From diverse cuisine to endless activities, booking a vacation with a large cruise ship over a smaller boat tour gives you A LOT of bang for your buck.
While small ocean liners and vessels can offer access to diminutive cities, a potentially more exclusive experience, and a heightened level of luxury, they also come with a hefty price tag and limited onboard offerings. Big ships, on the other hand, will keep you dancing, playing, partying, eating, and having fun from the moment you step onboard to the morning of your final breakfast. If you’re debating between booking a small boat tour or going with a big cruise ship, here are 18 benefits of cruising BIG!
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Access to Private Islands
Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival each have a private island oasis port to call upon, but Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay is the crown jewel of the private island scene. This miniature Bahamian gem changed the game when it fully unveiled its $250 million makeover a few years ago.
There you’ll find a thrilling water park with North America’s tallest water slide, freshwater pools, a swim-up bar, sandy beaches bumping up against the crystal-clear aquamarine sea, free food and drinks (with onboard beverage packages valid on the island), Wi-Fi extending from the ship, and the new Coco Beach Club.
The latter serves up luxuriously juicy filet mignon and massive grilled lobster tails in a setting that includes a private infinity pool on the beach and the chance to rent a beach or floating cabana. Perfect Day is something no small ship can match and is a unique experience that other big cruise lines will likely try to replicate on their own private islands.
A Wider Variety of Food Options
On big cruise ships, you’ll find a vast array of culinary options to choose from. Whether it’s the rotating menu of authentic street eats on Carnival Mardi Gras, Shaq’s Big Chicken (the fries, which have stolen the title of “Best Fries at Sea” from neighboring Guy’s Burger Joint), Italian haunts in Central Park on Oasis-class Royal Caribbean ships, the freshest seafood, or a wide selection of desserts—there is no stone left unturned when it comes to eating on big ships.
The 24-Hour Soft Serve, Fro-Yo, and Pizza
This big ship perk isn’t just for kids! Some adults—including this 45-year-old—make frequent pitstops at the pizza shops and ice cream machines on big ships, and then commit to taking the steps instead of the elevator to burn off at least some of those tasty calories.
The Competitive Pricing
It’s a simple macroeconomic lesson: more cabins (and more diversity in the type of cabins) + more sailings = more supply. This means that larger cruise ships will have more competitive prices, even when demand is high (like it is right now). From 3-day sailings in an interior stateroom for a couple of hundred dollars to multi-week cruises in a balcony cabin for thousands of dollars, big ships make epic vacations at sea accessible to nearly everyone.
Diverse Entertainment Offerings
The Beelays in residency on the Carnival Mardi Gras is a legit jazz trio. The Central Stage Band is better than most musical acts touring the country on land. The Karlea Lynne Quartet could easily be sitting in at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan. The skaters on Royal Caribbean leap, twirl, and dazzle during their professional-grade ice shows.
On the stages of big ships across the globe, the Broadway-quality talent provides passengers with a diverse lineup of top-notch entertainment. Even the open-air Aqua Theater performances—including the newest show-stopper, Aqua80, found at the back of Royal Caribbean Oasis-class mega-ships—are jaw-dropping. You’ll be hard-pressed to find such diverse entertainment offerings onboard a smaller ship.
The water slides and children’s water play areas are always free and always fun on large cruise ships. When you consider what it costs to take your family to a water park on land (and feed them for a week), cruising on a big ship with an onboard water park is a bargain.
An Endless List of Activities
Suppose you always wanted to try Flowrider surfing, zip-lining, go-karting, Zumba, laser tag, virtual reality arcade games, ice skating, singing karaoke, trivia, or simply want to play a round of mini-golf. In that case, you can do it all free onboard a big cruise ship. If you don’t mind ponying some extra cash, you can try your luck at bingo, participate in art auctions, or even get pampered at the onboard spa. Fancy a few hands of Texas Hold ‘Em or Blackjack? Maybe an hour or two at the slots? Big ships also offer the chance to win money (or lose some) in real casinos while at sea.
The Onboard Hot Tubs
Simply put: there are so many hot tubs on big ships and even more on mega vessels like Royal Caribbean Oasis-class ships. Chances are, you will have some alone time in a hot tub if you get your timing right (think: early morning or dinner time), which is both serene and one of the biggest benefits of cruising BIG.
