What Should I Do in Port? – Cruise Ship Excursions

Once you’ve decided what you want to do in port, the next question is how. There are many different ways to go about visiting your chosen sights.

The easiest and most convenient way to see the sights in which you are interested is to purchase a ship excursion. Cruise lines sell shore excursion tickets online before the cruise, and from a sales desk onboard once the cruise departs. Ship excursions are convenient and easy, because there is little to no preparation involved, and you can simply put yourself into the hands of a cruise-line-approved tour guide who will get you on and off a bus, bring you to the important sights, and make sure you have a chance to empty your bladder (and empty your wallet) at the appropriate moments. You don’t have to do any work, and you don’t have to worry about any transportation. Simply show up at your designated meeting point (usually onboard the ship, or occasionally on the dock right next to the gangway where you disembark the ship) and everything will be taken care of for you. Your guide will explain the history and importance of the sights you view, and you will remain in an ‘English-speaking/Americanized bubble’ for your entire stay ashore.

The other major advantage to taking a cruise ship excursion is that the cruise line remains responsible for you. If anything happens during your tour to delay you and prevent you from returning to port on time, the ship will wait for your group. You will never be left in the lurch on shore in a foreign country.

So what are the negatives of taking a ship-sponsored shore excursion? First is that ‘bubble’ I mentioned. If you travel with a pack of tourists, you’re going to be treated like a pack of tourists. Vendors will hawk their wares, locals will exhibit a touch of disdain, and you’ll be seen as an ‘easy mark’ for scam artists. You won’t have a chance to experience the true atmosphere of the port city, or truly engage with its people and culture. To some, this is a good thing, because they are scared to step outside of their comfort zones. But if you want to see something different, to encounter a place that isn’t what you see every day at home, then a cruise ship excursion may not be for you.

Another disadvantage to a cruise ship excursion is their size. Generally, tour busses hold thirty to forty individuals, and the group moves at the speed of the slowest participant. When the tour makes a bathroom stop, every bladder must be emptied before you can proceed. If even one person is late getting back to the bus, the tour is delayed, and time at the next stop is shortened. If you are used to traveling at your own pace, this can be frustrating in the extreme. Additionally, traveling in a group this large means that you are always in a crowd. You are unlikely to get a chance to see sites without others in the way, all jostling to get the best view or picture of the sights.

On a cruise ship tour, you do not choose the itinerary. As such, the tour guide will take you to the places on their list, and you may spend less time than you wish at the places that interest you most, and/or have to endure visits to places that you would never choose to see on your own. The most infamous of these is the ‘forced shopping stop’, which every cruise ship tour seems to include. Invariably, your tour will stop at some kind of factory, plantation or massive store and be given time to ‘look around’. Don’t be fooled by the tour guide’s spiel: tour companies are given kickbacks for bringing tourists to these places, and they will do so no matter what, even at the expense of cutting short your time at the true sights.

But the primary disadvantage for most cruisers is that ship excursions are costly. The cruise ship charges you the rack rate for any excursions, plus an added markup to give them a healthy profit. When you are not onboard the ship, you are not generating any onboard revenue for the cruise line, and as such, they want to take a cut of your onshore spending if at all possible. No matter what they say, you aren’t going to be getting any ‘deals’ from a cruise line.

Generally, I prefer not to use cruise line excursions unless the places I want to visit ashore are extremely difficult to get to (such as visiting Berlin from the port of Warnemunde, or Moscow from the port of St. Petersburg), or the country itself is a place where I would feel uncomfortable traveling on my own (such as when we visited Vietnam and the port was in the middle of the countryside where no one spoke any kind of English), or if I feel the logistics of getting back to the ship on time would be difficult (such as visiting the Amalfi Coast in Italy, where traffic jams can be the stuff of legends). Cruise ship excursions can also be useful if you are taking them as you disembark the ship at the end of the cruise, and they drop you off at the airport at the end of the tour. When you factor in the cost of traveling to the airport from the cruise port, these ‘disembarkation excursions’ may be a reasonable cost and convenience.

