Big Ships or Small Ships?

Learn how the size of the ship you choose can enhance your cruising experience.

For most cruisers, the destination is still “the thing,” and top cruising regions include Alaska, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. For many, ship size is also an important consideration. Some small ships offer intimate journeys for around 100 guests, while megaships break records, setting sail with 5,000-plus passengers.

One size is not better than the other, but as you plan a cruise, it’s helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Are you eager to meet new people every day? Do you or your family need many activities, such as water slides, rock-climbing walls and video arcades, while you’re onboard?
  2. Does standing in long lines make you grind your teeth? Do you enjoy exploring remote islands or destinations? Is learning something new an essential part of your experience?

If you answered “yes” to the first questions, you’ll likely enjoy a larger ship. On a large ship, you have numerous bar, club and dining options. You typically can take in after-dinner entertainment ranging from a Broadway-style show to a production with aerialists soaring overhead. And on a large ship, you’ll find the latest in ship amenities from a sky-dive simulator to a glass capsule that lifts you 300 feet above sea level for an unforgettable view.

If you answered “yes” to the second questions, you would probably enjoy a small ship, offering a more intimate group of travel companions that you can join for dinner whenever you prefer without having to rush back from shore adventures at an assigned time. Small ships can visit tiny, unusual ports that larger ships can’t. On a small ship, lines will be shorter for meals, and tour groups will be smaller. You won’t get an elaborate show after dinner, but your days will be filled with tours led by regional experts.

Here’s the large vs. small ship difference by region:


Large ship or small, Mother Nature is the star of the show in Alaska. If you’re on a large ship cruising the Inside Passage, expect your ship to anchor out away from ports and take a smaller boat in for shore excursions in Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. From there, you can take an awe-inspiring wildlife rafting tour through Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Petersburg, a small fishing village that combines Norwegian and Tlingit cultures, is a popular destination for smaller ships.


Caribbean cruises generally offer sunshine, white beaches, water sports, local food and shopping, regardless of ship size. Caribbean islands are also generally close together, so you have fewer days at sea—whether you’re on a big or small ship.

Large ships visit all the best-known Caribbean islands, such as St. Thomas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Megaships dock in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, while smaller ships may anchor on the French side of the island, near Marigot. Similarly, large ships dock in Castries, St. Lucia, while smaller vessels anchor beneath the Pitons by the small port of Soufriere.


The Mediterranean is Europe’s most popular cruise destination. Cruisers there will find ancient ruins, exotic beaches and rich cultures.

Mainstays of these cruises include Venice, Italy; Santorini, Greece; Barcelona, Spain; and Marseilles, France. Visiting large cities can mean crowds, but some of the region’s most important sights—such as the Acropolis and the Colosseum—are found here and are well worth the visit.

Smaller ships often visit the hidden gems of this region. These ships, for example, can squeeze through the Corinth Canal to visit Nafplio, Greece, the first capital of modern Greece and an elegant town with marble pavements and towering castles.

Whether you believe that more is more or that good things come in small packages, there’s a cruise ship and itinerary that’s perfect for you. AAA can help you find your perfect adventure.

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