What is a French balcony on a ship?

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one, I may earn a commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Cabins with French balconies are common on river cruise ships. Yet people who are used to sailing on ocean cruise ships may get a surprise when they see that the French balconies of river cruise ships are something quite different!

This post explains exactly what is a French balcony and helps you to decide whether you should book one or not.

What is a French balcony?

A French balcony is a  balcony that you cannot step out onto. It has floor to ceiling sliding doors that open to a railing, but no space for furniture. Also known as a Juliet balcony, a French balcony offers fresh air and the feel of a veranda, but with no outside space.

French balcony and window cabin on Uniworld river cruise
The difference between a French balcony and a window
Photo credit: Uniworld

Other names for a French balcony

When you book a river cruise, cabins with French balconies may be described with other words in the brochure or on the website. The exact names used vary depending on the cruise line.

Some other names for French balcony include: 

  • Juliet balcony
  • Open-air balcony
  • Panorama balcony
  • False balcony
  • Balconette

French balcony Vs Juliet balcony

A French balcony and a Juliet balcony mean exactly the same thing. Both terms refer to floor to ceiling doors which slide or open inwards to reveal a railing that you can lean out of.

The name ‘Juliet’ (sometimes spelt as Juliette) comes from the Shakespeare play ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Shakespear’s writing doesn’t actually mention a balcony, but that Juliet looked out of her bedroom window. However, performances frequently feature French balconies, so the nickname caught on.

Avalon Waterways French Balcony
French Balcony in Avalon Waterways’ Panorama Suite
Photo credit: Avalon Waterways

Why do river cruise ships have French balconies?

River cruise ships are fairly small, especially when compared to ocean cruise ships, as they have to be narrow enough to fit through locks. Having a French balcony saves space, meaning that you can enjoy a larger cabin. 

On the waterways of Europe, it’s often not warm enough to sit out on your balcony. A French balcony offers the advantages of great views and fresh air without wasting space on cruises where it’s simply too cold to sit out.

Do river cruise ships have walk-out balconies?

Most river cruise ships don’t offer true balconies that you can step out on to, but some do. On a river cruise ship, a true balcony is known as a veranda, which is sometimes spelt as ‘verandah’.

There may be up to four cabin types on a river cruise ship:

  • Window If your cabin is below the waterline, this may be a small window up near the ceiling
  • French balcony Floor to ceiling sliding doors and a railing
  • Veranda – A true balcony that you can step out on to
  • Suite – Larger rooms, sometimes with a separate bedroom and living area

Unlike ocean cruise ships, you won’t find any inside cabins on a river cruise ship. This is because river cruise ships are narrow enough for everyone to get at least a window. 

If you opt for a cabin with a window, be sure to check the size of it. Some cabins have standard windows, but others have very small windows that you may even have to stand on a chair to be able to see out of! Cabins that are below the waterline with a high-up window are sometimes affectionately known as ‘aquarium class’.

Uniworld river cruise ship
This ship has small windows on Deck 1, larger windows on Deck 2 and French balconies on Deck 3
Photo credit: Uniworld

What is the difference between a French balcony and a veranda?

The main difference between a French balcony and a veranda on a river cruise ship is that you can step out onto a veranda but only lean out of a French balcony.

A veranda on a Viking Longship
Photo credit: Viking River Cruises

Verandas often have a small table and two chairs. However, many French balcony cabins have a table and chairs by the balcony, so that it gives a similar feeling to sitting outside and the view is just as good.

Some AmaWaterways ships actually have twin balconies, with a French balcony and a veranda within one cabin!

Ama Stella twin balconies
This cabin has twin balconies – one French balcony and one veranda
Photo credit: Ama Waterways

Different types of French balconies

Not all French balconies are the same. Some have standard sized patio doors which slide across to open half of the space. Others have panoramic floor to ceiling glass that covers one wall of the cabin. 

Dropdown French balconies don’t have sliding doors. Instead, the top half of the window can be lowered. These are the best kind of French balconies as the open section can be as wide as the cabin for the best views.

A dropdown French balcony on a Crystal river cruise ship
Photo credit: Crystal

Do you need a balcony on a river cruise?

Given that most river cruise boat balconies are French balconies, you may be wondering if a balcony is worth it on a river cruise.

Whether to opt for a balcony or save money by booking a cabin with a window is a matter of personal preference. Think about how much time you are going to spend in your cabin when deciding if the upgrade to a French balcony or a veranda is worth it.

If you’re trying to decide between a French balcony and a window, I would say that the most important thing to consider is the size of the window, and whether you can actually see out of it, rather than the details of the French balcony.

To help you decide, here are some pros and cons of having a French balcony

Advantages of a French balcony

  • Fresh air – You can open up the balcony to let air into the cabin, unlike a window which probably won’t open
  • Admire the view from bed Opening your curtains and admiring the view with a cup of tea before you get out of bed is very enjoyable
  • See the scenery from the warmth of your cabin– On winter cruises it can be very cold up on the top deck, so you may prefer to watch it from your room

Disadvantages of a French balcony

  • Missing half of the view – When you look out of your balcony you can only see one side of the river, but if you go up to the sun deck you can see a lot more
  • The cost – It will cost several hundred Euros more to upgrade, which you might want to spend on other things
  • Little privacy – Balconies lose their appeal when your ship docks. It might dock right next to another ship or next to a bank where people walk past
Uniworld French balcony
Admiring the scenery from a French balcony
Photo credit: Uniworld

French balconies on Viking river cruises

French balcony cabins on Viking ships have floor to ceiling sliding glass doors. Depending on the ship, they may be between 122 and 150 square feet in size and may be smaller or larger than standard staterooms which have half-height picture windows.

The following table shows the sizes of Viking French balcony staterooms compared to standard window staterooms and those with verandas.

RiverStandard cabinCabin wih french balconyCabin with veranda
Rhine135 sq ft150 sq ft205 sq ft
Danube135 sq ft150 sq ft205 sq ft
Main135 sq ft150 sq ft205 sq ft
Elbe135 sq ft150 sq ft205 sq ft
Douro155 sq ft150 sq ft185 sq ft
Elbe140 sq ft122 sq ft180 sq ft
Seine150 sq ft135 sq ft205 sq ft
Volga142-160 sq ftn/a225-240 sq ft

Many ships also have suites which will be larger and may have both French balconies and verandas.

Viking ships sailing exotic itineraries such as in Asia, Egypt and the Mississippi usually do not have the option of a French balcony.

Ships on the Mississippi are larger so do not have French balconies
Photo credit: Viking River Cruises

To conclude

Step out balconies are rare on river cruise ships, with French balconies being much more common. These offer many of the advantages of a true balcony, whilst saving valuable space on board.

Whether to opt for a stateroom with a window, a French balcony or a verandah is a matter of personal preference. Whichever you choose, you’ll only ever see one side of the river. For the best views, you’ll want to head up to the sun deck where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding scenery.

Related posts:

Before you go!

I'd love to help you to...

1. Find a cruise - See today's best cruise deals (wherever you are in the world)

2. Get a discount - Request a free quote from one of my trusted UK-based travel agents

3. Save money on your cruise - Follow me on Instagram or join my email list

Leave a comment