Inside vs. outside cabin: Which affordable cruise room is best for you?
Balcony cabins might be the most popular, but travelers looking to save when booking a cruise are likely deciding whether to choose an inside or an outside cabin. These cabin categories offer the most affordable cruise fares. But you’ll need to decide if you can handle an interior room with no porthole or need an exterior cabin with a window to the world.
Do you lose anything by not having a window to the outside world on a cruise? The answer depends on your travel style and budget. Here’s a guide to shed some light (literally) on the top two value options of cruising that will help keep your spending at bay while your ship’s at sea.
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The similarities between inside and outside cabins
Inside and outside cabins do not differ much beyond the view. Both types feature a bed (either one queen or two twins), a small desk/vanity area and your own private en suite bathroom.
You’ll find the same onboard amenities in both interior and exterior cabins, including basic toiletries (soap and shampoo), linens, towels, minifridge, hair dryer, cabin safe, phone, cabin climate control, in-cabin television and access to the ship’s Wi-Fi and room service.
You’ll also have free rein of all the ship’s public spaces, including bars and lounges, pools and sun decks, spa and gym, and restaurants. Neither inside nor outside cabin occupants have access to private spaces — such as the exclusive lounges, restaurants and sun decks reserved for suite guests — unless you’re a high-ranking loyalty program member on a ship with special clubs for frequent cruisers.
Depending on the cruise line, you can save even more by letting the cruise line assign your cabin versus picking the specific cabin and location you want.
Inside cabins are a great value play
The main distinguishing factor of an inside cabin is that it’s not going to have a view of the sea through a porthole or window. A few ships have gotten creative with virtual windows (LED screens, designed to look like an actual window, that project a view from outside the ship into your room). Because most cruisers prefer a balcony, or at least a window, inside cabins are considered the least desirable cabin option.
Therefore, the cheapest way to cruise is generally in an inside cabin. On all big ships, the base rates you see are for interior rooms. Prices will typically increase for more desirable inside cabins with extra space or in a prime location, and rooms with windows or balconies.
Depending on the ship and the length of your cruise, opting for an interior room can save hundreds of dollars more than a room with a view. For shorter itineraries, like a two-night getaway on Royal Caribbean, you could find an ocean view for $50 more than an inside cabin, while on a seven-night Carnival cruise, you could find savings of $460 when opting for an inside over an outside.
Prices will vary by cruise line, ship, itinerary, the length of your journey and how far in advance you book your cruise, with more savings on the cost per night the longer you sail. While both of these cabin options are among the most affordable options on board, the cheaper inside cabin fares could mean the difference between sailing the high seas or waving bon voyage from the dock.
Top benefits of an interior cabin
Don’t be fooled into thinking that inside cabins are awful. For the right cruisers with the right attitude, they can be the perfect option.
Inside rooms offer nearly the same amount of cabin space as ocean-view rooms. Both are much smaller than the hotel rooms you might be used to, but ship designers optimize the space to pack a lot in and make the rooms not feel cramped.
For light sleepers or those who appreciate nodding off without distraction, inside cabins feature the comfort of total darkness. Travelers report getting amazing sleep in these rooms. Just be sure to schedule a wake-up call and set an alarm so you don’t miss out on any morning activities or excursions; you won’t have any sunlight waking you up naturally.
Consider bringing your own night light, so you can find your way to the bathroom at night. Newer ships often feature “night mode” lighting in cabin bathrooms, offering a soft light on the floor for safely navigating your cabin when the lights are out.
Related: 6 reasons I’m happy booking a windowless ‘inside’ cabin on a cruise ship
Forget anything you saw in “Titanic”; inside cabin occupants are not considered a lower class of passengers. All non-suite guests are of equal importance on a cruise, regardless of your cabin’s location.
Finally, if you’re the type of person who spends their vacation time out and about on the ship and in port, only using the cabin to shower and sleep, the money you’ll save booking the cheapest room can be used to pay for indulgent spa treatments or fun activities ashore, further enhancing your vacation. If you’re on a super-tight budget, these cheap room types give you access to all the shipboard amenities — pools, multiple dining venues, onboard entertainment — so you can actually get away on an incredible tropical vacation.
What you miss without a view on a cruise
Of course, inside cabins do have drawbacks. With no exterior-facing window, you won’t get any natural light in your room. This can be difficult for cruisers with sensitive circadian rhythms or who easily feel claustrophobic.
You’ll also have no idea what’s happening outside. You’ll have to head to a public deck to bask in the sunlight or stargaze. Questions about the weather (Is it raining?) or the ship’s location (Are we docked yet?) can at least be answered by the cabin TV.
The best inside cabins
Not all inside rooms are created equal, and there are a few cruise lines of note that have made the interior feel superior.
