Portholes are the ultimate in classic ship viewports, but is the view good enough for you to consider a porthole cabin for your next cruise vacation? Learn just how different these cabins can be and discover if one is right for you and your cruise preferences.
What Is a Porthole?
Portholes go by many names, including bull’s-eye windows and sidescuttles, but their historic purpose has always been the same – to allow natural light and fresh air into below deck spaces. That wasn’t portholes’ original purpose, however. The first portholes originated in the late 1400s to allow larger cannons to be part of a ship’s armament, and because the cannons were too large to be safely anchored on deck, holes had to be cut into the hull to accommodate the cannons.
Portholes are generally circular, with glass mounted in a metal frame. Brass and bronze frames are preferred because they are more resistant to saltwater corrosion, but steel, iron and aluminum frames can also be used for portholes. A solid storm cover is typically mounted on the interior of the porthole to allow it to be tightly closed in case of rough seas or to block light.
Today, portholes are largely ornamental or nostalgic. With sophisticated venting systems, electric lighting, air conditioning and on-board generators, it is no longer necessary to have these holes in the hull for light and air, and they certainly aren’t needed for either offensive or defensive purposes on cruise ships. But they can be great accents that not only provide natural light in cabins but also evoke that sense of true shipboard life with their whimsical nostalgia. Older, smaller vessels often have a greater number of porthole cabins available, though newer, more modern ships often incorporate porthole-like features with larger, round oceanview windows or even digital screens that mimic portholes, even providing exterior views, in interior cabins. While these aren’t true portholes, they can still be fun accents in a cruise ship cabin.
Inside a Porthole Cruise Ship Cabin
Depending on the cruise line and the types of cabins available on any particular ship, porthole cabins might be classified as a type of oceanview cabin or may have their own porthole category designation. Some lines even classify porthole cabins as a type of interior cabin, though they do still offer a limited outdoor view. Generally, these cabins are located on lower decks closer to the waterline, and typically are the furthest forward on the ship, closest to the bow. Because this is at the point where the ship’s hull is bending or curving, these cabins may have slightly smaller floor space, though the square footage differences are minimal when compared to similar interior or oceanview cabins.
The portholes themselves – there may be one or two in a single cabin – are deeply recessed in the ship’s hull, often within a substantial cubby or shelf. While this is not floorspace for the cabin, it can be a convenient place to store clothing, shoes, beach towels, extra pillows, towel pal friends and other items, freeing up additional space so the cabin seems less cluttered.
The size of the portholes can vary, but they are generally 12-20 inches in diameter per porthole. While this may seem large, because these openings are deeply set into the ship’s hull, the view they offer is extremely limited. It is enough, however, to admit plenty of natural light, and to see glimpses of the weather and sea conditions. Passengers who are accustomed to the brighter light of full oceanview cabins or balcony cabins may find porthole cabins to be slightly dimmer, which could make the cabin seem smaller or more cramped. Passengers who prefer a darker sleeping space, however, will likely appreciate the smaller window area, as well as the storm covers that can be closed if total darkness is desired. A curtain is typically hung across the recessed space as well, which can provide extra shielding from excess light and keep the space hidden so any storage clutter is concealed.
Because these cabins are lower and more forward on the ship, many noises – most notably the crashing of waves against the ship’s bow, as well as the motions of anchors, pilots or tugs – are more noticeable in porthole cabins. These cabins are also more subject to the motion of the ship as well, including swells and dips. Travelers who are very sensitive to the ship’s motion or who are very light sleepers may want to reconsider opting for a porthole cabin, though in calm seas, these differences are negligible and hardly noticeable.
One of the best features of porthole cabins is the price. Because these are not full oceanview cabins, they are often offered at a significantly lower fare than cabins with broad windows, yet porthole cabins do still offer plenty of natural light. This can be a great option for cruisers on a budget to still enjoy natural light without a higher price tag.
Despite the differences in porthole cabins, it is important to remember that these cabins are still on the same cruise ship as all other cabin types. They still include the same cruise amenities, entertainment, dining, activities, itinerary and all the other goodies of the cruise, and passengers in every cabin type have the same opportunities for a great getaway. Why not try a porthole cabin for your next cruise?