Yet in most ports, we prefer to tour on our own. Next time, I’ll discuss different ways of touring if you don’t want to travel with a ship-sponsored excursion.

What Should I Do in Port? – Activities

While traveling on a cruise ship is fun and luxurious, in most cases people are there to travel, meaning that the whole point is to see different places. You chance to do this occurs when the cruise ship is in port, allowing you to explore a new place for a few hours. So what should you do when the ship gets into port?

Naturally, the answer varies depending upon which port you are visiting and whether or not you have been to this city before. Yet no matter the location or circumstances, a little research in advance will be extremely useful when it comes to planning your time ashore.

The first thing to do is to determine what kinds of sights there are to see in the port. These might include scenic views/tours, museums, historical sites, castles and forts, religious sites, shopping areas, sporting activities, beaches, parks and gardens, or outdoor adventures. Determine which sights most interest you, and list them in order of importance. Your goal will be to visit as many of these places/enjoy as many activities as you can during your time in port, while still gaining the fullest measure of enjoyment. Remember, the goal is not to spend five minutes at a hundred different sites, but rather to visit as many sites as you can, while spending sufficient time to fully appreciate what you are seeing. A visit to see a famous outdoor monument might well take five minutes, but a visit to a museum might take one to three hours. A tour of an important landmark or village might take the entire day.

The easiest way to find a list of such activities is to google the name of the port + tourist attractions. Another possibility is to read a guidebook on the port city or area that will be visited. If I am pressed for time, sometimes I will simply look at a cruise line’s list of excursions (more on ship-sponsored shore excursions in my next post) to get a quick idea of the various locations most cruise passengers like to visit.

Cruise websites, such as Cruise Critic, are another good source of information. Cruise passengers love to get together and talk about the places they have been and what they have seen. You will find lots of helpful information on cruise message boards around the web.

It is possible, especially if you are traveling with a large party, that not everyone in your group will want to see or do the same things. Some people may want to play golf at a local course, others may wish to shop or head to the beach, while others may want to indulge in a visit to historical sites and museums. It is okay to split your party and have everyone move in different directions. Remember, you will all meet again back on the ship at the end of the day, and you can relax over a luxurious dinner in the main dining room, telling each other of the different experiences you had that day.

Next time, I’ll discuss how to arrange your visits to these sites.

 

When Should I Cruise? – Weather

Another factor in choosing a time to cruise is weather. If you wish to cruise in the Caribbean, hurricane season (officially June 1 through November 30, but more realistically late August through mid-November) can often be unpredictable. Since hurricanes can be forecasted and tracked, cruise ships are usually able to avoid them, but there may be missed ports and rough seas without warning. Cruise lines know this, and the prices for Caribbean cruises during this time reflect the unreliability of the weather and itineraries.

Weather can also play a significant part in where cruise lines will sail. Alaska and northern Europe have cool temperatures, and are generally only ‘bearable’ to cruisers in the summer months. South American and Australian cruises tend to be popular in the American winter, as it is summer in the southern hemisphere during those months. Caribbean, Mexican and Hawaiian cruises are also much more readily available during the winter months. European cruises sail from spring through the fall, but usually not during the winter.

As you can see, changing weather makes for changing itineraries, but that also leads to another interesting aspect of cruising: the repositioning cruise. If a cruise ship winters in the Caribbean, but spends its summers in Europe, then it will have to sail to Europe in the spring, and return back to Florida in the fall. These one way repositioning cruises are often the best cruising deals available. Cruise lines normally have a difficult time filling a long cruise, during school weeks, with few ports, particularly when one way airfare is taken into account (many airlines charge as much for a one way ticket as a round trip, particularly when you are talking about overseas travel). For this reason, there are many adherents of repositioning cruises: people who like the long sea days, uncrowded ships and cheap cruise fares. Yet they are not enough to completely fill the ships. If you are flexible in your schedule and can travel last minute, you will usually find many last minute specials on such cruise vacations.

