How to Choose the Best Cruise Staterooms

April 10, 2013 by

Places to Go, Shore Excursions, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Cruise Ship

Cruise Ship – and what a beauty she is!

A cruise is much like a glorified resort at sea, and cruise lines realize this, which is why many of the top cruise lines devote a substantial amount of time and money to making sure the staterooms on their cruise ships are comfortable and inviting. That’s usually where the similarities end – even within a cruise line. When it comes to any one ship, though, you often have a variety of options to choose from that extend beyond the typical inside versus outside stateroom options.

The Different Types

Most cruise lines, except for some small, luxury or river cruise lines, offer the four standard categories: inside, outside, balcony or suite.

Inside Staterooms: These staterooms are typically the smallest onboard, though still usually have the same amenities as an outside stateroom. The main characterization guests tend to notice – and either are indifferent to or abhor – are the lack of windows. Why cruisers love them: the cheap price.

Outside (or Oceanview) Staterooms: Characterized by having a view to the outdoors through a window, outside staterooms typically feel a bit more spacious than inside staterooms thanks to the view to the sky and sea, and an often more elongated layout. Why cruisers love them: an outside stateroom is more affordable than a balcony stateroom or suite, but still lets daylight in.

Balcony Staterooms: Usually nearly identical to the outside staterooms except for a balcony on the end, which gives extra square footage for guests to take advantage of during their vacation, plus provides fresh air that guests don’t have to leave their room to breathe enjoy. Why cruisers love them: for the private access to the outdoors to watch the sights sail by.

Lower Level Balcony Stateroom. Photo by Gina Douglas.

Lower Level Balcony Stateroom. Photo by Gina Douglas.

Suite Staterooms: These staterooms are larger than balcony and outside staterooms and can differ in size depending on the category of the suite. Suites are characterized by having a separate living area from the bed, and nearly always have balconies. The bathrooms are also usually larger. Some luxury cruise lines differentiate themselves by only having suites onboard, such as Silversea Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Why cruisers love them: for the extra space and amenities.

After suites, any additional stateroom options usually become more and more luxurious – even on the budget cruise lines. You’ll find penthouse options, hot tubs on the balcony, two-story lofts, workout rooms and even grand pianos in some of the specialty suites on board select cruise lines.

Picking the Right Stateroom

So how do you decide which type of stateroom is right for you? For many the deciding factor is budget. Some cruisers reason that an inside stateroom is ideal because they won’t spend much time in it anyway and they’ll have more funds to spend elsewhere on board or in port. Others worry they’ll get claustrophobic staying in an inside stateroom so apply that same budget logic to outside staterooms.

Most cruisers who switch from inside or outside cabins to balconies say they’ll never go back. The extra space and private outdoor area is addicting. Plus, it’s nice to wake up in the morning and immediately step outside to test the weather and see the views of the new port you’re in. However, a balcony stateroom isn’t always ideal for parents or grandparents traveling with small children, as the balcony overlooking the sea can make them nervous about safety. Disney Cruise Line helped solve this problem by making inside cabins exciting again by adding in a dynamic video “porthole” that shows views to the sea with Disney characters talking and playing on the screen. Families with older children are wise to spring for a suite if they can afford it since it gives everyone much more space. There are even two-bedroom suites available on many cruise ships.

If luxury is what you’re looking for on a vacation, you can of course check out the opulent suites on the luxury cruise lines, but don’t neglect the options on some of the larger entertainment-filled cruise ships if that’s more your on-board style. Royal Caribbean has loft suites on their Oasis-class ships with a kitchen area and two-story windows looking out at the sea. Norwegian Cruise Line has their exclusive The Haven area of upscale suites, lounges and restaurants on select ships that are only available to The Haven guests. Some MSC Cruises ships offer a similar setup with their MSC Yacht Club. Celebrity Cruises offers a class of balcony staterooms ideal for cruisers who think spa days are the height of luxury in Celebrity’s AquaClass staterooms on board their Solstice-class fleet of ships, which provide special access to the onboard AquaSpa and a healthy spa restaurant. If you want a boutique-style experience, look into the uniquely decorated staterooms onboard the ships of Uniworld Grand Boutique River Cruises.

Celebrity Stateroom. Photo by Gina Douglas.

Celebrity Stateroom. Photo by Gina Douglas.

The staterooms of luxury cruise ships (Crystal Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Silversea Cruises to name a few) often come with upscale benefits, such as personal butlers, walk-in closets and spa-style tubs in the bathroom.

The Location

After you decide what type of stateroom you want, you may think it’s smooth sailing from there. But that’s where a lot of novice cruisers (and even some seasoned cruisers) make a mistake. Unless you’re choosing the one and only Owner’s Penthouse Suite on board a cruise ship, there are options for where your stateroom resides – and they are not created equal.
Carefully study the deck plans of a ship and see which decks the stateroom type you desire are on. Most people prefer upper deck as they’re often farther away from the main lounges and bars of the cruise ship (which are often at mid-level), which can be noisy, and they’re also conveniently closer to the pools, sun decks and buffet. However, if you’re worried you may be prone to seasickness, a lower level stateroom can help minimize the rocking of the ship if you hit turbulent seas.

How much walking you want to do to and from your stateroom is also something to keep in perspective. Cruise ships are continually getting larger and if you know you want to spend your days at the pool, which is on the aft end of the ship, choose your stateroom to be on that end – otherwise you’re going to be doing a lot of walking if you forget something. In addition, a stateroom close to an elevator is nice to quickly get to and from the different decks from your stateroom.

Which side of the ship you’re on – port or starboard – can also be something to consider, especially for scenic cruises, such as through Alaska. You’ll want to choose the side of the ship that will have the best views, depending which direction your itinerary is sailing in.

Traveling Solo

It used to be that cruisers traveling on their own had to pay a hefty premium to stay in a stateroom. That is starting to change and Norwegian Cruise Line is leading that with their Studio staterooms on board their newest ships, starting with the Norwegian Epic. The Studio is an exclusive area of the ship that offers staterooms designed for one person in a trendy setting with lounges and common areas only accessible to those staying in a Studio stateroom.

Something for Everyone

No matter your budget, activity preferences or amenity desires, you can find a cruise line stateroom that fits your needs. You may even like your stateroom so much you don’t want to leave – just keep in mind that in addition to stateroom comfort, cruise lines provide many activities and entertainment on board and the ship is ready for you to explore. The bonus of choosing your ideal stateroom is being close to your favorite things on the ship and knowing you can take comfort in the fact that you have your own sumptuous stateroom to head back to at the end of the day.

Planning a Trip? Read more about Cruising and browse Viator’s Shore Excursions.

-By Gina Douglas

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