Some lines offer gated-access suite complexes where some of the most expensive accommodations are arranged around exclusive deck areas, including private pools, whirlpools, fitness centers, sun decks, restaurants and lounges; MSC Cruises Yacht Club and Norwegian s Haven are two examples. Norwegian s studio cabins -- although tiny inside affairs -- also gain you access to a special lounge reserved just for solo travelers.
Pay attention to the unique cabin setups on your ship, as they are not all created equal. Disneys four cruise ships, for example, have large standard staterooms designed to accommodate families. Even inside cabins may have a sleeping section that can be curtained off from the living area along with a split bath system. (One bathroom has the shower/tub and sink, another a toilet and sink.) Carnival is also known for having larger-than-average standard cabins, while Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn ships feature all-suite accommodations. Norwegian Epic cabins sport the "new wave" design, with curvy walls and separate rooms for showers and toilets; sinks are located in the main cabins. As mentioned earlier, cabins at the very front and back of a ship often have different layouts than the cookie-cutter cabins that run the length of the ship.
Do you have to have a whirlpool bathtub or a walk-in closet? Will you be entertaining and thus in need of a dining table that can seat six or eight? Do you want benefits like priority dinner reservations and being first in line to get on or off the ship? Do you want to be pampered with extra-plush linens and bathrobes, fancy bath products and in-suite coffee and booze? You can find those amenities and more in most of the upper-level suites.
For some reason, most cruise lines assign their nicest and most expensive cabins to the highest decks, usually just below the pool deck (most likely because if you have a window or balcony, you have a more sweeping vista). Still, it is the pool deck that often causes the most noise problems, so if you do not want to hear scraping chairs at the crack of dawn or yee-hawing pool parties until the wee hours, go down a level. In fact, when it comes to noise, the best bet is to select a cabin that is both above and below other cabins.