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I took a cruise on a ship with 107 versus 7000 passengers: here's how they compared

side by side image of a small vs big cruise ship

​Today’s newest cruise ships are like floating cities, with the largest vessels able to accommodate around 7,000 guests. When accounting for crew members, roughly 10,000 people may be aboard the world’s megaships at any given time.

Needless to say, you can find anything you’ll ever need on these massive ships, from dozens of restaurants to multiple entertainment venues and thousands of cozy cabins. Cruising on a mainstream cruise ship is, without a doubt, a fun way to vacation.

I have cruised on large cruise ships over two dozen times, whether to explore Alaska or island hop through the South Pacific. I’ve become accustomed to this familiar, comfortable way to vacation, and cruising has enabled me to visit destinations I never thought I would get the chance to discover.

Nevertheless, there are limits to the destinations you can visit on large cruise ships. You won’t find Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships visiting ports in Greenland or the Galapagos, for example. Instead, these ships sail the same limited itineraries year after year with little, if any, variation.


In fact, the ultimate travel destination on my bucket list, Antarctica, is impossible to properly visit on a Royal Caribbean cruise, or any massive cruise ship for that matter.

To visit Earth’s southernmost continent, I would need to sail on an expedition cruise line, something I had never done before.

While you can technically travel to Antarctica on a large ship—Celebrity Cruises offers these itineraries every year—ships with over 500 passengers are unable to make landings in Antarctica. I knew I wanted to step foot on the continent, so an expedition ship was necessary.

Determined to step foot in Antarctica, I booked a cruise on a ship with just 107 passengers. How would this compare to a Royal Caribbean cruise?

sea spirit cruise ship exterior

After returning from my first trip to Australia earlier in the fall, I had just one more continent to visit in order to complete my lifelong goal of visiting all seven continents: Antarctica. Hoping to complete my goal by the end of the year, I began researching cruise itineraries to the continent.

My research led me to an 11-day Antarctic peninsula cruise on the M/V Sea Spirit, an expedition ship by leading polar operator Poseidon Expeditions, and I booked the cruise without hesitation (just with a lot of excitement).

With the Sea Spirit’s maximum capacity of 114 passengers, and only 107 guests on my particular sailing, I knew my expedition cruise experience would be drastically different from any cruise I had taken prior.

So as I made my way to Argentina to board the Sea Spirit, I was filled with anticipation. What would it be like to try something totally different, and how would it compare to cruising with 7,000 other guests on a ship like Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas?

Here’s what it was like, and why you should give an expedition cruise a try.

Related: Here's what it's like traveling to the White Continent on the deluxe Sea Spirit

The first difference I noticed between cruising with 107 versus 7,000 passengers was the lack of a concrete itinerary

Sea Spirit cruise ship bow

When browsing cruises on Royal Caribbean’s website, you can see the exact schedule of the itinerary. Port stops and the length of time in each port is scheduled years in advance. While there’s always a chance a stop could get changed or canceled after booking the cruise, itineraries remain as scheduled in the vast majority of cases.

After over twenty cruises on traditional cruise lines, I have come to expect these set schedules. So when I first browsed the itinerary for my cruise to Antarctica, I was surprised to see little detail in the destinations the Sea Spirit would visit.

The itinerary estimated two sea days en route to and from Antarctica and four days exploring the Antarctic peninsula, but information on potential landing sites was purposely kept vague. Expedition cruises to areas as remote as Antarctica are subject to unpredictable weather conditions, so itineraries can change in an instant.

zodiac boat sailing by an iceberg

Related: 7 things that surprised me about my first expedition cruise to Antarctica

The plan for our itinerary was to have two activities per day—either a shore landing or sightseeing cruise in the ship’s small zodiac boats—if conditions allowed it.

Fortunately, near-perfect weather conditions had us arrive in Antarctica an entire day ahead of schedule, giving us an additional day to explore the continent. Excellent conditions continued throughout the next five days, which meant our route only had to be altered a grand total of… 27 times!

Clearly, flexibility is key on a cruise to Antarctica. Guests were called to a lounge each evening for a briefing of the next day’s itinerary, but even then, we were warned the landing sites and activity options ashore could change without notice.

