6 Ways Old Ships Are Better Than New Ships

old cruise ships
Carnival Elation sails into Half Moon Cay. - Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

It's hard to resist the flash and sparkle of brand-new cruise ships with their modern decor, cutting-edge technology, celebrity chef restaurants, and enough activities to keep you busy for a full week of sea days. But as much as we love these modern megaships, they aren't always preferable to older ships. Here are six advantages old cruise ships have over new ships:

1. Old Cruise Ships are Smaller in Size

Harmony of the Seas (2016) and Carnival Paradise (1998)

For the most part, the older a cruise ship is, the smaller it’s going to be relative to the size of the line’s newer vessels. Some cruisers think ‘bigger is always better!’ and want as much packed onto a floating piece of steel as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that mindset, but if you have a hard time getting around, or just don’t want to spend half of your time on board walking, a smaller ship might be a better option. It also means there are fewer venues to choose from, whether it be restaurants or amenities. Some cruisers see this as a con, but it can be a good thing if you don’t want to hem and haw too long over where to eat lunch.


2. Less Crowded on Older Ships

You'll never see a lido deck like this on a huge ship. - Photo by Princess

Newer ships are often capable of carrying over 5,000 passengers meaning that you'll have to deal with seemingly constant crowding and bottlenecks. Good ship design can cut down on the worst of the crowds, but you'll almost always end up waiting in line at the buffet or poolside eateries and scouring the lido deck for a vacant chair. Instead of waking up at the crack of dawn to claim your space on the pool deck, on smaller ships you have a little more time to find your way there.


3. Old-School Charm

normandie lounge paradise old new ships
The Normandie Lounge on Carnival Paradise - Photo by Carnival

If you’ve sailed on an older ship, you know exactly what we’re talking about here. There’s just something about those ‘90s and early 2000s ships that is in-your-face old school, and we don't mean that in a bad way. While many of us do ultimately prefer the subtle tones and clean lines of newer ships that reflect the current interior design trends, there’s something special about walking into an atrium and being smacked in the face with Vegas-style glamour and glitz. It isn’t just the atrium, either, as you can often find funky decor in other spaces, including dining rooms, lounges, the theater, and sometimes even the lido deck. Another big difference between newer ships and older: many old vessels still don’t have a television screen on the lido deck, something that we don’t mind one bit.


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4. No Reservations 

hairspray symphony old new ships
Good luck seeing Hairspray on Symphony of the Seas without making a reservation. - Photo by Royal Caribbean

One of the biggest complaints we see in reviews from members sailing on newer ships is the number of activities and dining options that need to be reserved ahead of time. To combat the inevitable crowds and long lines, many cruise lines have started requiring reservations for their popular restaurants and shows. This definitely cuts down on the lines, but it does require you to plan out your days well in advance, resulting in a more structured and less carefree experience. Older ships may have fewer choices in terms of how to spend your day on board, but there's a better chance you'll actually get to try them. 


5. Exotic Itineraries and Cheaper Sailings

Older ships sail itineraries to exotic destinations like New Guinea. - Photo by Princess

Generally, cruise lines deploy their newest ships on the most popular itineraries, namely week-long Caribbean sailings along with popular Mediterranean voyages during the summer. Longer cruises tend to fall to the older ships, as do exotic itineraries that only a more specific crowd will be interested in. It might cost more to do a specialized itinerary, your options are vast if you’re okay with older ships.

On the other hand, there are plenty of old ships that operate very common and sought-after itineraries, especially weekend Caribbean sailings from Florida, Mexican Riviera sailings from California, and various cruises in Europe. Since fewer travelers are seeking out these ships without as many bells and whistles, the voyages tend to be a lot cheaper than if you were to sail the exact same itinerary on a line’s newest and shiniest offering.


6. Lower Guest-to-Crew Ratio (Better Service)

It's a lot easier to get to know the crew on a smaller ship. - Photo by Princess

Cruise lines are packing a lot more travelers onto their ships these days, but they aren't necessarily adding enough crew members to accommodate them. Generally speaking, there are fewer passengers per crew member on older, smaller ships, meaning cruisers receive more individual attention and better service all around. There are also more opportunities to have conversations with crew members on older ships and get to know them throughout the voyage, which isn’t really feasible on ships with several thousand additional travelers to take care of.

Join the discussion

Do you generally prefer to sail on old or new ships?


Posted by JohnsonL

Our worst cruise regarding the shipboard experience was on a 2 month old ship that was the largest cruise ship in the world at that time and on a Mediterranean itinerary. One of our best cruise experiences was on a one-year-old ship that was the largest ship in the world at that time. This one year old ship along with cruises on a seven-year-old ship and on a 12 year old ship represent our favorite three cruise on board experiences. I assign much more importance to reviews and the last major Dry Dock than to the actual age of the ship. To answer the question, we cruise more often on clean, recently updated, 'older' ships, with great dining and service reviews, than on brand new ships, that may be working out the bugs and getting the crew trained to optimize the cruisers' experience.

Posted by cruisellama

Learning the lay of the ship is much easier on a small ship, as is the time required to get between activities. Sailed 2 oasis class ships and while they never felt crowded to me, you did have to hustle to get from bow to stern if you had something time sensitive like a dinner or show seating.

Posted by FarcusFan

Call me crazy, but I am ALWAYS fascinated by the weirdness and wonder of Joe Farcus's interior designs. For those who don't know, he was the lead designer for Carnival for like...25 years. Although his most eye-popping work was done for Carnival, he also did a lot of work for Costa. If you want to go on a trip--a very vivid one--you have to get into the proper mindset to gawk at the wall treatments, the wacky statues, the wavy jewel-studded ceilings, the colors crashing from carpets to lounges, the feeling of being transported to another planet when you behold one of those vertical art-spaces known as the atrium.

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