|Studio Stateroom (inside with a hallway view) on Norwegian Epic|
When it comes to cabin selection there are two main considerations – what kind of stateroom you want, (the category) and where it is located. Let's look at finding the best price and how location determines the smoothest ride.
There are four basic types of staterooms:
Inside – these rooms are usually on the inner side of the hallways, across from the outside of the ship. An inside cabin will not have any windows at all. When you shut the door and turn off the lights it will be pitch black inside. These are the most affordable cabins onboard, but there are usually not that many of them on modern ships.
Outside – the staterooms are called "outside" cabins because they have windows where you can see outside, but the windows do not open. Usually they are very heavy glass portholes close to the surface of the water. They can design such windows to be almost as strong as the hull, but they cannot open because that would be too dangerous. These portholes usually have heavy steel covers that can be closed and tightly screwed down in case of very strong weather conditions. Disney has an unusual style of "virtual portholes" that are actually round video screens that look like porthole windows. They show a feed from live cameras facing out from the side of the ship.
Balcony Cabins – these staterooms have a verandah with a door that opens. The deck has chairs, often a small table and a strong railing that must be at least 42 inches high.
Suites – suites are extra large staterooms, but they do not always have bedrooms separated from the living rooms as one might expect in a hotel. There are "mini-suites" and "family suites," as well as "owner's suites" and many more titles. Suites vary by cruise line, but most of them have bathtubs, mini refrigerators, extra closet space and larger seating areas.
Newer ships tend to have far more balcony cabins than older ships. This is because balcony cabins are the most popular category. Newer ships often have as many as 80% of their staterooms with a balcony and some luxury ships are 100% balcony staterooms.
First let's talk about location on the ship, because it plays into pricing. Some ships only have a few categories of staterooms; suites, mini-suites, verandah, oceanview (non-opening window) and inside (no window at all). Some ships have taken to calling balcony cabins "oceanview with verandah," so just make sure you are clear when booking a stateroom that you know how it is laid out. The cruise line web site should have a diagram of every cabin type.
When it comes to location, the smoothest ride is going to be experienced in the mid-section of the ship, also known as "amidships." This means half way between the front (forward) and the back (aft). The reason this is smoothest is because a ship is a solid metal structure. To understand its "motion in the ocean" picture a teeter-totter; the mid-point axis experiences the least amount of motion. This up and down type of ship motion is called "pitching" – referring to the front of the ship moving up while the back moves down. During high seas a good captain will face his ship into the waves because it is less dangerous than taking a large wave from the side, so pitch is more common than rolling.
"Rolling" is moving from side to side; the motion a ship makes when taking waves from the side. Now, the fulcrum of the ship is the water line, so the closer you are to the waterline in a midships stateroom the less you feel the motion of the ocean. So, the best stateroom location is on a lower deck in the midships (relative to forward and aft) of the ship.
To be clear – smaller ships tend to experience more movement than larger ships, because they are more prone to responding to every wave motion they encounter. A 10,000-ton ship will rock and roll far more than a 100,000-ton ship.
This won't matter much unless you are prone to sea sickness and encounter rough seas, then it can make a lot of difference. The most nauseating motion will be felt at the front of the ship (known as "forward" in ship terminology. If you are prone to seasickness stay away from forward cabins. The back end (stern) also experiences more motion than amidships, but not as much as forward.
On most cruises, especially in the Caribbean, you may have entire week-long cruises where you barely even feel the ship move; especially on large cruise ships in calm weather. But a small ship, such as a 10,000-gross ton luxury ship, sailing in the North Atlantic, can make a person very sick.
Cruise Booking Secret: many cruise lines charge more for an identical stateroom solely based on which deck it is on. For example a 200 square foot verandah stateroom may be $699 per person on deck six but $899 per person on deck 10. There is very little advantage to having your stateroom higher up on the ship. In fact, the lower it is the more stable it will be. Some cruise lines have even started offering "free upgrades" where all they do is move you to an identical cabin on a higher deck. In some cases we have even seen cruise lines move people to smaller staterooms that just happen to cost more because they are on a higher deck. This is not an upgrade if you are prone to seasickness.
My recommendation is to stay on the lowest deck that has the type of cabin layout you want. If you are happy with an oceanview get one on deck three or four. If you want a balcony cabin get one on the lowest deck to offer balcony cabins. Now – this applies mostly to ships that charge more according to a higher numbered deck, and smaller ships that are more prone to motion in the ocean. But lower decks also offer you a smoother ride, as well as savings.