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What's the Best Cruise Ship Size for You? (Photo: Worachat Sodsri/Shutterstock)

What's the Best Cruise Ship Size for You?

A ship's size -- and not necessarily its cruise line -- is one of the most important factors you'll need to weigh when choosing a cruise to suit your lifestyle and vacationing preferences.

Size is the biggest single factor in determining the number of passengers you'll share the ship with, the amount of activities and amenities offered onboard, the overall ambience of the ship and the level of luxury available throughout the ship. Moreover, the size of a cruise ship can also have an effect on the price of its sailings and the average age of its passengers.

To make it more confusing, a cruise line can have ships of all sizes in its fleet -- and even large, mainstream lines have smaller, cozier ships. For example, Princess Cruises owns the 3,600-passenger Royal Princess, the 2,594-passenger Grand Princess, the 1,970 passenger Island Princess and the 680-passenger Pacific Princess -- representing five different size categories. Cruises on the line's smallest and largest ships will be very different experiences, in spite of their shared corporate allegiance.

To make your planning process easier, we've broken down ship sizes into five categories and outlined some of the commonalities, so you can get a better feel for which ship size is right for you.

A ship's size -- and not necessarily its cruise line -- is one of the most important factors you'll need to weigh when choosing a cruise to suit your lifestyle and vacationing preferences.


Size is the biggest single factor in determining the number of passengers you'll share the ship with, the amount of activities and amenities offered onboard, the overall ambience of the ship and the level of luxury available. Moreover, the size of a cruise ship can also have an effect on the price of its sailings and the average age of its passengers.


As a general rule, big ships have more features, more amenities and cost less to cruise on; while smaller ships tend to offer a cosier, more community-like atmosphere at a higher price. The lower cost and greater number of entertainment options attract many families to larger ships, while the premium price and relative simplicity of entertainment options on small-ship luxury cruises often attract an older clientele. (There are, of course, many exceptions.)


Remember, too, that a cruise line can have ships of all sizes in its fleet -- and even large, mainstream lines have smaller ships. For example, Princess Cruises owns the 3,600-passenger Royal Princess, the 2,594-passenger Grand Princess, the 1,970 passenger Island Princess and the 680-passenger Ocean Princess -- meaning it has ships in each of our categories below. And you can be sure that cruises on the line's smallest and largest ships will be very different experiences, in spite of their shared corporate allegiance.
Most of P&O’s ships are in the mid-range size, with their smallest ships being Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria, which both carry 1,500 passengers. P&O’s only ship classified as a large ship is the new 2,000-passenger Pacific Explorer. Royal Caribbean’s ships range from large ship to megaliners -- the biggest in the world -- carrying more than 6,000 passengers. The biggest cruise ship in Australia is the 168,666 gross-tonnes Ovation of the Seas, which has a maximum occupancy of 4,905 passengers.



Mega-Ships, 3,000+ Big Ships, 2,000 - 2,999 Mid-Sized, 950 - 1,999 Small Ships, 1 - 949
Lines & Ships
5 Popular Mega-Ships:
More Mega-Ships:

5 Popular Large Ships:
More Large Ships:

5 Popular Mid-Sized Ships:
More Mid-Sized Ships:

5 Popular Small Ships:
More Small Ships:

Cabins
Pro:
  • Plentiful, affordable cabins with balconies

Con:
  • Standard cabins tend to be small and cookie-cutter
  • You'll definitely need a map to find your way
Pro:
  • Plentiful, affordable cabins with balconies

Con:
  • Standard cabins tend to be small and cookie-cutter
  • You may need a map to find your way
Pro:
  • Generally more value-priced than both smaller luxury ships and newer, larger ships

Con:
  • Smaller cabins
  • Balcony cabins are in limited supply
Pro:
  • Luxury, particularly in cabins, is emphasized
  • Most cabins are suites on luxury small ships

Con:
  • Most expensive cruise fares**

  • Non-luxury small ships have a limited number of balconies; some have none at all
Dining Options
Pro:
  • Even more alternative dining options, ranging from ultra-casual to date-night formal

Con:
  • Free-for-all at buffets
  • Assigned dinnertime and table (though more big ships are offering flexible dining)
  • Added fees for alternative dining
Pro:
  • Alternative dining options, ranging from ultra-casual to date-night formal

Con:
  • Lines at buffets
  • Assigned dinnertime and table (though more big ships are offering flexible dining)
  • Added fees for alternative dining
Pro:
  • A handful of alternative dining options
  • Fewer lines

Con:
  • You may have to eat at an assigned mealtime and at an assigned table
  • Added fees for alternative dining
Pro:
  • High quality cuisine in dining rooms
  • Wine is often included with meals
  • Lines are virtually non-existent
  • Dining is often open-seating and flexible
  • Michelin-level alternative restaurants

