Who is onboard?
Big ships are designed for guests of all ages; the focus is something for everyone. Hundreds (and sometimes more) kids and teens on board may hang out in expansive playrooms with age-appropriate activities, while the thousands of adults on board jostle for lounge chairs near the lively and sometimes raucous pool scene, complete with music and games, or in special quieter adults-only sun areas (some for a fee). Passengers choose from a long roster of grownup activities, day and night. The idea is plenty to do to keep everyone happy. The size of the ships means that sometimes you will encounter crowds and lines.
By contrast, small ships, like those of Windstar, tend to host a social bunch of adults, couples, and solo travelers, who are curious and looking to learn more about the world. Guests tend to want to kick back and enjoy their own time at sea, sunning, reading, dipping in the hot tubs, or simply enjoying the ocean breezes and views from the broad teak decks – and in the case of sailing ships, looking up to tens of thousands of feet of beautiful billowing sails. When they do venture indoors, it is for cerebral pursuits such as a lecture by a historian or naturalist. Cocktails and dining are social events. You won’t feel lost in a crowd. You might find yourself pretending you are on your own private yacht.
Entertainment and activities
On big ships, something always is going on, from morning to the wee hours of the night. So much is happening that people consult apps on their phones or smart pads to keep track of each day’s events.
During the day on big ships the activity list is long: contests and games, lectures (including on such topics as shopping and how to eliminate body fat), cooking classes, cocktail- and wine-tastings, scavenger hunts, and anything else the cruise directors and entertainment team can think up – even parades in the promenade on some mega-ships. At night, big ships offer live music in several watering holes and extravagant show productions with singers, dancers, lavish costumes, and sometimes acrobats flying down from the ceiling. Both the casino and nightclubs attract a late-night crowd. A couple of nights a week on some ships, guests are encouraged to wear suits or tuxes, cocktail dresses or ballgowns, which can fill a suitcase.
Small ships with only a few hundred passengers are decisively more laidback. In a convivial, relaxed, pampered atmosphere, guests often prefer to entertain themselves, whether spending time simply getting to know their fellow guests and the crew or enjoying the sea views while reading a book. Some attend fitness and yoga sessions or book a massage. On Windstar ships, thanks to an open-bridge policy, passengers may hang out with the officers and discuss navigation. Inside, the ships are airy and contemporary, with nautical features such as real brass and a marine color scheme, a perfect place to regale fellow passengers about your past travel experience.
The focus of these small ships is more enrichment than frenetic activities. You may attend a lecture to learn from an expert about the region or island where you are sailing, or while away free time during a wine-tasting focused on regional varietals. On select sailings on Windstar ships, you may attend cooking demonstrations by chefs chosen by the James Beard Foundation – Windstar is the official cruise line of the prestigious culinary organization. A leisurely dinner at a choice of indoor or outdoor dining venues is the big evening occasion, no need to wear a tie. Before or after dinner, you might sing along to classic rock tunes led by a piano player. On some sailings, a local dance troupe or musicians may come on board to perform. One night, a lavish BBQ out on deck, under the stars, may culminate in a super fun conga line of guests and crew. A talent show, where the crew proudly show off their own cultures through music and dance, is often a cruise highlight.