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SeaDream I and SeaDream II squeeeeze through Greece's Corinth Canal in the Aegean Sea.

Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

SeaDream I and SeaDream II squeeeeze through Greece's Corinth Canal in the Aegean Sea.

How to find a cruise ship size that's right for you

Finding your cruise bliss starts by picking the right-size ship

One of the most confusing and time-consuming hurdles potential cruise passengers face is selecting a cruise ship. Some cruise lines have ships of all sizes and styles to choose from, and that can add to the challenge for first-timers. 

 
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In addition to a cruise's itinerary and price, an important factor in finding a cruise that's right for you (and your family or companion or you alone) comes down to its size (how many passengers are on board), its ship class (explained below) and its overall category (luxury, excursion, mass market).

Figuring out the sizes of cruise ships

Back in the day, a big ship was one that could accommodate 2,000 passengers and up. Nowadays, many of the newest ships fall into a new “mega-ship“ category with space for more than 4,000 passengers. Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Harmony of the Seas, launched last month with room for 5,479 passengers double occupancy and 6,360 at full capacity. On the other end of the spectrum, there are smaller, boutique ships that hold fewer than 250 passengers. Many of these are expedition ships that explore exotic locations such as the Galapagos or Antarctica

There is no universal yardstick for ship size, but here's how we break it down at Cruiseable: 

Some sites determine size by gross registered tonnage (a measurement of space on board, not weight), and Cruiseable's new Ship Discovery Tool lets you sort 400+ ships that way.

The larger the ship, the more likely it will be that it has multiple pools, larger fitness centers, bigger theaters, multiple dining venues and entertainment venues. The smaller the ship, the more likely it will be that you'll never have to fight the crowds and your itineraries will take you to smaller, more out-of-the-way ports. In general, smaller ships cost more, and almost all luxury ships fall into the "small" or "mid-size" range. 

NorthStar lifts guests 300 feet above sea level to offer stunning views on Anthem of the Seas.
Courtesy of Royal Caribbean InternationalNorthStar lifts guests 300 feet above sea level to offer stunning views on Anthem of the Seas. You won't find it on Oasis class ships like Allure or Harmony of the Seas. 

Pay attention to a ship's class 

Did you know that a ship class refers to a group of ships of a similar design? In cruise lingo, they are known as “sisters.”

Royal Caribbean has 25 ships and seven ship classes: Quantum, Oasis, Freedom, Voyager, Radiance, Vision and Sovereign. The reason that this is important to those of you researching cruises is that not all features are found on all ships. For example, Harmony of the Seas is Royal's newest ship, but there is no NorthStar viewing pod, iFly sky-dive simulator or bumper cars in the SeaPlex. That's because she's part of the Oasis class of ships, not the Quantum class (Wikipedia has the rundown). 

Don't overcomplicate it 

A final word of advice: Don't make your decision-making harder than it needs to be. Only certain size ships (Panamax) fit through the Panama Canal — the cruise lines certainly know which ones, so you just need to decide if you want to sail through this modern wonder of the world. Mid-size and large ships won't fit through the Corinth Canal in the Aegean Sea, and behemoth mega-ships won't be sailing through Venice or Santorini. 

Want to take a river cruise in Europe? You'll find that almost all river ships there are the same size, thanks to the dimensions of the locks along Europe's waterways: A foot or two wider or longer, and they wouldn't scoot through. 

Bottom line: Make it easy on yourself. Use Cruiseable's one-of-a-kind Bliss Filters at the right to begin your cruise discovery journey, and let us know if we can help!

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Carrie Finley-Bajak
I'm a cruise journalist, blogger, CLIA Accredited Cruise Counselor and a columnist for Travel Weekly. Follow me on Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and Instagram.

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