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Before you book that dream cruise—especially if you’ve never cruised before—put some thought into your ideal cruise cabin. It could make or break your cruise experience.

Not every cruise cabin (also known as a stateroom) is the same, and many first-timers are unaware of the considerations. The excitement that comes with spotting an amazing cruise deal, for instance, can overshadow the fact that the deal is attached to the stateroom nobody wants.

Because the cabin will be your “home base” for the duration of the cruise, it’s worth educating yourself on options to avoid getting stuck with a less-than-desirable location on the ship that could sour the vacation.

Here’s what you need to know.

  • Inside: It’s typically the smallest-size cabin with no window.
  • Outside:  A cabin that has a window or porthole (a round window). Room sizes can vary. The cabin is sometimes referred to as “ocean view.”
  • Balcony:  A cabin that has a private veranda.
  • Suite: A larger-sized cabin with a separate living and sleeping area. It often includes a private balcony.

Think about the amenities on the ship that mean the most to you. Are you a sun worshipper who wants convenient access to the upper-deck pool? Are you looking forward to the buffets and want to make sure you’re next to an onboard restaurant? Do you plan to party-party-party and want to be close to the bars and entertainment? Alternatively, there may be areas of the ship that you want to avoid. Understand the layout of the ship and its offerings, so that you can strategically select the stateroom that makes sense for you.
Cruise ship cabin
How much time do you anticipate spending in your stateroom? If private space is important for your lifestyle (or for the sheer amount of luggage you intend to bring), be sure to ask about room size options. For instance, on most major cruise lines, a standard inside cabin will range from 150 to 185 square feet.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, stick with staterooms that are central on the ship and located on one of the lower levels. There is more movement in the more forward areas of the ship, and on the higher decks. If you desire a stateroom with a balcony, the same consideration applies: choose a lower level and stick to the middle of the ship.

Don’t neglect to consider which side of the ship your cabin is on, especially if your heart is set on an ocean-view cabin. The ship will inevitably be passing by cool scenery, and it’s nice to view it from the privacy and comfort of your cabin. As the ship is moving forward, port side is the left and starboard is the right. Review your itinerary to determine which side will provide the best eye candy.
Cruise Ship
If there is a traveler in your party with mobility concerns, it may make sense to request a handicap-accessible cabin, or at least one close to elevators. Or, perhaps you just want to avoid walking long hallways to get from your room to favorite areas of the ship. Understand the distance between points on the ship before confirming your stateroom.

It may be unavoidable when you’re on a ship with hundreds of other people. But, there are specific things you can do to avoid getting stuck with a cabin that is surrounded by a lot of noise. Avoid rooms below the pool deck, unless you want to hear a chorus of scraping chairs and late-night pool parties. Cabins to also avoid: those that are adjacent to or below service areas, as well as those next to lounges and bars. And if the hum of the engine won’t serve as sleep-inducing white noise for you, avoid low cabins either at the front or the back of the ship.
Cruise Ship Balcony at Dusk
There are different categories of stateroom, and each comes with their own set of amenities and perks. For instance, suites come with the most robust variety of benefits and privileges, such as bigger bathrooms, in-cabin bars, concierge services, priority boarding and use of an exclusive lounge. Think through what matters for your vacation: Do you want to pay for extra amenities above the basics (cleaning, turn down beds, towels, soap)? Do you prefer priority dining reservations and being first to go ashore for excursions? Do you want access to exclusive areas of the ship? Know which goodies come with each category of stateroom, and what may come available a la carte, as perhaps something in the mix will specifically speak to your vacation habits or desires.

What is your budget? If you don’t have an unlimited bank account to fund the stateroom of your dreams, do be realistic. What are the qualities that are most important to you (a.k.a. the non-negotiables); the nice-to-haves; and what can your vacation budget afford? Remember, you’ll want money to spend on shore excursions, souvenirs, and piña coladas, too—so blowing the entire budget on the stateroom may not be the wisest way to set yourself up for a memorable cruise vacation.

Also, know that you can spend less money if you book your cruise very early or very late. Working with a reputable AAA travel agent can help secure you the best cruise deal—and cruise stateroom—for your vacation budget.