Cruising has been in the news recently, and it hasn’t been good. Since the beginning of the year, four ships have had a norovirus outbreak. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 1,059 passengers on those ships contracted norovirus, but that’s little more than 0.01 percent of all cruise travelers since the year’s start, similar to prior years.
Not surprisingly, with each outbreak many people have said they won’t ever cruise, yet despite these outbreaks, last year for example, more than 20 million passengers sailed on cruise ships, according to the American Association of Port Authorities, Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.
It would seem that many still think cruising is a great way to vacation.
Cruising isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in taking a cruise in the future, an important part of making a cruise reservation is your cabin decision.
Here are some tips to help you choose your cabin:
It’s possible you may not want to reserve a specific cabin. Instead, if you’re able to do so, you might want to reserve a “guarantee,” to save on the fare.
• There are essentially two types of “guarantees.” The “category guarantee” means you’ll get a cabin in the category booked, or if lucky, a cabin in a higher category. The other “guarantee” is generally called, “run of ship.” Here, the cruise line merely guarantees you a cabin. It could be in the “lowest” category, or a really nice cabin. “Run of the ship,” if available, can be a big savings, but it’s a major gamble.
• If you purchase your cruise on a “guarantee” basis, understand that if you’re assigned a real clinker stateroom you’re essentially out of luck, and let me assure you that there are cabins on ships with real liabilities. If location is at all important to you, forget going for a “guarantee” and its gamble on the quality of your cruise vacation.
I’ve occasionally reserved a “guaranteed category,” when the price differential was high, and the chance of a mediocre cabin low, but it was for an upper category, and it worked out well. Personally, I wouldn’t consider a “run of ship.”
You’ve heard the old travel expression, “Location, location, location?” It applies to choosing a cabin, too.
On our very first cruise, to save on the fare — as my wife and I were taking the entire family — we chose the lowest class of midship ocean view cabin available in order to prevent possible sea sickness. The seas remained calm, but our cabin, it turned out, was directly above a work deck and the main thoroughfare for moving supplies in and out of storage and, later, luggage off the ship at the end of the cruise. The noise from below kept us up almost all night on several nights.
• There are all kinds of basic cabin choices, from inside cabins with no view at all to all sorts of outside cabins, including ocean view, balcony (veranda), mini-suites (concierge), suites, etc. Each one of these categories may be on different decks and may have somewhat different sizes and amenities, according to their location.
• Recognize that an inside cabin, generally less expensive than outside cabins, can feel very claustrophobic, mainly because you can’t see outside from it.
• Ocean view rooms will allow you to see out, but it could be through a “port hole,” a small window, or a large picture window. These are usually fixed windows. Balcony cabins have some sort of large glass door through which you see and which opens to your balcony. Don’t assume that all suites have a balcony. Some balcony cabins in the same category may have different size balconies. Don’t assume your balcony is private. Many may be able to see you when out on your balcony.
• Mini-suites aren’t generally suites at all, but slightly larger cabins, typically with a small sitting area, which may or may not be blocked off via a curtain.
• Unless you’re a heavy sleeper, avoid cabins under the disco, basketball court, fitness center, casino, running track, etc., and stay away from elevators, stairwells, lobby areas and other gathering places on the ship to avoid their noise.
• Today’s cruise ships have highly effective stabilizers. Except in heavy seas, they generally don’t noticeably roll or rock, but if you’re prone to motion sickness recognize that midship is better than forward or aft, and there is less motion on lower decks than upper decks, where the more luxurious cabins are generally located.
• The view from bow and stern outside cabins can be fantastic, but they are less stable than most cabins at the sides of the ship. Cabins facing forward are hit by strong winds when at sea, and therefore can be noisy. Some outside cabins may have obstructed views, blocked by lifeboats and such.
• Most cabins easily accommodate two passengers; however some, via a “day bed,” bunk-bed, or sofa-bed, can accommodate more. That said, typically, to accommodate more than two passengers, the size of most cabins will mean the room will be extremely tight for all. There are some single rooms on some ships.
Please take my word for it that many first time cruisers overestimate how big the cabins are. Don’t make that mistake.
• Frankly, unless I was traveling with very small children, I’d try to keep to two to a room. When we took our kids cruising, they had the room next to us. Connecting rooms can be great when children are smaller, but not so great as they get older. We wanted our privacy and some decent space for days at sea, when you tend to spend more time in the cabin. Two cabins were less expensive than a large suite.
• Once you choose your cabin, that’s not the end of your choices. For example, especially if you have a traveling companion, make the choice of how your bed will be configured in advance (twin beds, or pushed together to typically form a queen size bed) to eliminate hassle when you board.
• Use your ship’s map carefully to help you choose your cabin. Note what’s above, below, and near your cabin. Check out its size and pace it off at home to see how big its space really is. Check the amenity list carefully.