Size Matters: How to avoid sharing your cruise with thousands of passengers
When you dream of a cruise holiday, do you picture yourself surrounded by 6,849 fellow passengers?
That's the capacity of MSC's new 'World Class' cruise ships, scheduled to hit the seas from 2022. The mega-cruise ships will be the biggest we've ever seen by passenger capacity.
If very word 'mega' turns you off, however, don't fret.
Mass market ships are the most popular cruise holidays, but they're far from the only option - something Irish cruisers are discovering as their knowledge of cruise grows.
Small, luxury and river cruises, with a capacity of around 150 to 1,000 guests, are the focus of our travel pages this week, and they offer some mouthwatering possibilities.
Prepared to pay for space? Take a look at luxury lines like Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Azamara. As Kirsty Blake-Knox (in Vietnam) and Nicola Brady (on the Med) discover this week, their ships can offer a higher staff-to-passenger ratio, luxuries like butler service, fine dining, fewer kids and, due to their relatively small size, can access places inaccessible to 300m+ monster ships - London City or the pier in Monte Carlo, for instance. They're expensive, sure, but prices tend to include meals, tips and almost all drinks.
Downsides? There are fewer amenities and less of the anonymity that comes with bigger ships. You'll also have to fork out for optional extras like shore excursions, spa treatments and 'premium wines', and solo travellers still pay single supplements.
Another option, if intimacy and exclusivity appeal, is a river cruise.
As Bairbre Power finds on her European trip, river cruise ships are long, thin craft purpose-built to navigate waterways like the Danube, Rhine and Seine, getting right into cities and country- side.
Ships from the likes of Uniworld and AmaWaterways are basically floating boutique hotels, hosting 160 or so passengers with limited upscale facilities and all-inclusive pricing including city tours.
In my experience, river cruises also offer a flatter, steadier sensation than ocean- going ships, meaning little or no seasickness. As with luxury cruise ships, expect fellow guests to be a little older than on bigger lines like Celebrity, MSC or Royal Caribbean.
A final option, as Isabel Conway discovers, is a value-driven, medium-sized line like Hurtigruten or Celestyal. Ships can be older and less luxurious, but do offer shorter lines, easier destination access and more facilities.
It's possible to book directly with all of the lines on today's pages, but cruise is one holiday worth picking up the phone for. There's a perfect ship for everyone, but finding it requires research.
Most big Irish tour operators have cruise experts, and specialists include John Galligan Travel (jgt.ie), E-Travel (e-travel.ie) and Cruisescapes (cruisescapes.ie).