Cruise Ships: Large vs. Small

In August 2017, I set sail on a 5-day cruise out of Charleston, SC on Carnival Ecstasy. Ecstasy was my first cruise 22 years prior. (Where has the time gone!) Since then I have added quite a few more cruises to my cruise history, on cruise ships large and small. After cruising exclusively on larger ships for the past several years, Carnival Ecstasy marked my return to cruising on a (relatively) smaller ship. How did she hold up to her larger, newer counterparts? Read on to find out!

For readers not familiar with the Carnival Cruise Line fleet, Carnival Ecstasy is part of the Fantasy class of ships. This class of ships is Carnival’s oldest and smallest – in fact, Ecstasy was Carnival’s second oldest ship in service when I sailed on her in August 2017. (She made her debut in 1991.)

Carnival Liberty and Carnival Ecstasy
Carnival Liberty and Carnival Ecstasy docked in Freeport, Bahamas

At ~70,000 gross tons, the Fantasy class is considered small by today’s standards for mass market cruise ships. All cruise ships built nowadays – outside of luxury cruise lines – are well in excess of 100,000 tons; and more ships exceeding 200,000 tons are currently being built! The largest cruise ship we encountered on our 5-day cruise was Carnival Liberty, who weighs in at 110,000 tons. While she didn’t dwarf Carnival Ecstasy like some of the mega liners would, you could definitely see the size difference when Liberty and Ecstasy were docked adjacent to each other in Freeport, Bahamas.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical before I sailed on Carnival Ecstasy again because of her size. Would there be enough activities on board? How smooth would she sail through potentially rough seas? 12 years had passed since I last sailed on a ship as small as Ecstasy, so I went into this cruise with more uncertainty and skepticism than I usually do.

Finding My Way Around the Ship

First let me explain my favorite aspect of Carnival Ecstasy: the layout of her decks. Modern cruise ships sandwich the passenger cabins in the middle of the ship (vertically). Toward the bottom of the ship you will typically find some indoor public spaces: a lobby, guest services, an indoor promenade, etc. Above these public decks are the majority of the passenger cabins. Above the cabins you will find the outdoor public spaces: open decks, pools, water parks, etc.

On an older ship like Carnival Ecstasy, the layout is a bit different. Virtually all of the passenger decks are below all of the public spaces. If you are in your room and you want to get somewhere on the ship, you know which direction you need to go: up! Pretty convenient, huh?

On this cruise my room was on the top deck for passenger cabins, which meant I was close to all the action. In fact, I could walk down the hallway where my cabin was and I’d be in the main lobby! Up one deck: I’m at the dining room. Go up two decks: I’m on the promenade deck. And up three decks: I’m on the pool deck! Talk about being steps away from everything!

I loved this. Not only was everything close by, fewer public decks (it’s a smaller ship) meant it was much easier to remember where every lounge, eatery, or watering hole was located!

Crowd Control

Let’s talk about something that can plague newer cruise ships today: crowds. As cruise ships are getting larger, so too is the number of passengers the ships can hold. On some cruise lines, the ratio of public spaces to number of passengers is shrinking, meaning ships are being built to accommodate more passengers but relatively fewer public spaces are being added. No Bueno!

Carnival Ecstasy pool deck
On this sea day, the pool deck was not too crowded!

As an older cruise ship, Carnival Ecstasy was built before this trend really took off. At the buffet for example (priorities, people!), the lines were never too long and they moved pretty quickly. I have seen buffet lines on some larger ships that stretched dozens deep. This never really happened on Carnival Ecstasy.

Another area where crowding is an issue (at least on Carnival) is the comedy club. It’s the norm for comedy shows to be standing-room-only. I have actually seen passengers turned away because there were too many people trying to see a show! How insane! I am happy to say this was not the case on Carnival Ecstasy. The lounge was always full, but I saw few people standing at the shows.

The point I am making is that these smaller ships typically have larger (better) passenger space ratios, and I saw concrete evidence of this on Carnival Ecstasy.

Things to Do, Places to Eat

I’m not a picky cruiser. I had a great time on Carnival Ecstasy, and I would definitely go on a smaller cruise ship again. That being said, there are plenty of people out there who want the latest and greatest. Or maybe you’re traveling with kids (or kids-at-heart) who want a lot of different activities to participate in. If that’s the case, a smaller cruise ship may not be the ideal choice for you.

You would be sorely disappointed if you boarded Carnival Ecstasy looking for rock-climbing walls, bowling alleys, or ropes courses. There is no doubt Carnival has done a great job modernizing their older ships, but let’s face it: there’s only so that can be crammed into the limited space of a smaller cruise ship. For me this wasn’t an issue, but for others it may be an issue. You know the old saying: “whatever floats your boat!”

Now let’s look at food choices for a second. Again, limited space means food options are limited. The standards are included: a main dining room, a buffet, burgers, pizza, etc. Look elsewhere if you want to dine at a steakhouse or if you’re craving sushi. There just isn’t enough space to include the newer concepts that you can find on the latest cruise ships. If you are the kind of person who wants to eat at a new restaurant each night of your cruise, then a smaller cruise ship is not the way to go for you.

Large vs. Small Cruise Ships

So which is better: large cruise ships or small cruise ships? The answer is a personal preference, and it lies in what your priorities are. If you want to avoid the crowds, a smaller cruise ship may be better suited for you. Need the most activities on board? A larger cruise ship is your answer. This article only highlighted a few of the differences between large and small cruise ships. If you are planning a cruise, I encourage you to research cruise ships online to determine the best fit for you!

As for me, I’ll go on any cruise ship large or small! Whatever ship I am on (or will be on next) is my favorite! What’s your preference? Leave a comment below!

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