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I've sailed on all of Royal Caribbean's oldest ships. Here's why I don't mind sailing on these small ships

04 Nov 2023
Allie Hubers

Royal Caribbean’s fleet is home to the biggest and most advanced cruise ships in the world. The cruise line is best known for pushing the limits when it comes to ship design and innovation; as such, many people prefer to sail onboard Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ships. 

But, is bigger always better when it comes to cruise ships? Some will say yes without hesitation, but there are actually many perks to sailing on older cruise ship.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean ships by age — Newest to Oldest

Last week, my sister and I sailed onboard Royal Caribbean’s oldest ship in the fleet: Grandeur of the Seas. This 72,000 gross ton cruise ship was built in 1996, making her nearly 26 years old.

Grandeur of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean’s Vision class of ships, which debuted between 1995-1998. While some of her sister ships have since been retired from the fleet (namely Legend of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas), four of the ships are still sailing for Royal Caribbean.

Although I’ve cruised with Royal Caribbean for most of my life, the majority of my cruises have been on some of the oldest and smallest ships in the fleet. I’ve sailed on all of the ships in the Vision class fleet, many of which are 20+ years old for Royal Caribbean. My first Royal Caribbean cruise was actually on Enchantment of the Seas, so the Vision class ship holds a special place in my heart!

These days, I prefer to choose my cruises based on the itinerary, sail date and price. If this means I am boarding a cruise ship that’s 20+ years old, this does not bother me. During my recent sailing on Grandeur of the Seas, my sister and I had a such a fantastic time, even though the ship is nearly the same age we are. 

I felt like this experience solidified my love of Royal Caribbean’s oldest and smallest ships. Here’s why I truly don’t mind sailing on these small ships and why you should consider sailing on them too. 

Older ships are more affordable

With all the hype around newer cruise ships, Royal Caribbean can charge a premium for their most in-demand vessels. On the other hand, the oldest cruise ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet are rarely in high demand unless there is a lucrative itinerary.

I’m someone who cruises frequently, so I try to save money whenever I can. I find the easiest way to save is to choose the cheapest cabin on an older ship. 

Read more45 easy ways how to save money on a cruise

For our weekend cruise on Grandeur of the Seas, we paid just $466 for the 4-night sailing, which included the cruise fare, pre-paid gratuities, port taxes and fees. Considering this was a last minute sailing, the pricing seemed appropriate. 

On the contrary, Royal Caribbean’s website shows a 4-night sailing on Utopia of the Seas for next summer at $836. This is nearly double the cost as our sailing on Grandeur of the Seas. As expected, this brand-new ship will cost you much more than sailing on an older and smaller ship. 

Of course, you won’t find as many amenities or things to do on an older and smaller ship; but, those looking for a more simple and quiet cruising experience should definitely consider sailing on an older ship. If you don’t need the bells and whistles of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, consider pricing an itinerary on a Vision class ship to save some money. 

The smaller ships sail on more interesting itineraries

Although our recent sailing on Grandeur of the Seas was a weekend getaway to Cozumel, most of my cruises on Royal Caribbean’s oldest ships have been on interesting itineraries. I prefer to book my cruises based on their itineraries and I am not picky about which ship I am sailing on. 

Some of my favorite cruises have been on Royal Caribbean’s oldest ships. For example, I sailed on Rhapsody of the Seas for my honeymoon to Italy, Greece and Croatia. I also sailed on Vision of the Seas in high school from Norway to Paris, Liverpool and Edinburgh during my first European cruise. 

There are cruise ports have sizing restrictions when it comes to cruise ships docking. Therefore, the largest and newest ships are more limited when it comes to their itineraries. Because of this, you can normally find the more interesting itineraries on the oldest and smallest ships. 

Additionally, when your itinerary is full of exciting port stops, you might not even be spending much time onboard your cruise ship anyway. On an older and smaller ship, the focus is less on the ship and more about the destinations.

Last summer, my husband and I sailed to the Canary Islands, Spain and Portugal on Anthem of the Seas during a fantastic 12-night itinerary. We spent all day, everyday exploring the ports - leaving us little time to even enjoy this newer ship and all of her amenities. 

Anthem of the Seas in Lisbon

By the time we made our way back onboard and had dinner, we were too tired to partake in the evening festivities on the ship. Honestly, I felt a little guilty for not experiencing all of the entertainment and activities onboard but we also wanted to relax when we could. 

You’ll find less crowds onboard the oldest ships

Royal Caribbean’s newest ships are quite the engineering feat - these cruise ships feel like floating resorts! But, with ships becoming bigger than ever, you also have to deal with more people onboard your cruise. 

For example, Wonder of the Seas is currently the biggest ship in the world and it can fit around 9,300 passengers and crew members onboard. That’s bigger than some small towns! The new Icon of the Seas will be even larger, holding around 10,000 guests at double occupancy when you consider the crew members onboard. 

If you aren’t a fan of crowds, you might want to look at cruising on an older and smaller ship. While older cruise ships were considered large when they were first built, it’s a stark comparison to Royal Caribbean’s oldest ships. 

