Large Cruise Ship or Small: Which Is Better?
Disney Cruise Ships
Disney’s ships, like Disney Dream, get great ratings according to travelandleisure.com … if you can handle things like a French restaurant inspired by Ratatouille. Of course, when your kids (or grandkids) are happy, then you’re happy, so Ratatouille may be the way to go.
From what I’ve read, Disney has opted for quality over quantity, so their cruise-ship experience sounds a bit more upscale than other kiddie cruises. Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have never been on a kid-friendly cruise of any kind. My husband would love things like water slides, but so far he has been the only child on our cruise ships. (Except for Alaska... and kids SHOULD be on Alaska cruises.)
Adult Activities on Big Ships
Mega ships, like Allure of the Seas, are great for those adults who have seen their bank balances drop in the last few years. (I'm on that list.) So, while cabin prices can change all the time depending upon availability, larger ships are generally cheaper than smaller ships. (Mass-marketed mega ships = economies of scale, fewer employees per passenger, and less personalized service. However, there are exceptions. Some large ships, such as Queen Mary 2 and Oceania’s newer ships, have a reputation for luxury.)
And, large ships are not just for children. Some of the great activities and venues for adults on Monstro (the nickname given to Allure of the Seas) are:
- Broadway shows, like Chicago (Sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, has Hairspray.)
- Dance clubs
- Comedy clubs
- A piano bar and, because they want you to spend money on booze, a champagne bar, a martini bar, and a “British pub” with several ales on tap
- 26 different places to eat dinner
- Spas, boutiques, and other places where you can spend money.
Most mainstream cruise lines have large ships that cater mostly to adults. From my experiences on Holland America and Princess, I can tell you that some ships are better than others and some itineraries have more interesting passengers than others, so talk to your travel agent or do some research before plunking down your credit card. Of the two lines, I prefer Princess, although everyone had a blast on our Holland America ship in New Zealand. And, I've heard good things about Celebrity and others... even Carnival, which has a reputation as a party boat, so sign up for every newsletter you can find. And, go for any amazing bargain on any ship... the best deals are gone within hours. (Hey, excluding the Titanic and a few episodes of The Love Boat, there is no such thing as a bad cruise.)
And, I should say one more great thing about large ships. You DO want to be on the biggest boat you can find when going around Cape Horn or crossing any tempestuous sea. Once, during an impulsive moment, I signed up to sail around South America on a smaller ship, and I highly recommend avoiding a repeat of that mistake.
The Pros and Cons of Small Ships
I guess I am a bit of a cruise snob (according to my husband) because I prefer smaller ships. Well, the only small vessels I’ve sailed on have been the smaller Oceania ships, but the class quotient really is a cut above the others. You have to decide for yourself if you want the whole-dang-doodle-shebang (with hoards of passengers) or if you want a peaceful, elegant experience. And, that decision probably hinges on your age and temperament.
The bad things about smaller ships:
- They are spendy. Oceania is more expensive than Princess or Holland America, but you get what you pay for. I mitigate the damage by opting for an inside room when I book a trip with Oceania.
- You really feel the swells. My Oceania cruises have been in the Mediterranean, in the Baltic, and in the open seas. If you get seasick, choose the Med.
The good things about smaller ships:
- Better itineraries: Smaller ships have access to ports unavailable to larger ships.
- Upscale passengers: Shipmates are interesting, world-class travelers.
- Better food: Yes, it is better.
- Luxury: Small ships are more relaxing. Wine stewards come from Italy. Most (but not all) small ships have no formal nights.
- Less insanity: Small ships have no skating rinks, no carousels, and no giant marching penguins.
- Personnel: Small ships have well-behaved, helpful stewards and their crew members don’t seem as sleep deprived.
Large Ship or Small Ship?
If you are taking your grandchildren, and your grandchildren like to do cannonballs near middle-aged women, I definitely recommend Allure of the Seas... because I won’t be there.
If you have taste and money, I definitely recommend a smaller ship. (If you have taste and a moderate amount of money, I recommend trying to find a good deal on a small luxury ship if you can… )
If you still can’t decide whether to book a spot on a large ship or to splurge on a luxury cruise, here is the ultimate test:
- If you like Epcot Center or Vegas = Large Ship
- If you like Paris = Small Ship. (Eat Top Ramen to save up.)
If you are one half of a couple, and your other half prefers a large ship with a lot of Wazzie-Woodle-Woo, but you like quiet elegance, look for a large ship that only accepts adult passengers.
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