7 nights. 4 people. 1 cruise ship cabin. Can we survive?
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I opened the door and thought, “My god — how are we going to fit four of us in this tiny cruise ship cabin for a week?”
It could have been worse. I could have booked us a windowless 150-square-foot inside cabin for our Caribbean cruise vacation this month on MSC Cruises’ MSC Seashore and saved $750. Instead, I splurged on the cheapest balcony cabin I could buy while still picking my room location. It’s roughly 172 square feet, with two twin beds (for me and my mom, aka Grandma) and a couch that has been converted into a bunk bed for my kids — plus a closet, desk/shelving area and one of the tiniest bathrooms I’ve encountered in a cruise ship built this century.
Staring down the cabin, with our luggage taking over all the available floor space, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this sailing. Now, nearly halfway through, I’m impressed at how well we’ve survived this far and the coping strategies we’ve developed — even if there are a few pain points we’ve yet to solve.
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Storage is tight
If you’ve read my assessments of Wonder of the Seas or Star Pride, you know that cruise ship cabin storage is one of my hot-button topics. My first freakout on MSC Seashore was whether we would have enough space to stow everyone’s clothes, books, swim gear and toiletries.
Between the closet and the desk, I counted four shelves (plus one with the safe), four shallow drawers and one deep drawer, plus hanging space (with a high shelf above) for storing clothes. Luckily, my kids are 8 and 11, and we’re all wearing shorts and T-shirts, so I was able to fit my kids’ stuff in two shallow and one deep drawer, and split the other drawers and shelves with my mom.
Pro tip: Ask your room steward for more hangers. You’ll get the thin wire ones, but at least you can hang up more than 10 items.
One shelf corrals all our beach stuff (goggles, shovels, sand brush, etc.) and another is shoe storage for the kids, plus my sandals. This does not prevent my kids from walking into the cabin, kicking off their shoes and leaving them where they fall. We’re working on this problem. Recently, my son graduated from leaving his shoes on the floor to putting them on any shelf in the closet, usually on top of my clean clothes. (Now to work on underwear…)
Cruise ships always have adorable but somewhat useless small or corner shelves, and this cabin has a few skinny shelves above the desks, two triangular shelves that are awkward for everything and hidden bookshelves on the side of the desk by the balcony door. I’ve pressed them into service for random things like snacks, water bottles and sunscreen. The kids’ books refuse to stay on the shelves and just pile up all across the desktop.
Obviously, I’m typing this from my bed.
The real problem, though, is where to hang wet stuff. With four people, the number of wet swimsuits, bath towels and beach towels is through the roof. And nothing dries in this cabin, especially not on the clothesline in the shower. The issue is compounded by the absence of a pool towel exchange by the pool deck, meaning I can only swap wet towels for dry ones at night during turndown service.
Thankfully, I decided to pack all my magnet hooks for this trip. One of my favorite cruise tips and tricks is that you can stick magnets to cabin walls because cruise ship frameworks are made of metal. The cabin has three sturdy hooks on the entryway wall, and I have added seven more.
I’ve actually created quite the artful display of colorful hats, bathing suits, masks and towels on the wall — but I have no idea where we’d hang wet stuff otherwise. The kids’ suits dry there eventually, but I usually have to break my own balcony rules and hang suits outside while the ship is in port then remember to bring them in before sailaway. I’m even using the upper bunk’s metal railing to dry things.
Our other unsolvable storage problem is everyone’s backpack. We’ve already got three suitcases under the beds. Even by tucking my son’s pack between the desk and the wall, and my daughter’s under the stool by the desk, one or two bags are typically floating around the room as tripping hazards.
It’s like an American Ninja Warrior course to get from one side of the cabin to the other, jumping over bags and small children, dodging flip-flops and trying not to get whacked when someone surprises you and opens the bathroom door.
We’ve had surprisingly few fights over the bathroom
One bathroom for four people is doable; two is always my preference. To date, we have had no emergencies or fights over the bathroom, though we’ve had to strongly encourage my son to not loiter on the toilet. I shudder to think how this situation would go over with two teens.
