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This Is What You Need To Know To Choose The Best Cruise Ship Rooms

Find out all you to need to know about cruise ship rooms, so you can make the best choice for your family. Know the difference between cruise cabins and the key questions you must ask.

Cruise Ship Rooms | photo of towel bunny on cabin bed


When it comes to choosing a cruise cabin for your family, the multitude of stateroom options can seem overwhelming. But the type of cruise ship room you choose will have the biggest impact on your family vacation budget.

A family traveling in an inside cabin will likely pay thousands of dollars less than one traveling on the same ship, same itinerary in a balcony room or suite.  If you are trying to get the most value for your dollar when booking a cruise for your family vacation, there is no reason to buy more cruise ship room than you need, right?

Follow this guide for quick tips on how to easily tell the difference between cruise ship rooms. And, discover the four questions you should answer to pick the best cruise cabin for your family.


Know These 4 Key Facts When Choosing A Cruise Cabin

To tell the difference between cruise cabins, you can basically separate all the different cabin categories into four boxes: inside, outside, balcony, and suite. Different cruise lines may use different names but for practical purposes know that a cabin and a stateroom are the same thing. And, fyi, a balcony and a verandah are also the same thing.

Inside Cruise Cabins

Inside staterooms are rooms without real windows. They have no views outside of the ship. And, typically, they have no views of any kind. They also have no access to outside air.

Inside cabins are usually the smallest sized cabin and will have the cheapest rate. When choosing a cruise cabin, these rooms could be ideal for people who will not spend much time in their cabin and/or who are indifferent to the lack of natural light. This can be a great option if you are sailing on a single parent cruise with only one child.

choosing a cruise cabin - photo features inside stateroom

Historically, inside cruise cabins had no view of any kind, and this remains true for most ships. However, Disney and Royal Caribbean  offer an updated twist to the traditional interior cabin on some of their ships. Disney has introduced the concept of a “virtual” porthole. These rooms basically consist of an inside room with a special video monitor that reflects the view of what is happening outside the ship. Sometimes Disney characters will pop up in the feed as well.

As for Royal Caribbean, it offers some inside cabins with windows facing an interior portion of the ship — such as the Central Park area or the Boardwalk.  The line also offers some interior cabins with “virtual balconies.” Virtual balconies consist of a floor to ceiling video screen that projects the sights of an ocean. It creates the illusion of having access to an outside deck. 

Outside Cruise Cabins

When assessing the difference between cruise cabins, the main distinction between an inside cabin and an outside cabin turns on access to natural light. Both cabins will be similar in size, but the outside cabin will have a window or a porthole with a view that faces outside the ship. The cruise lines often call these “oceanview” rooms. 

photo of ocean view cruise ship room

This provides the benefit of natural light and somewhat of a view. But be forewarned that some of these rooms may not actually have a viable view of the sea. The actual size of window varies based on the ship. It could be a small, obstructed porthole with a view of a pole, lifeboat or mechanical equipment. Also, the window will not open, so it does not provide access to fresh air.

You can find out specific information about the size of window and possible obstructions for any individual cabin directly from the cruise line. Some information will be available on the cruise line’s website. But, you or your travel agent can get more definitive information by calling.

Balcony Cruise Ship Rooms

As between a balcony and an outside stateroom, the difference between cruise cabins turns on access to fresh air. A traditional balcony cabin will be similar to an oceanview cabin, but it will have an attached private deck. With notable exceptions, these balconies typically face the ocean. You can walk out onto the balcony and feel the open air on your skin. The balcony will typically have at least a table and a couple of chairs. It may also include loungers and other furniture.

Cruise Ship Rooms | photo of woman reading book on stateroom balcony

In addition to access to fresh air, a balcony room provides extra space to roam. This separate space can be particularly valuable during nap times, or when you want a bit of quiet. They can be a great option for people who like to read or lounge in the sun without the distractions of the pool crowd.

A balcony can also be advantageous for certain itineraries, such as Alaska, where some days are largely “scenic cruising.” You have your own view without competing for space with other passengers.

A balcony cruise cabin can be a great choice for families with small children. But, many parents are understandably concerned about young kids having access to balconies. So, read our post about making your cabin safe for babies and toddlers.

Cruise Cabin Suites

Suites are basically super-sized balcony cabins with more bells and whistles. So, you get access to natural light, fresh air, and substantially more living space. Suites, at a minimum, will have a defined living space separate from the sleeping area.

Suites will also typically have larger balconies, and some may have 180-degree wrap-around balconies. Most ships will have several different types of suites with increasing levels of size and price.

