Different passengers have different ideas of the ideal size cruise ship that suits their purpose best.
There are now ships that take in excess of 5,000 passengers, with almost 3,000 crew to look after them. Stand outside and stare in wonder at the sheer size. Eighteen restaurants, plenty of play areas for children, over twenty decks, the front is so surprisingly square you wonder how it manages to cope with high strong seas.
We were on a recent cruise on the P & O ship Oriana, and when in Vigo were alongside the Anthem of the Seas. It is like a floating brick. Despite not being full, there were still over 4,200 passengers, and when it docks, there must be a long queue of passengers waiting to get off.
The port must struggle to accommodate a huge sudden influx of so many people, and we certainly felt overwhelmed in our comparatively small ship of 1,800 passengers.
What do people like about the larger ships? The choice for a start. With the aforementioned number of restaurants, there is a great deal of informality. About half the restaurants are for all to enjoy at no extra cost, but some have a premium admission charge. For example, if you want to eat in the burger bar, then you pay a premium.
If you want to eat in a signature restaurant, there is extra to pay. And if you want an ice cream, as ashore, you pay again. That is not unreasonable.
The larger ships also accommodate families, with a lot of activities whereby parents can abandon them in the kids club for the day. This is especially handy during days at sea.
We like the medium size ships, taking between 1,200 and 2,500 passengers, usually at least three very good quality restaurants, self service cafeterias, and signature ones with a premium between £5 and £15 per person. The cabin sizes are more than adequate, plenty of places to relax, and two quality theatres with luxurious seating.
The smaller ships, under 1,200 passengers, have the advantage of being able to visit areas denied to the larger vessels. We have been on the Marco Polo twice, owned by Cruise Maritime, and this was built 50 years ago as a Russian Arctic ice breaking ship. Converted over twenty years ago, it is ideal for Norwegian fjords and French rivers.
Fred Olsen also have smaller ships, four of them, the Balmoral with 1,200 passengers, the other three in the region of 800. Not so much restaurant choice on smaller vessels, but they all have the self service cafeteria.
This is just a brief introduction to European cruising, because there is so much more to discuss. Topics include standard of entertainment, places to visit, crew nationality, crew competence, tips on obtaining upgrades, when to tip the crew, how to get to the ship, whether to cruise from a UK port, or fly and join the vessel elsewhere. Where to look for bargains, is it best to contact the cruise line itself, or to go via a cruise club, a newspaper, or a travel agent. If the last, on line or a local one. So I will be returning on another occasion with cruise tips.
Harry is a writer www.harrythewriter.com a tour guide www.harrythewalker.com and gives talks to local clubs and societies www.harrythetalker.com He is also an occasional blogger on www.harrytheblogger.com