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9 Reasons You Shouldn’t Avoid Cruising on Older, Smaller Cruise Ships

You will often find stories in the news about the biggest, newest cruise ships. They have lots of exciting activities onboard to try, like Zip Lines and Go Karts – and there are many fancy restaurants and bars to choose from.

Older, smaller cruise ships have fewer entertainment and food options available, but there are many advantages to sailing on older ships.

In this article, we will discuss the many reasons why you shouldn’t discount these ships when looking for your perfect cruise.

azamara onward ship port
Visiting a small port in France, from Azamara Onward

#1 More Space Per Person

On large cruise ships, they cram activities into every available space – often these activities are at an extra charge.

If you are sailing on a ship with a guest capacity of six or seven thousand passengers, space is always going to be at a premium.

You may often find it hard to get a seat in the pub or bar – or on the top deck if the weather is good.

When I sailed on Norwegian Encore I found that a lot of the top deck space was taken up by the Go Kart Track.

The front of the top deck is for “Haven” guests only. (A more expensive, premium area of the ship that you can only go into if you have paid a higher cruise fare.)

This means for the normal, everyday passenger who isn’t interested in Go Karting, only a small amount of top deck space is available for you to enjoy. It get very crowded when the weather is good.

Norwegian Encore - Image NCL.
Norwegian Encore – Image NCL. Only the section of the top deck in the middle is available for most guests to use.

If you aren’t going to use the Go Karting circuit, Laser Tag or the Waterparks, there seems little point in booking a ship that gives up so much outside space to these activities.

#2 Less Desirable – So Cheaper

Everybody wants to sail on the newest, most exciting ships in the fleet – so older ships are less desirable, and therefore cheaper to sail on.

It is a simple case of supply and demand. If you want to sail on the newest, most modern ship in the fleet, be prepared to pay more.

For example, If you want to sail on Royal Caribbeans Icon of the Seas, the cheapest seven-day cruise (at time of writing) costs £1500/$1900.

A sailing on the Symphony of Seas at the same time with a similar itinerary, starts at around £680/$860.

Symphony of the Seas is an older ship but of a very similar size, design and layout.

Obviously, prices and itineraries vary, but bear in mind the prices quoted don’t include flights, daily gratuities or drinks.

#3 Smaller Ships Visit Smaller Ports

If you sail on a smaller ship, you are often able to visit more unusual ports that you haven’t been to before.

Sometimes you can dock right in the centre of the town, rather than being stuck out in an industrial port, miles from the city sights

If you sail to a popular port on a larger ship, you might find multiple other cruise ships docked there too. This means that a small port town can be totally overwhelmed with cruise ship passengers.

When I sailed on the older, smaller ship Azamara Onward we docked close to the centre of Nice, France for two full days.

I had never been there on a cruise before, and we were able to go on the train to nearby Monaco – without the worry of not getting back to the ship in time.

Azamara Onward was previously known as Pacific Princess, sailing for Princess cruise lines. She was built in 1999.

Find out all about that amazing cruise here:

#4 Experienced Crew

If you sail on an older ship, the crew will have had plenty of time to get used to the layout of the vessel and iron out any problems or issues.

If you sail on the newest ships – particularly Maiden voyages – you may find that the crew haven’t had any time to familiarise themselves with the ship,

It might take longer to get your drinks served by the waiters or get your food in the dining rooms.

Emma Cruises, Celebrity Infinity, Greece

Sometimes you might find that some of the venues on the newest ship aren’t even finished! The Sun Princess took her maiden voyage, weeks later than originally scheduled, with no completed theatre.

It might be better to sail on an older ship, where the crew and onboard facilities, have been tried and tested.

#5 Big Dining Rooms and Spacious Atriums

Older ships tend to have one impressive main dining room, often over two levels.

They often have a spacious Atrium area at the heart of the ship. I love this design.

Newer ships tend to have more, smaller dining rooms and few larger public spaces onboard.

royal caribbean independence of the seas main dining room romeo and juliett macbeth
Large dining room on Royal Caribbean’s smaller ship, Independence of the Seas

For example, when I sailed on Celebrity Infinity they had one large main dining room at the back of the ship. When I sailed on a newer Celebrity Ship, Celebrity Edge they had four smaller dining rooms, which all served similar food. This seems to be how newer ships are laid out.

Find out about my cruise on Celebrity Edge below. A week onboard the Edge cost double the amount of my eleven-day cruise on the older Celebrity Infinity…

#6 Promenade Decks

Older cruise ships often have full promenade decks that you can stroll around to get some exercise.

These allow you to walk around the edge of the ship, often protected from the weather if it isn’t very good.

I love this design feature on a ship.

Modern cruise ships often don’t have a promenade deck – or only a partial one so that you can walk up and down, but not do a complete loop of the ship.

Find out more about promenade decks below:

Cruise Ship Promenade Decks – Photos, Uses, and History

#7 Less Overwhelming

When I sailed on Symphony of the Seas, I only got off the ship in port a couple of times during the week.

There was so much going on onboard that I felt I must try – I actually found it a bit overwhelming!

I had a Promenade/Inward-facing balcony cabin, which meant I felt totally disconnected from the sea.

I could have been anywhere! We often sailed away, and I had no idea we had left port at all – the ship was that big.

Find out more about that interesting cruise here:

#8 Easier To Tender

Tendering is when a cruise ship uses smaller ships – often lifeboats – to take their guest to shore.

This happens in smaller ports when they don’t have the facilities for a large cruise ship to dock at the harbour.

If the ship is large, they will often use a tender ticketing system to get guests off the ship.

Of course, if you are a suite guest or a VIP of some sort, you will get “priority tender tickets.”

But for the rest of us, it is a case of collecting a ticket and waiting for your ticket number to be called.

You can then go to the tender boat to sail to port. Often this can take a couple of hours, so there is a lot of hanging about.

#9 No Need To Book Theatre Shows In Advance

If you cruise on a larger ship, you need to be organised!

You often need to book shows in the theatre in advance usually via the cruise ship Appbut you can also book at Reception or the box office – if the ship has one.

Often shows are fully booked days in advance, but if you go along to the theatre just before the show, they may then release more seats as not all guests actually turn up, even though they have booked.

Norwegian Prima Theatre
Norwegian Prima Theatre – you need to book tickets in advance.

You don’t have to buy Wi Fi to use the cruise ship App, but it does mean you have to plan your schedule in advance.

Find out more about cruise ship Apps here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

If you sail on a smaller, older ship, you just turn up for the show and take a seat. Shows aren’t normally full, but it is sensible to arrive ten or fifteen minutes before to make sure you can get a good seat.

If you just like to “Go with the flow” when on a cruise, older ships may be a better bet for you.

Before You Go

Find out all about the cruise I took on the 1990s cruise ship, the Norwegian Sun here:

I Cruised on a Cruise Ship Designed in The 1990s (Norwegian Sun, Full Review)

Find out about the cruise I took on Disney’s oldest ship, Disney Magic, below. She was built in 1997 – and has some rather unique features:

My First Disney Cruise – Everything I Loved and Hated (Honest Photo Review)

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.