How to Choose a Cruise

The big liners may be luxurious, but smaller boats offer more privacy.
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Taking a cruise boils down to choosing between an intimate yacht or a jumbo liner.

Each style of boat has its distinct charms.

Traveling for a six-night vacation to Polynesia, for instance, on Bora Bora Cruises, a high-end 226-foot yacht, offers individualized services and its own style of small-scale luxury.

There are four crew members for each passenger. The ship accommodates up to only 44 passengers, so guests will feel almost as if they are sailing on their own yacht.

The experience is much different, with separate set of perks, if you choose

Royal Caribbean Cruises

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or

Carnival

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.

Guests are drawn to smaller boats such as those used by Bora Bora Cruises because a yacht is good for travelers who have a big family but still want to have some of their own space.

Imagine coming back to a room that is equipped with a flat-screen LCD television, CD/DVD player, satellite telephones and the Internet.

For meals, guests can eat whenever they want, without the fear of missing dinner or breakfast if they don't get out of bed in time. Also, guests can get room service and even have the staff create a special dining environment on the beach.

Everything (meals, drinks, butlers, activities) is included on a Bora Bora cruise, making life easier because you don't have to constantly fumble for your credit card.

If you're seeking privacy, there is a six-cabin section within the boat called the "Vavau," which includes a dedicated chef, butler, masseur and housekeeper.

Some fun extras include horseback riding on a beach, jet skiing, scuba diving, jeep safaris, bike rides through the rain forest, tai chi and beach volleyball.

How much will this fantasy week set you back? It's about $6,540 for a double occupancy and $11,570 for a single occupancy.

Other small luxury cruise lines include

Hebridean International Cruises which travels to locations such as the Mediterranean and the Caribbean; and the

SeaDream Yacht Club which goes to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Is Bigger Better?

Don't automatically discount bigger boats, though, when mapping out your next cruise.

Cunard, owned by Carnival, recently launched the Queen Victoria, which will sail this December. It's gigantic: It will have 1,970 passengers and 842 crew members.

The boat has several perks, including a new theater reminiscent of a grand West End, London, with private boxes, and a new two-story all-wood paneled library.

The boats offers various "grills," which dates back to Cunard's Queen Mary in 1936, and relates to the guest's dining experience. Guests in the princess and queen grills have a private dining room, concierge staffed private lounge, as well as a courtyard for al fresco dining and afternoon tea.

They also have access to a terrace where staff will provide them with luxurious extras including cool towels, Evian spritzes, fresh fruit, sorbets, tea sandwiches and access to a butler.

The Cunard ranges from about $1,300 to $3,500.

Many of these bigger cruise companies have several lines. Royal Caribbean Cruises offers four cruises lines: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur and Azamara Cruises. Carnival Corporation has 10.

The bigger cruise lines also offer smaller boats. One of the smaller boats is the Celebrity Xpedition, a 92-passenger megayacht. The Germany-built boat made its first voyage in 2004. Some of the amenities this smaller, intimate ship offers are a library, an outdoor bar, and a small spa.

Individual Preferences

In the end, what matters is the cruise-goer's traveling preference.

Some people like to travel in families and enjoy a vacation without feeling cramped together, Robb says.

"Bigger cruise lines have the art down to a science with the services, amenities," says one cruise traveler. "The smaller lines probably have more character and individual charm."

Judy Carrel, a librarian in Buffalo, N.Y., who has taken several cruises, prefers the smaller boats because they are easy to get around on. "I'm not crazy for the bigger boasts. I don't like to get lost on them," says Carrel, 66 years old.

Jerry Eisenberg, a 58-year-old accountant in Lido Beach, N.Y., prefers the entertainment, including comedy and talent shows, on the bigger boats. "At night when you're looking at your honey, saying, 'What are we doing tonight?' it's nice to have options other than reading or playing Backgammon," he says. He adds that the smaller boats don't have gambling, a favorite hobby of his.

The bigger boat itself offers places to go including lounges and big hallways, that you can sit in and hear someone play classical music, he says.