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  • Writer's pictureConnie George

Beginner's Guide to Your Best Cruise Ship Cabin Location

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

water, mountains, Alaska, lifeboats from cruise ship balcony
Whether you are a beginner cruiser plannng your first time cruise or an experienced cruise ship sailor thinking about trying a new location, this article is filled with advice meant to help you.

I wrote this to assist three types of readers. It’s filled with years of experience in cruising and guiding our clients to have their best cruise vacation.

  • First-time cruisers: It’s intended to help first-time cruisers better understand your options with tips on determining the best type of cabin and cabin location for your needs.

  • Experienced cruisers: It’s also meant to help experienced cruisers who may be wondering about trying a new location.

  • Our clients: And it’s written to support our clients to coincide with our conversations about the best location for you, our valued travel customers.

Choosing the right cabin for your first cruise can be understandably scary.

I've counseled thousands of people on choosing the best accommodations for their needs and preferences. While an article can't replace working one-on-one with a skilled professional, you should feel a lot more confident about cabin location in a few short minutes.

Sound good?

It's like a hotel- but it's not a hotel

Port, starboard, forward, aft, middle, upper deck, or lower? A cruise ship is a "floating hotel" except it has its own language, it is moving and, well, it’s not a hotel. So what do you need to know to figure out where on the ship you want to call home?

We'll start with some terms that help describe locations around the ship. Not to worry. There's no test at the end and no one will make you walk the plank on the ship if you don't remember these words once you're onboard!

Then we'll go over what locations best fit where you want to be. By the way, though the article is geared mostly toward ocean cruise ships, much of this applies to the smaller river cruise boats as well.

Blog Sections

For your convenience, I've included the below links to specific areas. If you are short on time, please review the "Ship Terminology" section and then click the link to the type of cabin you are looking for.

Ship Lingo

By knowing some simple nautical terms for your cruise, you'll better understand your cruise ship's locations.

front of cruise ship with markings for bow, starboard and port locations
Facing forward, "port" is the left side of the ship and "starboard" is the right side of the ship.

The ship has two sides.

Port- Left side of the ship when facing forward.

Starboard- Right side of the ship when facing forward.

How to remember port from starboard? "Port" and "left" both have four letters. Therefore starboard is "the other side” (right).

Top to bottom of your ship.

Upper Decks, Middle Decks, Lower Decks- These aren't official nautical terms. But they are self-explanatory terms that clearly explain whether we're talking about the top, middle or bottom decks open to the public.

Waterline- Where the top of the water meets the ship. All passenger and crew quarters must be above sea level (the waterline).

Deck- (1) Which "floor" of the ship. (2) Outside area excluding private cabin balconies.

outline of ship with notations for aft, midship, forward, stern and bow locations
Experienced cruisers often have a preference on whether they wish to be in the front, middle or back of the ship. Sometimes that preference will change according to where their favorite public areas are on the ship.

Dividing the ship into thirds- front, middle and back.

Bow- The front of the ship.

Forward- Toward the front of the ship.

How to remember bow and forward? When you bow, you bend forward. Forward, front…. Bow.

Midship- The middle of the ship horizontally. Between the front (forward) and back (aft) of the vessel.

Aft- Toward the rear (stern) of the ship.

How to remember aft? Think of "aft" as in after or behind.

Stern- The extreme rear of the ship.

Top to bottom of your ship.

Upper Decks, Middle Decks, Lower Decks- These aren't official nautical terms. But they are self-explanatory terms that clearly explain whether we're talking about the top, middle or bottom decks open to the public.

Waterline- Where the top of the water meets the ship. All passenger and crew quarters must be above sea level (the waterline).

Deck- (1) Which "floor" of the ship. (2) Outside area excluding private cabin balconies.

side of cruise ship with balconies, lifeboats and tender boats on the side
Lifeboats, tender boats, ship structure and equipment can be in your line of vision when you book into an obstructed or partially obstructed view cabin.

What Blocks Your View.

Obstruction- Something inhibiting the view from a balcony or oceanview cabin. It could be a column or some other part of your ship's structure. It could also be tender and lifeboats hanging on the sides of the ship.

Lifeboat- Boat attached to the ship's side, which can be lowered to remove passengers and crew in an emergency.

Tender- Boat attached to the ship's side, which can be lowered to transfer passengers and supplies when a ship is anchored in a harbor.

A Few More Parts of the Ship.

Cabin- Equivalent to a room in a hotel.

Stateroom- A cabin.

Category- Type of cabins such as inside (no window), oceanview (porthole or window), with a balcony or suite.

Hump- Some ships have a section of the structure which "bumps out" wider than the rest of the ship. Also known as bump-out.

What's Going on Outside the Ship.

Wake- The waves created by the ship slicing through the water.

Deck Plan- An illustration that "maps" the ship so you can see the layout.

Starboard balcony view as we arrived at St. Thomas port aboard Princess Cruise Line's Crown Princess.

How to Get the Best View

our views are of water, possibly sea life, land, sunrises, and sunsets when sailing. Because you don’t know in which direction a ship will be tied up when docked, you can’t accurately predict a side based on whether port or starboard will face land when the ship isn’t sailing.

For most sailings, it doesn’t matter whether you are on the port or starboard side. And truly, there’s never a “bad” side on any sailing.

Advantages of a cabin specifically booked on the port or starboard sides will be coastal cruises where you are within sight of land for a large part of your trip. Three examples of sailings when you could have a preference are one way Alaska sailings, cruises around Cape Horn and some Mediterranean sailings.

When sailing one way in the Alaskan waterways, the preference is to see the coastline. In that case, being on the port when cruising southbound or on starboard when cruising northbound is preferred. Another example of when it could matter a bit more is when sailing around Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America. I would suggest port if cruising from South America’s west coast to east coast or vice versa. Third would be some Mediterranean cruises where you are visiting multiple ports in one or more countries that’s causing the ship to sail along the coastline.