When Should I Cruise? – Timing

Yes, I know it’s been a little over a month since I last posted on this blog, but there were reasons for that. The holidays, getting kids back to school, going back to work… and most importantly, a cruise. We took a two week cruise to Hawaii that was both wonderful and relaxing. Interestingly, during the time I since I last posted on this blog, both the busiest and the slowest times of year for cruising have passed. And that got me thinking: what is the best time of year to cruise?

The number one factor in picking a time to cruise is when you are available. While some people are flexible in their schedules, those of us who work a fixed set of dates or who have children in school may be restricted as to the time of year when they can travel. For this reason, school holidays tend to be the busiest times of year for the cruise industry, and the prices will match. Christmas week and New Year’s week are the busiest, with the weeks before and after Easter, the week of American Thanksgiving, and summer holidays (mid June to mid August) being high demand times as well. March and April (outside of the weeks around Easter) can also be a little more crowded, as various school districts and universities have their spring breaks. Early June and late August are ‘shoulder seasons’, where some schools are in session while others are not. January (after New Year’s) and February, May, and mid-September through mid-November tend to be the least busy times of year to cruise.

The advantage to traveling during a busy time is that there are sometime special activities aboard ship (particularly during the holidays) and if you have children, the children’s programs will be more active, with more opportunities for your younger ones to interact with others their own age. The obvious disadvantages are crowding, particularly in the theatre, at the buffet and around the pools, and pricing. Traveling at the most popular times of year comes with an added premium, and the price may not be reflective of what you wish to pay.

If you are able to be a bit more flexible in your schedule, you will find that moving your cruise vacation by two to six weeks can save you a significant amount in cruise cost and airfare, while still visiting the same ports. As with all traveling, convenience comes at a price, and the more you can ‘inconvenience’ yourself, the better deal you will find.

Next time, I’ll talk about how weather can play a role in selecting your cruise.

December Holidays at Sea

Have you ever thought about going away for the holidays? It may seem like too much of a hassle, but a cruise can take away a lot of the burden of organization and planning.

Like the rest of us, cruise lines really get into the holidays, decorating and celebrating once American Thanksgiving is over. You will find trees, holly, Christmas music and other atmospheric features all over cruise ships during the month of December, all put up seemingly overnight (and removed just as quickly come January 1st). The ships’ kitchens will prepare wonderful gingerbread creations (houses, villages, even miniature cruise ships) that will be displayed in the main areas (usually the lobby or atrium). Many cruise lines offer themed activities and entertainments, particularly during the cruises that include the actual holidays. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (it can vary, depending on the port schedule) Santa will pay a visit, greeting any children (or interested adults) onboard. My children once asked me if Santa could find them on a cruise ship. All I had to do was point to the large smokestack: the biggest chimney in the world!

The religious aspects of the holidays are not overlooked, as cruise ships will hold Chanukah and Christmas services for those who wish to participate. Often there is a formal night at Christmas, and everyone will make an extra effort to put on their fancy, festive best for a wonderful Christmas dinner cooked by professionals.

New Year’s Eve is even better on a cruise ship than Christmas. Imagine partying to your heart’s content, enjoying a fabulous dinner in formal wear, then moving from venue to venue to enjoy different kinds of entertainment, without ever having to drive home! Many cruise lines offer additional celebrations on New Year’s Eve, such as big name entertainment, balloon drops, or special champagne celebrations.

Holiday cruises are so much fun that they are usually in high demand. If you are interested in booking such a cruise, you would be smart to do so 8-12 months in advance.

However you are spending your holidays, I hope that you have a wonderful time, surrounded by your loved ones.

I will return with more cruise advice in January!

Eating at Sea – Specialty Dining Options

When you pay your fare and board a cruise ship, that fare includes more food than you could ever hope to eat, in the main dining room, at the buffet, and at other casual eateries (including, in most cases, room service) around the ship. Yet despite all of this variety, eating in the same places for every meal, every day, can get tedious after awhile. Many people crave the variety offered by other restaurants, and sometimes cruise passengers seek a more upscale experience, either for their own personal tastes, or to celebrate a special occasion. These needs are served by onboard specialty restaurants.

