You sit at a travel agent’s desk trying to decide whether or not to spend the extra $300 to upgrade your cabin aboard a luxury liner bound for some exotic locale. Like many cruisers, you assume the increased price will translate into a nicer cabin. Once onboard, you find your dinner companion’s cabin is about the same size as yours, and in a fine location. It’s just a lot cheaper than the one you’re in.
In cruise travel, more money doesn’t always mean a better cabin or a better experience. Time, research and planning go a lot further than money when it comes to finding a cabin that suits you. Use these categories to figure out where you’ll be most happy as you sail into the sunset.
Price: Price certainly comes into play, but it’s just one of many concerns. Set an overall budget for the trip. Learn to separate costs for excursions on shore, spending money needed for shipboard activities (gambling, soft drinks, sundries, etc.), port taxes and basic cabin charges. Subtract these costs from your overall budget figure to come up with a cabin range.
Remember, just because your budget allows you to spend “xyz” dollars on your cabin, it doesn’t mean you must spend that much.
Cabin Fever: What do you expect from a cabin? Will you hang up your clothes there, sleep there…but little else? Do you see a cabin as someplace to get in and out of as fast as is possible? If so, save your money for what’s important to you: shipboard activities, shore excursions, and gifts for the family and friends.
On the other hand, if you are traveling with another couple, or you’re planning a family reunion aboard ship, you may want a place to entertain. While ships certainly have enough lounge space, a sitting room in your own cabin can give you the privacy you need.
In this case, you may want to consider a suite or a mini-suite, where more money will buy you more space. Most cabins come with moderate-sized bedroom space. Mini-suites and suites add a sitting area separate from the sleeping area. Many hold a television and a small refrigerator. Normally, you wouldn’t need these amenities, but if you are traveling with family members, you could use a central meeting place. Likewise, if you are traveling with children or grandchildren, you’ll want a place to sit and relax while the children are napping.
Suites sell out early, according to travel agents. One regular cruiser who likes to make plans just a few months in advance has never been able to secure a suite. Let that be a warning: If you know you want to take a cruise in a year, and know you’ll want a suite, book as early as possible. Not only will you get the cabin of your choice, odds are you’ll get a discount or other perks for signing up early.
Location: Ask a successful entrepreneur the most important ingredient to a thriving business, and you’ll hear “location, location, location.” This can also be the making/breaking point in choosing a cabin. It’s also where it pays to know someone who has sailed aboard the ship you are investigating.
For example, during a recent cruise, I stayed in a mini-suite in an area of the ship reserved for suites and mini-suites. While it was away from the main traffic areas such as the dining room and main lounge, the cabin was located directly below the tennis/basketball court. Now for those who lounge on deck all day, this wouldn’t matter. For those who believe that an afternoon nap is an integral part of a vacation (count me in), this is certainly a major disadvantage.
Inside Versus Outside: The overwhelming choice between the two is an outside cabin. Again, this is another case in which money talks. Outside cabins, though generally the same size as an inside cabin, cost more than inside cabins.
What do you get for your money? A standard outside cabin includes a port hole with a view to the outside. On an upper deck, it sometimes means a larger window. So why do people spit out the words, “I have to have an outside cabin” so naturally? Probably for the same reason people don’t like standing in an elevator for any length of time. Claustrophobia sets in – -even for those who normally aren’t affected by such things.
In defense of inside cabins, if you like to sleep late, a port hole may mean an early sunrise to wake you. Again, it’s all in what’s important to you.
Deck Location: If you are given to sea-sickness, or worry about the possibility, frequent cruisers advise choosing decks on lower levels and cabins in the center of the deck. You’ll see the bulk of cabins located on the center deck, and that’s no accident. It’s more stable and less prone to the feeling of being pitched about.
Noise: “Avoid the white space.” That’s the advice I got from an officer aboard one line early on in my traveling days. Because of security, and anti-terrorist precautions, brochures don’t list many common areas such as stairways – -but all cruise ships have them! You may choose a cabin away from the lounges and athletic courts and feel safe that you’ll have a peaceful stay. Unless you check this out specifically, and ask about the unknown, you may find that your room is located next to a heavily-traveled staircase.
Timing: Beyond the physical choices you have, consider the time of year when you are deciding on cabin and cruise. I made a crucial mistake here once. I was traveling with small children and didn’t factor in timing when choosing one cruise through the Bahamas. It was senior week, and shrieks could be heard throughout the night from all sides of my cabin. Security tried to keep up with the intoxicated, just-graduated passengers, but it was a no-win prospect. Normally, the standard outside cabin works for me, but in this case, timing should have directed me towards a mini suite. It would have been out of the price range of most in the newly-graduated group. Likewise, during holiday seasons on cruises geared toward children and families, know that certain price-friendly cabins will have children waking up at the crack of dawn.
Travel enough, and you’ll make choices instinctively. Until then, make a checklist based on things that are important to you in terms of comfort. Then make the travel agent your advocate.