I used to think that a cruise was a cruise was a cruise… And then I went on some. Multiple, in fact. Having now experienced all different ways of seeing the world from the water, I understand just how much all cruises are NOT created equal. Or, to put it another way, if you’ve been on one cruise, you have most definitely not been on them all!
I think many Western cultures over time adopted the “bigger is better” mentality with a lot of thing (cars, houses, boats etc.) For example, over the course of a few decades, we migrated from small, 3-bedroom ranch homes (like my friends and I grew up in) to 5,000 square foot suburban mansions across so many parts of America. While cycles tend to emerge, however, in more recent years, I feel there’s been a return to more of a “minimalist” mentalities with the inception of tiny homes and as I am seeing in the industry, more of a focus on investing in experiences. I think that by and large, more people are recognizing that sometimes bigger isn’t always better, and like Sabrina Fairchild said to Harrison Ford’s character, Linus, in the remake of the classic “Sabrina”: “More isn’t always better, Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”
And, when it comes to cruise ships, I whole-heartedly agree.
This is not to say big cruise lines don’t have their place, and for some they work great! For example, Disney does a great job for parents and kids alike. But, for me personally, I’ve grown up sailing and love to be on the water, and one of the best parts of that experience for me is the intimacy. It’s a feeling that can be lost while being on big cruise ships.
Now after a few years in this amazing industry, I am here to share with you why when I choose to cruise, I default to the stand that “less is more”!
Unlike the big cruise ships, these small operators (some of which are almost more yacht-like) take the concept of “cruising” as you see it on the TV commercials and throw it out the window. They focus on service, a more comprehensive approach to ‘all-inclusive’, and – my favorite part – experience & intimacy.
A friend of mine and I did a cruise on Windstar a few years ago to Tahiti. To start with, there was no queueing in a long line or sitting around waiting in a giant holding pen for our “boarding group” to be called – upon arrival at the dock, we were onboard within minutes. It didn’t take long to also notice that every crew member knew us by name almost immediately. By the next day, the servers knew how we took our coffee, what our favorite table on deck was, and countless other little things that just blew us away…and this kept happening through the entire trip.
This is one of the things that really got me. The way the big ships market their “all-inclusive” packages can be misleading at best. Sure, they include food, but it’s the cafeteria food and the main dining room – if you want to eat in any of the “specialty restaurants” you’ll have to pay extra. Same with drinks – if you want anything other than tap water, coffee, and tea, most of the time you have to buy a beverage package of some sort be it alcohol, wine, or soda. And if you want bottled water, well that’s extra, too. Then there are the gratuities – if you don’t add them to your cruise cost on the front end, you’ll just have to pay them at the end. And finally, the shore excursions which can run you hundreds depending on what you want to do. All-in, a cruise can easily end up costing you 2-3x above what you shell out for just your cabin.
Enter small luxury ship cruising. You’ll pay more upfront, that’s for sure (and personally, the experience and service alone are worth the extra $$ in my opinion!) but those upfront costs often include way more so that you’re not getting dinged later, or along the way. Depending on the itinerary, the specific ship, and the cruise line, those upfront costs will often include gratuities, drink packages, all food everywhere (and the food is usually FAR superior to what the big ships offer), and sometimes even the shore excursions are included as well. I’ve seen some breakdowns which show that, all-in, may of the small luxury cruise ship costs stack up to be even better priced than the mass markets when you take all the nickel-and-diming they tend to do into account.
Experience & Intimacy
Food is part of the experience on the smaller ships, I’ve found. You’re not dealing with a cafeteria set-up with cheap meals that get recycled (ever notice how the morning’s extra waffles become the afternoon’s desert?) No. On the small lines, the food is fresh and fantastic. I was vegan on my first small ship cruise and they catered to my dietary needs like I never expected. And, for some place like Tahiti which, ironically enough, isn’t known for its food, despite being connected to the French, we still ate extremely well!
So the food and the service are part of what I would wrap into “experience”, but what has continued to impress me about the smaller luxury ship experience is how much closer to the destinations you feel. You’re able to get into smaller ports where the larger ships can’t go. Getting off and on the ship isn’t anything like the cow-herding feel you have on larger ships. It’s more like you’re guest on a friend of a friend’s yacht, so you just kind of come and go as you please. Because of this, you can more easily escape the crowds and you feel a lot less like a tourist and more like a traveler exploring new places. Even the shore excursions feel less intrusive because you’re never being shoved into a giant bus with 50 other people… You’ll often feeling like you’re exploring on your own. It’s just a whole different way to step into a destination and see it more clearly.
What I would say in closing is this:
If you consider yourself to be a cruiser, consider taking your cruise experience up about a thousand notches and next time maybe try a smaller ship experience!
If you don’t identify as a “cruiser” (and believe me, I understand that because I definitely don’t either!) you shouldn’t completely rule out the cruise experience until you’ve tried a smaller ship experience because it’s really like apples and lasagna – they might be both in the category of food, but really there’s no comparison.
Oh, and definitely give us a call or send in a quote request if you’re not sure where to go or what to try first – it won’t cost you anything more and we love booking these types of ships for our clients and can help you make a decision that will fit your interests and expectations (and we usually can get you some fun extra perks as well!)