veranda are also the same thing. A French Balcony is, however, different. Typically, a "French balcony" is very narrow and is not large enough to accommodate furniture. This is sometimes referred to as a 'step-out" balcony. A Suite typically refers to a larger stateroom; however, this term can be somewhat misleading. Some ships refer to all accommodations as suites. Most cruise ship accommodations are defined by cabin (or stateroom) categories. The cabin category generally is defined by the type of stateroom, its location on the ship, and its size.
The Basics of Cabin/Stateroom Categories
Inside (Interior) Staterooms This refers to a room that is located in the middle area of the ship. These rooms do not have windows or balconies. Inside staterooms are almost always the least expensive rooms on the ship since most people prefer to have a view of the ocean. Inside staterooms also tend to be the smallest accommodations on the ship. There are, however, some little-reported advantages to an inside stateroom. If you like to stay up late and "party", you may also like to sleep late. If you don't turn on the lights, these rooms stay pitch dark all day long since there are no windows. Just hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and you can "sleep it off" until well into the afternoon. Another argument for booking an inside stateroom is the fact that many people are only in their room to change clothes and to sleep. So, if you plan to spend most of your day on shore or at the pool, why pay extra for a window or a balcony? Another advantage to an inside stateroom is that you are insulated from any noise coming from outside the ship.
The Carnival deck plan graphic below shows inside (interior) staterooms in light pink, oceanview are in gold.
Where are the elevators?
On the deckplan above, you will notice two banks of three elevators (six total). On large ships we have found that people tend to congregate around the elevator lobby, especially late at night, and engage in very loud and annoying conversations. Therefore, if you are a light sleeper, you may wish to select a stateroom as far from an elevator lobby as possible.
Many people prefer to have a view of the ocean when on a cruise. The next step up from an inside stateroom is an "outside" or "oceanview" stateroom. Even though a balcony/verandah stateroom is, by its nature "outside", the term "outside" or "oceanview" typically refers to a a stateroom with a window or porthole only.
Oceanview staterooms are generally considered preferable to inside staterooms and that is reflected in their price. On newer ships (built after 2000), there has been so much attention put on balcony staterooms that many ships only have oceanview staterooms on the lowest decks. Wonder why they don't put balconies on the lower decks? The reason is the ocean itself. Balconies that are too close to the water line will definitely get wet, especially if the ship encounters any swells or waves.
Oceanview staterooms have some advantages over their more expensive and sought-after balcony staterooms. Often times, an oceanview stateroom will be larger than a comparable balcony stateroom. In fact, to make the balcony, the cruise line has to get the real estate from somewhere, so they basically take an oceanview cabin and put a sliding glass door 6 or 8 feet from the side of the ship into the room! That's 5 to 8 fewer feet you have for a sofa or just to move around in. On newer ships, oceanview rooms are typically located on the lowest decks. What is a status faux pas for some can be a real boon to those who are sensitive to motion. Should the ship encounter any motion while at sea, the lower the deck, the less motion you will experience.
Booking an oceanview stateroom should come with a few warnings, however. Some oceanview staterooms are "obstructed view" rooms. This means that there may be mechanical parts of the ship that interfere with the view of the ocean. In many cases, this might be a lifeboat hanging right outside your stateroom window. Most cruise lines will identify "obstructed view" rooms in their literature and some even offer discounts for rooms with obstructed views. I had an obstructed-view oceanview stateroom on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas years ago and the only obstruction was that it looked out over the top of a lifeboat. I could not see directly below my stateroom, but I had an excellent view of the ocean. This is where a good, experienced travel professional that really understands the ships can be a big help to you.
Balcony/Veranda Staterooms The hottest property on ships right now is the balcony stateroom. Imagine sitting on your own private balcony sipping your morning coffee as the ship pulls into port, or waving to people on shore as you leave Miami. Every new ship being built is emphasizing balcony staterooms. Regent Seven Seas Cruises even has two ships that are all balcony staterooms! Of course, you can expect to pay a little more for a balcony stateroom than you will for an oceanview or an inside stateroom.
As with every cabin type, there are pluses and minuses. Here are a few things you should be aware of when booking a balcony stateroom:
Smoking Policy - Some cruise lines allow guests to smoke on their balcony, some prohibit it. If you are sensitive to second-hand smoke, you should check with your travel agent about the cruise line's policy. I guarantee you that if you are sensitive to smoke, you WILL smell the cigarette or cigar smoke from a fellow passenger, even several staterooms away! On the other hand, if you enjoy a smoke, you need to make sure that your cruise line will allow you to smoke on the balcony.
Warning! You should NEVER throw cigarette or cigar butts overboard from your balcony on a ship. The wind can very easily carry that into another stateroom and cause a fire. Several cruise ship fires have been caused by passengers throwing cigarette butts overboard.
Noise - Balcony staterooms have the potential to be noisier than inside staterooms or even oceanview staterooms. The noise can come from a variety of sources. One of our biggest pet peeves is the slamming balcony door. We prefer ships to have sliding glass doors opening to their balconies as they tend to be quieter. A typical hinged door, however, can be a nightmare. These doors are very heavy and are made to shut solidly so that they are not accidentally left open. If your neighbor slams the balcony door shut, it can rattle the walls in your stateroom. If your neighbor has kids, they seem to like to go in and out repeatedly. Another issue is when the door to the hallway is open and the balcony door is open at the same time. The AC system of the ship creates high pressure in the cabin that will slam a door like you cannot imagine. Until cruise ship designers come up with a way to address this engineering shortcoming, it is up to us as guests to be cautious when closing a balcony door.
Cruise Etiquette Tip: Be a good cruise neighbor when staying in a balcony stateroom. Be careful when closing your balcony door so that it closes quietly.
