Which Cruise Ship Cabin Category Should Your Family Book?
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If you’ve never cruised before, you may assume that most cabins aboard a ship are created equal. But, that’s not true — especially for families. Cabin selection for families is a bit more complicated because of the number of people that may need to be accommodated, potentially in sleeping arrangements that allow little ones to get some shut-eye while the adults can still enjoy part of the living space. Then there are amenities you might want like a crib, sleeper sofa or even a bathtub.
The average cruise line has dozens of cabin categories, and figuring out how they differ can make your head spin. Generally speaking, you’ll find the following categories — with slightly differing names — on most mainstream ships like those from Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and the Disney Cruise Line.
Some lines have designed categories specifically for families. The rooms are usually larger and can accommodate additional passengers or are connecting accommodations. Look for category names that include the word “family.” For example, Norwegian Cruise Line offers categories that include: Family Inside, Family Oceanview, Family Balcony, Family Mini-Suite with Balcony, Family Suite and Two-Bedroom Family Suite in addition to all types of options in The Haven ship-within-a-ship suite complex.
One Cabin, Two Connecting Cabins or a Suite?
When it comes to selecting the perfect cabin for your crew, you need to determine if you want to book one cabin that will accommodate everyone, go for connecting cabins, seek out a stateroom that’s been designed specifically for families or pony up the big bucks for a suite with enough space and extra perks to help your family make the most of a cruise.
There is no single right answer to what you should do and it’s truly a family-by-family decision. The benefit of two connecting staterooms is that you’ll have two bathrooms instead of one — especially important on a port day when everyone is vying for the shower before heading out for the day. Two connecting rooms are also terrific so the kids can go to sleep and mom and dad can keep the door open a crack but still stay up and talk or walk a movie in their cabin. Booking two connecting cabins can also be less expensive than booking a larger room or suite in a higher cabin category (more about those cabin categories in a second). If booking connecting cabins sounds interesting, here’s how to book two staterooms for the price of one.
Alternatively, you may decide that a suite — with all its perks like priority boarding, free specialty restaurant reservations and access to VIP-only areas of the ship — may be worth the price for your family to share on room instead.
To help you make the right choice, we’ll review the various types of cabins your family can book. It should then be a bit easier to pick which one might be right for your group.
Like the name suggests, this is a bare-bones cabin in the interior of the ship without a porthole, window or balcony. Interior cabins are usually pretty small. For example, an Interior on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas that technically accommodates four people is 149 square feet with two twin beds that can convert to a king and a double sofa bed. If you’ve got two little ones who can share the sofa bed, that can work — but it will be (very) tight.
Interior Pricing: $913 per person for a seven-night Eastern Caribbean voyage aboard Harmony of the Seas out of Port Canaveral in July 2020 in an Interior that accommodates four.
Note that some cruise lines do sell some cabins with a picture window overlooking the ocean but still categorizes them as Interior staterooms. An example of this is with Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival Sunshine offers an Interior with Picture Window category where some windows have a view of the deck’s walkway with the ocean beyond, while others have a partially obstructed view.
Interior With Virtual Window
Some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line, have pioneered the concept of a “virtual” window in some of its interior cabins. The window is really a screen that shows a live feed from a camera onboard the ship and is meant to approximate the feeling of an ocean-view cabin without charging you for one. Disney Fantasy’s 169-square-foot Standard Inside Staterooms feature the cruise line’s Magical Porthole with real-time views and can accommodate four via a queen bed, single sleeper sofa and upper-berth pull-down bed. Royal Caribbean takes it a step further with its Virtual Balcony staterooms, like the ones aboard Ovation of the Seas, that truly give you the feeling of a balcony via floor-to-ceiling displays showing scenery in real time.
Virtual Window Pricing: $1,044 per person for a seven-night Alaska Glacier voyage aboard Ovation of the Seas out of Seattle in July 2020 in an Interior with Virtual Balcony that accommodates four.
Interior With a Courtyard View
On some of today’s largest vessels, like Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, you’ll find some interior rooms that have a window overlooking a courtyard area of the ship. On Allure, you can book a 191-square-foot Promenade View Interior that accommodates five with two twins that convert to a king, a double sofa bed and a pull-down bed. A bowed window affords views to the Royal Promenade.