Movies Under the Stars (or Caribbean Sun)
Over the years, I’ve snuggled up with my kids many times with buckets of free popcorn enjoyed beneath a blanket of stars while at sea. Now, thanks to the hi-tech, crystal-clear screen on the Mardi Gras cruise ship, my wife and I were able to enjoy the film, Soul under a cabana beneath the bright midday Caribbean sun.
The Kids' Clubs
Kids clubs are huge for families looking to enjoy a “two-birds-one-stone” situation while at sea. You can take a family vacation on a big ship, but when you and your significant other want to explore a charming port only as a couple or enjoy a romantic dinner for two, there are incredible kids clubs, broken out by age, that will engage, entertain, educate, and even feed your little passengers at no additional cost (save for baby care and after-hours care in the kids’ clubs).
The Chance to Make New Friendships
Big ships have more people on board and from more diverse backgrounds and locations, which betters the odds for making at-sea friendships. On the glittering new Carnival Mardi Gras, my wife and I met Tracy and Johnny Bercegeay during 3 p.m. tea on our final day at sea.
We chatted over cucumber sandwiches and slices of coffee cake and discovered that we have a shared love for unusual breeds of domestic animals. I learned that Johnny and I each miss our fathers who had passed away, and my wife and I listened to what life is like for Johnny and Tracy who are and Carnival cruise fanatics.
Enjoy Alone Time
As with time spent in a big city, like my hometown of NYC, big cruise ships are teeming with people and give you the chance to “disappear” in a crowd for some much-needed alone time. Whether you disappear into a hidden nook or cranny on the ship, you can sink into a book, zone out with your favorite podcasts, binge a downloaded TV series, write that novel you keep talking about, or simply enjoy some peace and quiet.
Create Your Own Unique Cruise Experience
On a big cruise ship, no two passengers will experience the cruise the same way. This is because the volume of entertainment, activities, dining choices, and excursion options promote individuality. Whether you want to play onboard virtual reality games or soak in a hot tub, the benefit of choosing your own adventure is huge for independent travelers who can use cruising as a way to enjoy a custom-tailored vacation.
Everyone Is Treated Like a Millionaire
Of course, small ships treat you like millionaires because there’s a good chance many passengers are! On a big ship, like the Carnival Horizon or Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, it doesn’t matter if you scraped together a year’s worth of savings to book an interior cabin or splurged on a spa balcony room: you are treated like the most important person on the ship by a crew who are in the business of making your vacation perfect, from start to finish.
Less Chance of Sea Sickness
The bigger the vessel, the more likely it will absorb the motion of the ocean. Of course, you may still experience sea-sickness on a big ship, but it is more likely to hit you hard when smaller ships are caught in rough waters.
An App for Planning Your Vacation
The big ships have fantastic apps, like the Carnival HUB app, for example. This not only shows you everything that’s happening at every moment of your cruise, but it’s also where you will book your specialty dining, check-in for the complimentary restaurants and favorite concerts, and add shows, trivia sessions, and shopping specials to your personal in-app planner. You can also check your real-time account summary to see if you’ve already blown your budget on tanzanite jewelry.
Introducing Your Kids to Other Cultures
Nowhere else on earth, save for the actual United Nations and maybe the Olympics, are so many nations gathered together in harmony, and in one place, like on a cruise ship. If you are interested in raising your kids with a deepened appreciation for other cultures, traveling with young children on a big cruise ship lets them meet other people from far-flung places like the Philippines, Ukraine, India, Croatia, South Africa, Italy, and beyond.
Authentic Indian Cuisine
While sailing on the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, my wife mentioned to our Main Dining Room server, Gabriel, that she loves vegetarian Indian food and that years ago, she moved to the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens to be surrounded by her favorite cuisine. The next night at dinner, she was presented with navratan korma (her favorite dish), a basket of papadam, warm roti, and served a glass of cold mango lassi. She nearly fainted with surprise!
This wasn’t just something special for her (although don’t tell her that!) but rather an available feast for any passenger craving authentic Indian fare.