Big Ships vs. Small Ships

Big Ships vs. Small Ships: the Pros and Cons of Cruise Ship Size

allure of the seas cruise ship sailsToo big or not too big? That’s the question for a lot of cruisers thinking of trying a ship of a different size, whether they’re newbies or old salts. With mega-vessels featuring a dizzying number of amenities, dining choices and entertainment options, and small ships offering a more intimate and often exclusive experience, the size decision can be a difficult one.

We’ve compiled a list of elements to consider before making a choice about whether bigger is better or small is the way to go. Check out our pros and cons below.

Editor’s Note: For the purposes of this article, we’re considering “small” ships to be any vessel carrying 1,599 or fewer passengers and “big” ships to be anything with a passenger capacity of 1,600 or more.

Big Ships

Number of Passengers

kids cook as part of activity on celebrity reflectionPro: If you’re someone who doesn’t mind a crowd, a big ship is the place to do it. With some ships — like those in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class — carrying more than 5,000 passengers per sailing, it’s unlikely you’ll run into the same folks twice during a week long voyage. With so many bars, lounges and out-of-the-way nooks and crannies, it’s easy to find a spot for yourself, but those who like to constantly meet new people will particularly find mega-ships appealing.

Con: Sailing on what’s essentially a floating city can be overwhelming and likely won’t feel intimate. On large ships with poor layouts, lines for everything from the buffet to the theatre can be long, and good luck finding a deck chair by the pool.

Dining Options

geoffrey zakarian restaurant ocean blue on norwegian ncl breakawayPro: If you’re easily bored with eating in the same dining room every night, large ships provide lots of options to switch it up. On larger vessels, you can have sushi one night, Italian the next, French the following evening and seafood or steak the day after that. The possibilities are almost endless, which is a plus for anybody who’s a picky eater (or anybody who’s travelling with one).

Con: Chances are good that you’ll end up shelling out extra cash to dine at least a couple of the alternative eateries. Reservations can be difficult to come by for some of the more exclusive options; if you’re dying to try one in particular, book before you board.

Entertainment Offerings

princess theater on regal princess cruise shipPro: Larger ships boast more bells and whistles, so it follows naturally that they present more entertainment options. From comedians, game shows and Broadway revues to magicians, movies and dinner theatre productions, there’s something to keep just about everyone busy.

Con: Sometimes it’s difficult to decide where you want to be and what you want to do. Should I catch the movie on the pool deck or head to the lounge for karaoke? If I miss the show tonight, can I see it again during this sailing? Also, a select few events do carry an additional fee to attend, which can be a drawback.


the waterslide on carnival breeze cruise shipPro: Add ropes courses, skydiving and innovative water slides to the host of options that keep passengers busy onboard. Because larger ships offer something for just about everyone, they’re often a solid choice anyone who’s easily bored, couples or groups with varied interests and multi-generational groups. (Think bingo for grandma and grandpa, dinner shows for mom and dad, and innovative children’s programming for the kids.)

Con: As is the case with a large selection of entertainment options, having too many activity choices can make any cruiser’s head spin.

Small Ships

Number of Passengers

people sit under a sail on island windjammers diamantPro: Small ships, by definition, carry fewer passengers. You’ll likely see the same faces over and over on a daily basis and get to know them exceedingly well by the end of your sailing.

Con: If you’re someone who prefers to keep a low profile, a vessel with a larger passenger count is probably a better bet. On a smaller ship, a handful of annoying passengers can make or break a trip.

Dining Options

a dining room onboard regent seven seas marinerPro: Many small ships, due to their limited space, have only one main dining room for meals, and they generally don’t allow for anything other than eating at set times with set table mates. (Others might have alternative eateries, but they’re limited.)

Con: Menu options can be slim, especially with a shortage of alternative restaurants. If you’re someone who likes variety, you might have trouble finding it on a smaller vessel.

Entertainment Offerings

empty theater on seabourn questPro: You won’t find much in the way of casinos, theatre productions or magicians, but that leaves room for more educational pursuits. Small ships often provide enrichment seminars on everything from photography to local culture. Sometimes local performers are brought on board to entertain, as well. Think historians, musicians and dancers.

Con: If history and culture aren’t of interest to you, you might have trouble finding something to occupy your time on board. Be prepared to bring some reading material.


spin bikes and balls fitness center gym on azamara journeyPro: Because small ships don’t offer the plethora of amenities that large ships do, the sailings they provide focus mainly on the destinations they visit, rather than the vessels themselves. That means excursions are key, and they often focus on the history and culture of a region, making it easy for cruisers to immerse themselves in their surroundings and learn a lot about the places on which they call. Also, due to their tinier size, small ships can call on more remote ports that can’t accommodate mega-ships.

Con: Marathon shore excursions can leave you feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation. Prepare to spend a day on board relaxing and taking it easy if it gets to be too hectic.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum leap: No main dining rooms

By Rebecca Tobin

QUANTUM-AMERICANICONrenderRoyal Caribbean International is eliminating the main dining rooms on its two upcoming ships, the Quantum and Anthem of the Seas, in favor of five smaller restaurants that will offer specific culinary styles.

The five restaurants, to be included in the cruise price, will be among a total of 18 eateries onboard, in a concept Royal Caribbean calls “Dynamic Dining.”

Royal Caribbean also introduced four new specialty restaurants.  Patrons will pay a cover to dine at these restaurants.

The specialty restaurants include Jamie’s Italian, which was developed in coQUANTUM-JAMIESrenderncert with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Michael’s Genuine Pub will be a gastropub built on a relationship with chef Michael Schwartz. Devinly Decadence, designed by bestselling author and chef of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” Devin Alexander, will feature a low-calorie menu.

Also carrying an extra charge will be Wonderland, where chefs will “twist their culinary kaleidoscopes to invent a dreamscape of never-before-seen fare,” Royal Caribbean said.

In addition, the ships will carry Royal Caribbean stalwarts Chops Grille, Izumi Japanese Cuisine and Chef’s Table, plus casual eateries such as the Windjammer lido cafe, Sorrento’s and Johnny Rockets.

Also on the casual side, the SeaPlex Dog House will be the first food truck at sea, Royal Caribbean said.

The line will use a new reservations system for the restaurants. QUANTUM-MICHAELSPUBrender

In eliminating the main dining room, Royal Caribbean appears to be taking the next step in the evolution of cruise ship dining.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s most recent ships, the Breakaway and the Getaway, each have three main dining rooms, but they are smaller and quieter than the traditional two-deck dining rooms on cruise ships. One of main dining rooms on the Breakaway and Getaway has a different menu than the other two.

Princess also has experimented with smaller main dining rooms and cuisine-specific restaurants that are included in the cruise fare.
Still others have been working on new concepts within their traditional dining rooms, such as Carnival Cruise Lines with its American Table and American Feast.

The 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas, scheduled to enter service this November, will sail from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, N.J. The Anthem is due to enter service the following spring.