New cruise ships are launching nearly every year, and the focus always seems to be bigger, bigger, bigger. While it’s true that bigger ships can have amazing features, they can also be overwhelming and many cruisers find that they actually prefer smaller ships. But what is it that can make smaller ships better than today’s biggest vessels, and which size is best for your cruise vacation?
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The biggest cruise ships can be phenomenal. These mega-liners are filled with fantastic features that may include dozens of bars and restaurants to choose from, luxury spas offering the most exotic treatments, expansive gyms with specialty classes, multiple pools and whirlpools and a wide range of unique attractions such as ice rinks, bumper cars, 3D theaters, indoor skydiving, zip lines, robot bartenders and more. With so much to see and do right on board the ship, one of these larger vessels can be ideal for a diverse group of passengers or anyone whose idea of a great vacation is one big adventure with something new around every corner.
But there are drawbacks to these humongous cruise ships. Part of being bigger is accommodating more passengers, and with 4,000-6,000 or more passengers on board, lines can be longer and the ship may feel more crowded. Fares for these ships can also be higher because of the demand to try out all the latest features, making the vacation more expensive no matter where the ship may be traveling. Itineraries can also be less diverse on larger ships, because many smaller ports of call may not be equipped to handle either the docking needs of the vessel or the influx of so many passengers at once. And while so many fun features can be attractive, passengers may find themselves overwhelmed on board and forced to miss out on opportunities because there’s just too much to do.
Why Smaller Ships May Be Better for You
Smaller cruise ships, on the other hand, offer a very different experience than the largest vessels afloat today. On a small ship, there are fewer passengers and crew, and everyone has a better opportunity to get to know one another, to swap stories and to make friendships that can last far longer than any one vacation. Passengers can also get to know the ship better, discovering every nook and cranny of the vessel – that case of awards and recognitions for the ship and crew, those unique volumes in the ship’s library, which café or bar offers the best drinks, just the right time for the best sunset views from the promenade deck – without missing out on other activities.
Because smaller ships don’t offer as many bells and whistles built in to the ship, the focus of their sailings is more often on a broader, more in depth appreciation for each port of call. Instead of elaborate Vegas-like show productions in mega-theaters, for example, a smaller ship is more likely to host local dancers, musicians or other entertainers while in port, offering guests a unique opportunity to experience the region’s true culture and heritage. Historical or cultural lectures are more common on small ships, and there is often a better selection of unique shore tours that allow passengers to thoroughly get to know every port they visit.
The ports themselves will vary much more on smaller ships as well. Smaller vessels can more easily be accommodated at many exotic ports of call, particularly in areas where cruise travel is more limited. This brings much more diversity to sailing itineraries, whereas larger ships are often more restricted about where they can travel. Because of this, smaller ships may actually sail many longer itineraries visiting a greater number of ports while still maintaining a relaxed pace for the voyage.
Budget-conscious cruisers often find small ships to be a better deal than larger vessels as well. With fewer built-in amenities and exotic options on board, the overall fare for a smaller cruise ship can be lower, but the experience is just as amazing. Furthermore, small ship passengers are less likely to spend extra on all the unique options that larger ships offer but often have small fees for.
Ultimately, both large and small ships can lead to memorable cruise vacations. Understanding the differences that size can make for a cruise can help every passenger select the perfect ship – large or small – to enjoy on their next cruise.