If you’ve never cruised before, it can be hard to deduce which size ship will best suit you and your travel companions. I’ve taken more than 30 cruises—on everything from 6,000-passenger megaships to 120-guest river boats—so I’m happy to point you in the right direction. Just write to Ask Wendy. And enjoy the article below, which my husband, Tim, wrote after an especially fun cruise on a 212-passenger ship—one that I christened!
As the husband of the godmother of a cruise ship (no official title for me; I looked it up), I got to experience the inaugural sailing of Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze on the French and Italian rivieras. I had no official duties so, unlike my wife, I was free to just hang out. And take photos.
The last time I’d sailed on Windstar was 15 years ago, right after Wendy and I got married. With young kids, we’ve had to limit ourselves to large ships with child-friendly programs and features. I’ve appreciated the large ships—they’ve kept everyone in the family busy with their sports decks, ice bars, and activities from sunrise to midnight—but, given my druthers, I’d choose a small ship, with small ports to match: There are no long walks to your stateroom or anywhere on the ship. You’re with like-minded passengers. The crew remembers your name and your favorite drink in the evenings. There are no long tender lines snaking through the bowels of the ship just to get from ship to shore. Everything’s easier.
These snapshots from our trip should give you a feel for the benefits of a small ship and small ports.
In Portoferraio, on the island of Elba, we loved that we were the only cruise ship in town.
Small ports are easy to explore on your own. And it’s easier to talk to locals such as this fisherman, whose boat was docked next to ours in Portoferraio.
Only small ships can get into small ports, such as the harbor of Nice, France.
In small ports you can dock within walking distance of the sights you’ve come to see. In Nice we could walk from the harbor to the Cours Saleya, which holds an antiques market on Mondays, a flower market on Tuesdays, etc.
Another advantage of small ships: In small ports they can dock at the pier, whereas larger ships need to anchor out in the harbor. Docking means you can walk off the ship and get right into town. Anchoring means taking a tender from ship to shore—which swallows up time. The larger the ship, the longer the line for the tenders—which swallows up more time.
On a small ship, you’re closer to other boats.
Each Windstar sailing includes a “Private Event” just for the ship’s passengers. In Monte Carlo the event was a cocktail party atop the Café de Paris, overlooking the Casino de Monte-Carlo.
In Portofino one of Windstar’s shore excursions was a wine-and-cheese tasting at Castello Brown, in the hills above town. We learned about and tasted all the locally sourced ingredients.
When Chef Guido asked for volunteers to learn how to make pesto, I jumped at the chance. How could anyone pass up the opportunity to make pesto in Liguria instructed by a local chef?
Walking from Castello Brown back down into town, we passed the Museo del Parco, a colorful sculpture garden.
The smaller a ship, the better you get to know the officers and crew. The crew aboard Star Breeze is super-friendly. They went out of their way to be helpful.