Choosing a cruise ship cabin: The ultimate guide

Choosing a cruise ship cabin is a lot trickier than booking a hotel room. Not only do you have to think about how big a room you need and what your budget is, you have to decide if you want to pay extra for a window or private balcony, where on the ship you want your cabin to be, and which associated perks and privileges will enhance your vacation. If your travel party is especially large, you need to figure out exactly how to combine bed or room types to accommodate everyone. That is, if you’re booking early enough, and the cruise room types you want haven’t sold out.

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Plus, the average cruise ship cabin is much less spacious than the average hotel room. If you’re used to booking the cheapest room for a land-based stay, you might not want to take the same approach for your vacation at sea.

Choosing the right cabin is the first step in maximizing your cruise vacation and getting the most from your vacation budget. Here, I answer the most common questions about cruise ship cabins and picking the best fit for your travel party.

What are the different types of cabins I can book on a cruise?

When you book a hotel or resort, your choices might include one king bed or two queen beds; garden view or beach view; a standard room, suite, or perhaps a villa or casita. On cruise ships, the basic cabin categories are inside, outside (often called ocean view), balcony, and suite — but there are subcategories, as well.

Typically, inside cabins are smaller and cheaper; suites are larger and more expensive. Here’s a closer look at the different cabin types you can choose when you book your cruise.


An inside, or interior, room on a cruise ship is notable for its lack of a window and therefore natural light. These cabins are located in the middle of each deck, rather than along the outer sides of the ship. They are generally small, often around 150 square feet, and while they come with an ensuite bathroom, closet, and small desk or vanity area, they tend not to have a comfortable sitting area for hanging out.

Most inside cabins sleep two with a queen bed that can separate into twins, but you’d be surprised that many can sleep four with upper bunks that pull down from the ceiling.

Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line have an interesting class of inside cabins with virtual windows. They are video screens, designed to look like a round porthole or floor-to-ceiling balcony door, that broadcast footage from outside the ship, so you can pretend you have a window.


Outside, or ocean view, cabins feature round porthole windows or one large picture window that cannot be opened. The rooms are often slightly larger than inside cabins; on some ships, they might have a sitting area in addition to the bed and bathroom.

Outside cabins offer natural light but not ocean breezes. The most affordable outside cabins have an obstructed view, meaning the windows look out on the lifeboats or other ship structures that block your view of the ocean beyond.


Cruise ship balcony cabins are the most popular cabin category. So many travelers choose this type of cruise ship cabin that some ships put private verandas on all their outside cabins. That’s a recent trend; the oldest ships in a cruise line’s fleet might have more ocean-view rooms than balcony cabins, while the newest ships will have mainly balcony rooms.

Inside, a balcony cabin will offer an ensuite bathroom, bed(s), closet area, desk with chair, and a small sitting area. The exterior wall will be a floor-to-ceiling window with a door leading to a private balcony, usually with two upright chairs and a small table for drinks or alfresco meals.

The private outdoor spaces are usually fairly small, but certain cabin categories might have roomier balconies due to the ship’s layout. Look for larger-than-average verandas on cabins at the back of the ship and in places where the structure of the ship juts out.

Royal Caribbean has an unusual type of balcony cabin on its Oasis-class ships. Instead of facing out to sea, these balconies look out on an interior yet open-air section of the ship, as if you had a balcony that overlooked a city street.

Some cruise ships, notably Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Class and Royal Caribbean’s Icon class, feature a new type of versatile balcony room. Instead of a typical veranda attached to each vessel’s exterior, these ships feature a large window that can slide down at the push of a button (like your car’s window) to bring the fresh air in. Close some folding doors and — voila! — instant balcony.

The benefit of this type of room (sometimes called an “infinite veranda”) is that all of the cabin’s square footage is usable rain or shine. With a traditional balcony, the extra outdoor space is wasted when it’s chilly or wet outside.


Suites are the largest type of cruise ship cabin, and they come in a wide range of varieties. Minisuites or junior suites are slightly roomier versions of balcony cabins, with sleeping and sitting areas in the same space without a wall in between. Larger suites might include sleeping areas in separate rooms, dining tables, large living room spaces, multiple bathrooms, and expansive private balconies.