More often, it there is no advantage specifically to being on the port or starboard sides. Some examples of this would be Caribbean, Galapagos, South Pacific and…. Some Mediterranean cruises which spend more time out at sea between visits.

The first element your cabin needs is a floor-to-ceiling window in the form of a panoramic window or the window balcony doors.

Look for aft-facing (also called rear-facing) balcony cabins off the back of the ship. These cabins give sweeping views of over 90 degrees, including the beautiful meditative wake from the ship. Unfortunately, there aren’t many aft-facing cabins, and they tend to get booked up quickly.

Balcony cabins along the sides of the ships offer beautiful views and a lot of natural light. The ones on the broadest part of a hump give you a perspective that extends a bit beyond 90 degrees, offering you a little more of a panoramic view. The best balcony views are from cabins on the upper decks.

Some ships have oceanview cabins across the bow of the ship. The outer front wall will typically be sloped with either portholes, windows, or the coveted panoramic windows, giving you a vast view across the front of the ship. There are relatively few cabins across the bow that have balconies. The balconies may have steel fronts instead of more often used glass fronts. Front-facing balconies are usually off-limits except for when the ship is in port because of the strong wind when sailing. As you can see, there are disadvantages as well as advantages to front-facing cabins.

black and white deck plan with green and red rectangles surrounding some cabin locations
Example of a "bump-out" ("hump") on Royal Caribbean International's new ship, Odyssey of the Seas. Cabins surrounded with green boxes show larger balconies. Balconied cabins with red boxes have excellent views.

How to Get a Bigger Balcony

Having a balcony is like having your own private deck space.

Aft-facing cabins often have more oversized balconies. Sometimes as much as twice the depth! A glimpse at the deck plan can give you an idea of whether your ship's aft-facing cabins are among those with the larger decks that can be a few feet up to double the depth of your cabin. Take the deck plan's view with the proverbial grain of salt because they aren't to scale. A travel consultant has some extra tricks for knowing if your ship's aft-facing cabin balconies are bigger.

Very difficult to get unless you book super early are aft-facing corner cabins. If you can manage to get one of these, you've got the trifecta of balconies. Aft-facing for a beautiful view, and often they are wrap-around balconies on the two sides of your stateroom.

Cabins on the sides of where a hump juts out often have angled, more spacious balconies than the others on the ship's side. Again, a combination of the deck plan and other research or a travel agent can help verify the size. Royal Caribbean International's new ship, Odyssey of the Seas along with some other Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises' ships have this type of section.

For Passengers Who Go to Bed Early

It's all about your surroundings. Look at the deck plan to ensure that there are no lounges or theater above or below you. Your best bet is to be surrounded by cabins in each direction so you aren't hearing music and other festivities on the speakers from nearby. And avoid being one of the cabins by the elevator bank, so you aren’t bothered by potential partying passengers waiting for an elevator.

man in pajamas in bed staring at alarm clock
If you are not an early riser, avoid public areas above you and cabin steward access areas near your cabin.

For Passengers Who Like to Sleep Late

Again, it's what's around you. By being cocooned by staterooms, you’ll likely experience quieter surroundings than if you were near public areas. Particularly avoid being below community areas with chairs scraping across the floor, such as out on the pool deck or the buffet. Also, watch out for spaces that may be corridor closets or staff entryways onto your deck used by cabin stewards who are setting up each morning. Additionally, avoid the lowest passenger deck as you are more likely to hear the engine, thrusters, and anchor. If your ship has decks with self-serve laundries, being somewhat nearby could be convenient. But don't choose to be right next door or across the hall as it can be a busy spot before getting into port and on your sailing’s last day.

For Families with Kids

If you have younger children, you’ll need to drop them off and pick them up from the children's program. Go for a cabin near the elevator closest to the ship’s kids’ program for your convenience.

For Passengers Prone to Motion Sickness

Remember playing on a seesaw when you were young? The part of the wood or pole that moved the least was "centered and low." The part of the ship with the least movement is also "centered and low." Keep to midship on the lower decks.

boy and girl playing on a yellow and red seesaw or teeter totter
Like a seesaw, the least amount of movement on a cruise is centered and low on the ship.

For Passengers with Mobility Limitations

The newer and larger the ship, the more you’ll find a variety of accessible cabins across various cabin categories in several locations around the ship. These can be booked if someone in your party uses a mobility device or needs the accessible features of a "handicapped cabin."

If you don't need an accessible cabin, but you do have some distance limitations, instead choose an area that will be convenient. For example, stick with accommodations closer to elevators, preferably toward midship. That way, if you use the elevator further from you to come up/down to your deck, it will be a bit less walking.

door with room number and peep hole, quote There is no set location for happiness from LittleThings

Have I Ever Been in an Awful Location?

I don't believe there's an "awful" location on a cruise ship, but there are certainly a few less wonderful places to call your own on the ship. Having been awoken early every day by a cabin steward getting in and out of their storage closet that was near my cabin has made me particularly sensitive to trying to keep my clients from going through that experience.

What is My Personal Favorite Location?

I've been asked this many times. I'm in heaven if I can get an aft-facing cabin that has an enlarged balcony. Between the balcony, the view, and watching the ship's wake, I am one very happy gal! Because I don’t handle heights well, I tend to lean toward decks eight and nine when possible. It’s not too high for me but still gets me elevated for good views.

Would you like to work with an agency that is going to work closely to set up a cruise vacation experience tailored to your interests and needs? Including the best cabin location? Email me with an idea of what you are looking to do with your next vacation and we'll set up a complimentary consultation.

Happy Traveling!



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