How to Choose Your Cruise Ship By Size
Yes, size does matter and will dictate a whole range of issues that influence your cruise experience – everything from the service & number of entertainment options to the amount of personal space available in public areas, to the size of the queue embarking for a shore excursion.
Size also may influence the cost of your cruise: the mega ships with greater family appeal and a host of accommodation options tend to offer more economical pricing. A rule of thumb is that the smaller the ship and the more personal the service, the higher the price.
We've broken down the three types of cruise ships for you to consider:
Large resort ships
- 2,000-6,000+ PASSENGERS
- 90,000-220,000 GRT
Big can mean seriously big, with no fewer than 25 multi-deck cruise ships currently plying the world’s oceans weighing more than 125,000 tonnes and catering for more than 3,000 passengers apiece. Royal Caribbean has eight of the 10 largest ships afloat, with Allure of the Seas and sister ship Oasis of the Seas topping the list with a capacity of more than 5,000.
Hugely popular with families because of the vast range of entertainment options to suit all ages, these ships are genuine floating holiday resorts. You might need a map to get around but size has its advantages: despite the numbers on board there are plenty of places to get away from the crowds.
What to expect
Expect a big range of accommodation and price, from luxury suites to economy interior cabins, big theatres with top-class shows, cinemas, huge casinos, multiple dining rooms, casual eating outlets and bars, outdoor entertainment and pool decks, and tailored programs for toddlers to teens on many ships. At smaller ports, expect to have to shuttle back and forth by tender when sheer size means these ships must drop anchor offshore.
- Non-stop daytime activities: Days can be spent working out at the gym, indulging in a spa treatment, taking a cooking class, ice-skating, rock-climbing, playing a round of mini-golf, or anything, really. Large ships are perfect for those who like to fill their days, as there is always something to do on the ship.
- Evening entertainment: Grand venues, such as casinos, theatres & nightclubs, are pumping once nightfall hits.
- Kids activities: If you are travelling with children, large ships are well suited due to the extent of children’s programs offered on board.
- Privacy: Many ships feature adults-only areas, should you want a bit of peace and quiet.
- Largest variety of dining options: There is a huge selection of restaurants and dining – from 24-hour room service to smorgasbord buffets and formal five-course dinners.
Best Large Cruise Ships:
Allure of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas & Ovation of the Seas from the Royal Caribbean fleet are home to a fantastic variety of amenities and entertainment including movie theatres, water parks, ice skating rinks, a wave simulator, bumper cars, zip lines and much more! While Allure & Oasis sail the international waters, Ovation of the Seas will be sailing to Australia for the first time in December 2016.
Queen Mary 2, is a transatlantic ocean liner, and the flagship of Cunard's fleet of three. The Queen Mary 2 can accommodate 2,620 passengers, is longer than three football fields yet surprisingly has the highest passenger to space ratio in the industry. Special facilities & attractions include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, the planetarium, traditional afternoon tea in the Queen's Room, enrichment programs and the only kennels at sea. Queen Mary 2 is also famous for its world voyages.
Norwegian Epic is Norwegian Cruise Line's second biggest ship holding 4,100 passengers and 19 decks jam-packed full of 24/7 entertainment including Broadway shows, giant chess and Ping-Pong games, trivia quizzes, Nintendo Wii classes, live music and more than 20 different dining & bar options. Norwegian Epic sails sun-kissed destinations including the Caribbean, Bahamas & the Mediterranean with cruises frequently departing from Barcelona and Rome.
- 500-2,000 PASSENGERS
- 30,000-90,000 GRT
The key to mid-size is that you will be sailing with no more than 2000 others. That means a big range of ships across multiple lines operating itineraries worldwide, with the added advantage that they can get into many ports that are out of bounds to the mega-ships. Holland America, Princess Cruises, Oceania and Norwegian are among the numerous lines running ships in this category.
Some ships have a reputation for attracting an older demographic who want to avoid the mega-ships, while still having access to their share of tailored activities. While that may be justified, most mid-sized ships are also family friendly and often preferred by those seeking a more relaxed experience.
What to Expect
There will still be a big range of accommodation from suites to interior cabins, theatres, cinemas, outdoor entertainment such as pools and sports decks, spas and a casino, multiple dining options and bars – just not as many or with the variety of the mega-ships. Mid-sized family-friendly ships will offer some kind of kids’ clubs.
