Choosing the right cabin on a cruise ship involves far more than deciding on outside, inside or verandah. Unfortunately, many cruise travelers don't give much thought to cabin selection beyond these basic choices, and as a result, their enjoyment of the cruise can be compromised. Here are a few examples of bad cabins, taken from comments of actual cruisers.
Just as a bad cabin can detract from a cruise, a good cabin can add satsistaction:
So how do you go about selecting a great cabin? There is obviously much subjective opinion involved in this area, so I polled frequent cruisers who participate in Compuserve's on-line Cruise Forum. What did they look for in a room? What problems with specific rooms and ships have they encountered? What secret good deals did they uncover? Their responses are the basis for this article, and many of their specific comments are contained herein.
If you do opt for an outside cabin, make sure the view is not obstructed by lifeboats, outside decks or other shipboard eyesores. Most ship deck plans will indicate obviously obstructed views, and the rates should reflect this. More subtle, however, are outside rooms located on weather decks which are not, technically, obstructed but are probably not exactly what you had in mind. For example, all rooms on the Lower Promenade deck of the Holland America Lines' Statendam Class ships (Ryndam, Maasdam, Veendam, Statendam & Rotterdam VI) look out onto a deck that encircles the ship, meaning the views are more of walkers and flopping fanny packs than of sky and seas.
The "partially obstructed view" rooms can also be a fertile area to find great bargains. Many rooms in this category are actually between lifeboats, rather than behind them, so you can get an outside room at close to an inside rate if you can book these rooms. There are several rooms that fit this description on the Bermuda and Bahamas Decks of the Horizon and Zenith, respectively. Many other ships have obstructed view rooms that appear to be between lifeboats but are in fact obstructed by other features, so quality research here is a key.
If you are leaning towards a verandah, make sure the itinerary you are sailing on will allow you to take full advantage of the great outdoors. You would probably use a balcony more on a warm weather, at-sea intensive itinerary such as a Panama Canal transit than on an Inside Passage sailing to Alaska. Next, research the relative size of the verandahs on different decks and locations. On the Crystal Harmony, cabins 8001 through 8015 and 8124 through 8137 have verandahs that are almost 50% larger than other verandahs on the same deck at the same price. Also, research whether or not the partitions between neighboring verandahs go the entire height of the verandah to maximize your privacy.
Verandahs have become a very popular option, and most of the new ships are being built with a high percentage of cabins thus equipped. On these ships, the price differential is often less than on older ships, so this might play a role in choosing your ship as well as your cabin.
OK, you've decided inside, outside or verandah. Now, you have to decide where on the ship that selected room should be. Several factors are germane here.
Lower decks are usually less desirable because of their distance to the upper decks where most of the action is. This means waits for elevators and extra time required to carry about your daily routines. (The other side of this coin is that climbing the stairs can be an excellent way to shed those extra pounds easily accumulated from the shipboard food bounty.)
Another disadvantage of lower decks is noise. Noise is one of the biggest complaints veteran cruisers have about their rooms, and it can come from a variety of sources. On the lower decks, engine noise, motor vibration, bow thrusters and crew traffic are common problems. According to one cruiser:
"I wanted privacy and quiet, so I booked a room all the way forward on A deck aboard MV Maasdam. There was little traffic in the passageways, but the noise from the bow thrusters was most disturbing, particularly during early morning hours when the ship was docking."
On higher decks, noise can be a problem in cabins located beneath galleys, under jogging tracks or gymnasiums and above casinos or discos:
"Our room aboard (Celebrity Cruises') Century was in the aft section of the Panorama Deck, directly above the Crystal Room. Noise from the music playing there, particularly the bass notes, reverberated throughout our cabin until 1 in the morning."
Holland America Line has solved this problem in their new ships by locating the discos in their upper level Crow's Nest Lounges, well above any deck with cabins. Royal Caribbean tried a similar strategy in its upper level Viking Crown Lounges on its new Vision-Class ships, but apparently has not been totally successful in isolating late night reverberations. Some passengers in upper deck cabins (including some suites!) have reported noise from the disco drifting down the open area of the Centrum. These cabins were usually located close to the Centrum, which is an open area that extends vertically from the main deck all the way up to the Viking Crown Lounge. These rooms also tend to be nosier due to their proximity to elevators and traffic, so you might want to choose rooms a little farther away from the Centrum if you don't plan to boogie into the night.
One general comment on cabin noise: older ships have been notorious for their paper thin walls. Most veteran cruisers can recall ships where they could have participated in their neighbor's (normal) conversations, or where they felt impolite for not saying "gesundheit" when a neighbor sneezed. Fortunately, newer ships have greatly improved their room soundproofing. Royal Caribbean's new Vision-class ships (Grandeur of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas) have much improved soundproofing between rooms, passageways and decks.
Even good soundproofing will not block out all noise, however. So if you are sensitive to noise, choose a room away from the bow or stern of the ship, avoid the lowest deck, scrutinize the deck plans for galleys, discos, jogging tracks and unexplained "white spaces" in the deck plan. A room located several decks up with staterooms above and below is a good choice from a noise standpoint. Of course if you choose a 3 day Carnival Cruise over spring break, the engine room might be the quietest space on the ship.
It may be that noise doesn't bother you, (or you are a party animal who generates noise) but seasickness is a problem. Where's the best location for the most stable ride? Conventional wisdom says that rooms on the lowest deck closest to the center of the ship are subject to the least motion. Most ships have effective stabilizers that limit a ship's rolling but have little effect on the ship's pitching. Therefore, a central location on the ship is probably more significant than a lower deck in minimizing the effects of motion.
What resources are available to the prospective cruiser looking for a good room? The first and most important resource is an experienced, knowledgeable travel agent who specializes in cruises. Chances are, he or she will have personal knowledge of the ships you are considering and can provide informed advice based on their experience and the experiences of their customers. Another important reference source is the ship's deck plan. Pour over that looking for the features we have discussed earlier. If the room is located above, below or next to "white spaces" that are not identified, query your travel agent, who can talk to the cruise line if necessary. Finally, the on-line cruise forums found on Compuserve, America Online and the Internet can be excellent sources of unbiased information on specific ships and cabins.
Some final notes. Be aware that changing staterooms once aboard is very difficult since most ships are sailing full these days. Also, the earlier you book, the better chance you have of getting the exact cabin you want. You can get some good rates booking late, but the chances are you will be assigned a room that everyone else has passed on.
A good cabin by itself can't make a great cruise, and a lousy cabin won't spoil an otherwise great cruise. But a cabin can greatly enhance or detract from your overall cruise enjoyment. You pay a lot of money for your cruises so why not do everything you can to find the best cabin you can for your money? This is one area where a little research can provide great dividends.
Have a great cruise!
Richard Shipman is a pilot with US Airways and a freelance writer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor: The CompuServe Cruise Forum no longer exists but you will find most of the former members hanging out these days in the CompuServe UK Travel Forum (GO UKTF). If you have a CompuServe account, you can log on directly through the internet at http://www.compuserve.co.uk/forums/uktravel.
If you are not using a recent version of CompuServe software you will need to install a small piece of software on your system, Virtual Key, which tells CompuServe that you are a member. You can download Virtual Key from GO VKEY on CompuServe, or at http://www.compuserve.com/rpa/vk_soft.htm.]
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