Tidewater Traveler - February 2007

Inside, Outside, Up or Down?


George W. Sellers

   If you book a cruise far enough in advance of the sailing date, you will have several choices to consider. Cabin or stateroom? You can relax on this option, because there is really no difference. A cabin is a stateroom; a stateroom is a cabin. Some cruise lines refer to their passenger accommodation units as cabins; some call them staterooms. It is not that one is regal and one is modest, as the terms might suggest.
    It is not a matter of size. Cabins and staterooms do vary in size, but these two words are not used to describe differences in size; there can be large and small cabins; there can be large and small staterooms.
    So if you have booked an outside cabin and the Joneses, down the street, make a point of telling you that they have booked an ocean-view stateroom on the same cruise, chances are your “rooms” (a term rarely used on ships) are identical. Frequently the word “suite” is used to identify a cabin or stateroom that is of larger size, is in a more-preferred (socially) location, and may have more amenities.
    Inside, outside, up or down? There are two basic types of cabins on ships – inside or outside, also labeled interior or ocean-view. An interior cabin is one located toward the centerline of the ship; inside cabins do not have windows.
    There is an exception to this on larger, wider ships; some inside cabins have windows that overlook an interior atrium area of the ship. Just because a cabin is interior does not mean it is smaller; in fact, some inside cabins are larger than outside cabins.
    Inside cabins have the advantage of being less expensive than ocean-view cabins, but many people choose interior cabins because they are closer to the centerline of the ship, where there will be less motion. Consider a see-saw or teeter-totter. (Those have probably been banned from modern playgrounds!). If you are seated on one end or the other, your range of motion up and down is greater than if you are seated in the middle over the fulcrum of the see-saw lever. The same is true on a ship; the closer your cabin is to the center of the ship, the less motion you will encounter. If you are one who easily experiences motion-distress (sea-sickness or car-sickness), then perhaps the best location for your cabin is interior and mid-ship, mid-ship meaning within the middle third of the ship’s length from bow to stern (front to back).
    Having a mid-ship, interior location is not a hard, fast rule for controlling motion-distress. For some individuals motion is less distressing if they can see the horizon from an ocean-view cabin. This is similar to needing to ride in the front seat of a car or bus rather than riding in the back seat where you cannot see the road and develop a frame of reference for movement.
    Obviously, many people choose ocean-view cabins to have a window (or porthole) to the world; to know when it is light or dark outside; to see the sights when the ship is near land or docked.
    A variation of the ocean-view cabin is the private balcony or verandah cabin. Again, verandah and balcony are synonymous terms. Some cruise lines use the word verandah to try to sound a little classier. Though an ocean-view stateroom with private verandah may cost a little more, it is a wonderful experience to don only a bathrobe, and with a hot cup of coffee, step into the fresh morning ocean air just outside your bedroom.
    Up or down? Typically, the higher the deck on the ship, the higher the fare. But keep in mind, even the lowest deck that accommodates passengers is dozens of feet above the waterline.
    More important than height of the deck on which your cabin is to be located, is to know what is just above your cabin or what is just outside the window or balcony of your cabin. There are some great deals on Internet-booked, ocean-view cabins, but when you discover that the dance floor of the all-night lounge is just inches above your cabin ceiling on the deck above, the great deal loses its glamour (unless you are the one dancing all night!)
    There are some great deals on ocean-view staterooms, but when you draw the curtains hoping to see the vista of the sea through a picture window, all you see is a porthole because your cabin is way forward of the area where window cabins are located.
    There are some great deals on balcony cabins – wonderful staterooms – awesome verandahs – but when you put on your robe, pick up your coffee and step out, all you can see is the hull of a lifeboat blocking your view.
    Inside, outside, up or down?
    Really, none of this matters unless you book your cruise early enough to have these choices. For example, sailing to Caribbean destinations is an abundance of cruise ships that depart year-round from ports in Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana or from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
    Except for holiday times, you can often wait until a few months before the cruise date to book and still have a good range of cabin category choices. But beware - though you can often get a good cabin location and a good fare on a cruise departing from Florida if you wait until a few weeks before departure to book it, you may find “last-minute” airline seat availability and airfares to be obstacles to reaching the departure port. So, a deal is not a deal if you cannot get there to take advantage of it. There is no substitution for booking early!
    If you are planning to cruise Alaska, premium cabin locations on most ships are usually sold out by October for the following summer. What is a premium cabin location for an Alaska cruise?
    The most popular Alaska cruises are those that sail southbound from the Whittier or Seward areas and terminate in Vancouver, Canada. Southbound cruises are in greater demand because they often follow a four-to-six-day faster-paced land tour of interior Alaska. Hence, having the cruise portion of a CruiseTour follow the land portion allows for a more relaxed conclusion to the trip.
    What does this have to do with premium cabin locations? A ship traveling southbound along the coast of Alaska and Canada to reach Vancouver will more often have views of land (or ice) on the port (left) side of the ship. A premium cabin on an Alaska cruise is a cabin located on a southbound ship, on the port side, in a mid-ship location, with a private balcony.
    If you want a premium cabin location for your Alaska cruise it should be booked nine to twelve months in advance. Of course, there are exceptions. Cancellations happen. A cruise line’s inventory of available cabins is fluid, so it never hurts to try even if you think you have waited too long to get something booked.
    Alaska is not the only cruise route that sells out early. Cruises that depart from mid-Atlantic ports have become extremely popular in the past few years, so popular that premium cabin locations on cruises departing from Baltimore, Norfolk and Philadelphia sell out eight to ten months in advance. Preferred cabins on cruises sailing from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, and New York City are nearly as rare.
    Why are mid-Atlantic cruises so popular? Two reasons: convenience and scarcity. It is convenient for the huge population of the Northeast Megalopolis to drive rather than fly to a port for embarkation on a cruise to the Caribbean; Bermuda; the New England Coast; Canada’s Maritime Provinces; or Southampton, England.
    Compared to the number of cruise ships departing from Florida in a given week, there are very few departing from the mid-Atlantic ports – more every year - but by comparison, far fewer than from Florida. Because supply is low and demand is high for premium cabins sailing from the mid-Atlantic, those cabins sell out sooner than their Florida counterparts and consumer choice becomes limited many months in advance.
    Other cruise destinations have similar considerations when choosing a cabin category or location on the ship. It is wise to seek the advice of experienced cruisers or professional cruise counselors when planning a cruise vacation. Inside, outside, up or down?
    May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel Web site www.sellerstravel.com