Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises
It’s my opinion that many non-cruisers believe all cruises are the same. The image they often describe to me: big, massive ships, lots of people, 24/7 parties, an experience similar to being a sardine stuck in a can. As someone who loves cruising and knows just how great of an experience and value it is, this breaks my heart.
Those who have cruised know this description is not accurate. Sure, there are big mega-ships, and yes, some are "fun" ships. But certainly not most, and certainly not being stuck in a can.
Even seasoned cruisers have outdated thoughts on different cruise types, or may not be aware of different options.
Ocean cruises come in all sizes and shapes, and can be categorized into three main types: Classic, expedition and adventure. The differences between them? Keep reading.
The majority of cruises fall into the classic description. Ships range in size, from yachts with 100 guests to 5000+ guest mega-ships (and many options in between). Luxury, premium, deluxe, mass-market appeal, there is a brand personality, ship and budget for just about every type of traveler.
While there is a wide variety of classic options (and major differences between these options), classic ships have a number of things in common. Here are just a few:
The ship itself and activities offered on the ship tend to be as much of the experience as the destination. In fact, some ships, with all the onboard entertainment offerings, are the destination – ports of call are secondary.
Classic cruises also provide a variety of cabin types – inside, ocean view, verandas and suites. The larger the ship, the wider the variety.
Itineraries are all over the world, and ports of call are dictated in part to the size of the ship. Larger ships will call on the iconic ports - Sydney, Hong Kong, Athens, Rome, Barcelona, New York, Miami, and so on. Smaller ships are able to get into more off the beaten path locations - Split, Portimao, Esperance, Seydisfjordur - they call on these and the iconic ports.
Classic ships offer multiple dining venues. In addition to main dining, there are specialty dining venues (a steakhouse, Italian, Asian, etc.) and possibly exclusive venues for suite guests. You will also find multiple bars, lounges and casual grill options.
Classic ships provide a variety of on board entertainment, from the famous Broadway style shows to comedians, musicians, magicians, celebrity hosts and lecturers. Some of the lounges themselves are venues – outdoor movies, dueling pianists and blues jazz, as examples. Often times you‘ll also find a casino on board.
Additional amenities often include a full sized workout center and spa facilities, pools, hot tubs, beauty salons and medical facilities.
Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions
One of the biggest differences? Smaller ships, usually under 200 guests, with a focus on the destination. Expedition ships are mostly purpose built – meaning they are designed to sail in a specific region. Think warmer areas like the Galapagos, Malaysia and Panama or polar regions like the Arctic and Antarctica.
Itineraries take you into more remote areas that classic ships aren’t built to explore. Experiences off the ship – zodiac, kayaking, hiking - are up close and immersive, combining nature, wildlife and culture.
Expedition ships of today are nothing like the past. They are amazing – modern, comfortable, luxurious.
Hands down, top rated dining. You just won’t find as many different venues as you would on a typical classic cruise. Typically one, maybe a few more on larger ships.
Entertainment consists largely of destination specific enrichment programs – speakers, on board experts, destination specific lectures. You won’t find Broadway style shows, comedians, musicians.
Expedition ships, especially the newer build, can be described as mini versions of the classic ships. You just won’t find all the extra amenities and the public and private spaces will be smaller.
Photo courtesy of Uncruise Adventures
Adventure ships are small and nimble, ranging between 25-90 guests. The ship's public spaces and cabins are comfortable, but don’t expect a luxury hotel experience. The luxury is off the ship.
Many itineraries are similar to the expedition ships, sailing into more remote areas that bigger ships can’t access - Alaska’s Inside Passage, Hawaii, Galapagos and Costa Rica. Places where there are no docks. However, no polar regions - ships aren't built for that.
Perfectly designed for soft adventures - zodiak, hiking, kayaking and snorkeling excursions all included. The focus is 100% off the ship where Mother Nature largely controls the itinerary on any given sailing.
Dining venues are limited – as in one. However, there is never a concern about going hungry! Dining is top rated, and daily menus have multiple choices for guests to choose from. Ingredients are largely locally sourced.
The entertainment is what you experience every day off the ship. The on board guides may provide a recap of the day or lead a discussion of the next day’s events, but formal programs are few. Besides, after all the day's activities, everyone pretty much retires after dinner.
Additional amenities often include a small workout center and a hot tub.
Three different types of ocean cruises – three very different type of experiences. There is a perfect experience for everyone, even those who think of themselves as non-cruisers.
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder