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Inside cabin vs. balcony room: Which cruise cabin category should you choose?

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 8/5/2022 Gwen Pratesi
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Many cruise planning decisions come down to cost — and which cabin you choose has one of the biggest impacts on your bottom line. If price is an issue, you’ll likely find yourself with the dilemma of whether to book an inside cabin or a balcony cabin. The choice isn’t always easy.

For travelers cruising on a budget, a windowless inside cabin may be an excellent option. These cabins are the most economical accommodations, yet they still provide access to all the complimentary dining venues, entertainment, pools and other public areas on the ship. But will you be happy in a room without a view?

Balcony cabins are the most popular cabin type, offering access to more living space, sunset views and ocean breezes from your private veranda. These accommodations are more affordable than fancy suites, but can cost as much as 50% to 100% more than interior cabins, depending on the length and destination of the voyage. Is the higher fare worth it?

If you’re trying to decide which accommodations to choose, here’s what you need to know to make the choice between a windowless inside room and a more spacious yet expensive balcony cabin.

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Are there differences between inside and balcony cabins regarding size and amenities?

The main difference is that balcony cabins are typically larger — with most, but not all, of the extra square footage going to the veranda. The cabin’s outer wall will be made of floor-to-ceiling windows with a door that leads to an additional seating area outside — usually two chairs with a small table between them. An inside cabin has no window and therefore no access to natural light or fresh air.

Both standard inside and balcony categories are designed for double occupancy, but some rooms in either category can sleep up to four. The cabins will have two twin beds that can convert into one queen-size bed, a small desk or vanity with a mirror and chair, and a private bathroom. Some rooms will also have a small sofa that may be a pullout bed to accommodate additional guests.

Other amenities such as a closet, a flat-screen television, a minifridge, a personal safe, a hair dryer and bathroom toiletries will be similar.

Related: The 5 best cabin locations on any cruise ship 

Is a balcony more important on certain sailings?

A balcony cabin on Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wish. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy A balcony cabin on Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wish. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

If you’re going on a shorter cruise — such as a three-night sailing in the Caribbean — an inside cabin may be a perfect and affordable option. You’ll likely be sipping mai tais poolside or heading ashore to the cruise line’s private island during the days, so you won’t be in the room other than to sleep and freshen up for the evening.

If you aren’t spending much time in the room, it probably won’t matter if you have less space and no balcony. You can still see the sunset or watch the ship pulling into port by heading upstairs and taking in the views from the pool deck. Save the extra money to splurge on dinner and a bottle of wine at the steakhouse or a tour in port.

If you’re on a longer sailing in a destination such as the Mediterranean and have several days at sea — and plan to spend time in your cabin during your cruise — then you probably want the extra space and the view. It’s nice to open the door to have the fresh air if it’s cooler outside and see the coastline or cities as you pull into port — without having to go upstairs to view the scenery with everyone else.

You’ll also be able to sit outdoors, have a glass of wine or read a book in private. You can order room service and enjoy a quiet breakfast or dinner on the veranda. It’s a nice change of pace from going to the bustling lounges for a cocktail or to the restaurants for a meal.

If you don’t feel well and are confined to your room — for whatever reason — you’ll appreciate the larger accommodation and option to sit outside on the balcony.

If you’re cruising in scenic places like Alaska and sailing through Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, balcony cabins offer excellent viewing opportunities. While you may not be guaranteed all the best views from your veranda — as they may be on the other side of the ship — you can skip the crowds on the top decks and gaze out at the majestic snowcapped mountains and surreal blue glaciers from your private terrace.

Related: Why it pays to upgrade your cruise ship cabin

Should my travel party determine which cabin I choose?

A Family Harbor cabin on Carnival Vista. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line) © The Points Guy A Family Harbor cabin on Carnival Vista. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Suppose you’re sailing with your spouse, significant other or best friend. In that case, you’ll probably have enough space for two people to be comfortable in an interior cabin, especially if you’re busy on and off the ship — and it’s a short cruise. On a longer sailing, you might make more use of a balcony for alone time with your sweetie or for heart-to-hearts with your bestie — away from the crowded public decks.

If it’s an extended cruise and you’re sailing with kids, it might be a challenge to stay in a standard interior cabin as a family — and remain sane after a week. You might find larger inside cabins offering more space and better sleeping accommodations with a pullout sofa bed or bunk beds, but these will cost more than the basic inside room.

