Big ship or small?
Big ship or small, that’s the question. If you’re looking to take a cruise, the size of the ship is important.
Big ships offer more amenities, Broadway-style shows and razzmatazz, non-stop casinos, jewellery shops, duty-free arcades, comedy acts, umpteen bars and lounges, venues where you can dance the night away.
Then again, such ships can be seriously, overwhelmingly large – so big that the cruise ends before you fully explore the ship. You can actually get lost on a big ship – for a while, anyway. The biggest are like floating skyscrapers, three-and-a-half football fields long. The world’s longest measure 360 metres from bow to stern and boast 16 decks. Such ships can carry, at maximum (when every berth is full) well over 6000 passengers.
Relax – there’s always the alternative: small ships. While, there’s no exact definition, small ships, sometimes called boutique-size in the cruise industry, may carry 750 passengers – or far fewer. Some, such as expedition ships, carry only 100 or so.
When choosing between big ships or small, consider which is most important to you: the ship, or the destinations you will visit.
Smaller ships may not offer the entertainment, shows, amusement-park-style attractions and all the bells and whistles of the giant mega-liners, but they can sail into ports and destinations the big vessels can’t reach.
Little villages, medieval towns and remote and exotic locations open up to small ships, whereas they can’t cope with the 5000 passengers a big ship may carry – even if the big ship can find a place to dock.
To get up close and personal to the highlights and wildlife of the destinations you visit, a boutique-size ship is unbeatable. That’s true whether you’re disembarking in a Mediterranean coastal town – say Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia – or the Galapagos Islands, or destinations in the Arctic, Antarctica or coastal West Africa.
Moreover, small ships eliminate crowds. Embarking and disembarking is less hassle because there are fewer people to contend with. Getting a drink at the bar is easier; the pool is less crowded; there are no long queues for shore excursions and there’s plenty of room when you want to walk the deck.
Remember also, cruise ports that can take one big ship can often take two or more simultaneously, and if they happen to coincide, the resultant mass influx of tourists can vastly outnumber the locals – many of whom make themselves scarce at such times.
You encounter fewer fellow passengers on a smaller ship, but many cruise buffs say that tends to promote more meaningful interactions.
To sum up, if you feel like finding a little café in a port and sipping a glass of wine, watching locals rather than your fellow travellers, small ships could well be for you.