Updated May 29, 2019
Who says interior designers are the only ones capable of making a small room feel bigger? With cruise ship cabins being significantly smaller than hotel rooms, avid cruisers have got making the most of the space they're given down to a science. With a little ingenuity, anyone going on a cruise can work wonders in their own cabin.
To put cabin size into perspective, Carnival's standard inside cabins start at 185 square feet, which is slightly higher than the industry standard. Meanwhile, the average U.S. hotel room is roughly 330 square feet. So cruisers who want to maximize space need to get creative.
From adding your own storage space to bringing in ocean views, we've compiled a list of ways to make your cruise ship cabin feel bigger that even the least crafty cruisers can accomplish. Eat your heart out, HGTV.
1. Don't overpack.
How many times have you packed outfits, shoes or accessories only to realize at the end of your cruise that they were a waste of space, because you never used any of them? Nothing makes your cruise ship cabin feel smaller than unnecessary clutter that inevitably ends up scattered all over the place. Simplify your packing routine by avoiding an excessively large suitcase (less than 28 inches -- like this 26-inch bag -- is ideal), and packing smarter -- such as rolling your clothes and bringing one layer you can wear repeatedly.
2. Look for "hidden" storage space ...
When it comes to cruise ship cabins, storage can be found where you least expect it. On Disney Cruise Line ships, for example, cabins feature ottomans that open to provide additional storage space. Some Royal Caribbean ship cabins have secret compartments behind the vanity mirrors. And don't forget there's always room underneath the bed. The more loose items you can get out of the way, the bigger your cabin will feel.
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3. ... Or make your own.
Now that your overpacking days are over, you'll have more room in your suitcase for items that help you eliminate clutter -- ultimately making your cabin feel bigger. Seasoned cruisers swear by travel organizers like over-the-door shoe bags and hanging shower caddies. They're foldable and lightweight (thus easy to pack) and keep all your shoes, accessories and toiletries in one place.
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4. Remove small furniture.
While most cruise cabin furniture is either too large or too heavy to move or is bolted to the ground and thus can't be removed, some smaller pieces can be taken out of your cabin to create more space. On embarkation day, ask your steward if it's possible to take out a stool or even the throw pillows. Don't try to move anything yourself.
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5. Keep your cabin tidy.
By no means are you expected to clean on your vacation, but you also shouldn't leave your cabin looking like a laundry bomb exploded. Hang clothes in the closet, and use your suitcase as a drawer for additional items -- then slide it under your bed. This makes it easier for your cabin steward to clean and make everything look pristine.
6. Take advantage of the walls.
Don't forget to pack those magnets! The majority of cruise ship cabins are metal, even though they might not look it. Instead of leaving your daily planners and cocktail party invites all over the desk and nightstands, consider hanging them up on the walls -- perhaps near the door, so you can take a peek at the day's activities on your way out.
7. Move the beds.
Cruise ship cabin layouts are already designed to maximize space and efficiency. But depending on your ship, you might be able to have the bed moved to create more room in a desired area -- as long as it's not blocking a door or walkway. Additionally, beds can be configured to two twins or one queen or king (depending on room category), to tailor the layout to your liking.
8. Utilize natural light.
Natural light is an interior designer's best friend. It can make any small space feel bigger by brightening up dark corners and crevices. If you're staying in an ocean-view or balcony cabin, keep the curtains open while you're inside so the room doesn't feel so dark and cocoonlike. Just remember to close them if you plan to hop in the shower -- especially on port days. The last thing you want to do is moon someone on the ship docked next to you.
9. Turn on your TV.
Ocean views, whether from a balcony or through a window, can make any cruise ship cabin feel bigger. But not every cabin comes with a view. On the bright side (no pun intended), most cruise ship TV programming includes a bridge and/or bow cam station. If you're staying in an inside cabin, set your TV to the captain's view to give your cabin a roomier feel.
10. Choose the right cabin.
If not having enough space is a deal breaker for you, make sure to pick a cabin that suits your needs before booking. Cruise ship rooms vary in size, even within the same category. Check to see if there are special inside cabins with higher square footage or look for a "hump" cabin, which offers significantly more balcony space thanks to its unique location. Check out our roundup of unusual cruise ship balcony cabins to see if there's a layout that piques your interest.
11. Book a guarantee cabin.
Another planning strategy to (potentially) land more space is to book a guarantee cabin. Contrary to traditional booking, in which you instantly receive a cabin number, a guarantee cabin is unassigned -- it can be anywhere on the ship, in the category you choose, but you won't know the exact room until closer to your sailing. The plus is that lines offer these cabins at a lower fare and there's also the tempting possibility of an upgrade at no extra charge. On the flip side, if the ship fills up, you could get stuck in a cabin that's on the lower end of the category spectrum and thus smaller than you anticipated (since cabins within the same category tend to range in size).
Find out if a guarantee cabin is right for you, as we break down the odds of an upgrade.
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