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Cruising is a popular way of traveling for many people, offering a unique experience that combines the convenience of a floating hotel with the excitement of visiting multiple destinations in one trip. In an average year, over fifteen million people say "all aboard" and set sail on an amazing vacation.
There are many different cruise lines to choose from, and each one offers a different type of experience. Some are geared towards families, while others are more focused on luxury or adventure. What would you like to see and do while you're onboard? Is a casino a must-have or a rather-avoid? Would a Broadway-caliber show tip the scales for you? Do you need a wide range of activities to keep the kiddos happy while the adults live it up or relax? The onboard activities and amenities can really make or break your vacation, so be sure you know what you're getting.
Friday, September 29th
Royal Caribbean International is a popular cruise line that offers a wide variety of cruise itineraries, ranging from short weekend getaways to longer multi-week cruises. Founded in 1968, the company is headquartered in Miami, Florida, and operates a fleet of 27 ships that sail to destinations all over the world, including the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Alaska.
Large ships with lots to do
The Royal Caribbean fleet includes some of the largest cruise ships in the world, such as the Symphony of the Seas and the Harmony of the Seas, which can accommodate over 6,000 passengers each. These ships feature a wide range of amenities and activities, such as multiple pools and water slides, rock-climbing walls, zip lines, miniature golf courses, ice skating rinks, and even surf simulators. That's part of what makes Royal Caribbean one of the most popular cruise lines for teens and young adults: there's so much more to do than just hang out in the teen club or drink pina coladas by the pool.
Smaller ships too
In addition to its large ships, Royal Caribbean also operates smaller vessels like the Empress of the Seas and the Majesty of the Seas. These ships are better suited for shorter itineraries and port-intensive cruises. They still offer a wide range of amenities and activities, but with a more intimate and personalized feel.
Unique onboard experiences and entertainment
Royal Caribbean is known for its innovative onboard experiences, such as the Broadway-style shows in the main theater, the Bionic Bar where robots mix and serve drinks, and the Virtual Balcony cabins that feature floor-to-ceiling screens displaying real-time views of the ocean. The company also offers a wide range of onboard activities and entertainment, including live music performances, comedy shows, game shows, dance classes, and trivia contests. While the specific opportunities vary depending on the class of ship you sail on with RCCL, there's always something to do.
Food quality varies
The company also offers a variety of dining options, ranging from casual eateries to specialty restaurants featuring celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Michael Schwartz. In our own experience, we weren't as impressed with the overall food quality on Royal Caribbean - for example, the meal served on Thanksgiving Day didn't include pumpkin pie (but rather some brownie-crust pumpkin cheesecake that was just a "no" ), and a lot of the buffet options felt a little tired. However, your results may vary: some cruisers absolutely rave about the food on Royal.
Private island paradise
One place where we loved the dining options was on Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas, CocoCay. You'll have access to plenty of complimentary drinks, snacks, and meal options while on the island - and the same goes for RCCL's other private island, Perfect Day in Labadee, Haiti. Those islands are prominently featured in much of Royal's advertising, and there's a lot that will get your attention there, from hammocks scattered throughout to sand volleyball on demand, plus kid-friendly and adults-only snorkeling opportunities.
But, those islands also taught us something we weren't aware of when we booked our last Royal Caribbean cruise: not everything is included as part of your fare. Those amazing waterslides and pools on CocoCay? Expect to pay about $90 per person just to access the waterpark (though it could be higher or lower, depending on any available promotions and whether you book in advance or wait until you're onboard). Some of the amenities on the ship come with an extra cost too, like playing the escape room or using the indoor skydiving simulator.
Something for almost every traveler
Still, it's hard to beat Royal Caribbean in many ways: affordable pricing, especially for last-minute cruises and with deals and promotions; plenty of itineraries to choose from; over 300 ports of call, you get the picture. Unless you're looking for an ultra-luxurious cruise, RCCL is really a one-size-fits-all option.
Best selection of cruises for all destinations
Just take a look at our comparison cruise, a March sailing to the Caribbean booked a little less than a year in advance: Royal had a staggering 48 options to consider, starting with a 3-night Bahamas & Perfect Day itinerary priced at $250 per person, and going up to $2,235 for a 7-night sailing on Royal's newest ship, Icon of the Seas (with six waterslides in the largest waterpark at sea). Or, you could take a longer vacay and spend 12 nights on a Southern Caribbean itinerary with ports of call in the USVI, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, starting at $861 per person and sailing out of Baltimore.