Toiletry storage is definitely tight. The bathroom has two shelves that my mom and I have taken over completely, with makeup bags and additional toiletries stored in the main part of the cabin. The one teensy shelf in the shower can barely hold one person’s shampoo, let alone several people’s. Again, if your kids come with their own Axe body spray, facial moisturizers and strawberry lip gloss, be prepared for shelf wars. (Same thing if you’re a girlfriend group of four.)
As it is, my children only use the bathroom when threatened with the loss of screen time, so we’re doing OK in the bathroom department so far.
Hanging out rarely ends well
When you cram a family of four in one cabin, you don’t expect to spend much time relaxing en masse in the room. After all, there’s a ship full of pools, water slides, lounges and kids clubs at your doorstep.
Yet after a hot morning shore excursion, there’s nothing I want to do more than crash out in my cabin for an hour. The kids often need downtime, too.
I’m not sure we’ve had cabin hangout time yet that didn’t end in violence or tears. Possibly that’s because my son likes to chillax stretched out across the cabin floor, forcing everyone to step over him to get anywhere. Or, because he and his sister rarely agree on the channel, volume or length of time for TV watching. Or, because he read her book and she touched his stuffy. (Though most of these would also be issues anytime they’re in the same room, no matter how big.)
In a larger space or connecting cabins, however, I could hide somewhere and pretend not to notice. Not here.
The bunkbed situation does mean that we have no couch for sitting on, forcing everyone to hang out on their beds. The balcony helps since it can serve as a separate sitting area, weather permitting. It also turns out that kids find creative places to spread out in the cabin, including under my bed behind the stowed suitcases. I’ve “lost” my daughter on several occasions, only to find her popping out from playing with the dust bunnies.
There is one stool, tucked under the desk. No one has ever sat on it.
Cabin hangouts work best when it’s only a fraction of the group trying to relax in the room. Otherwise, family time ends with my mom fleeing, and me shepherding the kids to the water park or dumping them, at their request, at the kids club to play video games.
We’ve worked out the sleeping arrangements
I’ll be honest with you — no one slept well the first night of our cruise.
The motion sensor magnetic nightlight I brought for my son (who sleeps with the lights on at home — don’t ask) was too bright and too sensitive and would startle me awake every time someone in the cabin rolled over. His headphones came out of the sound machine at some point, and the volume level was up too high, so we were all subjected to a loud, rainforest-level virtual thunderstorm sometime around 2 a.m. And everyone got up at some point to use the bathroom with its wake-the-dead roar of a flush.
After that night, we switched to battery-operated tea lights and a much quieter white noise playlist, and we all slept better. We also moved the motion-sensing nightlight to the bathroom, where it worked better than turning on the light. Only once have I woken up to find my son tucked into his blanket on the floor of the cabin.
We’ve also rearranged our schedules to go to bed roughly at the same time. That means my kids stay up way too late (the little Hobbits are now big fans of “second dinner” at 9 or 10 p.m. after the show or kids club) and I’m in bed early — which I’m happy to do after a day in the sun handling crises like “help, there’s sand stuck to me!”
I recognize that I’m cruising with my mom and not my husband. Sharing a cabin with kids obviously means parents would not have the same access to, ahem, couple time than they would in adjoining rooms. Also, MSC kindly puts the kids’ beds together in the living area of the room, but some lines or cabins put the kids in two beds that pull down from the ceiling over the main sleeping area. In this arrangement, parents can’t even share a bed as the setup only works with the bottom berths set up as twins.
If adult snuggle time is key to your vacation enjoyment, book a second cabin.
I’m still admonishing the kids hourly to pick their shoes and dirty underwear up off the floor, but I also do that in our four-bedroom house in the suburbs. So far, we’ve managed to keep the clutter in check and everyone is getting enough sleep. We spend a lot of time out of the cabin in port and split up so some people can have quiet or alone time in the cabin while everyone else is out and about on the ship.
Two adjoining cabins would certainly be useful for that extra bathroom and additional storage, and it’s likely worth the money if your foursome includes teens. For us, four in a cabin may be a bit cramped, but it’s certainly survivable for a week. And I have all that money left over to bribe my kids into behaving when we’re tired of sharing such close quarters with each other.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
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- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
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