Big Ship v Small Ship - Let Battle Commence!
Our cruising journey started out only 8 years ago with a celebratory transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2. Rich and I were both celebrating significant birthdays and 20 years of marriage so in recognition of making it this far we decided to spoil ourselves and take a short holiday without our three children, our first ever holiday without them. And what could be better than a classic voyage across the pond sailing from New York to Southampton. I have to admit to it taking some persuading from Rich to get me to agree, really being very dubious as to whether cruising would suit me (up until then I had been very much a beach, pool and sun girl). However, having a tendency to liking the finer things in life, he persuaded me that a Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing really was the ultimate in luxury and we booked an eastbound August voyage.
One of the things I was most concerned about was whether or not I would have ‘sea legs’ and, let’s face it, the Atlantic Ocean is rather renowned for its occasional temper tantrums. However, Rich reassured me that QM2 was no ordinary ship, she was in fact an ocean liner and the best equipped ship at sea to cope with any type of weather or sea conditions. As it was we saw the Atlantic Ocean on its very best behaviour and it was like a millpond for the entire journey, and I was hooked to cruising from that day on.
Who wouldn’t become addicted when your first cruise is on the magnificent QM2 ocean liner, at just over 345m long, 45m wide and with a gross tonnage of 149,215GT she really is the ultimate for crossing the big oceans. She carries 2,620 passengers in 1,360 staterooms with a crew of 1,250 and would be classified as a large ship. However, in today’s standards she actually doesn’t carry that many passengers when compared to some of the ships that have recently started sailing the seas. At the moment the largest ship at sea is the Symphony of the Seas carrying a colossal 6,680 passengers and 2,200 crew across 18 decks. And Royal Caribbean is not alone, with many of the main cruise brands having ships like this recently added to or about to join their fleet, it really does seem that cruising is heading towards mega ship madness.
So what is it really like to sail on one of these behemoths, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being on holiday in some of the largest hotels in the world? Simply put, big ships offer more choice, in everything! Before you even join the ship you will have an extensive choice of room types and grades with the varying cost points that these afford. You can choose from inside room, ocean view room, family rooms, balcony rooms, mini suites, penthouse suites, duplex suites, owners suites, forward rooms, midships rooms, aft room, sunset rooms etc etc - the list is endless!
Once on board there will be so many bars and dining venues you would never tire of somewhere to go. In fact it can become a challenge to make sure you visit every venue if you’re only onboard for a week, there are so many different options. As well as eating and dinking venues, big ships offer a wider range of activities and entertainment, both throughout the day and into the evening. For those people that like to keep active it is now possible to surf, rock climb, go kart, sky dive, zip line and ice skate all whilst at sea. That’s without even getting off the ship - you really could stay on board for the entire voyage and never run out of things to try.
Then there’s the amazing entertainment staff on board the big ships, offering quizzes, trivia, bingo, dance classes, singing competitions, party nights, and endless other ways to keep you entertained both day and night. With production shows featuring singers and dancers who have often previously performed on the West End or Broadway and guest entertainers from all over the world offering a variety of comedy, magic, music and much more, your evening entertainment is taken care of at no extra charge. For those who prefer a night round a black jack table, roulette wheel or slot machine there are some amazing casinos to while away those twilight hours and spend your children's inheritance.
As more and more families are realising the many benefits of cruising with children, the children’s clubs are rising to the challenge and offering some awesome venues for youngsters to while away their time on board. From babysitting services to teenagers hang out areas there is so much for them to do their parents need hardly see them during the holiday. In fact it often surprises me to hear how many children are on the voyages we take since you hardly ever see them around the ship!
So why would anyone choose to cruise on a ‘smaller’ ship when there is so much on offer on the larger hotels at sea? Well for those people travelling without children who may prefer an adult only holiday, smaller ships are less likely to have large numbers of children travelling on them. In fact some cruise lines such as Viking and the eagerly awaited Virgin Voyages are adult only ships aimed at those people who want to be guaranteed a child free holiday. That said children and families do travel on smaller ships with many of them offering a kids club on voyages sailing during school holidays.
Smaller ships also often attract travellers whose focus is on itinerary rather than the facilities on board. Being smaller they are often able to dock or anchor in ports that the larger ships are unable to visit, making this an attractive option for the well travelled cruiser who has already been to most of the major ports regularly visited by the larger ships. With fewer people getting off the ship, shore excursions tend to be in smaller groups too.
Whilst there is generally less choice on a smaller ship there is that feeling of individuality that is often lacking in larger market cruising. Less variations in room choice can mean less differentiation in passenger services. With many of the larger cruise lines now offering ‘perks’ and private areas for their suite passengers it can sometimes feel like an ‘us and them’ type holiday, with the ‘lower’ grade passengers gazing longingly at the ‘suite’ class areas. This is less likely to happen in smaller ships where crew are more likely to get to know you and how you like your eggs in the morning!
Whilst you usually pay more for a smaller ship experience, with many of them being all or partially inclusive, it is worth weighing this cost up with the extra costs incurred on a fare only ship. This will vary considerably depending on how you like to spend your time and money, but things to consider are bar bills, excursions, gratuities, specially dining, WiFi and access to paid only areas such as the spa and private pools/lounging areas. If you want a comfy lounger in a quiet spot to while away your day by the pool you may need to pay for it on some ships! So sometimes that fare price on the ‘luxury’ small ship isn’t as bad as it first seems, with the high chance that you could come home from your holiday not having spent a penny on board.
All things considered it really will depend on what you want from your holiday and who you are travelling with. Is it the ‘resort’ or destination that matters? Are you travelling alone, as a couple, a family or even a multi-generational family? Do you like to be entertained 24/7 or do you prefer peace and relaxation? Whatever your preferences there will be a ship to meet your needs and budget. So give it a go, you won’t regret it - just make sure you seek advice first so your cruise ship matches your requirements - there really can be vast differences between what each brand and ship has to offer.
For help and advice on which stateroom to book take a look at our Choosing your stateroom guide.