Great deals if you can travel last-minute
If you're more the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, there are some great deals to be had with Royal Caribbean too. In doing the research for this review, it was hard not to yell out "Sign me up!" when spotting 17-night transatlantic sailings with dream ports of call like Greece and Israel, priced at under $1,000 per person - if we were willing to leave in a week. Just look for the Last Minute Cruises section of the RCCL website and start packing your bags.
Excellent safety record
We're also happy to say that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has an impressive record for safety. Despite being one of the largest cruise lines in the world, there haven't been any major incidents that we're aware of. The company invests heavily in safety training and technology, and its ships are equipped with advanced safety features such as GPS tracking and fire suppression systems.
Top-ranked cruise line
Royal Caribbean is a popular cruise line that offers a wide range of cruise itineraries and onboard experiences. The company's large ships offer impressive amenities and activities, while its smaller vessels offer a more intimate and personalized feel. With its commitment to family-friendly entertainment and activities, as well as its focus on safety and sustainability, Royal Caribbean is a great choice for travelers looking for a fun and immersive cruise experience - practically anywhere in the world. This cruise line earns our top ranking.
Disney Cruise Line is a family-oriented cruise line that operates five ships: the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish, with the Disney Treasure set to sail in the near future. Founded in 1996, the company is headquartered in Celebration, Florida (near Disney World), and operates primarily in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexico, with summer voyages to Alaska and Europe. When the Disney Treasure makes its debut, it will likely serve the Asian market with departures primarily out of Singapore.
Surround yourself with Mickey and friends
From the moment you step aboard, you'll be surrounded by Disney characters, music, and decor, creating a magical atmosphere that will delight both kids and adults (can you find the hidden Mickeys?). The ships themselves are marvels of engineering, featuring classic nautical design elements blended with the iconic style of Disney. The Disney Magic and Disney Wonder are smaller ships, accommodating around 2,700 passengers each, while the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy are larger vessels with a capacity of up to 4,000 passengers. All four ships offer spacious staterooms with plenty of amenities, ranging from cozy interior cabins to luxurious suites with verandas and private concierge services.
The dining is truly magical
One of the unique features of Disney Cruise Line is its rotational dining system, which allows passengers to experience three different main dining rooms during their voyage, each with its own distinct theme and cuisine. This means you'll have the opportunity to try a variety of culinary styles, from classic American fare to Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Plus, the staff will follow you to each dining room, providing personalized service throughout your cruise. Even the experience in the dining rooms is Disney-fied, from the "Tangled" characters singing and dancing to being able to interact with Crush (the sea turtle from "Finding Nemo" ), kids watching their own drawings come to life at Animator's Palate, and so much more: even meals are magical.
No drink package needed for soda
Of course, you'll have plenty of options outside of the main dining rooms, from pizza poolside to on-demand soft-serve ice cream and much more. Plus, DCL is the only cruise line we know of that gives guests access to soft drinks at no charge: just fill your cup at the station anytime. (We also recommend getting a cup from the drink station, filling it with soft serve, and then going back to the soda station to make your own Pepsi float!)
#1 for kids clubs
For families with young children, Disney Cruise Line is absolutely exceptional at keeping them entertained. The ships feature separate pools and play areas for children and adults, as well as family-friendly activities like trivia contests, dance parties, and outdoor movies. The biggest attraction is the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, which offer supervised activities and play areas for kids ages 3-12. It's hard to describe how next-level DCL's kids' clubs are, compared with other cruise lines: they're open longer (until midnight, most of the time) and go above and beyond to attend to their guests, even bringing them to dinner at mealtime if their grownups give the okay (while they're busy doing other activities). On one of our sailings, the DCL staff in the Oceaneer Club even changed out some wet clothing (oops) and put our child in a complimentary dry pair, called us to let us know, but didn't need us to come and change her ourselves. Okay!
No concerns about safety here
Safety is also paramount in the kids' clubs: children are checked in and out electronically, and anyone picking up a child has to provide the password (that you choose when you set up your child's participation in the club). DCL is also one of very few major cruise lines that have never had a major incident, and the company always scores the highest marks for cleanliness, food safety, and other industry-wide indicators.
Even teens love Disney cruises
For older kids and teens, Disney Cruise Line has the Vibe and Edge clubs, which provide a dedicated space for teenagers to hang out, play games, and make new friends. Again, these clubs really make the onboard experience extraordinary for kids who've graduated from the Oceaneer level and want to have their own fun, from scavenger hunts to smoothie bars and much more. Take your teenager on a Disney cruise and you may not see them all day long.