Suites also come with extra amenities, perks, and privileges.

Are all cruise ship suites the same?

No! Suites on cruise ships come in a variety of sizes and layouts.

The most elaborate suites could be duplexes spread across two decks, featuring master bathrooms with whirlpool tubs and marble detailing, and balconies with alfresco dining areas, cushy patio furniture, and a hot tub or wet bar.

Family suites might include additional bedrooms with bunk beds for kids; Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate Family Suite is a wonderland of slides, climbing walls, video games, and comfy kid seating. It’s also a duplex with bedrooms upstairs and living areas downstairs. Cunard has duplex suites, as well.

The most spectacular suite at sea is likely Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Regent Suite. The 4,443-square-foot multiroom luxury enclave features a gold-and-marble master bathroom that doubles as a spa, a $200,000 handmade mattress stuffed with horsehair, multiple balconies (one with a whirlpool tub), and an enormous living room, complete with a piano and an actual Rembrandt painting.

Suites are not only about spacious digs but also about the VIP perks and privileges that come with the booking.

Perks for passengers in the most expensive cabins can include priority boarding and disembarkation, freebies (Wi-Fi, laundry, drink packages, etc.), first pick of restaurant and shore excursion reservations, special queues to jump the line at the front desk or main dining room, and even reserved theater seating. You might also get nicer amenities such as name-brand toiletries, higher-thread-count sheets and linens, stocked minibars, or fancy robes to enjoy onboard.

For cruise lines offering promotions where you choose your favorite booking perk, suite passengers often get all the freebies instead of one or two or higher amounts of onboard credit.

In addition, suite guests may have access to the services of a butler or concierge, who can make tour, dining, and show reservations, unpack your bags, bring you snacks and special room-service meals (perhaps from a specialty restaurant), and sort out any problems you might encounter. They might also bring you invitations to special events, such as cocktail parties and dinner at the captain’s table.

Some cruise lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises, create special restaurants, lounges, and sun decks exclusive to suite residents. This lets passengers avoid crowded public areas and enjoy fine dining in a less frenetic setting than the main dining room.

What specialty cabins should I know about?

Within each basic cabin category, you will find specialty cabins aimed at certain types of cruisers. These tend to be a little more expensive than the basic cabin in the same class but come with perks that can enhance your vacation.

Accessible cabins

All of the larger cruise ships have accessible cabins designed for passengers with disabilities. These cabins are larger than standard cabins and have wider doors, larger bathrooms with roll-in showers, and other modifications to accommodate wheelchair users or those with mobility issues. Some accessible cabins have additional features like vibrating alarm clocks for the hearing impaired or visual doorbells for the visually impaired.

Single cabins

In recent years, cruise lines have started offering single cabins aimed at solo travelers. These cabins are smaller than standard cabins but are designed for one person, eliminating the single supplement fee that solo travelers often have to pay when booking a regular cabin. Single cabins may also come with access to a lounge or social area exclusively for solo travelers, allowing them to meet and mingle with other solo cruisers.

Family cabins

For families traveling together, some cruise lines offer larger cabins or suites that can accommodate multiple family members. These cabins may have separate bedrooms, bunk beds, or pull-out sofas to accommodate children. Some cruise lines also offer connecting cabins, where two cabins can be joined together to create a larger space for families.

Spa cabins

If relaxation and wellness are a priority for you, consider booking a spa cabin. These cabins are located near the ship’s spa and fitness center and often come with additional perks like complimentary access to the spa facilities, priority spa reservations, and discounts on spa treatments. Spa cabins may also have upgraded amenities like luxurious bath products and plush robes.


Choosing the right cabin for your cruise vacation is an important decision that can greatly impact your overall experience. Consider factors like cabin size, location, amenities, and perks when making your decision. Whether you prefer an inside cabin for its affordability, an outside cabin for natural light, a balcony cabin for the private outdoor space, or a suite for the extra space and VIP perks, there is a cabin type that will suit your preferences and budget. Take the time to research and compare different cabin options to ensure you find the perfect fit for your cruise vacation.

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