Choosing the right ship

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

The stats are in: despite the fact that the economy has been on a roller coaster ride towards recession, the cruise industry looks set to remain remarkably buoyant. Thinking of taking the plunge and booking a cruise in 2012? We’ve teamed up with travel guide publisher Berlitz to tell you everything you need to know on how to choose the right cruise ship

What’s the difference between large and small ships? Are new ships better than older ones? Should you consider a maiden voyage? Is corporate cruising good value? Are theme cruises fun? Read on for the full low down

Which ship?
There’s something to suit virtually all tastes, so take into account your own personality and tastes. Ships are measured (not weighed) in gross tonnage (gt) and come in four principal size categories:

Large Resort Ships: for 1,600–6,400 passengers(typically measure 50,000–220,000 gross tonnage)
Think: double-decker bus (with some seats that are ­better than others).

Mid-Size Ships: for 600–1,600 passengers (typically 25,000–50,000 gross tonnage)
Think: long-distance coach (comfortable seats).

Small Ships: for 200–600 passengers (typically 5,000–25,000 gross tonnage)
Think: mini-van (some are executive types; some are more mainstream).

Boutique Ships: for up to 200 passengers (typically 1,000–5,000 gross tonnage)
Think: private car (luxury, mid-range, or compact).

Space
For an idea of the amount of the space around you, check the Passenger Space Ratio given for each ship in the listings section (gross tonnage divided by number of passengers). A Passenger Space Ratio of 50 and above is the ultimate; 30 to 50 is very spacious; 20 to 30 is reasonably spacious; 10 to 20 is high density; and 10 or below is extremely cramped.

Large Resort Ships (1,600–6,400 ­passengers)
Choose a large resort ship if you like being with lots of other people, in a bustling big-city environment, you enjoy being sociable, and want to have plenty of entertainment and dining (no, make that eating) options. These ­balcony-rich ships provide a well-packaged standard or premium vacation, usually in a seven-day cruise. It is the interaction between passengers and crew that determines the quality of the onboard experience.

Large resort ships have extensive facilities and programs for families with children of all ages. But if you meet someone on the first day and want to see them again, make sure you appoint a very specific place and time (apart from the size of the ship, they may be at a different meal seating). These ships have a highly structured array of activities and passenger participation events each day, together with large entertainment venues, and the most lavish production shows at sea.

It is in the standard of service, entertainment, lecture programs, level of communication, and finesse in dining services that really can move these ships into high rating categories, but they must be exceptional to do so. Choose higher-priced suite accommodation and the service improves. In other words: pay more, get more.

Large resort ships are highly programmed. It is difficult, for example, to go swimming in the late evening, or after dinner – decks are cleaned and pools are often netted over by 6pm. Having champagne delivered to outdoor hot tubs late at night is virtually impossible. They have lost the flexibility for which cruise ships were once known, becoming victims of company “policy” legislation and insurance regulations. There can be a feeling of “conveyor-belt” cruising, with cultural offerings scarcely extending beyond rap, rock, alcohol, and gambling.


Large Resort Ships: Advantages
* Have the widest range of public rooms and facilities, often a walk-around promenade deck outdoors, and more space (but more passengers).
* Generally have more dining options.
* The newest ships have state-of-the-art electronic interactive entertainment facilities – good if you like computers and high-tech gadgetry.
* Generally sail well in open seas in bad weather.
* There are more facilities and activities for people of all ages, particularly for families with children.

Large Resort Ships: Disadvantages
* Finding your way around the ship can be frustrating, and signage is often confusing.
* Lines to wait in: for embarkation, the information desk, elevators, informal buffet meals, fast food grills, shore tenders, shore excursions, security checkpoint (when returning to the ship), immigration, and disembarkation.
* They resemble floating hotels (but with constant announcements), and so many items cost extra. They are like retail parks surrounded by cabins.
* No matter how big your suite is, or how many public rooms the ship has, you can’t help feeling like just one of the crowd, and the individual attention or recognition is missing. You have to mingle with all the other passengers, who may be paying less, in the public rooms.
* The itineraries may be limited by ship size, and there are typically too many tender ports where you need to take a number, sit in a lounge and wait, and wait.
* There will be a lack of elevators at peak times.
* The larger the ship, the more impersonal the service – except for “butler” service in penthouse suites.
* You may have to use a sign-up sheet to use gym equipment such as treadmills or exercise bikes.
* There are too many announcements – and they could be in several languages.
* Dining room staff are so trained to provide fast service that it’s almost impossible to dine in leisurely fashion.
* Food may well be bland – cooking for 5,000 is not quite the same as cooking for a dinner party of eight.
* Telephoning room service can be frustrating, particularly in ships with automatic telephone answering systems that state “your call will be answered by room service personnel in the order it was received.”
* Room service breakfast is not generally available on the day of disembarkation.
* In early evening, the deckchairs are taken away, or strapped up so they can’t be used.
* The in-cabin music aboard the latest ships is supplied through the television set, and it may be impossible to turn off the picture while listening.
* Some large resort ships have only two main passenger staircases. In an emergency, the evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers could be difficult.
* Waiting for a tender to take you ashore in “anchor” ports can be tiresome.
* Immigration line-up in ports of call such as St Thomas is tedious.

Don’t forget to log onto the CD-Traveller website on Friday, to find out all about mid size and boutique ships.

The extract Choosing the right ship is from the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships by Douglas Ward, £17.99 (www.berlitzpublishing.com)

Tags: , , , ,