Courtyard View Pricing: Seven-night Western Mediterranean itinerary aboard Allure of the Seas out of Barcelona in July 2020 in a Promenade View Interior from $1,086 per person based on four; $1,091 per person for a Central Park View Interior based on four.
Plenty of cruise ships offer ocean view rooms; what differs ship to ship is the size of the window. Look for language like “picture” or “panoramic” window. Aboard Norwegian Encore, look at the Family Oceanview with Large Picture Window. This cabin ranges from 240 to 372 square feet, depending on ship location. It can sleep up to five people with two twins that convert to a queen and additional bedding for three more. Some also have a bathtub — a rarity for entry-level cabins.
Ocean View Pricing: $1,324 per person for a seven-night Bermuda voyage aboard Norwegian Encore out of New York in July 2020 in a Family Oceanview with Large Picture Window that accommodates four.
If you can swing it, a balcony cabin — also sometimes called a veranda — can be a boon to a family. It gives you more natural light, the option for fresh air when you want it via a sliding-glass door and an additional place to sit and relax when in the cabin.
Since size is often key, note that balcony staterooms tend to be a bit larger than interiors or ocean view cabins. (For example, Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess offers balcony cabins that range from 214 to 222 square feet.) Cabins in this category also sometimes have a curtain that separates the bed from a living area that usually has a sofa, coffee table and chair.
The balcony is usually outfitted with a small table and two chairs. Not all balcony cabins accommodate third and fourth passengers, so be sure to check the deck plan carefully before picking a specific cabin number. Better yet, you might want to rely on a travel agent that specializes in cruises and can help you find the absolute best cabin for your family.
Balcony Pricing: From $3,549 per person for the first two people and from $1,649 per person for passengers three and four for a 12-night British Isles voyage aboard Regal Princess out of London in July 2020 in a Balcony cabin that accommodates four.
Spa cabins took the industry by storm a few years ago and many ships offer cabin categories that package together special access to the spa with healthy in-room amenities like flavored water, herbal teas and fragrance infusers. If you’ve got little kids, spa cabins probably don’t hold much appeal — but they might if you have teens who love a visit to the spa’s thermal suite.
As you flip through cruise line brochures and research ship deck plans, you’ll see some cabins designated as “concierge.” This means passengers in those accommodations get the benefit of a concierge to assist with things like dining and spa reservations. Additional perks are usually also conferred to those staying in a concierge category stateroom such as an earlier booking window for dining and shore excursions, priority boarding, a minibar stocked with water and soda, a pillow menu so you can choose the right option for each family member, bathrobes and slippers for onboard use and even free Wi-Fi. There may also be an additional concierge lounge available to these passengers. Some concierge rooms are suites, but not all concierge rooms are actually suites.
Disney Wonder offers one- and two-bedroom concierge suites with a veranda and even a splashed-out 1,029-square-foot Concierge Royal Suite that features two bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a half-bath. It accommodates up to seven people.
Concierge Pricing: $5,230 per person for a seven-night Alaska voyage aboard Disney Wonder out of Vancouver in July 2020 in a Concierge Family Overview Stateroom with Verandah for four.
What exactly is a suite? Technically, it’s an accommodation with a physical barrier between the sleeping and living areas. The barrier can be a wall or other type of partition that makes it easier for families to enjoy two spaces in the cabin at the same time without bothering each other (think someone sleeping in the bedroom while others watch a movie in the living area). Note that “junior suites” usually aren’t true suites with that type of separation and also don’t always include additional perks that the larger suites do.
Real suites tend to be larger than regular cabins and are packaged with a range of extras like a pre-departure lounge at the cruise terminal, some free meals in specialty restaurants that normally charge a per-person or a-la-carte fee, butler service and even VIP areas on the ship such as Celebrity Cruises’ Michael’s Club (a lounge) and Luminae, a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner — but only to suite passengers.
Suite Pricing: $1,942 per person for a seven-night Western Caribbean voyage aboard Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas out of Miami in July 2020 in a Junior Suite for four; from $2,775 per person in a One-Bedroom Grand Suite.
