How To Choose A Stateroom on a Cruise Ship
I have made it a practice to walk all of the passenger decks of every ship on which I have cruised, while the ship is underway. This not only helps me to become familiar with the ship; it allows me to ascertain which are the best and worst stateroom locations on that ship. While not all ships are the same, patterns emerge, and they are generally applicable to all ships.
On almost any ship it is desirable to avoid a stateroom opposite the funnel uptake or over the propeller shafts. The extreme bow is not a good location, either; nor is the stern. Avoid a stateroom directly beneath the ship's disco bar, or next to an elevator shaft, because of the noise.
The funnel uptake runs from the engine room to the funnel. Look at a deck plan of the ship. Orient the various decks in relation to the elevator shafts. The elevator shafts run straight up through the ship, even though the plans of the various decks are not lined up on the page(s) of your brochure. Notice that there is a blank area on the plan of every deck below the funnel. It is forward of the aft elevator shaft on most modern ships. That is where the funnel uptake goes through. It is a very noisy area of the ship. Hot exhaust gasses and clinkers cause rattles and vibration inside the funnel uptake. Make sure your stateroom is not opposite this area.
On most cruise ships, figure that the last 20% of the ship's length is the area above the propeller shafts. On most modern ships, which have the engine rooms (and consequently the funnel) well aft, the propeller shafts run through and below the hull somewhere aft of the funnel. So avoid a stateroom in the aft 20% of the ship. There may be vibration from the propeller shafts in this area of the ship, particularly on the lower decks. In the extreme stern of the ship you may also have vibration and noise from the propellers themselves.
Avoid the extreme bow and stern ends of the ship because: (1) the sides of the ship slant inward at the bow, reducing the useful size of the outside staterooms in this area; (2) as mentioned above, propeller shaft vibration may be intrusive in the extreme stern of the ship; (3) in rough water, the pitching motion is worst in the ends of the ship.
If you are taking an Alaska Inside Passage cruise, or any cruise in protected waters, there probably will not be any rough seas, but it is still a point to remember. Most cruises do expose the ship to the open sea, and therefore the possibility of rough water. This is particularly true for cruises in the North Atlantic, the South China Sea, and around Cape Horn, areas famous for storms and rough seas. Most motion on cruise ships is front to back (pitch), not side to side (roll), as virtually all passenger ships today are equipped with anti-roll stabilizer systems. If you are particularly susceptible to motion sickness, a good point to remember is that the least motion will be felt on the lowest decks and in the middle of the ship (from front to back). Choose your stateroom accordingly.
On most modern ships all of the standard double staterooms are basically the same, regardless of the deck they are on. So what is most important, in terms of a comfortable location, is a stateroom's fore and aft position in the ship. Despite this, ship lines tend to charge more money for cabins on the higher decks. There is little or no rational justification for this policy, beyond tradition. Keep this in mind when booking your cabin.
On newer ships, some of the otherwise standard outside staterooms may have private balconies. Private balconies are heavily advertised and promoted on some ships. Naturally, these rooms are more expensive than equivalent cabins without balconies, and for reasons of safety they must be located well above the sea.
Suites and mini-suites are larger, and sometimes better appointed, than standard staterooms. Suites also tend to be higher in the ship. Sometimes this location is more convenient to the main public decks, but not always. On some ships, many suites are far above the main public deck(s). Study the deck plan of the ship on which you will be traveling before booking a suite if it is important to you to be close to the action. What you gain with a suite is (possibly) a shorter elevator ride to the main public decks, and more space in your cabin. If you are likely to spend considerable time in your room, or intend to entertain there, a suite may be worth considering. On many of the newer ships, most suites come with a private balcony, which is a nice feature.
Outside cabins generally cost more than inside cabins. If you want to see out, book an outside cabin. Even if you don't look outside very often, it is convenient to know what the weather is like. Outside cabins on the lower decks (which are closer to the waves) tend to have portholes, which are safer in that they can be closed in heavy seas. Outside cabins on the upper decks tend to have windows, which are larger than portholes, for better viewing. Cabins in front of the forward elevator trunk (but still behind the area where the hull begins to curve in to form the bow of the ship) tend to be less expensive than those farther aft. Unless you anticipate very rough seas, these rooms are perfectly satisfactory. Some cabins, usually on Promenade deck, have views partially or entirely obstructed by lifeboats. Cabins with obstructed views are usually less expensive than other cabins on the same deck. These staterooms often represent a good value, particularly if the view is only partially obstructed. Study your deck plans and cruise fares carefully, and book accordingly.
If you like to take afternoon naps, an inside room is best, because it is dark when you turn the lights out, regardless of the time of day. Above the Arctic Circle in summertime (the land of the midnight sun), I prefer an inside stateroom, as it is never dark outside, and I find it hard to sleep in a room that isn't completely dark. On many ships there are a few standard inside staterooms worked into odd but perfectly satisfactory locations on the higher (and usually more expensive) decks. These can represent an excellent value. Many ships today have a "bridge cam." This is a live video camera mounted on the bridge and aimed over the bow at the horizon. The picture from this camera can be viewed on one of the television channels in your stateroom. This is particularly handy if you have an inside cabin--it allows you to observe the sea and weather conditions from your stateroom. I leave my TV on, tuned to this channel, throughout the day.
I generally prefer outside cabins, but it is not critically important to me. If the price is much higher for an outside room, I will go for an inside cabin and pocket the savings.
A perfectly acceptable stateroom on most ships is a standard (usually not "economy") cabin anywhere in the middle two thirds of the ship, as long as it is not in the funnel uptake area, or right next to an elevator trunk. On most ships this means a cabin somewhere between the forward and aft elevator trunks. Such a stateroom is almost always a safe choice, and can be either an outside or inside room, whichever you prefer. A cabin in front of the forward elevator trunk, but aft of the area where the hull curves inward at the bow, is also entirely satisfactory, as noted above. It is usually quieter in the bow, which is a nice bonus.
I tend to book the cheapest outside category stateroom that meets this general specification, regardless of what deck it is on. This often turns out to be about the third or fourth cheapest outside category, usually on one of the lower decks. (The lowest couple of grades are usually in the extreme bow or stern.)
My ideal standard stateroom is in the general location described above, on a deck just above or below the deck(s) with the main public areas. This makes it easy to use the stairways to access the popular areas of the ship when the elevators are crowded. A stateroom on Promenade Deck is nice, as it makes it convenient to go outside. I have been very satisfied in an outside cabin on Promenade deck with a partially obstructed view.
If you follow these general guidelines, you will almost certainly enjoy at least an acceptable stateroom on your cruise. Don't forget to walk the passenger decks while the ship is underway. Take notes, so that you can refer to them next time you cruise on that ship, or a sister ship.