Cruising – Finding the right ship

So you have decided to take a cruise, now what? Today’s savvy traveler will find many options available when it comes time to select the right cruise itinerary and ship. Choose wisely and you will have a vacation to remember, choose poorly and it could be a less than memorable experience.

With all of the cruising options available today just how do you make an informed decision? Seeking out the assistance of a trained travel professional is one way to get started, researching on the internet is another way, and everyone knows someone who has been on a cruise, and I am sure they will be more than happy to share their experiences.

So let’s try and make some sense out of all the choices and decisions you will be faced with when selecting the right cruise ship.


Cruise ships have been getting larger and larger, it seems each year the major cruise ship lines try and out do each other to see who can have the biggest ship. One of the largest cruise ships currently is the Freedom of the Seas owned by Royal Caribbean. This cruise ship weighs 160,000 tons, it is 1,112 feet long, 184 feet wide and it has 15 passenger decks holding 3,634 guests double-occupancy. By comparison, the Azamara Journey, one of the smaller more popular cruise ships belonging to Azamara Cruises, part of Celebrity Cruises, is only 30,000 tons, 593 feet long, 95 feet wide and holds only 694 passengers.

Azamara Journey

Is one better than the other? The simple answer is no. A large ship has its advantages. A larger ship will normally have more onboard amenities, like a larger Spa, more dining options, including specialty restaurants, more enrichment programs, do you want to learn how to play the piano or speak a foreign language? A larger ship may have a price advantage as operating costs are spread over a larger number of guests. Larger ships tend to appeal to families traveling with smaller children as they usually have a more robust kids program. Smaller ships on the other hand have advantages as well. A smaller ship can often times maneuver into ports not visited by the larger ships. A good example of this is in the Caribbean where you will find St Barth’s a small French Island normally only visited by the smaller ships, but a must see for those wanting a laid-back island experience. Small ships tend to have a higher guest to staff ratio, meaning you will get a more personalized service. Smaller ships tend to appeal to couples and small groups traveling together without small children, as the onboard programs for kids may be limited on non-existent. Smaller ships give you a more intimate country club feeling and you will spend more time with your fellow cruisers, and may end up making some life long friends.

A few questions to ask yourself when thinking about the size of a cruise ship:

  1. Am I traveling with children?
  2. Do I want an active onboard experience or am I looking for a more relaxing experience?
  3. Will I be comfortable around several thousand guests or do I feel more comfortable around several hundred guests?
  4. Is mobility an issue, smaller ships are easier to navigate.
  5. Is a large Spa or gym important, do you like big Broadway style productions and a large active Casino?
  6. Do you prefer finding a deck chair and curling up with a good book for hours?

Think about how you travel on land, when selecting a hotel or resort what do you look for? Some of the same qualities can be found on a cruise ship.

RCCL Freedom of the Seas


Just as there are many options when you are selecting a hotel, from a Motel 6 to a Four Seasons, there are the same options for selecting a cruise ship. The cruise ship market varies from country to country, so I will focus on the mainstream selections available to most Americans.

Condé Nast Traveler Magazine, a popular travel magazine publishes its rankings of the cruise ship industry each year, here are the 2008 results:

Top Large-Ship Cruise Lines

Top Small-Ship Cruise Lines


Crystal Cruises


Silversea Cruise


Regent Seven Seas Cruises


SeaDream Yacht Club


Disney Cruise Line


Seabourn Cruise Line


Oceania Cruises


Grand Circle Small Ship Cruises


Cunard Line


Lindblad Expeditions


Celebrity Cruises


Windstar Cruises


Holland America


Viking River Cruises


Princess Cruises


Uniworld River Cruises


Royal Caribbean


Peter Deilmann Cruises


Norwegian Cruise Line


Star Clippers Cruises

The top cruise lines, Crystal and Silversea both offer luxury accommodations, gourmet dining experiences, and a level of service you would find at a top resort destination, it invokes the grandeur of travel and appeals to those who enjoy dressing up for dinner and taking afternoon tea. On the other hand the more casual experience found on Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian appeals to a vast number of cruisers who enjoy the ability to dine in a more casual environment where formal nights may not be required, watch movies under the stars, climb a rock wall, play miniature golf with the kids, and generally enjoy a more festive party like atmosphere.

So is Crystal Cruises really that much better than Norwegian, Royal and Princess, well it depends. If the experience you are looking for matches the experience Crystal promises, then the answer is yes. This is where a travel professional can really assist you by taking the time to listen to your wants and needs and match them with a cruise line which delivers the experience you are looking for.

Shipboard experience considerations:

  1. Are you traveling with children? If so you should consider a ship that caters to children and families, Disney is a great option but has limited itineraries so look at Princess and Royal Caribbean as well. Both have great children’s programs and lots of activities for adults too.
  2. Do you like wearing an evening gown and tuxedo for dinner? If so, Crystal, Silversea and Regent are great options. On a 7-night cruise you can expect to have at least 1 formal night and several semi-formal nights. Oceania and Azamara both offer a higher level of service and ambiance without the requirement of formal wear in the evenings. Both are great alternatives if you want a more country club casual experience.
  3. Are you a foodie? Is fine dining important to you? While almost every cruise ship is going to provide you with a good dining experience several offer an exceptional one, Cunard, Crystal, Regent, Silversea and Celebrity are well known for their dining experiences. The latest trend on most cruise lines is to offer specialty dining. This can be sushi, Italian or a great steakhouse. Take the time to research all of your options including the extra costs of dining at the specialty restaurants, some cabins and suites include a limited number of trips to the specialty restaurants.
  4. Would you prefer more days at sea or more days in port? Days at sea are relaxing, they give you an opportunity to enjoy all that the ship has to offer. Time in the Spa, relaxing by the pool, taking an educational class, playing bingo or just napping in your cabin are great ways to spend a sea day.
  5. Do you want to just observe or do you want to participate? There are a few cruise lines that actively encourage their guests to get involved while onboard and on shore, Lindblad Expeditions and Celebrity Xpeditions both offer active itineraries to locations like Alaska and The Galapagos Islands here guests get involved and get their hands dirty so to speak.

Lindblad Expeditions Endeavour

There are literally hundreds of cruises to choose from, luxury to economical, quick trips to extended voyages, small ships to extremely large ships and unless you have narrowed down your criteria list before you start looking for a cruise you could spend days researching your possibilities. So spend a few minutes identifying what you want your cruise experience to look like before you start your search, or better yet contact a travel professional and in a few moments they can help you narrow the search to a few excellent options.


Airline Schedule Changes

It seems everyday I read another news article about airlines changing schedules, dropping flights and abandoning routes. Just last week I learned that Lufthansa will be discontinuing its service between Portland Oregon and Frankfurt due to low revenue on this flight, a real blow to the Portland international flight market.

I would like to take this time to remind everyone that it is definitely in your best interest to track and monitor all your upcoming flights for changes. You can do this at your airline's website or through a booking engine website like Sabre's https://www.virtuallythere.com or Amadeus' https://www.checkmytrip.com. Always verify that dates, times, connections, cabin of service and seat assignments are as you planned or if they have changed verify that the new schedules work with your travel plans.

If you are working with a travel professional they will more than likely be watching this for you, but a quick telephone call or email to verify is in your best interest.