- Superior access: Mid-size ships are very well suited to smaller ports, due to their ease of manoeuvrability. This allows many cruise lines to operate itineraries that aren’t accessible to large or boutique ships, such as some around-the-world cruises and longer journeys that take in many exotic locales.
- Happy medium: Neither too big nor too small, the size and facilities of these ships generally strike a happy balance. You can easily find your way around, and there is still a range of activities and excursions to participate in.
- Full of variety: While mid-size ships don’t offer as wide a range of facilities as those offered on large ships, they do offer a greater variety than small ships – more than enough to keep everyone entertained, particularly when taking into account the ratio of passenger numbers to facilities.
Best Mid Size Cruise Ships:
The Azamara Journey & Azamara Quest from Azamara Club Cruises have a capacity of 686 guests each and are known for their destination intensive itineraries meaning longer stays, & more overnight & night touring options. Their smaller ships offer a big advantage of being able to access unique & wonderful places larger cruise lines can’t, such as Bangkok, Bordeaux, Seville, Hong Kong & Shanghai.
With only 684 passengers onboard, the luxurious Oceania Regatta is well known for its country club ambience, fine dining, world-class service & beautifully appointed accommodation.
The Sea Princess & Sun Princess from Princess cruises have little over 2,000 guests. Dubbed as vessels with “big ship choices yet small ship feels” they offer many itineraries around Australia, Asia & New Zealand. Onboard amenities include The Sanctuary, Movies Under the Stars, a Sports Deck, Casino, & Lotus Spa and Fitness Centre.
P&O Australia's fleet of 5 are also classified as mid size ships, all with a capacity of under 2,000 guests. Offering the largest range of Pacific Island itineraries and departing from every Australian capital city, they are a great choice for first time cruisers.
Boutique & river ships
- 50-500 PASSENGERS
- 5,000-30,000 GRT
Small can be very beautiful indeed, even if “small” for some upmarket ships means you are sharing with around 500 others. Boutique sailing embraces everything from river cruise ships, super yachts to clippers, and cruise ships aimed squarely at the luxury market on itineraries as diverse as Tahiti, the Caribbean, the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the Baltic.
Depending on the vessel and the itinerary, everyone from retirees to honeymooners to well-heeled couples and families. Some cruises favour more adventurous activities that will appeal to a younger crowd, while others are more about sophisticated relaxation and quiet elegance. Your Cruiseabout agent will advise.
What to expect
Highly personalised service, even on the larger cruise ships, with a high staff-to-passenger ratio including butler service on some. An emphasis on first-class accommodation with in-room amenities to match, often with a high ratio of suites or cabins with balconies. All-inclusive itineraries are becoming more commonplace, embracing everything from fine dining with beverages to guided shore excursions.
- Personalised Service: With small cruise ships, there is a high crew to passenger ratio. On most small ships, crew members will know you by name and remember your preferences, whether it be your favourite cocktail or pool side snack!
- Relaxation: If you enjoy a quiet, relaxed cruising experience with fewer passengers, facilities, entertainment and dining options than large ships, this will be ideal.
- Unique experiences: Boutique and small-ship cruising is perfect for those looking for a more unique adventure or an educational journey that provides a rather intimate ambience, often with expert speakers on board.
- Access to off-the beaten-track ports: Large ships generally aren’t able to access every port. Small ship cruising allows you to experience culturally rich and unique destinations, with exclusivity in your shore excursions.
- Social convenience: With fewer guests on board, small cruise ships make it easier to get to know your fellow passengers which is great for solo travellers.On the other hand, a small cruise ship also offers more of an element of privacy, with the smaller numbers on board.
Best Boutique Cruise Ships:
APT’s small ship cruises explore hard to reach destinations in Australia, the Mediterranean, the Norwegian Fjords and the hidden isles of Japan and Southeast Asia. Windstar's luxury yachts carry fewer than 300 guests to boutique ports and bucket-list capitals such as Rome, Venice, Dubrovnik, Tahiti, Costa Rica & the Panama Canal.
Lindblad Expeditions allied with National Geographic have 6 adventure cruise ships that carry anywhere from 28 to 148 passengers. These ships explore the world's most exciting and unusual destinations including the Galapagos, Antarctica, Greenland and the Arctic Circle.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offer a host of intimate river cruises through the European, Asian and Egyptian waterways. With 16 ships, ranging between 60 & 202 passengers, they are known for their exceptional service, extraordinary cuisine & plush and colourful decor.