More than one person has joked that you need a Ph.D. to figure out the dozens of cabin categories on a cruise ship. To make it less confusing, remember there are really just four main kinds of cabins: insides without windows, outsides with windows, balcony cabins, and suites.
Within these main groupings, cruise lines offer many categories of cabins based on size, position, or amenities. For example, two outside staterooms might have the same square footage, while one has views partially blocked by lifeboats hanging outside the window.
Other cabins might be packaged with special spa amenities — upgraded toiletries and a yoga mat, for instance — as otherwise identical staterooms. Some ships have more than 25 cabin categories, all with different names and prices.
To make sense of the options, here are five things to consider before choosing your cabin:
Will your cabin be a pit stop or a destination?
If you’re the type who plans to avail of all the ship has to offer and only use your cabin to sleep, shower, and change clothes in, then a lower-priced inside cabin without windows, or an obstructed-view outside cabin, might be perfect for you. Use the money you save to splurge on a massage, shore excursions, or a bottle of wine at dinner.
Cabins on higher decks typically cost more.
You’ll generally pay more for a cabin that’s located on an upper deck, even if it’s of the same size and amenities as one on a lower deck. The truth: It often doesn’t make any difference if you’re on deck 4 or deck 8, especially if you plan to use the elevator.
Groups of four may need two cabins.
If you’re a family of four looking to share a standard cabin, keep in mind that the big-ship lines — including Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Costa Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line — offer plenty of standard cabins that sleep four, with a combination of twin beds, pullout sofas, and pull-down bunk beds. Luxury ships, on the other hand, accommodate no more than three people in standard cabins, thereby requiring families of four to book two cabins or a large suite.
Options for single cruisers are growing.
Norwegian’s newest ships have compact but cute studio cabins, and some river cruise lines — plus some Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and P&O Cruises — offer a handful of cabins for single occupancy on their ships. Upon request, Holland America will also try to pair single cruisers with a same-sex roommate to avoid the dreaded “single supplement” charge. Otherwise, if you’re a solo cruiser, you’ll have to pay nearly the price of two people as cruise rates are traditionally based on double occupancy.
Traveling with kids? Look for fridges, tubs, and split bathrooms.
These three little things make a big difference when cruising with little ones. Minifridges store drinks and snacks conveniently — many ships, but not all, have them in standard cabins. When it comes to bathtubs, most standard cabins do not include them; two exceptions are Disney Cruise Line and Holland America. Disney also offers a great family-friendly split bathroom layout, with a toilet and sink in one room and the shower/tub in another.
Look at pictures of the ship to determine whether your balcony will be private. On some ships — including those from Princess Cruises — the balconies are designed in a stepped fashion, so when you’re out on yours, you can see down onto the balcony below; the same goes for your upstairs neighbors.