18-to-20-year-olds have a club too
There's even a club for cruisers ages 18-20: namely, the ones who are too old for the teen club but still too young to drink. It's a lot less structured than the kids' clubs, but it still has some appeal: think dedicated time in the teen club (when the teens are gone) to play video games, and bike rides (with complimentary access to the bicycles) on Disney's private island.
Adults have private spaces onboard
And for adults looking for a more low-key atmosphere, the Quiet Cove Pool and Cove Cafe offer a relaxing retreat with ocean views and adult beverages, no kids allowed. We also recommend checking out the Rainforest Room at the Senses Spa: you can pay by the day or purchase an all-cruise access pass. The amenities vary depending on the ship you're on, but think soothing music, heated loungers, essential oil body scrubs, sauna and steam rooms, and so on.
Entertainment beyond compare
Another highlight of Disney Cruise Line is its entertainment offerings, which include Broadway-style musicals, live shows, movies, and character meet-and-greets. Each ship has its own unique lineup of entertainment, so you'll never run out of things to do. The Disney Dream, for example, features a dazzling production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, complete with stunning sets, costumes, and special effects. Also, because of Disney's relationship with Star Wars and Marvel, your sailing could include a world premiere showing of the newest movie in the MCU, Star Wars and Marvel-themed days at sea and entertainment in the kids' clubs. You won't want to miss the pirate deck party either: you'll get themed bandanas at your dinner that evening, and you might even want to bring your own accessories when you sail (like a hook or a pirate hat). Keep an eye out for Mickey ziplining from one of the smokestacks to the other - just before the fireworks show off the side of the ship (we think this is the only cruise line that does fireworks at sea).
PG-rated until 10PM
Although the entertainment on Disney is kept pretty PG-rated - there isn't even a casino onboard - and the "adult areas" of the ship are open to guests of all ages during the day (for trivia events, presentations, game shows, and so on), there's no shortage of nightlife for grownups. Yes, the comedians take off their filters during their late-night shows, and guests are welcome to have a few too many while they dance at the "Silent Disco" or other club events.
Two private islands in the Bahamas
Beyond the ship, Disney Cruise Line also offers exciting shore excursions in each port of call, from snorkeling and zip-lining to cultural tours and beach outings. One unique offering is Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas, which features pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a variety of water sports and activities. This is a highlight of many Disney cruises, and it's a great place to spend a day in the sun with your family. Or, drop your kids off at the island-side kids' club while you go enjoy the adults-only beaches: take a nap in the hammock, look for sea turtles while you snorkel, the day is yours. At the time of this review, Disney's second island in the Bahamas, Lighthouse Point, hadn't opened yet, but we hear that it will place strong emphasis on Bahamian culture and crafts while still providing that private-island feel and Disney-level service.
More expensive than most comparable cruise lines
The biggest downside to Disney cruises is the price: fares tend to be more expensive than other family-friendly cruise lines, though the extra cost is more than justified by the quality of the experience. For example, when pricing out our apples-to-apples comparison (a March sailing in the Caribbean, booked about a year ahead of time), there were 28 sailings to choose from - but the lowest price with Disney ($940 per person, including taxes, fees, and port expenses) rivaled the higher-priced options with other cruise lines, and that sailing was only four nights. On the high end, a 7-night Western Caribbean sailing for that timeframe was over $2,500 per person. You might be able to save with a special offer - look for that link at the top of the site - but you may have to be a resident in a departure port state (like Florida) or be willing to travel on short notice. The easiest way to get a lower fare on a Disney cruise is to book it right when the dates open for booking, which is usually about 18 months in advance.
Gratuities not included in your fare
Your fare also doesn't include gratuities. DCL recommends an amount of $14.50 per night per guest for all non-concierge staterooms. You can adjust that amount or remove the gratuity entirely, but in our experience most guests not only happily pay it but also give their stateroom attendant, servers, and head waiter an envelope with a little something extra on the last night of the cruise. The service is truly that good.
Five-star option, with or without kids
Can you tell that we're huge fans of Disney cruises here? While we've stopped short of making it our highest-ranked cruise line (because, let's face it, some vacationers don't want to see little kids or life-sized "mice" ), we enthusiastically recommend DCL to anyone who will listen. For parents traveling with children, there's just no other cruise line that even comes close to offering what Disney provides - shocker, we know - and even for the kids at heart, there's plenty to love and enjoy on a Disney cruise. Disney Cruise Line easily earns five stars.