Choosing a cruise cabin-woman served breakfast on suite verandah

In addition to more space, suites will also come with many premium amenities. These may include high-end toiletries, high-quality robes and slippers, early access to reservations, and VIP treatment at embarkation and disembarkation.

They will also often include increased cabin service such as a butler or more focused and frequent attention from a room attendant. Suite passengers may also have access to certain designated exclusive venues such as specialty restaurants, lounges, spa facilities or pools.

These accommodations come with a significantly larger price tag. Suites often start out at double the cost of a balcony room per person. 

Related Post:Try These Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars

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Answer These 4 Questions When Choosing A Cruise Ship Room For Your Family

Now that you know the basics of telling the difference between cruise cabins, you must decide which one will be best for your family. These four questions can help you figure it out.

1. Do you need immediate access to natural light?

If your family needs on-demand access to natural light, remove an inside cabin from your list of options. But, you should take a moment to really think about the question.

On both the issues of natural light and fresh air, you can always have access to the outside by simply going to a public area of the cruise ship. And, depending on which deck you select and where your room is positioned, you could have access to both light and air rather quickly. So, for example, if your cabin is one floor above the pool deck and near the stairs, your family could pop back and forth in minutes, if not seconds.

If you can be comfortable with using public areas to satisfy your light and air needs, then choosing a cruise cabin that’s an inside room will be a real bargain. 

2. Do you need immediate access to fresh air?

Cruise Ship Rooms | kids in pool gear lounging on bed of oceanview stateroom

If your family needs on-demand access to fresh air,  you can also remove an outside cabin from your list. But, as with the natural light question, you can save money with strategic thinking. If you can be happy with ready access to the ship’s public areas, then choosing a cruise cabin that’s an outside room could work well for your family.

While a step up in price from an inside cabin, an outside cabin offers substantial savings over a balcony or a suite. Typically, the actual size of the living space in an outside cruise ship cabin and a balcony cabin are about the same.

3. Do you need extra living space?

Most non-suite cruise ship cabins will measure in the range of 150 to 190 square feet.  If you are traveling with a party of four or more, that could be a tight squeeze. So, you must assess whether your family can be comfortable in that amount of space.  

Your assessment of how much space you need may largely turn on the actual size of your travelers and the size your luggage. Are you a family of four with two small kids that typically travels very light?  You can probably make it work. 

In contrast, are you a family of four with two or three tweens and teens who like to spend lots of time in the bathroom? Then a standard size room could be less than comfortable. You would be better served by looking into suite options. Or, look at a configuration of multiple rooms that could provide extra space, yet be more budget friendly. (See below.)

Related Post: 9 Remarkably Easy Tips To Make Family Cruise Ship Rooms Cozy

When assessing living space options, you should also consider privacy issues. Choosing a cruise ship cabin that has a balcony or a mini-suite provides the opportunity to spend time in a separate area away from your travel companions.  You may also have a privacy curtain to separate the bed area from the rest of the cabin. Either of these options would be ideal for families with babies or toddlers who need to nap.

Alternatives to Suites

If your family needs more space, you still have some options to consider beyond a suite. Some ships offer cabins with connecting doors.  Other cabins may also have connecting balconies. And, some lines have “family” cabins that are charged out at a reasonable rate.

You could also consider booking one balcony and the adjacent or nearby inside room. Family members who are sleeping in the interior room would still have easy access to a the balcony. Plus, your family would gain access to two bathrooms!

4. How much non-sleeping time will you spend in your cabin?

A final significant factor to consider is the amount of time your family will actually spend in your room. If your cabin will primarily be a place to sleep, bathe, and store your luggage, then the actual size of the cabin and its amenities are less important. Choosing a cruise cabin that’s an interior room or an outside room could be quite comfortable and affordable.

But, let’s say your family members love to lounge around in quarters from time to time. Or, you have four or more people. You should consider getting the most square footage that you can reasonably afford.

While non-suite cabins will typically be 150-190 square feet, suites will often start in the range of 250-300 square feet.  Some of the larger and most expensive suites can exceed well over 4,000 square feet. (For a real show-stopper, check out the Ultimate Family Suite on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas.)

Closing Thoughts

When it comes time for choosing a cruise ship room for your family, keep in mind these key differences between cruise cabins: access to natural light, access to fresh air, and the amount of living space. And, you should also consider how much time your family will actually spend in the cabin. More time in the cabin favors choosing a cruise cabin with more space. 

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