Question from a reader: “On a river cruise, is it worth it to splurge on a veranda cabin, or is a ‘French balcony’ cabin perfectly fine?” This query comes up so often, we decided to turn it over to our cruise experts and have them toss it around—but first, let’s define our terms: A “French balcony” is a glass door or wall-to-wall window that opens to give you fresh air and the feel of a veranda, minus the outside floor, tables, and chairs. Most ocean-going cruise ships give you a choice of an “inside” cabin (no window), an “outside” cabin (a sealed window/porthole), or a “veranda” cabin, also known as a balcony cabin (floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass door leading to a balcony). Many river cruise ships, which are generally narrower than oceangoing vessels, offer a fourth option, the aforementioned French balcony, which opens your cabin to the outdoors without robbing it of floor space. Is it a better deal than a higher-priced cabin with a full balcony? For help weighing the pros and cons of balconies on river cruises and ocean cruises, we polled three of our Trusted Travel Experts.
On a River Cruise
“In most cases, a French balcony is perfectly fine for a river cruise,” says Tom Baker, Trusted Travel Expert for Large, Affordable Ships and River Cruises. “because you tend to spend less time in your stateroom than you do on an oceangoing vessel, and more time in the air-conditioned lounge or on the upper-level deck, where you can see both sides of the river. Also, when a river ship ties up for sightseeing, it often docks right next to another ship. A balcony isn’t used during that time because the view diminishes completely.”
That’s the short answer, but variations in ships and itineraries complicate the matter, which is why it’s wise to book your cruise through a Trusted Travel Expert who has sailed—many times—on the cruise line and the ship. “The value of having a balcony versus a French balcony depends on the cruise company,” says Mary Jean Tully, TTE for Higher-End Ships. “They are not all designed the same. On Viking’s river cruises, for example, when you splurge on a balcony you are also upgrading to a larger suite, and for many people, that is well worth it. On other river ships, such as the new builds for Crystal Cruises, the French-balcony design allows for larger staterooms. You can take in fresh air and see the view without compromising on space.”
On river cruises, some veranda rooms may have a better location on the upper decks, whereas the bottom deck may only have window accommodations. These non-veranda window rooms are at or very near the water line, so the view becomes water streaming by as you sail, with very little view of the shore.
Bottom line: On a river cruise, a balcony may offer good value when it means an upgrade to a larger suite, but not when a French balcony gives you more interior space, or when you will be spending little time in your cabin.
On an Ocean Cruise
A veranda cabin is generally worth the splurge on a seagoing vessel, which is why 80 percent of new ships are built with balcony access. A balcony can offer a wonderful perspective when you’re sailing into or from a port of call—even hearing the sounds from the port below adds to the experience. And when you’re close to a calving glacier or in an area with dancing dolphins, having that balcony can be a game changer. With that in mind, guests sailing on an itinerary with few ports of call and the possibility of chilly weather, such as on a transatlantic crossing, could forgo the balcony.
“A balcony or veranda cabin is really ideal for a warm-water destination,” says Baker, “like the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Mexico, Hawaii, or French Polynesia, and even the Mediterranean in the summertime when the weather is lovely. Balconies are lesser used in cold-water destinations like Alaska, Antarctica, and places where weather is cooler.”
Bottom line: On an ocean cruise, a balcony is generally worth the premium price.