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Eight different types of cruise ships by size and journey type

By Daniel Thompson

Cruise holidays are increasingly popular - with around 2m Brits choosing to holiday this way every year.

The ships typically embark on round-trip voyages to various ports-of-call, where passengers can hop off and go on shore excursions. Well-loved destinations include the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and the Caribbean - although unusual cruises to places like Greenland, Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands are gaining popularity too.

In 2019, pre-pandemic, around 30m people worldwide chose to go on a cruise - with many seeing it as ideal holiday for passengers who do not like to fly. Typically, there are eight different types of vessels and ships that have been designed to provide cruises in seas, oceans, rivers and lakes around the globe.

Read more: Seven reasons why a cruise holiday could be for you

Mainstream Cruise Ship

This is the most common type of cruise ship. They typically have capacity for between 800 and 3,200 passengers and are sold as ‘floating resorts’ with facilities including swimming pools, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, dining rooms, cinemas and so on.

Mega Cruise Ship

These ships have been designed and built to meet the increasing demand for cruise holidays. Some of them have capacity for more than 5,000 passengers and are among the largest and most sophisticated in the world.

Luxury Cruise Ship

This type of vessel - either motor or sail powered - is aimed at exclusive clients who are looking for top-of-the-range, 5-star holidays to exotic destinations. They will typically be equipped with luxurious facilities, offer the best in food and entertainment, while also boasting the most sophisticated and technologically-advanced nautical systems.

Ocean Cruise Ship

These huge vessels generally contain many of the same facilities as a mainstream cruise ship but they are built to a more exacting standard - with solid designs and resistant structures - to withstand the hardships of ocean voyages on rough seas. They may not have the same entertainment offerings as their mainstream counterparts and may not be so popular for families - but they are ideal for adventure-seeking travellers who want to go on a long-haul, trans-continental trip.

Adventure Cruise Ship

These specially-designed ships are made to get to the remote, specialist destinations that can’t be reached by larger vessels. Generally sail powered, they are equipped with luxury features and are aimed at a specific clientele who are interested in adventurous voyages such as whale watching or visiting remote fjords.

Expedition Cruise Ship

This type of ship is used to offer exclusive experiences to some of the most remote and inhospitable destinations on Earth - such as the Artic and Antarctic regions. They are usually either specially-designed or adapted icebreaker vessels, run by specialist companies, with reasonable onboard facilities - with their main purpose to go places other cruise ships cannot.

River Cruise Ship

These ships are designed to navigate rivers and inland waterways - so are smaller than their sea-faring counterparts, with capacity for no more than a few hundred passengers. As they are small they can offer great flexibility - with the ability to dock just about anywhere - and can offer trips along the famous rivers of the world including the Nile, Amazon, Mississippi and Danube.

Small Cruise Ship

These are yacht-like vessels that can only accommodate a few hundred passengers - offering more relaxed, intimate trips to less well-known destinations than the larger, mass-market ships, while still providing similar levels of comfort. They often offer specific services - such as eco-tourism, history cruises or sea sports - and can navigate ports or archipelagos that are inaccessible to large vessels.

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Dive Deeper:
Dolphin guard of honour spotted accompanying cruise ship 'Balmoral' out of the Tyne
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One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
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Get all your news in one place