September 25, 2023   8:38pm

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When choosing your ship for cruising, size plays an important role for lots of reasons … Here’s that info along with other specific recommendations from our travel advisor Susan …

Ships range from intimate to virtual cities at sea. Largest ships have everything from food courts to climbing walls. Your experience will vary greatly depending on the size and type of ship you chose. There certainly is something out there for every taste and almost every budget. Here are some things to think about:

Ship Size: Ships are generally classified in 3 sizes: Small (under 500 passengers, assuming 2 passengers per cabin), Mid-Size (500 to 1,000 passengers) and Large (everything above this up to several thousand passengers).

Names to know: Cruise lines in the Small Ship category are: Silversea, Seabourn, Regent’s Paul Gauguin and Navigator, and the smallest of the lot – SeaDream with 110 passengers. River boats (not included in this post specifically) are also considered Small Ships. Additionally there is Windstar (for motorized sailing) and Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper and Star Clippers for actual sailing. The Mid-Size category is dominated by Regent and Crystal as well as Oceania. The Large category includes everything else, with well-known names such as Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian, Holland America and Disney.

One size does not fit all: The smaller the ship the more intimate the experience will be (and often, but not always, the more costly). Mid-Size ships may represent the best of both worlds for many, especially families (as kid oriented programs as well as other kids are scarce on Small Ships), with lots of amenities and often better pricing. My experience is only on small and mid-size ships so I can’t comment on large ships other than to say that it sounds a bit overwhelming — a lot is at your disposal, but the idea of thousands of people disembarking at each port dispels the romantic notion of being at sea, at least for me. However, if you have kids a Disney cruise just might be the ticket. Your experience will most likely be more “ship oriented” vs. “port oriented” — not unlike being at a very large resort, albeit a floating one (but a stress free one at that).

Inclusive vs. not: Most Small Ships (Silversea, Seabourn, SeaDream) and some Mid-Size Ships (Regent) are all-inclusive. This means that all beverages – including alcohol/wine – and all gratuities are included in the basic fare. For all ships, shore excursions, spa treatments, are extra. It is a matter of personal taste, but we like the all-inclusive approach, having tried both. It is liberating as you never have to sign for anything (making dinner with old or new friends much easier as there are no awkward moments about who will order and foot the bill for the wine) and staff members are not following you around hoping to please you for a tip later in the sailing.

Cabins (often called Suites): On Small and Mid-Size Ships, a “suite” usually consists of a bedroom area, a separate sitting area, and more often than not, a private balcony (as well as a bathroom of course). There are no interior cabins. Balconies are great in that you have your own private space in which to retreat. However, we recently tried the very small SeaDream, which has no balconies and found it fine because the small passenger load (110) didn’t make the public spaces feel crowded.

Cabin Fares: Often fares rise the higher deck level you go, and sometimes they rise when you are mid-ship (considered more stable). This is where an agent can help you determine the best location at the best value. On Large Ships there will be a greater variety of cabin types (including interior ones).

When to book: Generally, booking early by putting down a refundable deposit gives you the best fare (called EBI), and this is often well below the published full fare. Agents may have special fares to offer based upon group rates they have negotiated. Sometimes, last minute bookings are available at good rates (but don’t count on this – good sailings sell out and if the cruise line reduces costs they have to offer the reduced rate to all who have previously booked). Once you have sailed on a cruise line you are often given a discount on future sailings (usually 5%) and if you book another cruise while on one, there are other discounts offered.

Specialty Ships: In addition to the ships described above, there are many special purpose expedition ships (usually smaller). These smaller ships can take you down the Amazon or the Nile, to the Galapagos, the Antarctic, etc. Although not specifically addressed here, expeditions using smaller, specialty boats are available via Abercrombie Kent, National Geographic Expeditions and Orient Express among many others. There also are ships built especially for river touring, mainly in Europe but also some in Asia. The aforementioned tour operators may offer river cruises as does Viking River Cruises.

Coming next is a post about finding the right itinerary for you. In the meantime, visit Cruise Critic and/or websites from each cruise line to get an even better feel about what the ships are like. And, as always, speak with your travel agent to get an overview from his/her perspective.

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