Each cruise line has their own slate of specialty restaurants, and such establishments can even vary from ship to ship. Generally, they offer a higher quality experience as compared to the other dining venues aboard, and are accompanied by an additional charge of anywhere from $10 to over $100 per person. These restaurants vary in nature: French, Italian, Asian, Creole or other cuisines, steakhouse, fondue, sushi, grilling or other cooking styles. Whatever you can imagine is likely on a cruise ship somewhere! Celebrity Cruises offers an experience where a professional chef can help you grill your own steak, while on Royal Caribbean, sushi chefs serve you counter-side, and on Norwegian Cruise Lines a chef will grill your entrees before your eyes.

While such restaurant offerings are a step above the norm on a cruise ship, some cruise lines can provide truly memorable dining experiences. Q*Sine, on Celebrity’s newer ships, offers a sharing menu of familiar dishes re-imagined in the most creative ways imaginable (sushi lollipops and a filet mignon painter’s pallet are two of our favorites). Remy’s, on Disney Cruise Line’s newer ships, presents a high quality French cuisine dining experience rivaled only by the most sophisticated land restaurants. Norwegian’s Ocean Blue serves elegantly prepared seafood at indoor and outdoor tables, as well as offering a raw bar. Princess’ Cruises’ Winemaker’s Dinner offers gourmet dishes with sophisticated wine pairings, served inside a private wine cellar.

You can see that the options are many and varied, depending which cruise line and vessel you are sailing. Yes, there is an extra fee for such experiences, but many feel that such fees are well worth the cost. As always, this is an individual choice, and what is right for one passenger may not be for another.

While such dining experiences are not mandatory, you may find that eating at a specialty restaurant during your cruise will be an experience you may never forget. As always, I would encourage you to explore your options, and decide what best fits you and your vacation lifestyle!

Eating at Sea – Casual DIning Options

While most people like to talk about the main dining room on a cruise ship, there are  other places to eat as well. This post looks at some of the casual dining options available on a cruise ship.

The buffet is the obvious alternative to the main dining room. On most cruise ships, the buffet is open 24 hours a day, and offers a variety of foods. Items are often prepared and ready, but sometimes there are also ‘made to order’ stations that can cook pasta, omelets, sandwiches, or other dishes while you wait. Food quality can vary greatly, from cruise line to cruise line, ship to ship, day to day, and even dish to dish. While there is a head chef overseeing all food in the buffet area, it is not unusual for inconsistencies to occur. If you are eating at the buffet and do not like what you have chosen, go back again and try something else. You may find it more to your liking.

The advantage of the buffet is that it is fast and convenient. However, the food can be unexciting, and may not vary much from day to day. Depending on the time of day, you may find the buffet area very crowded, and it can be difficult to locate seating at popular times, particularly during breakfast and lunch. It should be noted that some cruise ships change their buffet areas to tableside service (with a waiter, and occasionally with reservations required) during the dinner hours.

Most cruise lines offer additional casual eateries at the pool area. It is common to see a grill, offering burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and fries, as well as a pizzeria with counter service. These eateries are usually close to the buffet area and can have a lot of ‘spillover’ from buffet guests. Quality of food can vary from mediocre to excellent, depending on the cruise line. Generally, the menus do not change throughout the cruise, with the exception of the pizzerias typically offering a ‘pizza of the day’.

There may be other casual eateries located in the central/atrium area of the ship. For example, Princess Cruises has the International Cafe, which offers panini, soups and salads. Celebrity Cruise Line has Bistro on Five, which offers crepes and other light meals (small additional charge). Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has Johnny Rockets burger franchises (small additional charge). The ‘midship’ eateries can vary wildly, but are usually a step up in quality from the food found in the buffet area.

