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Cruise Columnist
Ship Tips:
Does Size Really Matter?

by Doug Terhune

You bet it does! Just ask my former wife! We sailed on the former Festivale and Holiday years back and she thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of the Holiday, the bigger ship.

Recently I was enroute to Chicago and sat next to a very nice woman who owns a Travel Agency north of the windy city that specializes in cruises - and we began chatting about cruising. While she has sailed sparingly, some of her 5 agents have been on 40+ cruises!! As we talked about the ships, the lines and the industry trends, we also hit on the topic of the importance of ship size - thus, the impetus for this latest version of Ship Tips was born.

Before we get into the meat of this article (or the bones in some cases), it is important to note that people who cruise frequently usually choose a size ship that they prefer. This author has tried his best not to bias this article with my preferences, but rather has tried to stay neutral. (My preference is mentioned at the end of the article) However, to give you a sampling of an expert opinion when it comes to judging size, I've asked the infamous Sharon Jackson, editor of the SeaLetter, to throw her thoughts onto the table:

Sharon believes that "Size is in the eye of the beholder. Some like all the facilities and glitz and glamour of the new and large ships. Others prefer the intimacy and classic lines of the smaller and older ships - "Real" ships, as some call them. For Bob (her patient and loving husband) and me, the HAL "Statendam" class of ships (55,000 tons) is perfect - all the facilities of the Mega liners, but with very few passengers in comparison, millions of dollars worth of artwork, and tons of deck space."


I am afraid that this will not be scientific or even appealing to many of you, but for the sake of this article, I am going to do my best to classify the four different classes of ships. Now I can't classify every size ship, so I'll focus on the larger, better known passenger cruise ships. We'll start small and work our way towards big:


My first encounter with cruising was in 1977 on a MiniMega - the SS Flavia, by Costa Cruise Lines. These ships were big in their years and were the industry standard up until the early 1980s. A fair number of these ships were originally built as freighters and were later converted into passenger ships.

The gross tonnage ranges from approximately 15,000 tons to 35,000 tons. The freighters that were converted often had a complex floor plan. If you have ever sailed on one of these ships, then you know what I am talking about. If you haven't, then let's just say that each room is a different size and shape and that generally speaking, the rooms were/are small. Forget what you saw on the Love Boat, we're talking efficiencies here.

The Flavia was a great and memorable cruise. I remember the narrow spiraling staircase that led to the petite main dining room and that if I opened up our cabin door I'd knock my buddy off the toilet!! Many of the MiniMega ships were built in the 1950s and 1960s and even the ones that were built to be cruise ships, have gone though countless renovations.

MiniMega Cons

* Usually one pool, no hot tubs, no track, and no gym * Sometimes 'too close' together is too close for comfort * These ships often have a diesel smell that permeates everything

MiniMega Pros

* Cute - the ships amenities and size made everything cute * The people and the ship soon became familiar * Seldom need to tender - MiniMegas can pull into almost any port

Examples of MiniMega Ships:

* Sea Breeze, Universe Explorer, Sun Viking, Pacific Princess, Leeward


The SemiMega ships began in the early 80s with the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Song of America and Carnival's Tropicale. Powered by the success of the TV series "Love Boat", the industry was attempting to deliver more glitz and bang for the buck. Passengers were tired of the deceptive cabin sizes and misconceptions that the TV series created and started to deliver something that was more in line with the customer's expectations.

These ships range from 30,000 tons to 50,000 tons, and for the most part, are all much younger than their predecessors - the MiniMegas! Standard sized cabins, two or more pools, two dining rooms, more public lounges with choices of evening entertainment, hot tubs, spas with new work out equipment and hair salons and more deck space. Cruising was changing, and these significant commitments from the major cruise lines were proof of that.

SemiMega Cons

* Atrium concept still missing from the majority of these ships * Alternative dining only began on some of these ships after 1992 * These ships are all just 'one' class

SemiMega Pros

* Slides in the pools were introduced

* Standard cabins are a big plus - reduced complaints drastically

* Amenities in rooms began appearing - such as televisions, more electrical outlets, safes and controlled airflow

Examples of SemiMega Ships:

Holiday, Nordic Empress, Sky Princess, Dreamward, Crystal Harmony, CostaRomantica, Royal Majesty, Horizon, Nieuw Amsterdam


There was more industry hype I believe about this class of ship than all others. The lines took off right where they left with the SemiMegas. They lengthened the ships by 150-200', they increased the beam by 20%, the ship's height grew by 3-5 decks, the gross tonnage increased by up to 70% and the passenger list grew by 600.

The success of this size ship has been nothing short of spectacular. Many ports were still able to handle the draft of these ships and they are just about the biggest thing that can still fit in the Panama Canal. They began being introduced in the very early 90s, and as of today, I would estimate that there have been 25 of these ships added to the worldwide fleet of cruise ships. That is an additional 50,000 passengers per week (providing they are all doing 7 day cruises), 25,000 employed crew members, and enough hamburger consumption to rival the mightiest burger chain.

The signature of these ships has to be the Atriums. Atriums on a ship? We all thought it was a dream when we heard about it, but some of the atriums now rival those of your swankiest suburban and city malls. And with the Atriums came more shopping, glass elevators, more lounges and a different place to open your mouth!

