The Cruise Ship Debate - Is Bigger Always Better?

In 1992, my family took a summer vacation aboard the Majesty of the Seas. Royal Caribbean's sparkling new Sovereign-class ship was the largest on the water at the time, and set in motion a long love affair with cruising.

A lot has changed since that first cruise all those years ago. For starters, the other two Sovereign-class ships have been decommissioned, and the Majesty of the Seas - now the smallest ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet - is barely hanging on by a thread. I recently watched the Majesty pull into port in Nassau, and I must say, she was a very sad sight - a relic from the early days of the "cruise boom" of the last 20+ years where cruiselines have built one gargantuan floating city after another that's bigger than the last.


But when it comes to cruise ships, is bigger always better? I used to think so, but now I'm not so sure.

Here's a few observations that may help you decide which is best for your cruise.

Today On The Lido Deck

When it comes to onboard activities, there's no question...bigger is definitely better. Ice skating at sea? No problem. Zip lining or rock climbing? Go for it. Boogie boarding, miniature golf, and yoga on the helipad? Yep, that too. And all of it can be done before lunch on the Oasis of the Seas.
MJ & Co. doing yoga on the helipad.

By comparison, the smaller - read: older - ships typically have your run of the mill options when it comes to entertainment. If you're in to bingo, art auctions, or the belly flop contest, then have no fear. Same thing goes if you enjoy baking by the pool for days on end. But if you're like me and get bored easily and have an aversion to sun, you may be twiddling your thumbs by about day three.

Be Our Guest

For yours truly, the biggest drawback to the ultra-mega-monster ships like the Oasis or Allure of the Seas is that much is lost when it comes to service. One of the most vivid memories from that first cruise aboard the Majesty was our dinner server, Afla, bringing me vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce every night without asking - he caught on after day two that I'm pretty simple when it comes to dessert. Nothing even remotely close to that ever happened on two sailings aboard the Oasis of the Seas...

At first I chocked the impersonal service on the larger ships as just par for the course in the cruise industry these days, but then we set sail on the Rhapsody of the Seas...
MJ and our awesome server in Chops, Praful.

Though it is by no means a "small" ship, the service aboard the Rhapsody was light years ahead of the Oasis. I can think of nearly a dozen crew members that either knew me by name, knew exactly how I liked my Old Fashioned, or went out of their way in some form to make our experience memorable. Perhaps the crew aboard the Rhapsody is just more motivated than those on the Oasis, but it would seem the more likely explanation is that when it comes to service, there's definitely addition by subtraction.

Bang For The Buck

Quite naturally, when you start putting things like bumper cars and water slides that extend over the ocean on cruise ships, the cost is going to go up. Are all of those swanky amenities worth the extra cost?

It depends...
Sure...the Flowrider is worth a few extra bucks.

I walked off the Oasis of the Seas feeling as though it was worth every penny. But I've also felt that about every cruise I've ever taken. Value is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but I think more than anything it depends on the type of cruise. Heading to Europe, Alaska, or on a "booze cruise?" Then you can probably save the money and go without the ice skating rink. On the other hand, a week in the Western Caribbean is almost always better served by the biggest most tricked out cruise ship on the water.

A Vacation From Your Vacation

So we've established that on the monster ships the fun and price go up while the service tends to takes a dive. What else goes down proportionally as the size of the ship increases?

Relaxation.

There's so much to see and do aboard a ship like the Oasis that I almost felt guilty every time I just kicked back on the balcony with a beverage and book. I mean, we even had a spreadsheet - yes, a spreadsheet - of all the activities and reservations that we wanted to do each day. And then when the cruise was all over, we felt as though we'd barely scratched the surface - so much so that we booked another trip on the last day.
Hours and hours of....nothing.

It wasn't until I spent nearly a week in the same chair in the Rhapsody's Viking Crown Lounge, reading two books and just watching the world go by, that I realized just how much I had missed that part of cruising.

So is bigger better? Well, like all of the points in this debate, it simply depends. Choosing the right cruise ship is like trying to rank the best golf courses in the world - it's purely subjective to the individual. Either way, whether you're aboard one of the Majesty's final sailings or the maiden voyage of the Quantum of the Seas this November, you have to try really hard to have a lousy time on a cruise.

Probably why all of those mega-ships are booked solid week in and week out.

Enjoy Your Stay