Occasionally, a cruise will offer special themed lunches or dinners. For example, Princess Cruises has a pub lunch (no additional fee) in their steakhouse on sea days. Look for such events to be listed in the daily activities sheet.

If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, there are also specialty restaurants available. These will be discussed in next week’s blog.

Eating at Sea – When Should I Eat?

Generally, life is not regimented on a cruise ship. There is a slew of daily activities, in which you can choose to participate (or not) as you wish. Shows are put on at multiple times, allowing you to see them when they are convenient for you. Breakfast and lunch are casual affairs that you can enjoy at the time(s) of your choosing. But dinner on a cruise ship is the last holdover from the ‘traditional’ cruise experience of decades ago. In many cases, cruise passengers choose a specific time for dinner in the main dining room and must stay with that time for the entire cruise.

Traditionally, dinner was a big event on a cruise. People would dress up, service and food quality would be top notch, live music would be played, and the entire affair would be like a giant dinner party, held every night. It is an echo of this tradition that most cruise lines still hold onto today, with set dining times for passengers.

Traditional Dining is the name given to this eating regimen. You are required to pick a time to eat, and request a table size. Seats will be allocated to you before the cruise begins, requiring you to dine at the same time, at the same table, and with the same waiters, every night. There are normally two ‘seatings’ for traditional dining. The first seating (early seating) is usually between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, while the second seating (late seating) is usually between 7:30 and 8:30 pm. Note that these hour long ranges do not mean that you have an hour during which to show up to dinner. You will be given a specific time (somewhere within those hour ranges) and you are required to show up at that time exactly, or perhaps within 5 or 10 minutes of it. There is very little leeway given if you are late and miss your assigned time.

For many people, such rigidity is the very antithesis of a relaxing vacation, while others enjoy having dinner scheduled, and knowing that they will be immediately seated and served. The main disadvantage of traditional dining is this lack of flexibility. Additionally, many people do not like to eat as early as 6:00 pm, or as late as 8:00 pm, and as such, find these assigned times inconvenient. If you are seated at a larger table, you will be dining with other cruise passengers: the same tablemates for the entire cruise. If you find that you do not get along with these tablemates, you may not enjoy the dining experience.

The advantages of traditional dining are having the same table and waiter every night. On the first night you can meet your waiters and explain to them your preferences, any food allergies, etc. Then on all subsequent nights of the cruise, they can cater their service to you and your wants. Imagine entering the dining room to find your reserved table with your favorite drinks ready to go, specialty menus or recommendations available, and your waiters greeting you by name. This is especially useful if you have small children, food allergies, or other medical needs that require special consideration in the dining room.

If you are assigned to traditional dining and you discover on the first day that you do not get along with your tablemates, or do not like the location of your table, a discrete conversation with the maitre’d can often result in a change. There is no guarantee, of course, but if you are unhappy with your traditional dining assignment, the cruise line will do everything they can to change things to your satisfaction. When you board the ship, there will be a station set up for ‘dining changes’, where you can make such requests, or you can speak with the maitre’d at your dining room when you go to dinner. Note that the earlier you make a change request, the more likely it is that the ship will be able to make different arrangements.

If you choose traditional dining, many people wonder what time they should book: early or late? This depends on your personality type and activity cycle. If you are a night owl, dinner at 8 pm, followed by a show and dancing until the wee hours of the morning, may seem like a wonderful lifestyle. However, those who adhere to the ‘early to bed and early to rise’ adage may prefer a 6 pm dinner, followed by a show, and being in bed by 10 pm. Your cruise itinerary may also play a role in your choice of dining times. If you are sailing in the Caribbean, it may not matter when you leave the ship each day, as your destination may be shopping, or a beach, where arrival time is not a significant issue. In these situations, a late dining time may work well. But if you are sailing in Europe, where each port is packed with things to do, you may be eager to get off the ship by 8 am every morning, in which case an earlier dining time might be conducive to more sleep! In a similar vein, cruises with more sea days would likely be better for late dining, while cruises with many port days might make early dining more popular.