Carnival has a neat concept aboard Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon: Family Harbor. This is a specially designed “family zone” that includes family-friendly cabins and suites as well as a lounge — complete with large-screen TVs and games — that serves breakfast and snacks. There is also a “family concierge” who can help you book shore excursions and make onboard dining reservations. The Family Harbor Suite accommodates five people and has one full bath with shower plus one with a sink and shower combo only. Passengers in the Family Harbor section get one free evening of Night Owls babysitting and kids eat for free in most onboard specialty restaurants.
Carnival Family Harbor Pricing: From $904 per person for a seven-night Western Caribbean voyage aboard Carnival Vista out of Galveston in July 2020 in a Family Harbor Interior for our; from $1,015 per person in a Family Harbor Deluxe Ocean View; from $1,270 per person in a Family Harbor Suite.
Some cruise lines have gone an additional step to create expansive VIP areas on ships and those areas can sometimes make sense for certain families. If you’re staying in this section of a ship, your keycard will not only let you onto the deck of VIP cabins but also open doors to special sun decks, a pool or other designated areas. This is the case on Norwegian Cruise Line ships that offer The Haven, a complex of suite accommodations and heavy-hitting perks including butler service, its own restaurant that serves all meals, seating at shows, preferred dining reservations and more. You’ll find one- and two-bedroom family suites and villas within The Haven. The Haven is available on the Breakaway and Breakaway Plus-class ships, Jewel class and Norwegian Epic.
The Haven Pricing: We’ll caution you that this experience comes with a hefty price tag. We priced out a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise from Miami aboard Norwegian Breakaway in June 2020 for four people. Fares for The Haven started at $2,399 per passenger. A Free Extra Guests promotion brought that price down to $1,864 per person for a Forward-Facing Penthouse with Balcony. (A drink package, shore excursion credit, all specialty dining and Wi-Fi were included in the package.) Tack on about $310 in gratuities and $685 in port fees and taxes and that’s a pretty expensive one-week vacation. However, some families may feel that the price — $300 per person per day for a family of four — is reasonable considering all of the extra perks and amenities.
MSC Cruises offers a similar concept with its Yacht Club that features VIP-level cabins, a lounge, a restaurant and a pool. You’ll find the Yacht Club aboard MSC Fantasia, Splendida, Divina, Preziosa, Seaside, Meraviglia and Seaview. Perks include priority embarkation, a butler, included drinks and more.
Tip: Cabins That Help Ward Off Seasickness
If you or someone in your family is prone to seasickness, forget about almost everything else and focus on booking a cabin on the lowest deck possible that is midship. You’ll be at the ship’s fulcrum and that means you’ll feel less movement here than if you were far forward or all the way aft. When you are feeling seasick, it helps to look out over the horizon so — in addition to a location on a lower deck and midship — make sure the stateroom you pick has at least a porthole, if not a larger ocean-view window or balcony.
How to Pay for Your Cruise Fare
No matter which cruise line or cabin category you choose, think carefully about how to book and pay for your voyage in order to maximize your points earning potential. Review TPG‘s how to book a cruise with miles and points. Be warned that cruise line cobranded credit cards are rarely your best bet when paying for a cruise, so if you’re looking to maximize points earned, pay with a mainstream credit card that rewards you for travel expenditures. Two cards that come out on top in this regard are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Premier® Card. Both award 3x points per dollar spent on travel: Ultimate Rewards points for the Chase card and ThankYou points on the Citi card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card are also wise choices since they award 2x earnings per dollar spent.
There is no one answer to the question: Which type of cruise ship cabin should my family book? The answer is dependent on your family makeup, the personalities and preferences of each member of your family, the length of your cruise, itinerary, budget and so much more. After reviewing the types of accommodations cruise lines offer, however, you should be in a much better position to make the right choice.
Thinking of take your family on a cruise? Here’s more advice:
- Cruise Line Showdown: Comparing Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean for Families
- These Are the Best Cruise Lines for 2019
- Are River Cruises Right for Kids?
- MSC Cruises Is Coming to the Cayman Islands
- One of the World’s Biggest Cruise Ships Is About to Get a Massive Makeover
Featured photo by Simone De Negri/EyeEm/Getty Images.
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