Grandeur of the Seas is nearly one third of the size of an Oasis-class ship. After sailing on Odyssey of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas last year, I was eager to see how it would feel sailing on Grandeur of the Seas in comparison. 

To my surprise, I found it refreshing that we didn’t have to deal with crowds most of the time. We had no issue finding a chair in the Solarium most days of the cruise, along with premium seats near the pool. While the Windjammer can be difficult to navigate with crowds and find a seat, this wasn’t the case for us either. We never had an issue finding a table at the buffet, even during peak times. Going the shows or activities on a smaller ship meant we didn't need to get there early to snag a seat. Overall, it was less stressful sailing with less people. 

Older ships offer a more intimate cruising experience

From the minute my sister and I stepped onboard Grandeur of the Seas, I remembered how much I love the intimacy of Royal Caribbean’s older ships. These smaller vessels just feel more like home. The welcoming atmosphere really cultivates a different cruising experience than you’ll find on newer and biggest cruise ships.

Measuring around 70,000 gross tons, Royal Caribbean’s oldest ships are considered small to medium cruise ships by today’s standards. Keep in mind though, these cruise ships are not small for the everyday person. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean ships by size

My sister and I both agreed that Grandeur of the Seas had a very cozy ambiance onboard. Everything felt more intimate and nothing was ever overwhelmingly large onboard. Although bigger ships have tons to do, you won’t have this feeling of intimacy on a mega-cruise ship. 

Everything is conveniently located on an older and smaller ship

During my sailing on Grandeur of the Seas, I also forgot about how nice it was to have everything easily accessible on a cruise ship. Our stateroom was located on Deck 3 and while this would feel like the dungeon on a newer cruise ship, we were centrally located on Grandeur of the Seas.

Wherever we wanted to go, it felt like nothing was too far away. We could also run back to our cabin quickly if we forgot something and it never took more than five minutes to get where we needed to go. On bigger cruise ships, you can clock in 10,000 steps just by navigating around the ship and finding where you need to go!

While I don’t mind getting in some steps during my cruise, it can be a pain wasting time running around the ship if you forget something. Although I don’t have any accessibility issues, I can see why those with mobility limitations would want to cruise on an older, smaller ship. These vessels are easy to navigate with everything being conveniently located. 

You won’t forget you’re on a cruise ship

The first morning of our cruise on Grandeur of the Seas, my sister and I grabbed coffee and sat by the open windows in the Centrum, or atrium area in the middle of the ship. We had no issue grabbing a chair and opted to sip our coffee while watching the ship sail through the glistening sea. 

One of my favorite features of the Vision class cruise ships is the glass-covered Centrum, which features floor to ceiling panels of windows. There is so much natural light that shines into the center of the ship - and this is something you will not really experience on a newer ship. Everywhere onboard Grandeur of the Seas felt like it had sprawling views of the sea. 

On a newer ship, it’s very easy to forget that you’re actually on a cruise ship. While this is can be a selling point for some, others want to feel like they are out at sea. On an older ship, you will find way more opportunities to sit back and enjoy the view than you’ll find on a newer ship. Because older ships do not have all the bells and whistles like bigger ships, the focus is really on enjoying the views.

It’s easier to relax

In my experiences, it’s easier to relax on an older ship because you are more limited on what amenities and activities you can do. Newer ships have so much to offer that it can feel overwhelming. With limited time onboard, you may want to do everything you can - which is not super relaxing.

While bigger ships have more things to do than you can imagine, older and smaller ships have far less to do. In general, you’ll find less amenities, entertainment and activities. Because of this, you can really focus on relaxation if that’s what you need on vacation.

Our sailing on Grandeur of the Seas was the most relaxing cruise I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t feel like there was pressure to do everything onboard. Instead, I lounged in the Solarium and took a nap each day. It was easy to feel disconnected onboard an older ship.

Older ships are well maintained

You might imagine that older ships are outdated rust buckets, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although some cruise ships are better maintained than others, I’ve found that Royal Caribbean generally takes good care of its older ships. 

These older vessels require more maintenance, but I was impressed with the condition of Grandeur of the Seas, especially after reading many negative reviews online prior to sailing. There were a few instances of rust, which is expected for a 26-year-old ship. But, overall the ship was in great condition. 

The bottom line

If you have yet to sail on an older cruise ship with Royal Caribbean, I highly recommend considering a cruise on a Vision class ship. While you won’t find all of the glitz and glam of a newer ship, you might find that a more traditional cruising experience fits your vacation style - and budget - better than you envisioned.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sailing on newer and bigger cruise ships. I find the entertainment and dining options to be selling points for those cruises. However, I don’t turn my nose at a cruise that sails on an older ship. If the price is right, I can have a great time on any cruise ship, regardless of age. 

Allie Hubers has been cruising since she was a tiny toddler. What started as a yearly vacation with family quickly turned into a passion for travel, cruising and adventure. Allie's been on nearly 30 cruises all over the world. She even studied abroad on Semester at Sea, sailing the world on a ship while taking courses for college and visiting 4 continents.

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