Pick the right cruise cabin
In the old days of cruising, you didn’t ask much of your cabin. A bed, a
head, and a porthole would do. After all, you didn’t expect to spend much time
in it — not unless you were seasick. But cruising has changed. Today’s cruise
ships are floating resorts, and the cabins aspire to be holiday havens. Some
succeed and some don’t, so it pays to give a little thought to your cabin
selection. Here are some tips from lessons learned the hard way.
Just the facts. There are four basic types of cruise cabins:
inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins, and suites. Inside cabins are
located on inside corridors and so have no window. Outside cabins are located on
the outside wall of the ship and have a window. Balcony cabins, also called
veranda cabins, are outside cabins with a private deck. Suites are larger
outside cabins with bigger private decks, separate bedroom(s), and a sitting
area. Some suites have two or more bathrooms and perhaps some exclusive
services, like your own personal butler.
Insider tip. Inside cabins are less expensive than outside cabins,
yet passengers in these cabins are afforded the same ship’s amenities as
passengers in outside cabins and suites. Still, there are some things to think
about before choosing an inside cabin. The few times I have cruised in an inside
cabin, I have found myself feeling very confined and confused because I couldn’t
tell what time of day it was or what the weather was like outside.
Insider tip. Outside cabins offer a window to the world, and having
a view of tropical islands or Alaskan glaciers is a special treat. But what
qualifies as a “window”? Some are just portholes; others are full-length picture
windows. Moreover, not all outside cabins offer an unobstructed view; some are
partially blocked by lifeboats. You need to ask your booking agent.
Insider tip. Balcony cabins allow you to enjoy the outdoors and
listen to the sounds of the sea. But is your private balcony really private?
Some newer ships have recessed decks that may give passengers above a full view
of you on your balcony. Also watch out for balcony cabins near outside
elevators, like the ones on Holland America’s Zuiderdam; these do not offer
Insider tip. When in doubt, book a higher category. “One of the
biggest mistakes people make is underestimating the value of their cruise
category,” says Brian Major, director of public relations for Cruise Lines
International Association (CLIA). “For example, people who book an outside cabin
can upgrade to a balcony cabin for not much more money and it makes a big
difference in the quality of a vacation.” Sure, he’s an industry spokesman, but
after taking dozens of cruises in many different cabin categories, I can assure
you he’s right.
Just the facts. The average hotel room in the United States
measures 300 square feet; in contrast, the average cruise cabin measures about
175 square feet. It’s what you get for that space that’s important. For the most
part, standard cruise cabins are sensibly decorated and offer comfortable beds,
reading lamps, ample storage space, bathrooms that have either a shower (but no
tub) or a small tub with shower, and individual climate control. In addition,
most cruise cabins come with a television, telephone, hair dryer, personal safe
and a writing area with a desk and chair.
On premium and luxury cruise lines, standard cabins may offer more impressive
amenities like high thread-count sheets, pillow-top mattresses, down duvets,
larger bathrooms (with tubs), mini-refrigerators, flat-panel TVs, VCRs, DVD
players, Internet access, and a sitting area with loveseat and chairs.
- Insider tip. Having trouble picturing how your cabin will look?
Check out CruiseStateroom.com,
which offers panoramic 360-degree video views of all cabin categories for most
cruise lines. This is one of the best cruise cabin resources on the Web.
Just the facts. Most cabins accommodate two passengers, but
you can also get triples and quads. Even larger cabins are available on some
ships catering to families and small groups. Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian
Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises all
offer cabins and suites that can accommodate six to eight people.
Not all cruise beds are the same. In fact, the size and arrangement of beds
(also called “berths”) varies widely. Most cabins on newer ships have two twin
beds that can be “converted” (i.e., moved together) to make a king. But not all.
You might get a queen, or two twins that can’t be moved, or one twin on
the floor and one fold-down Pullman. Third and fourth beds in a cabin are
usually convertible-sofa beds or upper Pullmans, which you reach by ladder (a
restraining bar keeps you from falling out). During the day, Pullman beds can be
folded up against the wall or into the ceiling to provide more space.