While there are many adherents of traditional dining, there is also a growing segment of cruise ship passengers who demand flexibility in their dinnertimes. As such, many cruise lines have now adopted a form of ‘Anytime Dining’. In theory, if you sign up for this kind of dining program, you will be able to eat dinner at whichever time you please. However, the reality is that most people want to eat dinner around 7 pm. As such, during the more popular dining hours there may be a line, and you may have to wait to be seated. Additionally, you will be seated at a different table, with different tablemates, and with different waiters, every night. There is no opportunity to have waiters learn your preferences, and you will be required to explain each night what it is you desire.

Some cruise lines, such as Disney, only offer traditional dining, while other cruise lines, such as Norwegian, only offer anytime dining. However most cruise lines (such as Princess, Carnival, Holland America and Celebrity) offer both options, allowing you to choose the option that works best for you.

But suppose you don’t want to eat in the main dining room every night? Next week, I’ll talk about casual dining alternatives.

Eating at Sea – Main Dining Room: Menus

One of the most important aspects of cruising is the culinary experience. That’s not to say that everyone who cruises is a glutton, wanting to stuff themselves with as much food as possible, but that part of the cruise experience is enjoying the wide variety of foods and venues available, including the fact that you have to do nothing to assist in the food’s preparation, serving, or cleanup. A cruise is about being pampered, and multiple offerings of readily available food is part of that offering.

Dining can also be a large part of the social experience, and if you desire, mealtimes can be an occasion where you get to know your fellow cruisers (see next week’s blog ‘When Should I Eat?’. As such an important part of your vacation, I will be writing a few blog posts on the various dining options available at sea. This first entry regards the main dining rooms.

Every cruise ship has at least one main dining room. This is the dining room that is included in your cruise fare, which does not cost extra to visit (although occasionally some cruise lines might charge extra for one or two specialty dishes, which are completely optional).

The main dining room(s) always serve(s) dinner, and usually a sit down breakfast as well. Often on sea days, these dining rooms will also be open for lunch. In the main dining rooms, you can expect a reasonable level of service, with at least two waiters (a main waiter and an assistant waiter) assigned to your table, tablecloths and elegant china/silverware/glassware, as well as a fancier menu than the more casual dining options on the ship (more on casual dining in a couple of weeks).

It is typical to offer a variety of foods, so as to have something to please every taste palate. Most cruise lines have ‘always available’ offerings, usually including a beef, a chicken, a main course salad, and a salmon dish. As indicated, these dishes are available every night, should the daily menu not suit your tastes. The daily changing menu will offer appetizers (both hot and cold), soups (often one of them cold, the remainder hot) and salads, along with main entrees (usually including a pasta dish, and always with vegetarian options). After your meal, a cheese plate is usually available, as well as a fruit plate, and a more traditional dessert menu from which you can indulge.

Many people worry that the food in the main dining room will be ‘too fancy’ for their tastes. What cruisers often do not realize is that the kitchen is usually able to customize your meal for you. If you only want the meat from one dish, but not the side dishes, that can be brought to you. If you’d like to make an entrée out of an appetizer, you can be served a larger portion. If you want to switch out a side dish for French fries or rise or a baked potato, that can be made to happen. If you try something and do not like it, you can always try something else. In short, your waiters will do everything within their power to please you, and to make sure you enjoy your dining experience. If you’re not comfortable with what is on the menu, you are always free to ask for the waiter’s suggestions, and they can help you decide on your meal. From the opposite perspective, if you want to try everything, it is often possible to have the waiter bring multiple dishes, so that you can have a taste of everything you see.

One little known secret to eating in the main dining room is that on family-friendly cruise lines, there is a children’s menu, but anyone can order from these dishes, regardless of age. If you’ve had a difficult day in port, and you simply want a hamburger, chicken nuggets, or spaghetti and meatballs, the kitchen is happy to oblige. You never have to feel restricted in your choice in the dining room!