You may also be subject to noise that comes from outside the ship, especially if you like to leave your balcony door open. This will occur mostly when the ship is in port. Some ports are very active and may double as shipping ports. Depending on where your stateroom is located, you may be awakened by noise coming from outside the ship.
Everything considered, we still prefer a balcony stateroom to any other accommodation category (except for a suite, of course). The benefits of having a balcony far outweigh any potential negatives. However, where your balcony stateroom is located on the ship is a very important consideration.
Suites refer to the largest and most luxurious accommodations on board a ship. On newer ships (built after 2000), a balcony or veranda is implied when booking a suite. However, that is not always the case. We recently toured a new Medallion Suite on Silversea's Silver Wind that did not have a balcony, but was huge and beautiful nonetheless. We sailed in a Celebrity Suite on Celebrity Summit a few years ago that did not have a balcony. Instead it had huge panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows. Just to be safe, when booking a suite you should always verify with your travel agent whether or not the suite has a balcony.
As you might expect, suites are the most expensive accommodations on any ship and they come in all sizes and shapes. Some cruise lines now offer butler service in certain suite categories. There are other perks that often come with occupying a suite. On several cruise lines, suite guests enjoy access to a concierge lounge. Guests occupying the largest suites are often invited to dine with the Captain one evening, or with another member of the senior staff. The guests in the large suites often get free laundry service and ensuite afternoon appetizers.
Some upscale cruise lines, like Silversea and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, claim that all of their staterooms are suites. Having sailed with both cruise lines many times, I can say that their accommodations certainly meet my requirements to be considered a "suite". For one thing, a suite should have a separate sitting room and bedroom which can be separated by a curtain or a door. A walk-in closet is also something you should expect in a suite. On Seabourn Pride, our "suite" did not have a balcony, but it was very large, had a nice bathroom with two sinks, separate tub and shower and a huge walk-in closet.
Location, Location, Location
Perhaps just as important as the type of stateroom you book, is the location of the stateroom on the ship. The location of your stateroom, along with the size and category, will determine its cost. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions), cabins located toward the center of the ship (amidships) are more desirable, and therefore, more expensive than those located at the fore or aft sections of the ship. Also, the higher up on the ship a cabin is located, the more expensive. A balcony cabin on Deck 10 amidships will generally be more expensive than the same cabin on Deck 6 forward or aft.
Knowledgeable cruise enthusiasts are well aware of the art of selecting a good stateroom based on its location. Here are a few tips that might prove helpful:
Higher up is generally quieter, but subject to more motion - One reason that cabins located on upper decks are more expensive is that they are further away from the mechanical parts of the ship. The engine room, thrusters, anchors, main galley and crew quarters are all located on the lowest decks. Trust me, if you have never been awakened by the sound of an anchor being lowered at 6:00am, consider yourself fortunate! With only one exception that I can think of, a cabin on an upper deck (8,9,10,11) will generally be quieter than one on a low deck (1,2,3,4,5). The one exception would be a higher deck with a cabin located directly under the pool deck.
Booking a stateroom directly underneath the pool deck can present its own set of challenges. We have experienced a fair amount of noise early in the morning as the crew begins to arrange the pool deck loungers. The chairs, tables and lounge chairs on the pool deck are usually moved and stacked off to the sides of the pool deck each evening so that the crew can clean the deck, or perhaps for a dance or pool BBQ. Early each morning, say 5:00am or so, the crew begins unstacking all of the chairs and moving/dragging everything back into place. Trust me, this can be quite annoying if you are a light sleeper.
One of the disadvantages to being on a higher deck is the additional rolling (side-to-side) motion. On most modern ships equipped with stabilizers, you will rarely experience any rolling motion at all. However, if you do encounter rough seas, and if there is any side-to-side (rolling) motion, you will notice it more the higher up you are on the ship.
Lower decks are less expensive, but can be noisier - The lower you are on a ship, the closer you will be to the engine and mechanical noise and vibrations of the ship. This is the main reason that these decks are less expensive than the upper decks. However, on most modern ships, as long as there is a passenger deck between you and the crew decks, you will probably be okay.
TIP: If you book a stateroom on a lower deck, try to get a room near the center of the ship. Aft staterooms will have noise from the engines and aft thrusters, forward staterooms will have noise from the ship's anchors and bow thrusters. A stateroom on a lower deck, near the center of the ship will have the least motion and noise.
Did you ever wonder why most ships place their main dining rooms on the lowest decks? Have you noticed where Royal Caribbean locates the ice skating rinks on its Freedom-class and Voyager-class ships? Low and in the middle. The biggest advantage of booking a lower deck, other than the cost savings, is the reduction in rolling motion should the ship encounter any rough seas. So, if you are prone to motion sickness, you are going to be better off on a lower deck.
So where is the best stateroom location? Everybody has their favorites, and it really depends on the individual. Also, every ship is different.
Budget Minded: If you are not concerned with motion or noise, you will get your best deal booking low and forward or low and aft. Cabins located forward are more likely to experience the sound of anchors being raised and lowered, while cabins located aft are more subject to the sounds of the engine and propulsion systems.
Budget but sensitive to motion: If you are concerned with motion, but want the best bargain, book amidships and low. You will also avoid much of the noise by being away from the aft and forward sections of the ship.
Money is no object, but sensitive to motion: If you are going to be on one of the upper decks, you will get less motion the closer you are to the center of the ship.
Advice For Selecting The Best Stateroom
Use a travel professional - The best advice is always to consult with a travel professional before booking a cruise. Make them aware of your concerns and requirements so that they can help you select the best stateroom.
Book far in advance - You will always have more choice in staterooms the earlier you book. If you wait until 30 days before the cruise, you are going to be choosing from what is left.