As some cruise lines have built bigger and bigger ship, other brands like the growing Silversea Cruises are filling the niche of small ship luxury cruising that is vastly underserved. But why would some one choose one type of cruise over another> Since August of 2021, we have taken 8 cruises on all three types of ships, and here I am sharing my impressions of the pros and cons of each.
Mega Ship – Allure of the Seas
At 225,282 GT and carrying up to 6780 maximum passengers, crew of 2200, she is the largest ship I have ever sailed on and the largest in the fleet at her introduction in 2010. Though, now the Wonder of the Seas has that honor. I feel like this class of ship was designed for folks who think that cruising might be boring, so Royal Caribbean outfitted the ship with any thing and everything to make sure that the word “boring” is never mentioned on the ship.
Pros: The economies of scale on such a big ship allow for the entertainment and amenities to be over the top. We loved the Aqua Show which featured acrobats and divers and an amazing production quality. I got to see Mama Mia for the first time on stage and loved it. Even the ice show, which is performed on a very small and limiting studio rink, was very entertaining. For night life, there were many different clubs playing all kinds of music. There was music and energy all throughout the ship. The price of the cruise can be very affordable with 7 Night Cruises starting at well under $1000 pp. The tricky part is that guests must still add drinks, gratuities and WiFi to the price of the cruise, and those expenses can add up quickly. There were lots of amenities for teens and kids, so this is a great ship for active families who want to have an experience that they can all enjoy in different ways and still be together.
Cons: The sheer size of the ship and number of passengers at times felt overwhelming. The day we boarded, we had to make all our arrangements for our shows and then schedule our unlimited specialty Dining around that. We already knew that we wanted to mitigate the chaos of the large dining room and the slow and sometimes inattentive service that can come with that. My previous experience with the main dining room on Royal Caribbean was more uneven than bad. Some hot dishes arrived at my table only luke-warm, but with unlimited specialty dining we experienced none of that. That, of course, was at an extra cost, but money well spent in my opinion, at least for us. My other feeling about the ship was that if I didn’t have an ocean view balcony, I wouldn’t have even know I was on a cruise ship. All of the venues face the interior of the ship, and though there are sky lights and interior windows to let in the natural light, there are no ocean views from the majority of venues on the ship. Again, I think that Royal Caribbean designed this ships for people who don’t like cruising. It works, as they are now all starting to sail full, but I missed that connection to the sea. The ship was also less social unless you are traveling with your own group. The sheer numbers of people made it hard to meet others and make new friends. You might see someone one day and start up a conversation, but never see them again during the entire cruise. Also, if you don’t want to sail with lots of kids, this type of ship has so many wonderful attractions and venues for families, that it is of course going to attract a lot of them. Finally, the passenger to crew ratio made the service just not quite as attentive as the ships that have a higher crew member to guest ratio. We sometimes had to hunt down our drinks in bars rather than having a waiter approach us upon entry.
Mid Size Ship
For my Mid Size ships I’ll be talking about the pros and cons of the Holland America 2021 Rotterdam and Celebrity’s 2009 debuting Equinox. The Rotterdam carries 2668 at double occupancy and carries a crew of 1053. The Equinox carries about 2200 at double occupancy and a crew of 1250. In general, I feel like this size of ship is really in the zone when it comes to an upscale experience at a bargain price.
Service, food and a more intimate atmosphere are big advantages of a mid size ship. Having fewer people on board makes the experience feel a little more personalized. If you are a creature of habit, the waiter and bar tenders get to know you, and remember what you like and don’t like. We have always enjoyed the main dining room experience on Celebrity, where we feel like food, the speed of the delivery and pacing is excellent. We cruised many times on Celebrity’s ships and never felt the need to do specialty dining, though we have splurged on it more recently so that we can advise clients about what to expect. We have also found it easier to make new friends and strike up conversation when sailing on a mid sized ship. You see the same people more often and can continue a conversation over several days.
The service on a mid size ship is also exceptional. We sailed with my friend who had a toddler onboard and Celebrity set up a baby pool just for him. We had a waiter go up to the buffet area to bring my children sticky buns for breakfast in the main dining room. We have had cabin stewards who went the extra mile and supplied us with empty clean Pringles cans to roll up our panama hats and bring them home. The service is often super intuitive and very friendly.
