Least crowded cruise ships – offering the most bang for your buck

The Cunard Line Queen Mary 2 is one of the most spacious ships of all – Getty

A silver lining of the Covid pandemic was that when cruises finally resumed service, passengers on larger ships could enjoy the kind of extra space normally found on smaller luxury ships.

With cruise ships initially limited to operating at half full or even less, these early crossings seemed eerily calm, but as the recovery gathered pace the number inexorably climbed to 70 or 80% capacity – providing a sweet spot. buzz on board without the accompanying queues and crowds that invariably form when ships are full.

It’s a scenario regulars have quickly become accustomed to, but as we approach next year, so does the prospect of maximum capacity as cruise lines finally return to pre-pandemic levels. depleted ships.

So what’s the solution for those looking for the more serene onboard experience of years past and want to avoid the masses?

Passenger space ratio

In addition to choosing your schedules carefully (such as avoiding school holidays on cruise lines that welcome children), another is to study the ship you have chosen, comparing its size with the number of passengers it carries, as these factors vary from vessel to vessel.

For example, a larger ship may seem as spacious as its smaller counterparts, even though it takes on more passengers. It all depends on what is called the Passenger Space Ratio (PSR).

Saga Cruises' Spirit of Adventure is one of the most spacious of all ships - Saga

Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Adventure is one of the most spacious of all ships – Saga

This is calculated by dividing a vessel’s registered gross tonnage by the number of passengers (usually based on double occupancy). The higher the number obtained, the more space customers get.

So with the so-called “Six Star” high-end lines such as Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, you can expect to see their ships typically score in the 60s and 70s, whereas many mass market ships are in the 20s, 30s and 40s. .

Make room for Saga

But there are exceptions, with Saga Cruises’ newest ships, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, which accommodate just 987 passengers, topping the space stakes with a rating of 59.

Just behind is Cunard’s venerable Queen Mary 2 liner at 55.4 and for anyone who has experienced this 2,691 passenger vessel, her more spacious proportions are evident in the open decks, airy gangways and large salons.

Wide open decks, airy walkways and a large saloon;  QM2 - LOIC VENANCE

Wide open decks, airy walkways and a large saloon; QM2 – LOIC VENANCE

Essex-based Ambassador Cruise Line, which offers better-priced cruises, also scores high with its 1,400-passenger Ambience ship with a ratio of 50.2.

The choice of main lines

Among the major lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America Line pioneered the space with a number of their ships marking the early to mid-1940s.

This is also the case for the two new ships Bolette and Borealis from Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which joined its fleet in 2020.

General Manager Peter Deer explains that although these new additions are slightly larger than Fred Olsen’s previous ships, they hold a similar number of guests, allowing them to offer a smaller ship experience, but with a greater choice of venues such as thermal spa suites, two of the upper level theaters and new specialty restaurants.

“This means customers can enjoy more space in our public areas, their staterooms and on deck,” he adds. “We know from customer feedback that having more space in the wake of the pandemic is something they appreciate.”

The ships that register the highest PSR in P&O Cruises’ seven-person fleet are its two oldest and smallest incumbents, Aurora and Arcadia, which have reached 40, while their sister ships hover between the mid and mid high of the 1930s, with 5,200 new arrivals. passenger Arvia score 35.3.

Secret Suites

Yet it’s not just about grabbing your calculator to stubbornly calculate such sums.

Another tip is to study deck plans for design quirks in ship structures, as these can reveal extra-large staterooms and balconies, which cost the same as standard staterooms. You just need to know where to find them.

It is also worth considering cabins at the front or rear of the ship, as these tend to have a more unusual layout, potentially with more space, and by their very nature are more hidden.

For example, on Princess Cruises’ Royal Class ships, some mini-suites located directly forward on Decks 15 and 16 are significantly larger, measuring 319 square feet instead of the average 222 square feet, but they are the same price as regular mini-suites. -suites.

A mini-suite aboard the Sky Princess

A mini-suite aboard the Sky Princess

The design of the Holland America Line Rotterdam, Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam ships means that some cabins on the Schubert and Navigation decks have much larger verandas due to the ‘bubble’ design of the atrium elevators.

Even on the top-of-the-range lines, it is possible to revel in even more space by knowing which suites to opt for.

On Seabourn, for example, the penthouse spa suites and owner’s suites on Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation feature expansive wrap-around balconies.

Room on the river

When it comes to river cruise ships, there is no PSR to compare, but it should be kept in mind that these ships are limited in size by the locks and bridges they have to pass through, so it is therefore more a matter of noting the number of passengers transported.

Avalon Waterways says its ships’ picture suites are 30% larger than the industry standard, aided by an “open-air balcony,” created by lowering the floor-to-ceiling picture window that becomes a French balcony. This space-saving trick is increasingly being used by some river cruise lines and even shipping companies like Celebrity.

Rather than the size of a ship, finding space is more a matter of noting the number of passengers carried

Rather than the size of a ship, finding space is more a matter of noting the number of passengers carried

However, there are two European river ships that stand out in the size stakes, namely Riverside Mozart belonging to the new river cruise line Riverside Luxury Cruises and the AmaWaterways ship AmaMagna, as both are almost twice as wide as river ships conventional at 22m compared to the regular 12m.

AmaWaterways UK Managing Director Jamie Loizou points out that although AmaMagna is significantly larger than the other vessels (and almost double the size of the rest of the vessels in the company’s fleet), it does not takes only 20% more passengers, which allows for much more expansive flights. indoor and outdoor deck areas.

“Most accommodations are spacious suites measuring between 355 square feet and 710 square feet with full balconies, and our owner’s suite, at 710 square feet, is the largest on European rivers,” he says.

Details like this prove that when planning your next cruise, a little know-how and learning how to navigate cruise ship deck plans could help you avoid the crowds.

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