Frat House or Dream House – Choosing the Right Cruise For You

Most people who book a cruise for the first time (92%) will make their selection based on when they can go and how long they can stay. The second most important factor will be how much it costs. Everything else is dependent on those two items. In 2006, there were 112 different cruise ships operating out of U.S ports transporting about 10 million passengers on some 4,500 cruises. 70% of those 10 million people went to destinations in the Caribbean, and four cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Celebrity- The Big Four) accounted for about 3/4 of passengers.

If you fall into that broad category, your choices will be fewer, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for something you don’t want. But simply asking “What’s the best ship (or cruise line)?” is kind of like asking “What’s the best beer?”, or “What’s the prettiest color?” The very things that one cruiser likes about a cruise are the things that other cruisers vigorously dislike. The good news is that whatever you do like, there is somebody out there doing a bang-up job providing it.

Generally speaking, the Big Four specialize in the “more-is-better” approach to cruising, while smaller cruise lines focus on more specific areas, such as 5-star quality, small intimate ships, enrichment, etc. Here are some factors you can consider when choosing your cruise.

Size of the Ship.

Here some general observations one can make regarding the size of the ship.

What the passengers are there for.

The bigger the ship, the greater the attention paid to make sure that the ship-board experience is as unforgettable as possible. This translates into activities, distractions and a festive, socially liberal, fun-and-games atmosphere. If that annoys you, these big ships may rub you the wrong way.

How many people you’ll be traveling with.

The bigger the ship, the more people there will be on it (duh). Generally speaking, families, singles and singles traveling in groups will prefer the non-stop beat of the large ships. On the other hand, if you prefer quiet and don’t like the crush of crowds at poolside or in the dining room, you’ll have much better luck in the smaller ships, especially the ones that hold fewer than 1200 passengers.

The types of ports you will visit.

Big ships go to big ports. Certain ports, such as Roatan, Honduras or Vera Cruz, Mexico, are only available to smaller ships. Sometimes those ports are the very thing that makes the cruise quite special. If the ports of call are at the top of your list of reasons to take a cruise, consider booking passage on smaller ships that have extended itineraries.

Age of the Ship

“Old” is a relative term in the cruise industry, meaning ships that were launched around 1990 or before (15+ years a go). Many of these ships were state-of-the-art at the time and trumpeted the absolute best cruising had to offer. But in the last 15 years, cruise ships have gotten bigger and more extravagant in ways that were unimaginable two decades ago. For more info please visit here:-

Older ships are not bad, just different. Many are less efficiently designed and have more traditional layouts. Some of the extras and amenities that are common on the newer ships, like internet in your cabin, themed alternative dining restaurants, wave pools and ice rinks don’t usually exist on the older ships. Cabins are smaller, critical traffic areas (such as elevator lobbies and disembarkation lines) are congested and shops can be pretty cramped. Some passengers (not all) notice stale odors or complain that the ventilation systems in the cabins are cranky.

On the flip side, many of the older ships have been up-fitted and remolded in the last few years, and so are fine cruising vessels. They are primarily used on the shorter cruises (3-5 days) and generally charge lower fares. Take into the account the value of the cruise experience. Maybe the older ships aren’t as fresh and perfect as the newer ones, but the value they offer – what you get for what you pay – can be outstanding.

Design of the Ship

Whether it’s accomplished with an extreme makeover or during the building stage, cruise ships place a premium on the design. Some are designed for luxury, some for fun, some try to strike a middle ground. Ships are often given “star” ratings similar to those given to hotels. Some ships are 5-star, such as Holland America. Others are 4-star, such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean. Keep in mind, if you want 5-star, take a cruise on a 5-star ship. Don’t take a cruise on a 3- or 4-star ship and then be unhappy because it’s not top quality. A good source available on the internet, is the “” Cruise Ratings site (

I also highly recommended the various message boards that populate the internet. Such sites as or are an excellent way to see what other people say about the ship and the itinerary you are considering. You can browse the hundreds of posts by people who have been there, and you can ask specific questions of people who take cruising very seriously.

Type of Entertainment

Whether it’s the combo that plays at poolside, the bands that perform in the clubs or the glitzy production numbers that grace the theatres, cruise ships put a lot of thought and a ton of money into presenting entertainment. Pick the right entertainment environment and you’ll spend sun-drenched days in blissful happiness. Pick the wrong one, and you’ll feel like you’re surrounded by a bunch of people scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard.

Entertainment isn’t just about the lounge/club/party scene. It’s also about cooking classes, lectures, watching a movie, wine tasting, the casino, getting your golf swing computer analyzed, karaoke, bingo, “game-show” games or touring the galley. You can get a good feel for the type of entertainment and activities a ship offers by going online and checking out the ships on-board newsletter. It lists EVERYTHING happening on the ship. Each cruise line’s website will have a sample version of their newsletter. If your travel agent is any good at all, they will have copies from a variety of cruises they have taken.


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