woman standing with luggage at airport

Big Cruise Ships vs Small Cruise Ships – Which Is Better?

When deciding on a cruise, a lot of variables come into play – which cruise line, what locations will you visit, what port will you sail out of. One big question that doesn’t get asked particularly when booking without the help of a travel agent is, what size ship should I select?

Why should the size of a ship be a consideration? What are the differences between a big cruise ship vs a small cruise ship? Are the activities the same? Do the sizes of the ships change where you can visit? Are there advantages to being on a smaller ship vs a larger one and vice versa? 

You might be surprised by the answers.

Advantages of a Big Cruise Ship

If you’re new to cruising, the size of a ship may sound like a trivial matter. After all, there are a lot of people in a ship floating out in the vastness of the ocean. Looking at things from that scale, it might not seem like too big a deal. But it is.


Go kart racetrack on Norwegian Bliss
Norwegian Bliss; Norwegian Joy; GoKarts; Racetrack; Go Kart; Lifestyle; Sports Complex; Deck Activities;

The size of a ship has an enormous impact on the activities you can enjoy. Many newer ships have amusement park level entertainment. The NCL Breakaway and Carnival Freedom, for example, have waterslides. The NCL Bliss has go-karts. On the Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas, you can zip line on the ship. 

What do all these ships have in common? All these ships carry between 3,900 – 5,400 passengers. You need a large vessel to house that many people. That also gives them the ability to cram other fun stuff into it like bowling alleys, IMAX movie theaters, laser tag and more. 


Because of the extra real estate, larger cruise ships often have a more varied eating experience. Not all of these establishments will be included for the price of your cruise, but having a choice is always a good thing. 

Traditional eating places you’d expect – specialty burgers, pizza, hot dogs. These larger ships afford even better things like specialty donuts,  gelato spots, places where chocolate is handcrafted right in front of you. The list goes on and on.


After Midnight show on cruise ship
Scene in After Midnight

If you’re noticing a theme, you wouldn’t be wrong. Just like a house with extra square footage, all that extra space lets you do more things, the same is true for a cruise ship. These larger ships have more theaters which means more shows to entertain you during your vacation. Not only are there more shows, but the quality of them is also elevated. 

Missed seeing that Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas? The MSC Meraviglia has you covered. Didn’t catch Jersey Boys on Broadway? Book on the NCL Bliss and you won’t have to pay anything extra to see it. Didn’t see Cats the Musical on Broadway before it closed? Climb onboard Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas and see it without the lines or crazy prices.

Advantages of a Small Cruise Ship

Up until now, we’ve been talking we’ve only been looking at the advantages of cruising on a big cruise ship. Now we’re going to look at why you might want to consider a smaller ship.

It might be obvious, but we have to point it out. You aren’t going to get some of the activities on smaller ships that you’ll find on larger ships. There won’t be any zip lining. No go-kart racing. No laser tag. 

You also won’t get the broadway and Vegas shows offered on the bigger ships. That’s ditto for the food options. Don’t get us wrong; you’ll have plenty of places to eat. But the big draws like Guys Burger Joint on Carnival ships won’t necessarily be available to you. (Guys Burger Joint is available on all Carnival ships. But the equivalent won’t be on other cruise lines.)

So far, it sounds like booking a cruise on smaller ships isn’t worth the effort. But that would be a mistake depending on your tastes. Here are some reasons a small cruise ship might be the perfect choice over a big cruise ship.

Smaller Crowds

No matter how many bars and restaurants that can be fit onto a ship that can hold upwards of 6,000 people, you can expect a line somewhere. A smaller ship means fewer people at all the lines. Lines for the bars and lounges, The buffet. Getting into shows is considerably easier. 

Let’s use NCL ships as reference. 

Couple eating at restaurant
Couple Dining in Le Bistro

The Norwegian Sun carries just under 2,000 passengers. It has 14 dining options and 10 bars. The Norwegian Epic holds 4,100 passengers 21 dining options and 16 bars. You can already see that the ratio of passengers to establishments isn’t even close between the two ships. But we’ll do it for you anyway.

The ratio of passengers to dining options on the Norwegian Epic is 823 to 3. That means for every 3 dining options there are 820 people to cram into it. The Norwegian Sun has a ratio of 1000 to 7. That means for every 1000 people there are 7 restaurants to go around.

Just looking at the numbers, that might seem like the smaller cruise ship would be a problem. But look again. The Norwegian Sun only has 2,000 passengers. So if you split the passengers in half, they’d be contending for 7 restaurants (remember, there are 14 total). On the Norwegian Epic, 820 people are trying to get into 3 dining establishments (with a total of 24 places to eat total). 

So in this example, you have almost the same amount of people on the Norwegian Epic trying to get into half the restaurants that exist on the Norwegian Sun.

Let’s try this experiment with the bars.

Friends enjoying a drink in a lounge

The ratio of bars to passengers on the Norwegian Epic is 1025 to 4. So (from a ratio perspective) 1025 passengers have to stand in line for 4 bars. The ratio for the Norwegian Sun is 200 to 1. So for every 1 bar, there are only 200 people in front of you (technically 199. But you get the idea).

If looking at these numbers bore you, here’s the bottom line. It will take you less time to eat and get drinks on the Norwegian Sun than it will on the Norwegian Epic. If crowds give you anxiety and/or you don’t like waiting in long lines, a smaller cruise ship will probably be more appealing to you.

Smaller Ships Can Go Places the Bigger Ones Don’t

Some experienced cruisers might call a foul on this play. We’re asserting that smaller cruise ships can go places bigger cruise ships can’t. The complaint would be that larger ships many times go to the same ports of call as smaller ships.

And they would be right.

So why are we saying that smaller ships can go to places bigger cruise ships don’t? Because the devil is in the details. Note that the previous paragraph said, “large ships many times go to the same ports as smaller ships”.

There are instances where they don’t. For example, when American cruise lines were able to go to Cuba, only the smaller ships made the voyage. In the case of NCL, the only ships in the fleet that went there were the Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky (they’re identical sister ships).

There’s also the issue of where the ship docks once it gets to the destination. For example, when pulling into Bermuda, larger ships have to sit out far away from the dock. Jump into a tender, splash up and down until you reach land and enjoy yourself.

On a smaller ship, you will pull right up to dock. When you get off the ship, no kidding, you cross the street and you can start enjoying the island. They even close off the street at night and the vendors come out and have a street market just for the ships docked across the street. Get on and off the ship as frequently as you want while enjoying the night market.

So a smaller ship can enhance your experience in some cruise ports.

Easier To Find Places To Relax

As we describe the experience on larger cruise ships, don’t think that we’re saying large cruise ships are a bad thing. They aren’t. As we described, there’s a lot you can do and have a lot of fun. There are a lot of people on those ships. But in all honesty, because the ship is so big, it won’t feel like there are potentially 6,000 people on board.

That said, 6,000 people is still 6,000 people. And it can take some time getting from one end to the other. On a small cruise ship, there are lots of places you can easily get to without doing a lot of walking. Once there, sit back with your book or e-reader and enjoy the unique type of relaxation that comes only from cruising.

So Which Is Better – Bigger Ships or Smaller Ships?

The correct answer is that it depends on you. Still not sure what things to consider when choosing a ship? Not a problem. Give us a call at 877-235-8061 or email us at DreamTeam@JsDreamTravel.com and we’ll walk you through your options among the different cruise lines.
Either way, big or small, cruising is one of the best ways to vacation. And we’ll make sure you can get the best deal possible.

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