Cruising on the Sea Spirit places a huge focus on the destination rather than the ship itself, the opposite of most large cruise ships

looking at penguins in Antarctica

On ships like Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas, you’ll find everything from an ice skating rink to indoor skydiving simulators, zip lines, and bumper cars onboard. There are also Broadway-style production shows, multiple pools, dedicated venues for child programming, and a plethora of restaurants, bars, and lounges on the ships.

Due to this, it’s no surprise that most of Royal Caribbean’s marketing revolves around the ships themselves. You’re more likely to see the cruise line’s commercials advertising what’s offered onboard as opposed to where your cruise ship will visit.

Some cruisers, in fact, do not even care where their ship visits, and they will frequently stay on the ship on port days in order to take advantage of the programming offered.

Expedition cruises, on the other hand, put the primary focus of the cruise experience on the destination. Although the Sea Spirit itself was in excellent condition and offered two lounges, a library, a jacuzzi, gym, and ample deck space, the focus of the experience was not about the ship.

jacuzzi on cruise ship

Being a small expedition ship, the Sea Spirit’s daily schedule revolved around exploring Antarctica. You won’t find theater shows or basketball competitions onboard, but you will find programming like enrichment lectures, Antarctica-themed movie screenings, and even a crew talent show.

During my cruise, I attended lectures on Antarctica’s history, geology, and wildlife, and I was able to participate in a photography workshop, too, which helped to refresh my skills before going ashore. These enrichment activities were taught by Poseidon Expeditions’ expedition guides, a group of scientists, historians, and polar experts aboard the Sea Spirit.

lecturer giving talk about Antarctica

However, the most exhilarating activity offered was, by far, the polar plunge, where passengers had the opportunity to jump into Antarctica’s frigid waters. I wouldn’t say it was comfortable, but it was surely memorable!

I appreciated the focus on the destination during my expedition cruise, as this is something I feel is lacking on mass-market cruise lines like Royal Caribbean.

There are fewer food venues when cruising with 107 people, but the food is of higher quality

piece of steak

On today’s biggest cruise ships, it’s not uncommon for there to be fifteen or twenty dining venues onboard. From hibachi restaurants to Brazilian rodizios and build-your-own taco buffets, choosing where to eat on the ships is an undertaking in itself.

There was just one main restaurant on the Sea Spirit, and it is where all guests enjoyed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style, whereas dinner was a multi-course table service meal. In addition to these meals, snacks were served daily at both the afternoon tea and evening itinerary briefings.

Cooking for just a hundred passengers is vastly different from preparing meals for thousands of guests. There were, as expected, fewer options compared to a larger cruise ship, but I was continually impressed by the quality of ingredients and diversity of the menu for each meal.

chocolate toffee cake on a plate

Everything from seafood paella to vermicelli stir fry, beef wellington, vegetarian lasagna, and all-you-can-eat sushi was available. Poseidon Expeditions markets to passengers from all over the world, leading to far more cuisine options than I ever could have expected.

One evening, the Sea Spirit’s crew members hosted an outdoor barbecue on the ship’s upper deck, and dining in such a striking setting was nothing short of magical.

outdoor dinner on cruise ship in Antarctica

So while there were fewer dining venues on the Sea Spirit compared to a traditional cruise ship, I certainly never went hungry onboard.

With only 107 passengers, you get to know everyone by the end of the cruise

friends on cruise ship in Antarctica

It’s easy to feel like just a number when cruising on a ship with thousands of other guests—big cruise ships lack the personalized feel of a smaller ship.

As such, one of the most notable differences between cruising on a ship with 107 versus several thousand passengers is the close-knit community that forms. I made more friends on my Antarctica expedition cruise than any other cruise previously, and by the end of the sailing, we all felt like family.

Meals in the Sea Spirit’s dining room had shared tables, meaning there was always a chance to chat with other passengers. Additionally, most downtime on the ship was spent viewing the scenery on public decks or playing board games in the ship’s library, making it easy to get to know others onboard.

Even though I occasionally venture out of my comfort zone and meet other passengers on large cruise ships, it’s far too easy to stay within your personal bubble on a traditional cruise. If I’m being honest, I initially thought I wouldn’t enjoy sitting with “strangers” at dinner and making small talk with new passengers every day.

