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Do you prefer small exotic cruises or large cruise ships?

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My wife and I love cruises. We started a few years ago when we took a 7-day Caribbean cruise with the Disney Cruise Line. The ship was huge, a real floating city on the water. We enjoyed all the onboard activities, swimming, shopping, and dancing. We had the most fun at the ports of call. Getting off the ship for a few hours in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and at Cozumel provided the adventure we wanted.

On our way home, my wife looked over at me and made a strange comment. She said, "I feel like we just left a Vegas Hotel." Her point was the large ship towering above the water felt more like a hotel on the water than a boat.

We went on two more cruises on large ships the next two years. We headed up to Alaska and a cruise in the Bahamas. After the third cruise, we realized the magic was wearing off. The dances, swimming in the pool, and formal dinners were not what we really want. We want an adventure that let us experience the sites we see on the Discovery Channel and Travel Network.

Our fourth cruise was very different. We took off for Peru and boarded a small ship for a cruise down the Amazon. This was not a big ship. In comparison to the cruise ships, this was a tiny rowboat. The Aria Amazon had 20 suites, not hundreds of suites like the big cruise ships. During our seven days onboard, we went from being Sir and Maam, to knowing every crewmember by their first name. We met every passenger on the ship and knew all of them by their first names.

A big difference was how close we were to the water. We were just a few feet above the waters of the Amazon, instead of looking down from the towering heights of the big cruise ships. We could almost reach down and touch the water, and could easily do it with a stick in our hands. We were close to wildlife, the water, and people.

There was more variety of food on the big cruise ship, but the quality was not any better. The chef on the Aria Amazon was excellent. I am guessing if we had asked for some other alternatives they may have been available, but we enjoyed every meal. A couple of the meals highlighted local recipes from the Amazon, including sampling meat from an armored catfish. It is not something I would want to eat often, but the adventure of trying new dishes was part of the fun.

We stopped and took excursions every day we were on the Amazon. A couple days we took off on smaller boats to explore tributaries and met people living in the wilderness. Their style of living matched stories we watched on television perfectly. The only people we met onshore while in ports on the big cruise ships were restaurant staff, store clerks, and tour guides. This was wildly different.

The excursion that excited me the most, and horrified my wife, was fishing day. We left the riverboat and headed out on smaller boats to meet up with local fishermen. They guided us to one of their favorite fishing areas where we caught a variety of small fish and piranhas. We kept a few of the larger piranhas. The chef cooked the piranha back on the ship and added them to the menu. We finally found one meal my wife refused to eat, luckily there were plenty of options. Was piranha delicious? The way the chef cooked it, yes. I sampled a few bites from the local fishermen that was grilled on a stick and thought it was bland.

In our experiences, we had more fun on the small adventure cruise than on the large cruise ships. The smaller ship let us explore the area and meet people, which is something we always hoped for on the bigger cruises. We are not done going on traditional cruise trips, but we are planning our next vacation on another small adventure cruise. Several of the cruises listed on sound interesting, along with a few I have seen here on the forum. My wife wants a European river cruise that takes us through wine tasting areas. (She keeps reminding me that I have promised her a European vacation for years and never delivered.)

What is my point? I am curious about two things.

1. How many of you prefer smaller adventure cruises compared to large cruise liners?
2. Can you suggest any great European river cruises?

I am looking into a Thames River cruise in the UK, or a cruise on the Auxerre River, but would listen to any suggestions. It looks like the Auxerre cruise provides more of the wine tasting opportunities my wife wants.

Since you have read this far, I want to ask the cruise experts one other question. I want to take an Antarctica tour in the next few years. Can you recommend any great cruises, especially if they are on smaller ships? I want the opportunity to climb onto an iceberg, take pictures of penguins, see whales, and satisfy my adventure lust for going to Antarctica. It is one more of the places that I see on the Discovery Channel that stirs my imagination.

Just one more point, if you have never gone on a small cruise ship, do yourself a favor and try it. The difference of being onboard with less than 100 people, compared to thousands, is immense. We keep in contact with several of the other couples we met onboard the Amazon cruise, but do not remember any names from our Caribbean, Alaskan, or Bahamas cruises. We shared an adventure on the Amazon, not a floating hotel. When you stand beside another man and both of you get nipped by a piranha, you tend to remember each other. Especially after you share a few recuperative drinks, back onboard the ship.

What is your opinion? Are massive cruise ships your idea of a great time, or do you prefer unusual destinations on small ships?

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