Once you’ve finalised your budget and destination, you need to decide what ship and what sort of cabin (suite) will suit you best.
There are so many ships to choose from that the task can seem daunting if you’re new to cruising or have only tried one or two types of cruise. The range on offer also means you will find the right match, but you’ll need to ask yourself some questions.
First, what is the purpose of your cruise? For example, if you’re looking for a ship to spend your honeymoon on you are going to want something very different to the family group that is looking for a ship to suit every member, from toddlers to great-grandparents.
Next, decide whether size matters. Some people love a crowd while others prefer intimate gatherings or, at the very least, ships that offer intimate public spaces – even if they are carrying a couple of thousand passengers.
Matching a ship to your interests is also vital. Do you want all the activity of a fun fair or would you prefer to listen to a lecture on archaeology? Are you a person who likes to slip into a cocktail dress or evening suit, or is country-club casual more your style? And perhaps most importantly, what style of food or dining options do you prefer?
If you are happy to queue for a buffet, you will find many ships will suit your requirements. If gourmet food is important, however, and you want to decide when, where and with whom you dine, you will need to look at your ship choices more carefully.
Fortunately, more and more ships offer flexibility with respect to dining times and your dining companions. On some ships there are a mix of both traditional set dining and flexible dining venues so that you can choose according to your mood. Many also offer several restaurant options ranging from pizza places through to venues overseen by celebrity chefs, Asian cuisine through to cook-your-own barbeque facilities.
Seek advice from specialist cruise travel agents to help you decide which style of ship is best for you and your budget. The longer your itinerary, the more important your decision.
As a general guide, the size of your ship will give you an indication of the style of cruise on offer. The smaller the ship, the fewer options you will have in terms of restaurants, bars and entertainment. But you’ll find it easier to embark/disembark, there’ll be fewer loud announcements, better access to smaller ports and a more personal experience in general.
In comparison, a large ship will offer you plenty of choice of activities, dining and entertainment and will handle better in rough seas (heaven forbid you hit stormy seas). But it also means you may have to deal with queues at the buffet and for shore excursions, listen to loud announcements, have to find your way around, and generally have a more streamlined impersonal experience.
At a glance: ship capacity and style of cruise
Large resort ships
1,600 to 6,000 passengers
If you want a range of entertainment, eateries and structured activities on a budget, resort-style vessels will suit you. They also appeal to families as they offer children’s programs.
600 to 1,600 passengers
While these cruise ships have fewer public rooms, they still provide activities and entertainment and many give you a choice of different dining venues.
Boutique and small ships
50 to 600 passengers
These range from five-star to the most basic ships. Entertainment is usually limited and often, there is only one dining room; however, some serve award-winning food.