First Time Cruiser Series: Picking Your Cabin

Welcome back to the series inspired from our recent Alaskan cruise. There were so many questions that we received from first-time cruisers this trip that we decided to write about our experiences when booking a cruise. Hopefully, the tips and tricks included here will shed some light for those new to cruising – and even a couple tips for our experienced cruise friends!

Location, Location, Location

Once you have decided where to go and when, it’s time to figure out the type of stateroom you’ll want to book. Many first-time cruisers have told us, “We just picked what the website suggested.” However, picking the right stateroom can have a significant impact on your cruise! For example, if you are more prone to motion sickness, a lower, interior room will be important as you’ll experience less rocking/swaying of the ship. The higher you go, the more sway you’ll feel during the journey.

  • Interior staterooms hold a sweet spot for us since they can be completely dark during all hours. An interior room will allow you to nap in the middle of the day and take a truly restful slumber overnight. While exterior-facing rooms have curtains, if you’re prone to light sensitivity, the sunshine always finds a way in. Interior rooms are generally the smallest on the ship – however, there are exceptions. You may find that the cruise line has jammed an interior room into an awkward space that actually leads it to be as big (or bigger) than a balcony stateroom!
  • Oceanview staterooms bring the peacefulness of an interior room while having a window shade that can be raised to let light in. They can be the same size of a balcony stateroom with a couch, however, they don’t have the additional space of a balcony.
  • Porthole staterooms are similar to oceanview staterooms, however, their windows are significantly smaller. Many of these rooms have porthole covers to block out light completely which makes them like an interior room. The size of these rooms can vary between interior and balcony, so you’ll want to pay attention when booking.
  • Balcony staterooms are larger than interior staterooms with outside space. They also tend to be much brighter. Their views are top-notch and can be rewarding, but if you like a dark sleeping place, then a balcony may not be for you.
  • Extended Balcony staterooms are exactly what they sound like – a balcony room with a larger balcony. These rooms can be larger, but not always. Many have the same interior space as a standard balcony stateroom, they just have a deeper balcony that provides more space. Some rooms at the back of the ship may have a “wrap around balcony” but based on the layout of the room, have similar square footage to a standard balcony. Of course, there are some extended balcony staterooms that are more suite-like in nature with a sitting room and bedroom. But those will set you back some serious cash!
This is what your porthole windows look like if you book this category stateroom.

#CruiseTip for light sleepers: If you like peace and quiet, keep in mind that balcony rooms are surrounded by other balcony rooms. This means you’ll likely hear slamming doors and moving furniture. And not just from your left and right neighbor, but your top, diagonal, and bottom neighbors. Slam-drag-slam sure can put an end to a restful respite!

With the above categories of staterooms, don’t expect a large bathroom as the spaces are designed for sleeping. In fact, take a look at our bathroom in our standard Balcony room on Carnival’s Mardi Gras. One of the comedians even turned it into a joke: “you can shower and use the toilet at the same time!”

  • Suites are among the most luxurious class of stateroom on a ship, offering the most square footage. In most cases, you’ll get a living room, at least one bathroom, and sometimes more than one sleeping area. While they will go for a premium, the experience may be justifiable for you and your group. There are other benefits that come with a Suite stateroom depending on the cruise line. Some of these perks include early boarding to the ship, exclusive spaces and restaurants, lounges, and stateroom attendants that usually have fewer rooms or are more tenured. Some Royal Caribbean suites even come with their own Genie (a butler that can help you with any request you may have during the cruise). Just keep in mind, these rooms may not be as peaceful as an interior stateroom and they’ll set you back sometimes 10x (or more) the cost.

Speaking of cost… If you’re trying to keep the cost as low as possible (you know, so you can buy that expensive drinks package!), most of the cruise lines will offer you options during the booking process.

Option #1 is almost always the least expensive: let the cruise line pick the stateroom for you. If you know what type of stateroom you want, but don’t care about the location on the ship, the cruise line will fill in the open, unchosen rooms with people like you. In most cases, selecting this option will save you money, but the room assignment won’t be announced until you check in for the cruise. We’ve heard amazing stories of people getting some of the best rooms on the ship. We’ve also heard nightmare stories of people getting rooms adjacent to the nightclub. If you can sleep through anything, this may not matter for you.

Option 2: you pick the stateroom location at the forward, mid, or aft section of the ship (check out this article if you’re not sure for a primer on these and other cruise terms). You’ll also choose which deck your room is on.

#Cruisetip: It’s helpful to pull up the deck plan for the cruise ship you’ll be sailing on to identify what is above and below your stateroom before confirming your booking. It’s also helpful to think about where you’ll be spending your time. If you plan to lay out the entire cruise, a room near the top deck may be in your future. However, if you never plan to leave the casino because you’re going to win it big, you may want to look at a stateroom lower on the ship.

Here on the Carnival Conquest, we usually select an interior room on deck 7. It’s high enough above the theater so that we don’t have sound bleed, and is situated below 3 more decks of interior rooms. It’s also just a quick pop up or down the stairs to the main areas of the ship.
(Image courtesy of

If you are sailing with MSC Cruises or Virgin Voyages, their booking processes are different than most of the other cruise lines out there. These lines book rooms similar to a hotel. You start by identifying the category of room first (interior, ocean view, balcony, suite, etc) and then they assign the room location to you. You don’t have the option to select what floor or where on the ship you’ll be. We’ve not sailed either of these lines yet to experience this booking process, but both are on our list to check out.

You’ve Picked Your Stateroom

You’ve identified your stateroom; congratulations! Are you a “I’ve got to have a bright, large room near the buffet” type of cruiser or a “Just give me peace, quiet, and no motion in the bottom of the ship” type? Whatever you choose, we hope your cruise is amazing! Did we miss something important? Pop your thoughts in the comments below or drop us an email and we’ll update the article and give you credit!

Next Up…

In the next installment of this series, we’ll talk about the all important packing your bags as your prepare for the cruise. This installment will be filled with all sorts of #CruiseTips to get you ready for your cruise!

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