Your choice of stateroom or cabin is likely to be a major factor in how you enjoy your cruise. If it truly doesn’t matter where you sleep, go ahead and book the least-expensive category “guarantee” you can find. The cheapest cabin on a ship is typically an inside stateroom on a lower deck.
Although ship designers do all they can to make these inside cabins feel less claustrophobic, there’s no getting around the fact that you won’t have any kind of view to the outside world. There’s usually a curtain where the porthole or window would typically be in an outside cabin, but it will be covering nothing but blank wall space.
There are a few simple ways you can get a bit more for your money. Fares are determined by the type of accommodation reserved, and “guarantee” bookings — when you reserve a cabin category instead of a specific stateroom — can yield savings dividends. The cruise line will assign you a cabin within the fare category you book, or you may even be upgraded to a higher category.
Be aware that you could end up at the very front or back of the ship, or worse, below the disco. If your plans include dancing until the wee hours, you can snooze until noon and pocket the savings by paying a low fare for one of the “Night Owl Staterooms” on Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Destiny.
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On the other hand, if you view your cabin as your sanctuary, you will want a bit more than “standard inside” for your home-away-from-home. Obstructed-view outside locations offer natural light, but there might be a lifeboat outside your window instead of a view. Moving up a few categories may cost less than you imagine and result in a more comfortable space with a large window or even a balcony. High-end suites should include perks that justify their cost.
Although cruise-ship cabins are not all created equal, they are all designed for comfort, convenience, and practicality. Standard cabins on modern cruise vessels haven’t quite achieved parity with land-based resort accommodations in terms of size, but cruise lines recognize that small touches (and more spacious quarters) go a long way toward overall passenger contentment. You’re likely to find your cabin equipped with amenities such as a personal safe, robes for use on board, a hair dryer, and bathroom toiletries — the added niceties that hotels have long provided for their guests.
Aside from the little details that vary from cruise line to cruise line, staterooms are furnished for functionality. At the very least, a cabin contains beds (often twin beds that can be combined to form a queen- or king-size bed), a dressing table and writing desk, a chair, drawers or shelf storage, a closet, and a bathroom with shower. There’s almost always a television and telephone. Cabins on newer ships often have sitting areas with a sofa or loveseat and a coffee table.
The cabin dressing table and writing desk will almost always have two different electric receptacles — one will accept standard US-style plugs (110-volt) and the other is for European-style plugs (220-volt). To plug in more than one gadget at a time you’ll need a power strip, or, for dual voltage appliances, a plug adapter.
You’ll have to bring along your own adapter — the kind that allows US-style plugs with flat prongs to be inserted into European-style round receptacles. I always packed a short power strip in order to use more than one appliance until my husband pointed out I could recharge my cell phone while using the computer simply by utilizing the second receptacle with a flat-to-round prong adapter attached. Cabin bathrooms generally feature a dual-voltage plug receptacle suitable for electric shavers only. The hair dryers are usually built into the wall or tucked away in a drawer.
Cruise-ship cabins often appear more spacious in brochure illustrations. Pay close attention to square footage and think “yacht” not “resort.” By doing so, you’ll realize that careful consideration went into the design and layout of your cabin. Even though shipboard accommodations run from standard inside cabins to the plushest suites imaginable, you can rest assured that once you enter the ship’s public areas, everyone enjoys the same level of ambience and courtesy. No longer divided into the “classes” of yesterday, modern cruise ships are seagoing democracies. Every passenger can expect the same basic choices and services.
This material is excerpted from Fodor’s The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises and Ports of Call, edited by Linda Coffman