The Appeal of Megaships
The growth of so-called megaships – those that carry at least 2,000 passengers – started in the late 1980s with Royal Caribbean's Sovereign class, though the largest megaships today can accommodate twice that number. The continuing growth is a response to what cruising consumers have demanded in recent years, notes Marilyn Green, a veteran cruise business reporter who has boarded just about every ship that floats.
"Consumers have wanted more and more," says Green, as ships have come to be seen as destinations in themselves. "The essential difference between sailing on a very large ship and a small one is, of course, variety. When you have such a sizeable ship, all tastes are being catered to."
Indeed, bigger means "a lot more options for entertainment, shopping and dining," said Jim Coyle, president of Coyle Hospitality Group, which provides quality assurance and mystery shopping services for the hospitality industry. "The number of restaurants is a big point of differentiation."
In fact, a study of cruise consumers, conducted by Coyle in 2010, found that shipboard dining had the biggest impact on cruisers. If it's done right, it builds loyalty, but if the dining element falters, customers are lost. It's no wonder that ships are embracing quantity, variety of cuisine and flexibility in dining options, and the megaships are uniquely suited to this trend. For instance, the Royal Caribbean's newest ship and biggest in the world - Allure of the Seas - offers more than 2 dozen spots to get a bite, which range from the first Starbucks aboard a ship to the brand's intimate fine-dining restaurant with wine pairings. Other options include a Mexican restaurant, a Brazilian-style steakhouse and Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse Chops Grille.
Larger ships also excel in pulling off spectacular entertainment in impressive venues. "These theaters are much more like Broadway in size and grandeur," said Coyle. Partnerships with major entertainment companies, including DreamWorks and Nickelodeon, mean they can offer branded entertainment. Allure of the Seas features shows that incorporate characters from DreamWorks movies in the first on-board theater that allows for ice- and water-based performances. It also offers an aerial acrobatics and a production of the musical Chicago.
While in the past, larger ships meant longer boarding/disembarkation processes, that's not an issue on the newest megaships. But, if you’re looking to get to know your breakfast waiter, you're not likely to do that on a large liner. You may have to fight for a well-located pool chair, endure long walks from your stateroom to your favorite activity, or get lost a few times, as well. Also, super-sized ships won't be calling at exotic ports where separate tenders are required or at destinations that can't handle the arrival of 4,000 passengers. The Allure, for instance, only sails to the larger ports of the Eastern and Western Caribbean.
Other Megaships to Consider
Norwegian Cruise Line's Epic
The Epic, which makes Caribbean and Mediterranean voyages, epitomizes the explosion of entertainment options aboard large cruise lines. There’s an Aqua Park with 3 multi-story water slides, a dedicated theater for performances by the Blue Man Group, a Mandara-branded spa, the only ice bar at sea and a 2-story Wii screen.
Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream
Disney Cruise Lines is getting a run for its money now that other lines have developed partnerships with well-known entertainment entities, but it's probably still the best for tot-toting travelers. Its newest ship, the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream, has a nursery for infants as young as 3 months, an extensive children's center and tweens and teens clubs. Grown-ups get 2 adult-exclusive restaurants among the 6 on board, as well as a full-service spa. The Dream offers 3- to 5-night Bahamian cruises.
With its separate Yacht Club area featuring 24-hour butler service and spacious suites, there's a ship within a ship on this megaliner that cruises the Mediterranean, with ports -of -call including Barcelona, Marseilles and Naples. The onboard Aurea spa has Turkish baths and a solarium, and there are 4 swimming pools and a squash court among the activities offered.