It seems like every cruise line is trying to make their newest ships as big as possible. These new ships have racetracks, rope’s courses, sky-diving simulators and things previously thought impossible at sea.
And I must say that it is rather exciting to sail on a 200,000+ ton ship that is almost four football fields in length.
But a few recent sailings on smaller cruise ships (Enchantment of the Seas and Zaandam) helped me really appreciate what small cruise ships have to offer. There is a reason so many passengers just love to cruise on ships that are 60,000 tons and smaller.
One reason some smaller ships are overlooked is the simple fact that many of them are also older ships. And you know how we all love shiny new things that still have that fresh out of dry dock smell.
Here are 11 great reasons to cruise on a smaller cruise ship, and why you should at least consider a getaway on one of these fantastic vessels.
This factor could be #1 for a lot of you. After all, the cheaper your cruise the more cruises you can afford to go on. The newer and larger ships always come at a premium, while you can find some amazing bargains on smaller cruise ships. It’s not uncommon to find deals for $50 to $60 a day per person on one of these small ships.
7 and 9 day itineraries are nice, but sometimes you just want a quick getaway that doesn’t require taking the entire week off of work. Typically the larger ships don’t even offer anything less than a 7 day cruise unless it’s a repositioning cruise of some kind. For smaller ships it’s easy to find 3 and 4 day itineraries. I’ve even gone on a 1 day cruise just to check out the ship. That being said, if you want a several month long itinerary that visits ports all over the world, a small cruise ship is your best option for that as well.
Easy to Navigate
Smaller cruise ships are easier to navigate not only because they are smaller. They are typically just laid out in a more sensible manner. I’ve been on some cruise ships that took me 4 days or so to get a real feel for where I was when trying to get from point A to point B. A lot of wasted space seems to be a by-product of building such a monstrosity at sea. I love the ease of navigation when feeling out a smaller ship and always knowing how to get to my desired location.
Less Walking and More Doing
This kind of goes alone with the point above, but I’ve done my fair share of walking on large ships. While I don’t mind the extra exercise, I don’t want to feel like I just walked a 5k just to hit the buffet, only to realize I have another journey to walk to get back to my stateroom. Those long corridors feel more like a house of mirrors that go on endlessly.
On my last small ship cruise I loved that I could be anywhere I wanted on the ship in just a couple minutes and very few steps. This meant more time enjoying the ship and less time walking around it.
At first I thought the opposite might be true, but my experience on the last several small cruise ships was very surprising. The pool decks might be a little smaller than the large ships, but because there are much fewer passengers onboard the ship just never feels crowded.
In fact, finding an empty lounger was never an issue. Depending on the layout of the ship the buffet area might get somewhat busy, but we are talking about a difference between having over 6,000 guests onboard as opposed to a little over 2,000, and that makes a big difference. This means a less crowded pool, spa, sports court, etc.
More Intimate Settings
On my recent cruise with Holland America’s Zaandam I was struck by the cozy setting of the lounges. They didn’t feel cramped. They felt more like a spacious living room, inviting me in to hear the music and live performers. On larger ships it’s easy to almost feel lost, but the intimate setting of a small ship allows the entertainers to really connect with the passengers and get to know them throughout the performance.
More Options for Port Destinations
There are some ships that are simply too large to go to every port or even squeeze under every bridge. Perhaps you noticed that with cruise lines sending ships to Cuba right now, it’s only the smaller ships that are able to visit the island.
There are other ports that just can’t handle a massive ship, so a smaller ship allows you to visit more places you’ve never been, while larger ships are confined to ports that can handle such behemoths. Larger ships visiting London have to dock an hour away while Viking’s smaller ships can cruise right into Greenwich.
Easier to Get to Know the Staff
On so many cruises the staff really makes or breaks the cruise. And the better you can get to know them and they can get to know you, the better experience you will have. A smaller ship makes it easier to know your room steward, director, and wait staff. And they will find it easier to know you because they don’t have as many passengers to work with every day. This is also a friendly reminder to get to know the staff and be courteous with them, not just with your tipping.
Shorter Lines When Tendering
Even smaller ships have to tender at certain ports that don’t have a capable pier. On a large ship I once waited for almost 2 hours just to tender to the private island. Cruise lines try to manage these wait times, but they can only move people so fast. On smaller ships the wait times to tender are usually very short, so that means more time enjoying the ship or enjoying the island, and not standing in a long line.
Quick Embarkation and Disembarkation
This goes back to those long lines again. You go on a cruise to get away from it all for a while, not to wait in long lines for hours on end. The embarkation process for a small ship of less than 2,000 passengers is as simple as it gets in most cases. My last embarkation for Zaandam took all of 20 minutes and I was on the ship.
The same goes with disembarkation. But keep in mind that if you come back to port and there are other ships coming in at the same time you may have long lines to deal with customs, since they are all funneled into the same area.
Less Like a Theme Park
For those who go on cruises to get some peace and quiet, a small ship is less like a theme park and more like a quiet, floating resort. Sure, you don’t have the bells and whistles of the mega-ships, but bells and whistles are just noise-makers right? There is nothing like the sweet solitude of being at sea without a lot of chaos going on around you.