Cabins are priced based on location on the ship. Typically cabins on lower decks are less expensive. Typically cabins midship (in the middle part of a deck) cost higher. Balcony and Suite cabins on the very aft of the ship can also be more expensive than other cabins.
Do you need a balcony? Cruise travelers who spend all their time in the public areas -- sun decks, lounges, restaurants -- or on shore may be perfectly happy with standard-size cabins and no private outdoor space. Those who love to avoid the crowds and lounge quietly on their own verandahs or have private room-service meals outdoors will surely want balconies. Do not forget to take your itinerary into account; on a chilly-weather cruise, you might not be spending too much time outside, so depending on how much space and light you need, a balcony might not be worth the splurge.
Since cruising has become a popular family vacation, more new ships have built "family accommodations" into the actual design. These are often suites, each with a separate room for the kids -- sometimes a small alcove with bunk beds, sometimes an entire adjoining cabin. Families and groups can also take advantage of regular staterooms with third or fourth berths found in pullout sofas or pull-down bunk beds (called Pullmans). If you are going to squeeze your whole troupe into one cabin, make sure the space is big enough to accommodate the lot of you ... and all your belongings.
When trying to determine how much cabin you can afford, do not forget to factor in the cost of the rest of your trip. If you have to spend a lot on airfare, pre-cruise hotels and activities in port, you might not be able to afford the fanciest suite; if you are using frequent-flyer miles or do not need to book a hotel, you will have more money for cruise fare; the money you save on airfare can be used to spring for a nice stateroom. Or, look for value-added perks from cruise-line and travel-agent promotions. Offers for complimentary onboard cash, prepaid tips or included airfare can free up some money to pay for other vacation expenses.
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