Last week I wrote about Paul Merton's holiday onboard the Allure of the Seas, and having gained further insight to the world's largest cruise ship, I thought I'd take a look at the difference between the modern über-ship experience and the more elegant, traditional smaller ships.
Would you, like Paul Merton, cruise on one of the world's largest ships, or would you prefer a more intimate experience? Here at Iglu there is a mixed view on Allure of the Seas, there are those who absolutely love the ship and have enjoyed their cruises on her, and others, like me, who prefer the mid-sized or small ship experience.
The Big Ships
Big ships, when I was still a bar tender for Princess, were big, but not in comparison to now, back then the 3,500 passenger Grand Princess was one of the largest ships at sea. Royal Caribbean then stepped up the game with their Freedom class ships, that grew a little each time, until the 4,100 passenger Independence of the Seas was launched. This is a ship that boasts a climbing wall, swimming pools, an ice-rink (yes I did say ice-rink) and the huge Royal Promenade as the ship's heart. This new breed of ships offer more choices of cabin, dining and entertainment than you can imagine. There is more variety than you'll find in most holiday resorts and you can go half the week without bumping into the same people, should you wish.
Having seen the Allure, what other ships are showing off their credentials among the world's elite in terms of size?
Oasis of the Seas: Oasis of the Seas was the first 5,400 passenger ship and the original Oasis class ship. She is so large the ship is split into neighbourhoods. This ship has sea view balconies, park view balconies and double-height, New York-style, loft suites. She boasts climbing walls, a zip line and an AqauTheatre, and, of course, an ice rink! The Oasis is something truly spectacular and it will take you the full cruise to dine, drink and relax in every possible venue. Well worth a week of Caribbean cruising if you like hustle and bustle.
Norwegian Epic: The Norwegian Epic is another huge cruise ship, at 4,000 passengers she is similar in size to the Independence of the Seas, but has a slightly more wacky feel. This ship is aimed at a younger crowd, boasting huge waterslides and a bowling alley. There is an amazing array of dining to choice from that includes a French Bistro, a Teppanyaki restaurant, a Steakhouse, a noodle bar, a sushi bar, an Italian restaurant, cafes, 24/7 pizza delivery and so much more. The ship has also boasted onboard acts that include the famous Blue Man Group.
What these über ships lack in elegance, they make up for in choice and entertainment.
The Mid-Sized Ships
Mid-sized ships offer more of a middle ground. Typically between 1,200 and 2,500 passengers, these ships are able to offer the more intimate locations, such as Alaska's Inside Passage, and offer a more elegant onboard atmosphere, yet are big enough to offer a choice. Most mid-sized ships will offer a main dining room, two or three speciality restaurants, a cafe serving decent coffee and the obligatory 24 hour buffet and room service. Mid-sized ships vary from the 5 star cruising of Celebrity Cruises and Holland America, to the great value 3 star cruising of Thomson Cruises or MSC Cruises.
ms Ryndam: The Ryndam was one of the few Holland America ships to cruise from the UK, carrying her 1,260 passengers to Norwegian Fjords, or cruising from Barcelona to the intimate Mediterranean ports of Monte Carlo and Ibiza. Offering a more adult inspired atmosphere and with special guests, as part of their culinary programme, including the likes of Valentine Warner, as opposed to Shrek. The ship had a country club feel and a chino wearing clientele, offering a relaxed environment and impeccable service.
Sea Princess: The Sea Princess is one of Princess Cruises' Sun class ships and the sister ship of my former home, the Sun Princess. Again, as she only carries around 2,000 passengers, the atmosphere is a lot more relaxed than the larger ships. Though, there is still some great choices on offer, from the Italian Trattoria to the ever popular Sterling Steakhouse. Due to the styling of the ship and the fact she offers cruises to Alaska, including the aforementioned Inside Passage, and through the Panama Canal, the crowd tends to be older families, with children more likely to be teenagers than toddlers.
Mid-sized ships offer a fantastic balance between the too, but for those looking for action-packed cruises and family facilities for every age and mood, these ships may feel a little too calm.
The Small Ships
You know what they say about small ships? Small ports. The more intimate small ships will whisk you away to the charming ports of Portofino and St. Tropez. These ships tend to offer a even more relaxed pace, with chinos and sports jackets the standard attire. They are like being in a elegant, members only golf club, but with fantastic food and fascinating destinations on offer, as opposed to golf.
Azamara Quest: Azamara Club Cruises offer two identical ships, with cruises that live up to the name. The Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey are very much a floating country club, with the Azamara Quest boasting an itinerary that includes the Monaco Grand Prix. The ships offer a very mature environment, though this doesn't mean dated. With itinerary heavy sailings and fabulous food, wine and cocktails on offer, you won't need the 3D theatre, ice-rink or waterslides of the larger ships. And don't worry there is still the obligatory steakhouse, Prime C, onboard!
Adonia: Adonia is P&O Cruises' smallest and newest ship. Part of the cruise line's adult-only selection, P&O Cruises launched her to offer diversity as they have ships in each category, with the Azura and Ventura in the über ships and the likes of the Aurora offering a mid-sized ship experience. Again, Adonia offers a more intimate experience, very elegant surroundings and a mixture of quaint ports and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Perfect from honeymoons to celebrating retirement.
I suppose the moral of the story is that no type of cruise ship is better than any other, it is more down to what ship, facilities and destinations thatare better four you. The big ships offer a more action-filled, exciting holiday, perfect for families or energetic cruises, with their resort feel they are also ideal for those there for the onboard experience as opposed the onshore ones.
The smaller ships are more about offer stunning, intimate and interesting destinations, but with the added bonus of sleeping, dining and relaxing on an elegant, country manor-styled ship, that takes you from one place to the next, without unpacking.
It would be unfair to say mid-sized ships are a middle-ground, even if they are, as they offer their own experience. There are more lively ships or more mature ships to chose from and they offer incredible views in the Alaskan or Norwegian Fjords, relaxing, sun-blushed cruises to the Caribbean and some of the Med's more elegant ports of call. They also offer a fabulous onboard experience for sea days, whether it be the pool, spa, kids club or cocktail bar.
I know which are my favourite, but do you know which are yours?