Choosing Your Ship

Cruise Ships by Size

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Large Ships Midsize Ships Small Ships

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Although all ships share certain similarities, ship size very much matters when it comes to your overall cruise experience. In fact, the size of the ship—large, midsize, or small—affects pretty much every other aspect of the cruise: how many fellow passengers you'll share your vacation with, the onboard dining and entertainment options, the activities you'll be offered, and even the ports of call you can visit. Accordingly, choosing the right ship can make or break your vacation, so consider your lifestyle and expectations carefully when making this important decision.

Large Ships

In general, bigger ships offer more room for onboard amenities and feature all the bells and whistles that modern passengers have come to associate with cruising. Given their cross-generational, something-for-everyone appeal and budget-friendly pricing, you're more likely to find a younger and family-oriented demographic represented aboard larger ships. At these veritable villages-at-sea, you should anticipate crowds at popular onboard spots like the pool decks or while tendering in port. Larger ships can only access the biggest ports, so expect itineraries that cover popular, well-trafficked ports like St. Thomas and St. Maarten in the Caribbean, and Barcelona and Civitavecchia in the Mediterranean.

Tip: Many of today’s extra-large megaships include rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, miniature golf courses, and surfing (or even skydiving!) simulators.

Need to Know

  • Lots of people
  • Largest number of special features
  • Largest variety of dining options
  • Widest range of cabin categories and prices
  • Extensive facilities for kids
  • Can only call in big ports
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Best Large Ships

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Midsize Ships

For many cruisers, midsize ships provide a happy medium, combining some big-ship features with smaller-ship atmosphere (like fewer crowds and more intimate spaces). There's no lack of entertainment and features on these ships, but they don't usually have the extravagant facilities of the largest ships. Alternative dining is generally an option, and you can still expect ample nightlife, a casino, shows, and a spa. Some vessels in this category are refurbished older ships that offer particularly good value, while others afford a luxury experience all their own. Due to their size, these ships have room for a sizable staff, providing higher staff-to-passenger ratios than on larger ships. Midsize ships can go almost anywhere, and may include more exotic port calls than the largest ships do.

Tip: Midsize ships may be renovated older vessels from the days when ships were simply smaller and simpler, or they may be state-of-the-art offerings from luxury cruise lines.

Need to Know

  • Fewer crowds than larger ships
  • Special features but limited in number
  • Variety of dining options
  • Always a range of cabin categories and prices
  • Separate facilities for kids
  • Can call in both large and small ports
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Best Midsize Ships

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Small Ships

Smaller ships tend to excel at off-the-beaten-path itineraries since the vessels can comfortably access more intimate ports. Smaller ship size does not allow for a lot of onboard extras, but lines often splurge for more plush appointments in cabins and public spaces. Onboard atmosphere is more intimate, with fewer guests and more personalized staff attention, but that attention and exclusivity can come with a price. Intriguing itineraries are more often the focus of the voyage and often include some ports of call, such as St. Barts or Portofino, Italy, which are not suited for larger ships.

Tip: TIP: Small ships might be yachtlike and luxurious, simple sailing ships, expedition vessels (upscale or not), or riverboats. Good things do come in small packages.

Need to Know

  • Generally much more space and staff per passenger
  • Limited onboard facilities
  • Just a few dining options
  • Individual cabins may be larger but categories fewer
  • Not always family-friendly
  • Can call virtually anywhere
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Best Small Ships

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