How to choose the best cabin you can afford

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 9, 2004. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: cruise, Erica Silverstein.

On my first cruise, we crammed my entire family—two adults and two teenagers, with an average height of six feet—into one inside cabin. Only one person at a time could pass between the beds; my brother and I slept on pull-down bunkbeds and constantly banged our heads against the ceiling; and once the lights were off, we were immersed in total darkness, unable to tell what time of day or night it was.

While our onboard living space did not affect our enjoyment of our Caribbean cruise, some travelers find that an unsatisfactory cabin can ruin their vacation. As cruise cabins are much smaller than standard hotel rooms, you need to be extra careful when picking your stateroom. We at SmarterTravel.com know that the choices are overwhelming—inside versus outside, middle versus fore or aft, high versus low deck—so we've outlined the pros and cons of the various cabin types, allowing you to make the decision that's right for you and get the best value out of your cruise vacation.

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Inside versus outside cabins

Similar to hotel rooms, cabins on cruise ships come in varying sizes and degrees of luxury. The first choice you must make is whether you prefer an inside or outside cabin. Inside cabins are rooms with no view; they are located in the middle of a deck, with no window or outlet to the outside of the ship. Outside, or oceanview, cabins line the edges of the ship and have a window or, for a higher cruise fare, a private balcony where you can sit outside. The most expensive oceanview cabins are suites with a sitting area and a separate bedroom.

Inside cabins are the lowest category of rooms and therefore the least expensive. When you see deals advertised by cruise lines, travel agents, or online cruise sellers, the low prices you see are almost always for inside rooms. If you want to spend the smallest amount possible on your cruise fare, inside cabins are the way to go.

However, just as many of you would not book a cheap room in a chain motel when you could afford to stay at a nicer hotel or B&B, don't book an inside cabin just to save money if you think you will be unhappy. Inside rooms can have several drawbacks; for example, the lack of natural light means that you will not be able to tell the time of day or the weather from within your cabin. I found that I had trouble waking up in the morning without the sun streaming into my room. Plus, inside cabins are often the smallest cabins on the ship. Especially if you're trying to squeeze three or four people into one room, think about whether tempers will flare in cramped quarters. The savings might not be worth the hassle, and a bigger, more expensive outside room could provide a better quality experience, thus more overall value.

But before booking an outside cabin, keep in mind that although an oceanview cabin will have more light and often more space, on some ships, the lowest level outside cabin is the same size as an inside cabin, but will be more expensive. Also, given the multitude of activities available onboard and through shore excursions, you may only be in your cabin to sleep and dress, making the extra expense for a nicer room unnecessary.

Also, while most outside cabins directly overlook the ocean, some ships—such as the Norwegian Majesty—have rooms with windows that overlook one of the decks. These cabins will have tinted glass so other cruisers can't see in and can even be upper-category oceanview cabins. If the close presence of a public area is undesireable, be sure to check your ship's deck plans before you choose your oceanview cabin.

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