Size Does Matter: What Size Cruise Ship is Best for You?

Category: Before your trip

Size Does Matter: What Size Cruise Ship is Best for You?

Cruise travelers have the same dilemma as Goldilocks: should you choose a big ship, small ship, or a medium ship? If you're ‘sizing up’ your next cruise trip - whether you’ve never cruised before and are wondering where to take the plunge, or if you’ve always cruised on one size ship and are curious about what life’s like on other ships – you’ve come to the right person.

No size ship is better than any other. It’s all about match-making.

Think of ships like you’re Goldilocks trying out the Three Bears’ house – some ships might be too big, some too small… but one type of ship is going to be “just right” for your cruise travel lifestyle and preferences.

And in different destinations, sometimes different ships make all the difference.

So finding your own best type of cruise ship is going to be a personal journey of trying different options out. But hopefully, my tips about each will help you discover your own ship “sweet spot.” And don’t hesitate to bounce your questions off me. My social media contacts are at the bottom of the page.

Big Ships

The biggest of the big ships are aptly called ‘mega ships,’ and the world’s biggest cruise ships carry several thousand guests and thousands of crew on top of that. In addition to their sheer size, their lifestyle is the most ‘family friendly.’

Cruise lines with big cruise ships include Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line.

Mega cruise ships are floating destinations in and of themselves. You might never notice if you didn’t leave port! They have around-the-clock entertainment for everyone from toddlers to grandparents, including active and outdoor pursuits like surfing simulators, climbing walls, theme-park like rides and waterparks, bumper cars, and more. Indoor entertainment like broadway shows, Vegas-style entertainment partnerships, then there’s the dining – in many cases, more options than you can even try in a week-long cruise, with lots of celebrity restaurant partnerships. Dining ranges from casual burgers and BBQ to fine dining, steakhouses, wine bars, and more –even dining with eye-popping themed décor and interactive menus.

Big Cruise Ship Tip:

Families with kids who need a lot of entertaining, or multi-generational families where you want to give lots of options for everyone of every age, or groups where you need to offer the most choice – all of these types of cruise travelers love the big ships.

Small Ships

At the opposite end of the spectrum, small ships. The smallest of small ships may carry only a hundred or two hundred, maybe up to a few hundred guests, and end up feeling a lot more like a personal yacht than a commercial cruise ship.

You’ll rarely see a line up or worry about getting a nice spot at your favorite pool. People who like intimate spaces, where you have plenty of personal space, but you don't have to walk far to get to the pool, or a lounge, or a restaurant, love smaller ships.

Small ships can sail into some of the smallest ports in the world. In some ports, smaller ships can dock in the heart of an historic city, while larger ships need berths further out, so smaller ships can take you closer to your destination.

That includes expedition cruising – active, outdoor adventure-style cruises to remote places around the world including both polar cruising!

Small ships don’t have all the bells and whistles the biggest ships do; they’ll have fewer restaurants, pools, hot tubs and shows. They feel more like boutique hotels or country clubs, and offer a more sedate lifestyle and pace, and some can be fairly formal, but that doesn’t mean snobby. You’ll get to know most of your fellow guests – and even crew! - and make friendships that can last a lifetime.

Small ship and expedition cruise lines include Seabourn, Silversea, Scenic, Windstar, Emerald, Ponant, Paul Gauguin, and Lindblad.

Small Cruise Ship Tip:

Some people think that smaller ships feel the ‘motion of the ocean’ more than bigger ships, but in this day and age, ship stabilizers are so good that being on a small ship doesn’t affect people who are worried about motion sickness any more than being on bigger ships.

Mid-Sized Ships

Right there in the middle are the mid-sized ships. It’s hard to put an exact number on what makes a mid-sized ship but it’s more than a few hundred, and up to a couple of thousand – as high as 3000 guests? Maybe.

Sometimes it’s just a feel. Where there are extensive dining options, some themed design, plenty of activities, but you feel they are not overwhelming or trying to be everything to everyone. Or really focusing on the kids.

In my books, though some might dispute some of the cruise lines on my list, mid-sized cruise lines include Viking Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, which can have nearly 3000 people, but their ships feel more like upscale adult urban resorts than a floating theme park or Vegas.

Many mid-sized ships distinguish themselves by specializing in live music, or country club casual elegance, or Scandinavian design and cultural experiences, or their dining offering.

Mid-Sized Cruise Ship Tip:

For many people, mid-sized ships strike that balance of things to do and variety with not too much energy or distance to travel. Each mid-sized cruise line has distinct character that makes it not about the size, so much as your personal cruise taste.

By: Lynn Elmhirst Producer and Host, World's Greatest Cruises

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Image: Celebrity Summit docked next to Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas in St. Maarten: World's Greatest Cruises

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