- Insider tip. Your cabin arrangement can come as an unpleasant
surprise. Several years ago, when I was sailing aboard Princess Cruises’s Sun
Princess, I ended up with a quad balcony cabin with four Pullman beds. This
configuration shocked me — and my travel agent — since we had researched Cabin
A640 before booking and understood from the deck plan that the room had two
Pullmans (for the kids) and two convertible twins (for the grown-ups). I hated
this cabin. The beds were uncomfortable and it wasn’t fun sleeping without the
hubby. I was supposed to be on the Love Boat, but I felt trapped in a 1950’s
According to Princess spokeswoman Susanne Ferrull, Cabin A640 still has four
Pullmans. “Most quad cabins on the Sun Princess (and her sister ship Dawn
Princess) do not have this designation,” she says. “But a few do.” Again, it
pays to ask.
Location, location, location
Just the facts. On most cruise ships, passenger cabins are
interspersed among the ship’s restaurants, theaters, casinos, lounges, pools,
spa, and other public facilities. Only Silverseas Cruises, a luxury cruise line,
offers a separate cabin section. Each of its four ships is designed with the
cabins in the forward part of the ship; the lounges, bars and restaurants range
from midship aft.
Insider tip. Many cabins get noise and vibration from the ship’s
engines throughout the voyage, and some get noise when the anchors are lowered.
Some people like these “nautical noises,” but if you don’t, you might find it
quieter in the middle of the ship.
Insider tip. You have more control over human noise, and if everyday
hustle and bustle bothers you, you should stay away from the children’s
playroom, high-traffic elevators, self-service laundries and crew work stations.
Try especially hard to avoid cabins above the disco and below the pool area. New
York City resident Cindi Ludaken remembers a long, sleepless night on a
Caribbean cruise listening to dozens of passengers on the Lido Deck above her
cabin singing karaoke. “There’s nothing worse at two in the morning than a
universally bad version of ‘I Will Survive,’” she says.
Insider tip. Some cruise lines discount cabins that have noise
problems. For example, Carnival Cruise Line offers “Night Owl” cabins aboard the
Carnival Destiny. These inside cabins cost $200 less per person than identical
cabins down the hall because they get a lot of thump and noise from the disco
Insider tip. One way to avoid cabin trouble is to study your ship’s
deck plan. See exactly where your proposed cabin is located in relation to noisy
common areas. Check, too, for any unmarked white or gray spaces nearby; these
often represent a housekeeping or room-service station that may house noisy
carts and ice machines.
Insider tip. Even the best-laid plans can go astray. Remember Cabin
A640? Not only did it come with the dreaded Pullman beds, it was located
directly under the Spa Deck door (door banged constantly) and near the maid’s
closets (loud talking and banging ice at 6 a.m.). The only thing you can do in a
situation like this is buy some earplugs at the next port.
Assigned cabins and “guaranteed” cabins
Just the facts. If you book early, you can often reserve the
exact cabin you want to occupy; for example, Cabin A640. That’s an “assigned
A “guaranteed booking” is different. A guaranteed booking gets you an
unassigned cabin within a specified cabin category, along with a
chance of being assigned to a higher cabin category at no additional
cost. How does this work? Like airlines, cruise lines overbook. When demand for
one cabin category exceeds the supply, cruise lines use their guaranteed
bookings to help control cabin inventory.
Which of the guaranteed bookings actually gets upgraded? That depends on the
cruise line. Some will upgrade passengers who booked early on. Others upgrade
passengers who book through top-selling travel agencies — yet another reason to
put your cruise business with a good travel agent.
Insider tip. Your chances of being upgraded on a guaranteed booking
are unpredictable. It depends on too many demand factors. In the past, lots of
guaranteed bookings were upgraded. But now cruise lines are able to move a lot
of last-minute inventory over the Internet, so your chances are somewhat lower.
Insider tip. Guaranteed bookings almost never get you a suite, but
you may be placed a few decks higher than the deck you were expecting. On the
other hand, you could end up with a less desirable cabin in your category than
you’d hoped for. Just remember: An upgrade is not a sure thing, and when you
book a guarantee you are giving up the opportunity to pick a particular cabin.
Choose your cabin carefully and you’ll sleep much better — from the moment
you put down your deposit. Bon voyage and sweet dreams!
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