Last week, as the first in a series of blog columns about cruising, I gave an overview of what cruise clients appreciate most about big ship cruising. I tried to provide a balanced overview of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of this size of cruise ship so travelers can assess which kind of cruising is likely to suit their style best.
Next week I will analyze river cruising against other styles. Today’s column will examine the comparative benefits of small ship cruising.
While I will look more closely at those ships that offer fewer than 600 cabins, because the newer 5000 capacity cruise ships have change the definition of what is large, there is now a middle ground of ships that carry between 1200 and 2500 passengers that borrow strengths and weaknesses from each of the small and large ship categories.
Two features best describe the difference in what separates these smaller vessels from their larger sisters. Superior service and luxury tend to be the qualities that most often stand out beyond those that can be associated with the bigger ships. It is not that there is not a strong focus on service, or any attempt to build as much luxury into all major cruise vessels that are most popular in the industry, but the difference in the small ship category is demonstrable.
The passenger to client ratio will always be higher and just about everything clients experience on-board will have extra levels of quality built into them. Most of these small ship cruise brands tend to fall into the luxury category. And in recent years there has been a growing trend towards making them fully all-inclusive.
This is a feature appreciated by patrons who often feel they are ‘nickel and dimed’ by most of the other cruise lines.
Not only are meals included but all alcoholic beverages are as well. Gratuities are included in the cost of the cruise, and alcoholic beverages like the wines that are served with meals are of a significantly higher quality than what is offered even at the best 5-star all-inclusive resorts.
The menus are put together by some of the best chefs in the world, and every meal has gourmet plus selections in their daily fare. Most of these smaller luxury class ships offer only outside cabins, with more balcony options than non-balcony, with suite-like accommodations built into most cabins.
There is a genuine sense of personal interaction on small ships that can seldom be duplicated on the bigger ones. And it is not just between the crew and the passengers.
With fewer clients frequenting smaller venues most people who are in the least bit outgoing will easily make new friends on-board.
It is only natural that you will run across the same people on any number of occasions as you move through the smaller lounges, dining rooms, and casino.
The more intimate atmosphere makes it very easy to begin conversations with strangers with whom you are likely to begin dining and drinking with before long.
Where the bars in the mega ships may resemble those of the largest lounges in Manitoba, the small ships may have seats for no more than sixty to seventy-five patrons.
The servers get to know you quickly and, as we found on a recent Silverseas voyage, your favourite beverages are often ready by the time you pick your table. These bartenders take pride in seeing the smile on your face as they greet you by name and with the drink of your choice.
The crew quickly gets to know the personalities of their passengers. Those who like to trade humor will find themselves sparing with a professional storyteller: While the quieter individuals will be greeted with a respectful approach suiting the client who wants to enjoy the surroundings in a more subdued fashion.
The mega ships have been forced to modify itineraries, steering away from ports that cannot handle mooring for these mammoth monsters. The smaller ships are able to sneak into ports that are much more unique and inviting.
They are still big enough to navigate the wide open seas, but can find quiet bays and passage ways that offer views and shore excursions that others cannot even contemplate.
With every attempt is made to build in quality from the beginning to the end of the experience, a cruise on a small luxury ship is likely to be higher priced than other options.
If pre or post hotels are included they tend to be in 5-star properties. While the on-board experience that puts service at a premium at every level must naturally drive up the cruise price, the additional inclusions can often justify the cost.
When potential clients start doing the math on what they save in gratuities, alcohol and other beverage charges, as well as the wider selection of ports of call and cruise alternatives, they often conclude the difference is not as great as they first surmised when first looking at the brochure price.
For those who like to be pampered and spoiled on their holiday of a lifetime, there is just no better choice.
And if you want to be spoiled in the ultimate fashion consider joining my wife Rae and me on our 15 day Patagonian cruise departing from Santiago, Chili in January of 2013.
We will cruise the the Seabourn Sojourn from the Valpariaso to Buenas Aires Argentina with great stops enroute as we go around the horn and past some of the most specactular scenery you will ever see.