Resort-style ships provide the perfect holiday for people seeking value for money. Words: Toni Eatts.

If you are budget-conscious, enjoy being entertained and intend travelling with children, think mid-range cruise ships that offer a classic, contemporary experience. These ships aim at appealing to all age groups, which makes them particularly attractive to multi-generational families. They also tend to be large ships that carry more than 1,600 passengers and these days, with the introduction of the megaliners, they can carry more than 6,000 passengers.

These massive vessels allow cruise lines economies of scale, which is why cruise companies can offer wonderful itineraries and memorable on-board experiences at prices that suit budget-conscious holidaymakers. This is also the area of the booming cruise market that is growing the fastest. This means cruise lines are launching new ships that offer even more extraordinary experiences or they are revamping their older vessels in order to compete. The pay-off for passengers is that the ships become destinations in themselves – they are wonderful resorts that provide a range of experiences that could only be bettered by a land-based theme park.

Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas, launched in late 2009, and Allure of the Seas, which debuted in late 2010, are great examples of this style of ship. Each of these giants carries more than 6,000 passengers and offers themed areas such as Central Park, Boardwalk, and the Royal Promenade; a swimming pool that turns into a theatre at night for acrobatics and water ballet; and a full-sized carousel.

Closer to home, P&O Cruises introduced Pacific Jewel to Australasian waters in 2009. A ship that’s wowing her 1,950 passengers with breathtaking high-wire trapeze performances on the top deck, Pacific Jewel also offers the largest spa afloat in the southern hemisphere.

This trend for bigger and better can also be seen on Norwegian Cruise LinesNorwegian Epic, which carries 4,200 passengers. The ship boasts 18 bars and lounges, including an ‘ice bar’ where you drink cocktails in freezing conditions, 20 dining options and a huge aqua park. Norwegian Epic also provides innovative accommodation options such as family-size balcony staterooms – these cabins, most of which are located close to the kids’ clubs, allow for three or four people to share, and many of them can also be connected.

The importance of the family market can be seen in MSC Cruises’ launch of MSC Magnifica, which also offers family-size suites. Meanwhile, in 2011, Carnival Cruise Lines will launch Carnival Magic, which boasts a great aqua park; an indoor/outdoor café and live entertainment venue with full bar service; an exclusive adults-only retreat; and cantilevered whirlpools that will extend over the ship’s sides. To ensure its older vessels can compete, the line has spent US$34 million on upgrading Carnival Fascination, adding a new water park and an adults-only retreat.

These ships are designed to please as many people as possible, which makes them perfect for family holidays. During the day, the kids can disappear into the kids’ clubs, which are usually divided into distinct age groups: toddlers (two to four years), juniors (five to seven), intermediate (eight to 10), tweens (11 to 13) and teenagers (14 to 17). There, they will be entertained by activities or hang out in their clubrooms – and, on some ships, in their dedicated swimming pools. Meanwhile, parents and grandparents can attend dancing or cooking lessons, play sports, enjoy massages and snooze in adults-only retreat areas. In the evening, guests of all ages can dine together. Afterwards, the youngsters can head off to the kids’ night program or be minded while the adults see a Las Vegas-style show, relax over a romantic drink or go dancing.

If this sounds like your dream holiday, be sure to check that the ship on which you intend sailing offers night supervision for children – most do, but find out what’s available on your cruise. When you’re booking, also ask about highchairs, baby food and cots if you require them. Many lines offer special rates for a third or fourth person sharing a cabin and some lines allow under-18s to cruise free when sharing a cabin with parents or grandparents, although there may be charges for port taxes.

If you intend holidaying as a couple, rest assured that large ships are designed to make your fellow passengers ‘disappear’. This means the ships never seem crowded. But whether you are travelling as a duo or in a large group, a cruise provides value for money, especially when you take into account that your transport to different destinations, accommodation, main meals and entertainment are typically included in your fare. No wonder mid-range cruising is so popular.

In a nutshell

Ships are 2.5* to 4*
Mid-range vessels suit:

  • All ages, especially those who are young at heart
  • Young adult couples and singles
  • Families with tots to teens
  • People cruising for the first time
  • Those who enjoy city life
  • People seeking lots of activities and entertainment
  • Those who want friendly service
  • Extroverted types who like upbeat surroundings