Mega Cons

* Passengers, too many passengers

* Insufficient deck space near the main pool(s)

* Tendering to shallow ports

Mega Pros

* More passengers (especially for single/solo passengers) with increased diversities

* More than one store to shop at on board

* Sports Bars, Piano Lounges, Pizzerias, Wine/Champagne Lounges, etc.

Examples of MegaShips:

Sovereign of the Seas, Fantasy, Maasdam, Star Princess, CostaVictoria, Galaxy


No doubt about it, I was elated to be one of the first couple of hundred people on board this new class of ship. The 101,000 ton Carnival Destiny made her maiden voyage to the United States in the Fall of 1996. Her first stop for the public was Boston, and on a terribly rainy and cold day, I trounced around her insides and upper decks. I expected little to be different from the Mega-Ships, and in reality, there is little difference, but it was bigger, and at least at the time, more exciting,

The Atrium of this ship is almost on the absurd. It is 10 stories and can fit the Statue of Liberty inside her!!! This is big, really big. But I saw a nice evolution on this ship, only one of two MegaMegas afloat today (I am sailing on the 109,000 ton Grand Princess maiden Caribbean voyage in October), from the MegaShips. Ships seem to be improving their interiors, softening their tones and using less bright lights, increasing the marble and brass, and pretty much rolling out the (literal) red carpets for their passengers.

MegaMega Cons

* Not enough deck space for all the passengers

* Simply Overwhelming - too many choices and not enough time

* Ships will be restricted to certain geographic areas due to inability to pass through the Panama Canal

MegaMega Pros

* Lots and lots of cabins with verandahs

* Nightly entertainment and dining choices to suit everyone

* You never see the same person twice!!

Examples of MegaMega Ships:

Carnival Destiny and Grand Princess - so far...

Choosing the size of your ship should be compared to choosing the location of a land vacation. Do you want crowds at the pool? Do you want other children for your children to play with? Do you want more than one dining choice? Do you require more personal attention on vacation? All this needs to be addressed before you choose the size you want to sail on.

Ship Tip: Choosing a ship's size is comparable to choosing
a location for a land based vacation.

The size of the ship though is not at all related to the size of your cabin, dining room, theater, casino or other public lounges. There are some guidelines one can follow, but certainly no rules about size once you board a ship - each ship is different

Ship Tip: Large ship does not equal large cabin.

A fairly contentious point could be that the size of the ship has nothing to do with the level of service you receive. Some people would strongly disagree with me and I would say that they are correct in their beliefs. However, having sailed on a wide variety of ships (18,000 - 101,000 tons), I think the level of service may have to do more with the amount of money one pays for the cruise. There is a perception that smaller means better service. Luckily, I have never received poor service from a Room Steward, Bus Boy, Waiter, Purser or Bartender on a ship (OK, occasionally some might have been questionable). However, these people are there to please you - otherwise - they get fired. For example, I don't know how I could receive "better" service from my room steward, unless he put Chocolate Mousse and a $100 bill on my bed every night before retiring.

It is possible though that on smaller ships, the staff may get to know you a little faster and make you feel a little more home at your favorite bar, but, I've had that treatment on the Mega ships too. Therefore, this writer chooses to say that service is not necessarily dependent upon ship size.

Ship Tip: Small ships do not always equal better service.

From a ship's entertainment value, size does not always matter here, but, I choose to say that the bigger the ship you have, the better the chances you have of finding the type of entertainment you desire. On smaller ships, your options are naturally limited - versus the MegaMega ships sporting upwards of 16 lounges.

Now, the 'quality" of the entertainment is a different subject and should not be tossed into the dilemma of size. To give you an idea why not, the quality of entertainment can be very misleading. One week, a comedian can rock the boat all week long - and next week, using the same shtick, he is as flat as a doormat. It is not necessarily the quality of the entertainment as it is the mix of the passengers.

Ship Tip: Quality of the entertainment is very subjective
and is hard to generalize.

Size of the ship does matter with your ports of call. The smaller the ship, the shallower the boat is in the water, and that can open many new ports to a ship. The alternative to docking at a pier is "tendering" into port. This means that the ship drops anchor 1/2 mile or so from the beach and either lowers her own boats into the water or has local boats come and tender in the passengers.

Tendering can be a pain for everyone involved and often causes numerous complaints. Picture a 2000 passenger vessel trying to load the 100-300 seat tenders in a timely fashion while hundreds of passengers are waiting in public rooms with their feet ready to hit land and buy anything not tied down. And then on the return, there often are too many latecomers for the last tender, so another one has to be sent.

Ship Tip: The smaller the ship, the more ports of call
one can reach without 'tendering'.

Closing Thoughts

As witnessed by the length of this article, there are many aspects of size that should be considered when choosing your next cruise ship. If I were to be pressed to choose a size I prefer today, it would be the Mega ships. I enjoy sailing on a newer ship with numerous options and modern amenities, but would not rule out cruising on a 6-car ferry either!

The really good news here is that the industry keeps making lots of all sizes - so whether you prefer a MiniMega, SemiMega, Mega or MegaMega - there will be a ship that is just right for you. Maybe you'll need to take 10 - 15 cruises to find out, but hey, who's complaining?


Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced "solo cruiser" and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. He recently began his monthly "Ship Tips" columns.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef and the Sensation's Captain. Watch for Doug's interview of the Inspiration's Chief Engineer coming in August 1998 to the SeaLetter!

Doug can be reached at: dterhune@modicon.com.

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