Con:
  • Quality of dining is reflected in higher overall pricetag
  • Added fees for alternative dining
Service
  • Service can often be impersonal
  • Service can be hit-or-miss, given the size of the ship and number of passengers
  • Service is friendly and efficient, though not often as personal as you would find on a small ship
  • Personalised and attentive service (as you would expect given the cost of the cruise)
Fellow Passengers
Pro/Con:
  • Demographically diverse, ranging from families to seniors and in-between
  • Lots of children

Pro/Con:
  • Demographically diverse, ranging from families to seniors and in-between
  • Lots of children

Pro/Con:
  • Fewer families than on larger ships
  • Passengers tend to be older

Pro/Con:
  • Families rarely travel on these ships
  • Some ships have a minimum age requirement for travel

Entertainment
Pro:
  • Theatres featuring actual Broadway musical productions
  • Activities are everywhere from casual music performances to interactive video games
  • Huge casinos with the latest, trendiest table games, such as Texas Hold 'Em
  • Variety of nightclubs and bars; most of which feature themes and entertainment

Con:
  • Many entertainment offerings cost extra
  • Can be crowded and difficult to book tickets
Pro:
  • Theatre featuring Broadway-esque musical productions
  • Activities aplenty, from hairy chest contests to computer classes
  • Huge casinos with the latest, trendiest table games, such as Texas Hold 'Em
  • Variety of nightclubs and bars; most of which feature themes and entertainment

Con:
  • Many entertainment offerings cost extra
  • Can be crowded and difficult to book tickets
Pro:
  • Casinos
  • Substantial entertainment offerings
  • Enrichment activities

Con:
  • May be more sedate than bigger ships
  • Quality and variety of entertainment won't match the big ships
Pro:
  • Significant enrichment programs featuring world-famous experts
  • Smaller scale, more elegant entertainment

Con:
  • Very low-key and can be only lightly attended
  • Fewer public rooms mean less opportunity to socialize
Disembarkation & Tendering
  • Very crowded and long lines at embarkation, disembarkation and tendering
  • Crowds and lines at embarkation, disembarkation and tendering
  • Fewer and shorter lines at embarkation, disembarkation and tendering
  • Lines are virtually non-existent, and getting on and off the ship happens at a very relaxed pace
Pool Decks, Spa & Fitness
Pro:
  • Even more swimming pools and top-deck waterpark activities
  • Big gyms with state-of-the-art equipment
  • Lavish spas, often with a dedicated thalassotherapy pool

Con:
  • Not enough deck chairs (you'll have to get up early to get a good one)
Pro:
  • Multiple swimming pools and top-deck waterpark activities
  • Big gyms with state-of-the-art equipment
  • Lavish spas, often with a dedicated thalassotherapy pool

Con:
  • Not enough deck chairs (you may have to get up early to get a good one)
Pro:
  • Multiple swimming pools

Con:
  • Gyms and spas tend to be functional rather than luxurious
Pro:
  • Some luxury ships offer more personalised services, such as in-cabin massages

Con:
  • Pools are generally small
  • Spa and gym (if the ship has them) are likely to be small
Shore Tours
  • Largely of the cookie cutter variety: coach tours, heavily touristed sights
  • Largely of the cookie cutter variety: coach tours, heavily touristed sights
  • Somewhere between the small ships and the big ships in terms of unique options, but generally good value given the access to more exotic itineraries
  • Smaller ports, fewer people, exclusive events and generally more options on offer
Itineraries
  • Visit standard ports that can accommodate the oversized ships -- or tender
  • Visit ports that are rather standard (those that offer beaches, bars and shopping)
  • Interesting -- even exotic -- itineraries are often available on these ships
  • Exotic itineraries are the norm, and even mainstream itineraries often call at unusual or difficult to reach ports
Other Amenities
Pro:
  • Amenities like a big resort hotel, with lots of variety
  • Multi-tiered childrens' programs with a range of facilities
Con:
  • Large number of passengers makes some amenities difficult to access
Pro:
  • Amenities like a big resort hotel, with lots of variety
  • Multi-tiered childrens' programs with a range of facilities
Con:
  • Large number of passengers makes some amenities difficult to access
Pro:
  • Combines big ship amenities with small ship ambience
Con:
  • Few lines are building mid-sized ships so they tend to be dated (unless they are refurbished*)
Pro:
  • These ships generally have up-to-date features and amenities, whether they are new ships or older ships
  • Often, much is included in the fare (alcohol, gratuities)
Con:
  • Limited kids programs and facilities; some ships actively discourage children from playing

If you've read through our chart and are still in a quandary, or you're wondering how to ensure you have all the latest amenities at sea without cruising on the newest mega-ships, one good bet is to check up on ship refurbishments. You can see the full list right here. Many lines invest in upgrades to their vessels -- adding more balconies, poolside movie screens, alternative restaurants and adults-only deck spaces -- during dry-dock renovations.


In the U.K., there are a handful of cruise lines -- Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Saga Cruises, Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery, Voyages to Antiquity -- which offer cruises on small ships at prices ranging from economical (CMV) to mid-range and above (Voyages to Antiquity).

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