“Which is the best grade of cabin?”

The other day a friend of mine, who is a cruise virgin, asked me “what is the best type of cabin” to book.  My knee-jerk reply would have been “a top grade cabin, such as a Penthouse or Owners Suite”. However the fact that I knew the guy well, I quickly realised that he is not a  ‘money is no object’ guy  and my answer needed a little more consideration.

NCL - A typical standard Ocean View (favoured by my wallet)

Firstly let’s get the terminology right, very few cruise lines actually call them ‘cabin’s they are know as ‘staterooms’. The average stateroom is smaller than the average hotel room.  However there are some big staterooms on offer, but to state the obvious, the bigger the stateroom, the bigger the fare.  The fare is also dependent on the type of stateroom (more about that in a minute) and on which deck it is located on; the higher the deck, the more they cost, in general. 

Basically there are ‘inside’ staterooms (without a window) and there are ‘Ocean-view’ staterooms, but it does not end there.  A big modern cruise ship such as RCI’s ‘Independence of the Seas’ has 23 cabin grades of stateroom and graduated prices to match. There are staterooms with port holes; there are ones with picture-windows and those with private Balconies, each progressively costing more. Then there are also suites which come in various sizes. These are bigger staterooms which normally with a separate seating area, some even have a separate living room and bedroom.  There often have larger balconies.  There may also be other variations such as modest inside cabins with a window which overlooks an atrium (or internal prom), outside cabins overlooking a ‘Park’ or ‘Boardwalk’ (Oasis of the Seas) and opulent ‘Courtyard Villas’ (NCL) in their own private location, ‘Duplex Suites’ (QM2) which have two floors, a piano and a Butler, or ‘Loft Suites’ (Oasis of the seas) also on two floors.

QM2 Grill Suite, with Butler (Favoured by me, but not my wallet)

The good news is that the days of ships having tiny cabins that are not big enough to swing the proverbial cat are long gone.  Not only is swinging a cat now illegal, steerage accommodation is no longer on offer.  Even the cheapest staterooms (inside cabins) on a modern cruise ship, may be compact, but  have adequate space and all mod-cons such as air-conditioning, an LCD TV, a private bathrooms WC’s and a shower.

However I do concede thatmany standard stateroom  showers may not have enough room inside to bend down and pick up the soap, unless you are a size ‘0’.  It is also not unusual to find that the shower-curtain will sticks to your back like Superman’s cape while you are showering.  I also concede that the WC’s normally bark like dogs when flushed and make your ears pop. I often wonder what would happen if every passenger flushed their WC simultaneously – maybe the ship be transported into a parallel universe.  It’s worth a try.

You may find a little bit of stateroom snobbery on your chosen ship i.e “Hello what grade are you in then”?  It is great fun to watching passengers ‘rubber-neck’ as they walk down the ships corridors and see a cabin doors open. You can here them chant “Oh that’s a big one” or “Look it’s not as big as ours”. Never the less, on the vast majority of cruise ships, the on board experience is very similar whatever stateroom grade that you book.  There may be a few perks associated with the top grade suites such as priority boarding, enhanced room service etc. but often  you share the same dining rooms, public rooms and entertainment as every other guest. 

Oasis of the Seas cabins: no sea view, but overlooking the Boardwalk

Cunard are an exception because your chosen grade of stateroom is inked to four different dining rooms of increasing quality.  The ‘Queens Grill’ passengers, which is the top grade of dining and accommodation, also get a private bar and lounge (QE2 and QM2) and even some private deck space on board the QM2. 

Even the mass-market line NCL have their Garden and Courtyard Villa’s which share a private Courtyard for the use of those guests only. 

NCL Epic Single 'Studio' Stateroom

Interestingly the Hebridean Princess (Hebridean Island Cruises) small ship has only 46 ‘cabins’ (they call them cabins) which are not numbered; each has its own name.  How exclusive it that? This probably explains why Her Majesty the Queen chose the ‘Hebribean’ Princess for her summer holiday afloat in the summer of 2006.

So if we disregard the exceptions to the rule such as Cunard, it can be argued that the cheapest stateroom will do.  There are certainly those cruise passengers that claim that a big stateroom is pointless as you don’t actually spend much time in it, only to sleep, shower and change.

However as always there is an alternatively view. Would you book a hotel room without a window? What’s the point of being on a ship if you can’t actually see the sea passing your stateroom? Cruising is about luxury and it is a vacation after all, why not treat yourself to a balcony cabin or even a suite?

So what’s my personal view of which type of stateroom is best?  I am normally looking for good value and a little bit of luxury too.  I find inside staterooms to be too dark.  I don’t necessarily miss the sea view, I can get that on deck, but I do miss the natural daylight. They are also often the smallest Staterooms on a ship.  Conversely, balcony staterooms are very nice, but I find that I rarely actually use the balcony. Bigger suites are often out of my price range.

On some ships the price differential between Stateroom grades can be quite small.  For only a few hundred dollars extra you can upgrade from window to a balcony stateroom, so you might as well. However on other ships, such as P&O and Cunard for example, the price differential to upgrade can be very high. Personally I do not think balcony’s are worth paying a small fortune for. Therefore I am normally perfectly content with a humble port hole or picture window cabin.

Having said that, staterooms with port holes are often on lower decks of the ship, sometimes just above the water line. On older ships theses staterooms can suffer from engine noise and vibration (especially if they are aft). I was once in a porthole cabin in a Gale Force 10 storm crossing the north Atlantic.  The waves lashed the porthole so frequently that it felt like I was on the inside a front-loading washing machine.  Sometimes in a storm, the staff may even seal the port hole with a heavy metal shutter turning your cabin into a no-seaview. Therefore picture windows, which are always on higher decks, have the edge in my opinion.

It is worth noting that amidships cabins on lower decks are teh most stable. Ironically, the  higherst decks are the least stable, but theis is normally where the most expensive accomodation is.

So in conclusion, the best type of cabin is the one that suits your needs and your pocket. Not only do we now all have a wide range of cruise lines and cruise ships to choose from, they also have a very wide range of accommodation, all of which is more comfortable and luxurious than ever before.  Enjoy!

Malcolm Oliver

Below, an example of a mini-suite:

See my review of the worlds biggest ship here:


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