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.