Comparing Main Entertainment
We also felt like there was a good variety of entertainment on both the Holland America and Celebrity ships. All different kinds of music, in smaller more intimate venues. Holland America has what they call the Music Walk. In those intimate smaller spaces, they feature sing along piano hits in the Billboard on Stage, a 4 piece rock band in the Rolling Stone Rock Room, Lincoln Center On Stage playing classical music and the B B King All Star Blues Band. These program are pretty much fleet wide on Holland America, so no matter which ship you choose, you can enjoy this variety of entertainment. Celebrity similarly scatters a variety of bands and musicians around the ship playing at different venues at different time, though it is not as highly defined and more flexible than the Holland America program. They typically feature a classical string duo, a guitar and vocalist playing acoustic versions of popular songs, one or two house bands playing songs to dance the night away.
While the economies of scale on a big ship like Allure of the Seas or Norwegian Bliss allow for the production and performance of full Broadway shows like Mama Mia and Jersey Boys, the mid size ships have slightly less expensive, but wonderfully talented evening entertainment.
Each cruise line takes a completely different approach to their main theater entertainment. Holland America has done away with the production show concept. Instead they feature a dance troupe with a singer borrowed from the BB King Blues club, and BBC Earth in Concert with the Lincoln Center Stage orchestra playing live to the amazing BBC earth videos. Celebrity fully embraces the concept of fully live entertainment in the main theater every night. Sometimes they feature juke box musicals with elaborate sets and costumes and their in house production singers. Other times they feature a variety of world class touring artists like violinists, pianists and singers. I felt the mainstage entertainment on Celebrity comes pretty close to the experience of a big ship, but in a more intimate mid sized ship setting. Holland America’s evening entertainment was a bit more subdued, so for folks who want to be blown away with the theater entertainment, it just depends more on the line than the size of the ship.
It is hard to find a definite con of the mid size ships that is specifically related to size. If I had to name one it would be that they don’t have over the top ammenities like water slides, ice rinks, go carts, bumber cars, roller rinks and the like. If you want to Flowrider or Rock Climb while at sea, then a mid size ships is not going to be a good fit.
Small Luxury Ship
For service, food, and a social atmosphere that is like nothing you have experienced before, a small ship luxury cruise is the way to go. As soon as we boarded both our Silversea Cruise and our Seabourn Cruise, we immediately could feel how intimate the experience was going to be. Our butler unpacked our bags on Silversea. We were invited to dine with one of the production singers on Seabourn. We were greeted by name at every venue on the fist day of each of these cruises. I was relaxing in the hot tub and a waiter brought me a glass of water.
The social aspect made the small ship cruise experience so different. There were just fewer people and we got to know each other. We formed trivia teams, we dined at tables for two and with others. We even dined once with the Staff Captain on Seaborn and the a touring Broadway guest artist singer. We had our daily chat by the pool with some travelers from all over the world. On Seabourn, we even had the fun of watching the “Crew Marina Day Olympics”. We cheered for our favorites on the housekeeping, kitchen, engineering and bar teams as they raced along the side of the ship on Banana Boats. They crew also made the experienced so personalized on a small ship cruise. One man on our cruise had sailed many times on Seabourn with his wife who had just recently passed away. They had a lovely card with pictures of him in his room in remembrance of her. On Silversea, we played a daily putting contest with the production singers. On Silversea, we got to know almost everyone on the ship and on one night we had a late night disco party where we were having silly fun requesting songs from the regions of different guest – Merengue from Dominican Republic, Salsa and Pitbull for the Miami folks, Shania Twain for the Canadians, and even Rock Me Amadeus for the lady from Austria. It was just good time had by all, because we had all gotten to know each other over the week on the cruise. I can’t imagine having that kinds of experience on a larger ship.
The main con I can think of for this type of cruise is, of course, the price. Most Small Ship Luxury Experiences are going to run three to four times the price of a Mid or Large size ship. However, if your budget permits, I definitely recommend the splurge for the extremely personalized experience. The only other con might be that there is no children’s program. So if you are traveling with a child you will probably be spending all of your time with that child, with no children’s program to provide some relief.