Cruising can be one of the best values for your vacation budget, and booking a guaranteed stateroom can help you save even more. But what exactly is a guaranteed stateroom, is it a smart choice for your travel plans, and how much will you really save?
What Is a Guaranteed Stateroom?
A guaranteed stateroom is a cabin guaranteed to be in a particular stateroom category, but without an initially assigned number or location. Depending on the cruise line, these cabins can also be called guarantee cabins, unassigned cabins, or may be listed as a GTY category or a sailaway rate deal.
When you book a guaranteed stateroom, you choose the cabin category – interior, oceanview, balcony, or suite – but not the exact cabin on the ship. Instead, you will be assigned your specific stateroom at a later time.
Different cruise lines assign guaranteed staterooms at different times depending on the sailing, how many cabins are available, and the departure date. Typically, guaranteed cabins are assigned a week or two before embarkation, but there are times when a cabin may be assigned right away or just a day or two before the cruise sets sail, or even at check-in on embarkation day.
What a Guaranteed Cabin Isn’t
When you book a guaranteed cabin, you have exactly that – a guarantee of a cabin. There is no “stand-by” booking on a cruise ship, and you are not waiting for someone else to cancel or postpone their vacation in order to board the ship. You will be assigned your own cabin, you just don’t get to choose where it is and you may not know the stateroom number until you arrive at the ship.
Guaranteed cabins also are not relegated to any lower level of service. Whether you book a guaranteed cabin or a higher price fare to choose your exact cabin, you will receive the same onboard amenities, access to activities, dining options, and exceptional service as anyone else on the ship. There is no notation on your cruise ship identification card or your cruise folio that you’ve booked a guaranteed cabin.
Guarantee Upgrades Aren’t Guaranteed
It is a popular rumor that guaranteed cabins are most likely to be upgraded, but this is an unfounded expectation.
It is possible that if a particular cabin category sells out, your guaranteed cabin may be upgraded to a new category. This is exceptionally rare, however, and it is important to remember that there are several levels of each cabin category.
If you book an oceanview guarantee cabin, for example, there may be many different types of oceanview cabins available on the same ship. Each type would need to sell out in order for your guarantee reservation to be upgraded to a balcony.
It is more likely that another passenger, perhaps one with more loyalty experience with the cruise line or who paid a higher fare, would be upgraded, and you would be assigned their oceanview cabin instead.
When a Guaranteed Cabin Is a Great Idea
Booking a guaranteed cabin can be a great way to save, but you have to be very aware of your own preferences. If you find it easy to sleep in different conditions and don’t mind wherever on the ship your stateroom may be located, a guarantee can be ideal. It can also be a great choice if you’re already familiar with the cruise ship.
Worth Reading: 5 Ways to Get a Free Cruise Ship Cabin Upgrade
Guaranteed staterooms may also be your only option if you are booking a last-minute cruise. If embarkation day is just a week or two away, the cruise line may no longer offer cabin choices so they can better rearrange guaranteed reservations and special needs. If you want to set sail in the near future, a guaranteed cabin can be the way to go.
Don’t Book a Guaranteed Cabin If…
Despite the savings and advantages of a guaranteed cabin, these flexible reservations aren’t always the best choice. For example, if you are sensitive to noise, you may not sleep well in a cabin underneath the gym, next to the main show lounge, or near the ship’s nightclubs – less popular locations that are exactly where a guaranteed stateroom may be assigned.
Another consideration is how far you want to walk from your cabin to the ship’s public areas. Staterooms close to dining areas and on the same decks as lounges, spas, and shops often sell quickly, but guaranteed staterooms are likely to be further away in more remote parts of the ship.
If you have any mobility concerns, this may make a guaranteed cabin less desirable. Similarly, guaranteed cabins are less likely to be handicap-accessible, and if you require those accommodations in your stateroom, it is best to choose it directly.
Passengers traveling in groups may also want to reconsider guaranteed cabins, as there is no guarantee that multiple cabins will be located together. Indeed, a large family booking five guaranteed cabins for a group cruise could easily end up on five different decks or on completely opposite ends of the ship from one another, which can make it difficult to coordinate attending activities or meeting up.
Anyone susceptible to seasickness may also want to forgo the idea of a guaranteed stateroom. The best locations on the ship to minimize motion are the middle decks at midship, but those locations are also popular for regular reservations. A guaranteed stateroom could just as likely be on a lower deck in the extreme forward or aft areas of the ship, just where motion would be most exaggerated.
If gazing out at endless ocean vistas is an important part of your cruise experience, be aware that a guaranteed oceanview or balcony cabin may very well have an obstructed view. While you will have some glimpses of the ocean because the room does qualify as having a view, you could just as likely have a great view of a lifeboat with only a hint of the ocean off to the sides.
Ultimately, it is best to book a guaranteed cabin only if you can be happy with the worst possible cabin in the category you choose – an inconvenient location, strange cabin shape, beds that cannot be combined or moved, more ambient noise, obstructed view, etc. While many passengers are assigned guaranteed cabins ideal for their cruise plans, you need to be sure you will be happy with whatever cabin you could possibly be assigned.
How Much Can You Save?
The biggest benefit to guaranteed staterooms is the savings, and indeed you may save from $10 to $200 or more per passenger depending on the cruise line, overall cabin category, sailing date, itinerary, and cruise length. Not all cruise lines offer guaranteed cabins at discounted rates, however. Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, and Windstar Cruises typically do not offer lower prices for guaranteed cabins, though if you do score one of the rare upgrades from your guaranteed category, it can be a hefty savings that could amount to hundreds of dollars. Other cruises may only offer these opportunities on select voyages or on certain ships.
Understanding guaranteed cabins can help you decide whether choosing an unassigned cabin is the best option for your travel plans and overall budget. While it can be risky to book a guaranteed cabin, it can also offer you a great opportunity to try new cabin locations and types you might not otherwise have considered.
And while you may not have a guarantee about what cabin you will eventually be sleeping in when you set sail, you are still guaranteed to have a great cruise, no matter which cabin you call home.