If you can upgrade to a balcony cabin, you’ll have more room to spread out and store your stuff. Parents will also appreciate the chance to relax on the balcony with an adult beverage after the kids go to bed.

Related: Which cruise ship cabins should your family book?

If you’re a solo traveler, you’ll need to pay a single supplement for most cabin accommodations. When deciding between an inside or balcony cabin, you’ll need to budget for that. The extra cost can be as much as double the cruise fare, so it may affect which cabin you can afford.

Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America and Royal Caribbean offer solo cabins that don’t have a single supplement — these include inside, ocean-view and balcony rooms, depending on the line. Expect these to cost more than a standard inside or balcony room, but less than the cost of that room with a 100% supplement. Other companies like Celebrity Cruises offer select sailings with no single supplement, leaving you with the budget for a bigger cabin.

Related: These 8 cabins are great for travelers cruising alone

What are other advantages of booking an inside vs. a balcony cabin?

If you’re a light sleeper who needs a quiet, dark space to get a good night’s sleep, book an inside cabin. You won’t have to worry about bright light peeking through the curtains in the morning to wake you up. You should also set the alarm if you have an early excursion or appointment in the morning since you won’t be able to tell what time it is. It’s easy to oversleep when it’s cozy, dark and cool in the cabin.

If you need natural light for health reasons and are prone to motion sickness, especially if the seas are rough — or you get claustrophobic — you probably won’t be happy in an interior cabin. Seeing the horizon and having access to fresh air is essential when the ship starts to pitch and roll, so you’d do better splurging on the balcony cabin.

What are the best inside cabins?

A studio cabin on Norwegian Breakaway. (Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line) © The Points Guy A studio cabin on Norwegian Breakaway. (Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

Royal Caribbean features game-changing inside cabins with a “virtual balcony” on select ships. The 80-inch high-definition LED screens stretch nearly from floor to ceiling and give the illusion of having a huge window with a display of real-time views and sounds of the ocean and destination piped into the room.

Carnival Cruise Line‘s interior cabins are some of the largest in the industry, ranging from 185 to 220 square feet. These cabins include two twin beds or one king-size bed, and the larger rooms can sleep up to five guests. Family Harbor accommodations also offer additional perks with access to the Family Harbor Lounge, which includes complimentary snacks, games, movies and other perks like free specialty dining for the kids.

Disney Cruise Line‘s interior cabins with Magical Portholes also feature live sea cam views on a circular screen — and an occasional appearance from Disney characters.

Norwegian Cruise Line‘s studio cabins for solo travelers are inside rooms that feature a full-size bed, a one-way window onto the corridor, a separate bathroom, sink and shower — and keycard access to the Studio Lounge, where single guests can mix and mingle.

What are the best balcony cabins?

A Sea Terrace on a Virgin Voyages cruise ship. (Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages) © The Points Guy A Sea Terrace on a Virgin Voyages cruise ship. (Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages)

Celebrity Cruises‘ Infinite Veranda cabins found on its Edge-class ships are 23% larger than those on its Solstice-class ships, with 243 total square feet and 42 square feet of balcony space. These versatile cabins allow you to transform your room from a traditional-style balcony cabin — open to fresh air and closed off from the interior portion of a room — to a completely enclosed room with a view, with the terrace inside.

How? With the touch of a button, the top half of a floor-to-ceiling window slides down; you can close doors to create a separate veranda or leave them open to bring the fresh air into the entire cabin.

Virgin Voyages‘ Sea Terraces, at 225 to 265 square feet, feature an additional seating arrangement on the balcony. In addition to the typical two chairs and a small table for drinks, you’ll also find a red hammock where you can sit and swing the afternoon away.

Related: The best cruise ship balcony cabins for your vacation at sea

Bottom line

If you’re on vacation and having a great time — and not spending much time in your cabin — it may not matter where you rest your head at night. If you can save the extra money and splurge on five-course dinners and more immersive excursions, then booking an inside cabin may be the way to go.

If you’d rather enjoy the views from a private balcony — and have a space to escape other cruisers — and you plan to spend more time in your room, book a balcony cabin where you’ll be more comfortable. A balcony will also be a better bet if you’re trying to fit more than two people in one cruise cabin. If the extra cost is a concern, and you’re flexible on dates and destinations, then look for deals where balcony cabins will be less expensive.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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