Old vs New cruise ships

With more than 15 new cruise ships coming in 2020 it’s obvious that we are in the golden age of cruising, cruise lines are building new ships as fast as they can and each one seems to be bigger and better than the one before.

A decade ago you could’ve enjoyed on a ship with a pool and a rock-climbing wall, while new ships today have everything from go-kart tracks to ziplines to roller coasters. And that’s just for activities by the pool. Inside the ship you’ll find even more new attractions! New ships truly offer the latest and greatest!

With so many new ships entering service, passengers have more choice than ever before, which can mean more indecision, but a bigger variety and a number of ships means that everyone can find a ship that suits their vacation needs!

Newer ships are usually larger and packed more with activities for every taste and age. However, they can be crowded and expensive, and as with anything that is new, sometimes there are bugs that have to be worked out. Older ships might also show wear and tear, but cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been investing millions to keep their fleets outfitted with modern amenities and popular attractions.

Basically, it leads to the question of if you should sail on a new ship or if an older one will work just fine for your vacation. Let’s see what are the differences between older and new ships and what are the things to think about when deciding if you should sail on an old or a brand new ship.


Older ships are usually smaller and offer a more relaxing and intimate experience. Old ships are also more likely to have quieter spaces like libraries and card rooms. Smaller ships suit travelers who don’t like large crowds, have trouble traversing the long decks of the biggest ships and don’t want to think about which of the five different sun deck areas they should utilize. If you’re the type that simply wants to lounge by the pool then this might not be a big deal. But for those who want lots of things to do on their cruise, it’s a good reason to look toward newer ships. New ships, on the other hand, are larger and have more space, which means not only more room for activities but also more public spaces like restaurants, shops, and lounges. So instead of only have a few options for bars or restaurants, for example, you can have more than a dozen. A couple of new ships even have Starbucks coffe shops onboard! They also offer some amazing activities onboard like go-karts, laser tag, even roller-coasters…


Older and smaller ships tend to have more limited specialty dining options. But that’s a plus for people like me who prefer to avoid the temptation of multiple food venues! Still, just because older ships don’t have specialty dining venues they all still have buffet and the main dining room with almost the same variety of food as big, new ships. Newer ships have lots of space to dedicate to dining. Many specialty venues have been added on newer ships, as well, and you’ll have no trouble finding everything from Italian and Asian to French and seafood, most with cover charges but some without. Some cruise lines, like Norwegian and MSC have even added dinner theater options, which include dinner and a show for a fee. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, watch out for gelato bars and specialty cake shops enticing you to snack between meals. I’m not paid to say this but the Gelato&Crepes shop on MSC Bellissima is just… perfect if you’re a fan of crepes!


Older ships are generally the way to go if balcony space is important to you. If you sail an older ship, you’ll usually find four choices of cabin: interior, oceanview, balcony, and a suite. Don’t worry about carpeting, curtains and bedding since they are upgraded frequently during refurbs but do keep in mind that older ships might show signs of wear like scratches, dings, outdated bathrooms (with those shower curtains we ALL hate!) — that newer ships don’t. On newer ships you still have the same basic categories, but there is a lot of variation and different styles and type of each room. For example, NCL and MSC cruises have exclusive “resort within a resort” areas called The Haven and The Yacht Club. These areas feature only a handful of luxury rooms that are a step above what you’ll find anywhere else on the ship. New Carnival ships (Vista, Horizon and Panorama) also have something similar. “Havana” area is an exclusive part of the ship themed differently from the rest of the ship that features unique cabins and offers an exclusive pool area.

Things to do

While most older ships offer mini-golf, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong and possibly basketball on their top decks, they’re much more low-key than newer ships with swimming pools as their main focus. But don’t be surprised if you see an older ship with some eye-catching features. Several lines have chosen to add some of the more popular upper-deck activities to their older ships. Carnival has added water slides to all ships in its fleet. While Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have installed rock climbing walls on many of their older vessels. But still, newer ships go above and beyond so Norwegian’s newest ships, ships like Joy, Bliss and Encore have go-kart racetracks while Carnival’s have the SkyRide, a recumbent bike suspended from an 800-foot dual racing track 150 feet above the top deck. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships have ziplines and surf simulators, and Quantum class ships offer a skydiving iFly outdoor simulator. Royal Caribbean is also famous for its FlowRiders and The Perfect Storm waterslides. Many mainstream cruise lines now have extensive water parks on their top decks, lines such as Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, MSC and even Costa!


Entertainment aboard older ships is a bit more standard: Broadway revues, magicians, comedians and the like. However, several lines have brought their most recent offerings to older vessels. Fun pursuits abound on newer ships, and they include some pretty incredible pastimes like parades, character breakfasts, roller skating, puzzle break rooms and even bumper cars. Toss in some top-notch entertainment that rivals what you’d find on Broadway, and you’re in for an impressive cruise. MSC is offering Cirque du Soleil shows on their Meraviglia class ships while Royal Caribbean features an AquaTheatre on its Oasis class vessels, entertainment options on newer ships are truly out of this world!

So should you take that cruise on an older ship or only focus your search on those new ships? The information above should give you some idea on what you might prefer. I personally have some experience on the real differences between new vs old ships having sailed on both 20 year old ships and on the inaugural sailing of a brand new ship!

When I have the option, I prefer to sail on newer ships. I love all the innovations on new ships and they also have a lot more to offer in everything from activities to the design of public spaces. But I also really like older ships because they offer a more quiet and relaxing atmosphere onboard. They also visit some really amazing destinations that big new ships never visit. All in all I would recommend both old and new ships since they offer two unique experiences, just consider what suits your needs more.

Why you should consider sailing on an older ship!

Older ships offer cheaper cruises – The new mega ships have a lot to offer and also get a lot of marketing and publicity when they launch. This results in a lot of interest in booking on the new vessels. But older ships aren’t just forgotten, cruise lines want them to sail completely full too. By dropping prices, the cruise lines can get more people to sail.

Shorter cruises – Over the past few years shorter, so called, mini-cruises became really popular. While a week-long cruise means a long time off work for many people, taking a four or five-day cruise that includes sailing over a weekend means only a few days away from the office. In addition, these trips are often less expensive for passengers. Most of the time these shorter trips are on older ships. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line sails three and four-day cruises from Florida to the Bahamas on its Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun — both of which were launched about 15 years ago. Newer ships are often sailing longer week-long cruises. So if you want a cruise that’s not as long, you’ll often end up on an older ship.

Embark in smaller ports – most of smaller ports in Europe and United States cannot acommodate big, new mega ships so cruise lines homeport their older and smaller ships in those cities. In United States those ports are Jacksonville, Tampa or Baltimore while in Europe you will find a lot of smaller and older ships in Venice. What’s also nice about smaller ports is that you won’t feel rushed and they’re not as busy as big ports can be.

Big refurbishments – To keep things looking fresh, older ships are regularly refurbished, often at significant expense. It’s not unheard of for a refurbishment to run more than $100 million. These refurbishments are often complete overhauls that will change the layout, add spaces or restaurant, activities, and otherwise bring an older ship more in line with its newer counterparts. The result is that there isn’t as big a gap between older ships and new ones as you might think. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are know for huge refurbishments/amplifications. This year Carnival is yet again investing around 200 million dollars into one of their older ships. Carnival Victory will be renamed to Carnival Radiance and it will go trough an extensive refurb, so don’t expect this ship look or feel anything close to an old ship!

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