As it turns out, I loved it, and I now have an extensive list of future travel buddies.

Outside of passengers, having so few guests also meant you got to know crew members, too. Most passenger-facing staff, whether the hospitality team or expedition guides, knew my name by the second day of the cruise. They even called me Madame Jenna! This is just another example of the personalized touch of sailing on a more intimate cruise ship, and it was a definite highlight of the Sea Spirit.

My cabin on a small expedition ship was just as comfortable as the cabins I’ve called home on mega cruise ships

cabin on Sea Spirit cruise ship

I booked a Superior Suite for my cruise on the Sea Spirit, which featured a window view looking out at the ship’s promenade deck, and the room was around 215 square feet.

All cabins on the Sea Spirit have a porthole, window, or balcony, which is essential when cruising to such a beautiful destination.

When comparing my cabin on an expedition ship to those on mass-market cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Princess, I found them to be more similar than different.

Of course, my suite with a window was significantly more spacious than the smallest of interior cabins, but all cruise cabins provide basic necessities like a king-sized bed, vanity, television, couch or chair, and private bathroom.

bathroom on Sea Spirit cruise ship

Related: I cruised to Antarctica in a cabin that costs $1,340 per person: take a look inside

I appreciated the amount of walking space in my Superior Suite, and having a window view was ideal for viewing Antarctica’s scenery. One of my favorite memories was waking up en route to Antarctica and seeing what had been, at the time, the most enormous iceberg I had ever seen. Little did I know that would be a tiny iceberg in comparison to what I would see later in the week!

One aspect of my cabin that impressed me was the overall condition. The Sea Spirit is over 30 years old, and when I initially pictured a cabin on a vessel of that age, I imagined it to be severely outdated.

I was pleased, therefore, to see the cabin had been frequently refurbished, and it appeared more modern than other ships I’ve sailed on that were only ten or fifteen years old, such as my outdated cabins on ships like Freedom of the Seas or Mariner of the Seas.

Unsurprisingly, cruising on a ship with 107 passengers is more expensive than a ship with 7,000 passengers, but it is worth the splurge

exterior shot of Sea Spirit cruise ship

Mass-market cruise lines like Royal Caribbean offer options to fit nearly any vacation budget. Although you can book a multi-story suite for over $50,000 for a week, you can typically sail on the same ship in a basic windowless cabin for around $2,000 total.

With the exception of certain suites, expedition cruises are almost always more expensive than sailing on a cruise line like Royal Caribbean.

The starting price for Poseidon Expeditions’ shortest Antarctica itineraries is usually around $8,000-$9,000 per person in a triple room. Cabins accommodating just two guests are priced slightly higher, at around $13,000 and $15,000 per person for a window view and balcony cabin, respectively.

glacier view in Antarctica

Included in the price of these cruises are transfers from Ushuaia, Argentina’s airport, a pre-cruise stay at a 5-star hotel, and 9 nights of accommodation onboard the vessel. All meals, shore activities, and enrichment lectures are included in the cruise fare. Soda and alcoholic beverages along with optional add-ons like kayaking and camping are offered at an additional cost.

When comparing the cost of any cruise vacation, whether a traditional or expedition cruise, it’s important to look at the cost versus reward. Would you rather go on five 7-night cruises in a balcony cabin on Royal Caribbean or one 9-night cruise to Antarctica on an expedition ship?

Personally, I found my experience cruising to Antarctica on the Sea Spirit to be among my most momentous, rewarding travel experiences

girl smiling on zodiac boat in Antarctica

When I look back on my cruising memories decades from now, I’m certain to cherish this experience far more deeply than a cheap weekend cruise to The Bahamas I booked on a whim.

For myself and most other passengers on the Sea Spirit, visiting Antarctica is something we will only do once. In my opinion, there’s not a price you can put on having such an outstanding, unique opportunity to visit Earth’s most otherworldly continent.

Feeling inspired to visit Antarctica with Poseidon Expeditions yourself next season? Get an additional discount of $500 USD for cruises in the 2024/25 Antarctic season by using the code #JENNA500 when booking.

For more details on expedition cruise offerings, contact Poseidon Expeditions directly.

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