Royal Caribbean’s industry-leading Virtual Balcony cabin offers a real-time, full-wall LED screen that simulcasts the outside view and sounds. The interior screens can be found on select ships throughout Royal Caribbean's fleet.
Disney Cruise Line offers a similar touch in its inside cabins. The line’s Magical Portholes offer a real-time simulcast view of the ship’s surroundings via a circular screen tricked out to look like a ship’s porthole. Linger long enough, and you’ll find playful appearances from animated Disney characters.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s compact 100-square-foot single studios are perfect interior enclaves that are only available for solo travelers and priced accordingly (without the common single-supplement fee). These space-efficient staterooms utilize every inch of the cabin with a full-size bed, ample storage and an en suite bathroom. The best benefit of cruising in one of Norwegian’s studios is access to the ship’s Studio Lounge, where you’ll find a nice opportunity to mingle with other single travelers.
Related: Ultimate guide to choosing a cabin on a cruise ship
The best benefits of an outside cabin
There’s real romance in whiling the days away at sea, staring out at the endless ocean horizon, basking in the light of the sun or drifting to sleep under the glow of the moon. An outside cabin will offer either a circular porthole or rectangular picture window for your ocean-viewing pleasure.
Most cruisers enjoy the natural sunlight that pours into a small cabin through the window, but the view outside is hard to beat. You might spot dolphins, whales or birds right outside your cabin. If your cruise is traveling through any scenic routes (say Alaska or the Norwegian fjords), you can admire the vistas from bed without having to seek out a public deck. On port days, you’re able to watch as the ship docks and get a lay of the land firsthand.
On some ships, you’ll find the square footage of exterior cabins to be slightly larger than inside cabins, with cozy seating areas. Some even feature proper sitting spaces in front of the window, such as a built-in plush bench or an alcove in the recessed window.
Related: The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
The downsides of paying more for a window
Just because you’ve paid more for a view doesn’t necessarily mean that view will be worth it. The location of the cabin will determine just how much you can see. If you’re too close to sea level, the waves may perpetually douse the window. If your window is behind a lifeboat, you might not see much of anything at all. Partially obstructed or fully obstructed outside cabins will often get you a lower rate than rooms with better views.
Some cabins have a view of outdoor walkways or observation decks that are open to all guests on board; we’ve seen those on ships in Carnival’s Vista class. Cabins facing public areas are tinted, so you’re unable to see in during the day, but at night, passengers are encouraged to close their curtains for privacy.
Keep in mind that windows on cruise ship cabins do not open, so there’s no opportunity to get any breeze of the fresh ocean air. If you prefer easy access to sea breezes and a private outdoor sitting space, you’ll need to pay more for a cabin with a balcony.
In fact, private balconies have become so popular that new ships are being built with fewer window rooms. The ship designers add balconies to every outside cabin they can. If you want to sail on a new ship and save by booking an outside room instead of a balcony, you may have trouble finding available cabins unless you book early.
The best outside cabins
Virgin Voyages’ sea-view cabins are among the best-in-class porthole cabins. The rooms have a modern yet comfortable feel and offer a plush ledge for gazing out the porthole window.
Celebrity Cruises’ Edge class features three ocean-view options, starting with the budget-friendly standard ocean-view cabins with a porthole set behind a recessed sitting ledge. Consider a nominal upgrade in price to the line’s deluxe ocean-view cabins (on some itineraries you’ll pay just $47 more per person), where large floor-to-ceiling windows fill the room with light.
Related: Why it pays to upgrade your cruise cabin
Bottom line: Inside vs. outside cabin
Whether an inside or outside cabin is best for you depends on how you intend to spend your time on the ship. Cruise lines excel at getting you out of your cabin and into the action on the ship or in the port. Schedules are filled with myriad activities in and around the ship to keep you occupied, so it is more than possible to use your cabin simply for sleeping.
When to choose an inside cabin
If you’re deciding whether or not you can afford to sail, an inside cabin will give you the opportunity to take a vacation at sea and enjoy all the complimentary activities a cruise ship has to offer. Inside cabins are also best for travelers who love to sleep in total darkness or who spend little time in their rooms on board (and prefer to save their money for other travel expenses like drink packages or shore excursions).
When to choose an outside cabin
If you want a budget option for accessing ocean views and watching the world pass by from the comfort of your bed, an outside cabin is your best bet. Or, if you want natural light in your room but plan on taking in most of the scenic panoramas from the ship’s upper decks with 360-degree views instead of your private balcony, an outside cabin will give you what you need without costing extra.
Regardless of which room you choose, you’ll have access to all the amenities of your cruise ship — plus comfortable transportation to incredible destinations — for a more affordable price. In that way, you can’t really go wrong.
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