You will likely spend many of your mealtimes in the main dining room, so make sure you let your waiter know your likes and dislikes, and explore the wide variety of dishes available to you!

What kind of room should I book?

New cruisers are often confused by the different types of accommodation on a cruise ship. Staterooms are usually priced over dozens of categories, based on a number of different factors. The two most important factors in stateroom pricing are stateroom type and location.

The types of staterooms are inside, oceanview, balcony, mini-suite, and suite. All of these staterooms have twin beds (usually convertible to a single queen bed), a bathroom with shower and/or tub, a television and a closet, as well as other ‘hotel’ type amenities. Their differences usually have to do with physical characteristics. Space on a cruise ship is a precious commodity, and as such, staterooms are quite small, compared to hotel rooms on land (usually one half to one third the size of a standard hotel room), with Disney Cruise Line staterooms being approximately 50% larger than staterooms on other cruise lines (since they were designed to hold families, rather than couples). However despite their small size, cruise ship staterooms are usually luxurious and comfortable.

An inside stateroom has no window. This means that it will be pitch-black when the lights are turned off. Other than this feature, the stateroom is the same as oceanview and balcony staterooms. Some people like inside cabins because they are usually the most inexpensive way to cruise. If you sail in an inside cabin, bring along a night-light, so that you can see your way around in the dark. Another tip is to tune your television to the ‘front of the ship cam’ that is usually available. Then you have a sort of ‘window’ to the outside: enough to determine whether it is day or night, and to get an idea of the weather.

An oceanview stateroom has just that: an ocean view from a window. Twenty years ago, many ocean views were tiny portholes, but now they are often large windows at least three or four feet across. The windows in an oceanview stateroom do not open. Some staterooms are listed as ‘obstructed oceanview’. These staterooms have a window, but there is something in front of the window (usually a lifeboat) blocking the view. Naturally these staterooms are usually cheaper than unobstructed oceanview staterooms, which make them appealing to cruisers who do not want to be in an inside room. No matter how much the obstruction covering the window (it might be significant or quite small) you will be able to see whether it is day or night, and have some idea of weather conditions.

A balcony stateroom has a balcony in place of a window. The balcony is accessed by sliding glass doors that take up one entire wall of the room. While the balcony itself is small, it should be wide enough to allow at least four people to stand side-by-side, and deep enough to allow for two upright chairs and a small side table. The interior of a balcony stateroom is usually identical to the inside and oceanview staterooms.

Mini-suite staterooms can go by various names, but are essentially larger versions of standard balcony staterooms, giving more space in the interior of the stateroom, and usually a larger balcony as well. The bathrooms in such staterooms usually have a shower/tub combo, while lower level staterooms usually only have a small shower. Bathroom amenities are usually nicer in a mini-suite, and often there are other perks, such as a second television, a partitioned ‘living room’ separated by a curtain, or a bottle of ‘welcome aboard champagne’.

Full suites have two separate rooms: a bedroom and a living room, as well as a large bathroom. Suites enjoy the most interior space and often have large balconies, although some cruise lines offer ‘window suites’ which, as their name suggests, only offer large windows. Most cruise lines offer special amenities only for suite guests, such as complimentary drinks, a stocked minibar, exclusive specialty dining options, receptions, free laundry, etc. A suite is certainly a luxurious way to travel, but the price tag accompanying such amenities is substantial.

Location on a cruise ship is a matter of preference, but generally staterooms that are higher up and toward the center of the ship are considered to be more desirable, and as such are priced higher than staterooms at the bottom or ends of the ship. As such, an inside stateroom on Deck 3 will be cheaper than an identical inside stateroom on Deck 10. A balcony stateroom all the way at the front of the ship will be cheaper than a balcony stateroom on the same deck at a mid-hip location. One exception to these general rules is for staterooms at the very back side of the ship (the aft), which often have large balconies with a spectacular view. Such staterooms are some of the most expensive onboard, and many suites are placed in this location.

Before booking a stateroom, be sure to investigate the various choices and determine which one is the best balance of cost and amenities for you.