- I’m a frequent cruise traveler who’s stayed in a variety of onboard accommodations.
- The least expensive rooms have no view and are usually cramped, especially if shared by a family.
- Splurging on a higher-category cabin on my last cruise was the best decision I made.
Automatically booking the cheapest room on a cruise ship without doing proper research first can ruin a trip.
As someone who’s been going on cruises for over 10 years, I’ve learned that the price tag for these vacations can vary based on a number of factors — from cruise line to trip duration to room category.
Staying in the most standard-level cabin seems like an obvious way to keep costs down. But after trying out three different room categories, both with and without my kids, I’ve found that a ship’s least expensive option is almost never worth it.
Based on my experience in three different cruise-room categories, here are the ones I recommend skipping and the ones I recommend splurging on.
Interior staterooms are limited in space and privacy
The standard (and least expensive) room on any cruise ship is typically called an inside or interior stateroom.
These cabins often sleep three to four people and are located in the middle of the ship, with no exterior view of the vessel’s surroundings.
I’ve stayed in interior staterooms on a Carnival Cruise Line ship and a Disney Cruise Line ship. Aside from different decor styles and a few small touches, this room category is fairly standard across the board.
When I’m on a cruise, I like to wake up and open my curtains to look at the ocean or the port where the ship is docked, which isn’t an option in these inward-looking cabins.
Apart from having no view, interior staterooms are very small. The exact square footage varies but, for reference, the Disney Fantasy cruise ship’s interior stateroom is 169 square feet and a Royal Caribbean ship’s version is around the same size at 164 square feet.
To put those numbers into perspective, standard hotel rooms in the US are, on average, around 330 square feet, almost double the size of the entry-level cruise accommodation.
I want to be able to maneuver around without tripping over luggage, accent furniture, or my own family members. And because of the lack of space in interior staterooms, that’s a challenge.
This category is definitely the most economical option, making it ideal for travelers on a budget.
However, if families, especially ones traveling with teens, can swing an alternative, they should steer clear of cramming into an interior stateroom and opt for a category with more space and privacy.
Ocean-view staterooms provide slightly more space but can still feel cramped
The next category up is usually an ocean-view stateroom.
With an outward-facing window, ocean-view staterooms are a solid mid-tier option for travelers who want more space than an interior stateroom offers but don’t want to spend extra for a balcony room.
Their exact size and capacity range from ship to ship, but Disney Fantasy’s ocean-view staterooms are 204 square feet, and Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas’ version is 179 square feet.
Many of these accommodations fit up to five people. If you have more than four family members (yes, infants who are six months and older are part of the headcount), making the jump from an interior stateroom to an ocean-view stateroom is absolutely worth the extra money.
Some cruise lines sell ocean-view rooms as the entry-level category for families of five or more travelers, simply because many interior staterooms can only accommodate a maximum of four guests.
My top pick is balcony staterooms, which offer privacy and plenty of space
Balcony staterooms, also known as veranda staterooms, are usually the largest accommodation option you can get without concierge service or extras.
I recommend this category to all travelers setting sail in the future for one reason: the private balcony.
You can open your curtains and enjoy the sights outside, similar to the experience of staying in an ocean-view stateroom. But in this room type, you can step out onto a balcony and take in the sounds and smells, too.
The rooms’ sizes and capacities depend on the ship, but balcony staterooms are usually larger than ocean-view staterooms and tend to sleep up to five guests. Even if the rooms’ living spaces aren’t substantially bigger, they have the added space of the veranda.
Including the terrace, balcony staterooms on the Disney Fantasy are 246 square feet and are between 214 square feet to 279 square feet on Princess Cruises’ fleet.
My family stayed in a balcony stateroom on my most recent seven-night cruise, and we made great use of the outdoor space. On a shorter cruise, where the balcony itself might not get as much use, I would still book this category for my family.
The upgrade was completely worth the price increase, especially because we were traveling with two sets of grandparents.
To make the most of the balcony staterooms, we even turned our individual verandas into one large terrace by having our steward remove the partitions between rooms.