There is a hard part to taking a cruise, and it's deciding which cabin to book

September 26, 1993|By Jerry Morris | Jerry Morris,Boston Globe

Suddenly there was a smiling face looking in my cabin window. It was a crew member washing windows. He waved, smiled again, and then went about his business.

We had a cabin with a picture window. The problem was that the window looked out on a deck, and had no protective coating to prevent viewing from outside in.

Choosing a cabin is perhaps the hardest decision to make when taking a cruise. On a cruise, everyone gets the same service, food, entertainment and use of facilities aboard. Price primarily determines the size of your cabin and its location, so it is a major factor. But price does not guarantee the view from a cabin with a window, nor does it guarantee privacy, as in our case.

The cost of a seven-day cruise, including airfare, can vary from $900 to more than $7,000 a person -- and that is for the same ship, the major difference being the cost of the lowest-priced double-occupancy cabin and the highest priced one.

So, there is one theory that since the only difference in a cruise is the price, size and amenities in the cabin, why not just book the lowest-priced, inside-bottom-deck cabin?

Now if you do book that cabin with the lowest advertised price, here's what to expect. No window -- it's going to be an inside cabin. Efficient -- read "tight" -- quarters generally. Perhaps just an upper and lower bed, with no opportunities to create one queen-size bed. Prepare to walk or ride the elevator long distances to wherever. Maybe you will hear engine noise.

If, as the theory also goes, you are one not to spend much time in your cabin except to sleep or change clothes, then go for the lowest-priced cabin.

Why then would you want to pay $7,000 for what you can get for $900? First, because a $900 cabin doesn't offer the amenities that a $7,000 one does. Second, because you like extra comfort and convenience. Third, because you like a place you can retreat to and relax in. Fourth, because you like extra service -- some lines have added a concierge to serve guests' extra needs. And, finally, because you want a place to party and have friends over.

For those brought up with the "Love Boat" TV series, the greatest shock aboard ship for first-time cruise-goers may be the size of the cabin -- nothing approaching those spacious cabins ++ on the show.

Now back to reality. There are few cabins in the lowest-priced category -- one ship had only two cabins in this price range -- and only a few more in the highest-priced grouping. Most travelers will pay something in the middle, which means that your best bet is to book early to ensure both the location and the price of cabin you wish (on lines such as Carnival, Princess and Norwegian early bookers now get the best -- and guaranteed -- price).

Price does not always guarantee happiness. For example, one can choose a large cabin with a picture window only to discover the view is marred by a lifeboat hanging outside. Because of ship configurations, some cabins in the same price range may be larger than others.

Booking through a knowledgeable cruise specialist or travel agent is one sure way of finding the right cabin at the right price on the right ship. Cruise brochures all carry deck plans and show various cabin shapes and amenities in the different price ranges. Unfortunately, not all brochures are as accurate as they could be -- square footage may not be indicated. Plans may show twin beds in a cabin, but what happens when those beds are placed together? When a queen-size bed is created, it just may make getting about the cabin more difficult. Many travel specialists have toured the ships and can point out the differences in each cabin price range.

Travelers should also study these deck plans to understand the various cabin locations. Do you want to be just steps from the action, or does it matter? Is there a nightclub just above the cabin that could create noise in your room? If the cabin has a

window, what is outside it?

"Efficiency" is a key word to describe bathrooms aboard ships. In most, one can barely turn around; the shower may be a tight fit. But even here, the right choice of ship and cabin can change that.

So, what, then, can a higher-priced cabin bring? Aboard the Regal Princess, former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, enjoyed a suite that included two large rooms and a veranda big enough for a couple of lounge chairs and a table for two. The large living area held two couches and television; the bedroom area a king-sized bed, television and closets. And there was a bath area with space enough for a family.

On the new Royal Viking Queen, as on similarly designed ships, all cabins are huge. Service includes delivering, course by course, all meals to the cabin if desired, and a bar stocked with the wines or liquors desired, all at no additional cost. Tipping is included in the price. A cruise aboard these 200-passenger ships is about $600 a day per person.

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