Celebrity Cruises offers an all-ages cruising experience to destinations large and small. Founded in 1988, the company is part of the Royal Caribbean Group and has a fleet of over a dozen ships that run the gamut with respect to size - from the Xploration which carries just 16 passengers up to the Beyond which carries 3,260 guests. Of particular note is Celebrity's Edge series, which invites you to "put the world front and center" while traveling in "relaxed luxury" .
Competitive spring break options in the Caribbean
When comparing cruise lines, we looked at booking a Caribbean sailing in March about a year in advance. Celebrity didn't disappoint: there were 20 itineraries to choose from, starting with a 4-night sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau and Key West for just $370 per person, up to an 11-night Panama Canal and Southern Caribbean sailing priced at $1,400 per person.
Broad range of itineraries worldwide
Beyond the Caribbean, Celebrity offers a variety of itineraries to destinations all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and Alaska. They also have unique itineraries such as transatlantic crossings and trips to the Galapagos Islands. With so many options, Celebrity Cruises caters to a wide range of travelers, from families and couples to solo travelers and groups.
Decent activities for kids and teenagers
Speaking of children and teens, will they be happy on a Celebrity cruise? It's important to point out that this cruise line doesn't have some of the "high octane" shipboard activities like ice skating rinks and rock climbing walls that its rivals provide to keep the older kids occupied. But, Celebrity's Camp at Sea program for kids ages 3-12 and the Teen Club (ages 13-17) do give them lots of options. We also really like the STEM at Sea program on the Equinox and Edge: in partnership with the Frost Science Museum, cruisers can learn more about conservation, marine life, and nautical exploration.
Dining is flexible and flavorful
The dining options on Celebrity Cruises are renowned for their exceptional quality and variety. The company partners with famous chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Jacques Van Staden to create menus that feature both classic and contemporary cuisine. Passengers can choose from a variety of dining options, including the main dining room, specialty restaurants, and casual eateries. Celebrity Cruises also offers a unique dining experience called "Celebrity Select Dining," which allows passengers to choose when and where they want to dine each night.
All-Included is the best value for most guests
When you book your cruise with Celebrity, you'll want to compare the price for Cruise-Only vs. All Included. While the latter option may not be offered on every sailing, it provides an excellent value if you can secure it: it's essentially a prepackaged deal on drinks, Wi-Fi and tips. For example, on a three-night sailing to Key West and the Bahamas, the Cruise-Only rate for an interior stateroom was $318 per person while the All Included fare was $581. No, that might not be your best bargain if you're not into cocktails or other beverages and if your whole goal on your vacay is to disconnect, but the numbers really work out well otherwise.
Award-winning and safe
Celebrity Cruises is known for its high standards of safety and has never experienced a major incident. The company has a comprehensive safety program that includes regular training for crew members and strict maintenance procedures for its ships. Plus, Celebrity was named as the Best Premium Cruise Line by Travel Weekly's Readers' Choice Awards for an impressive 14 consecutive years.
Great cruise line for all ages and interests
For virtually any type of cruise you could be dreaming of, from a leisurely trip through the islands of the Caribbean to an exploration to the Galapagos Islands, Celebrity has something to offer. This award-winning cruise line earns high marks for variety, overall onboard experience, and commitment to safety. Celebrity should be near the top of your list when deciding which cruise line you should use for your next sailing.
Virgin Voyages is a relatively new cruise line that aims to shake up the traditional cruising experience. The company was founded in 2014 by Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur behind the Virgin Group, with a vision of creating a new kind of cruise line that appeals to younger, more adventurous travelers. But not too young: you have to be at least 18 to take a Virgin Voyage, so no, you won't ever be sharing your table with a toddler screaming for more French fries (but no guarantees that your under-the-influence peers might not be making their own scene).
Ample options for spring break in the Caribbean
In order to make a somewhat fair comparison across cruise lines, we looked to see what each one had to offer for a March sailing in the Caribbean, booking about a year in advance. With Virgin Voyages, who originated with sailings there (and then later expanded to include Europe and the South Pacific), it should be no surprise that there were plenty of options. For a 5-night sailing on the Scarlet Lady on the Dominican Daze itinerary, you'd pay $765 per person (sale priced from a rack rate of $850). A 7-night sailing in and out of San Juan (PR) to the Lesser Antilles was $923 per person (sale priced from $1,025pp). There were 16 available voyages in all, ranging from four to eight nights and priced from $585 to $1,125. Virgin Voyages is also well-known for its promos and stackable offers, so your trip to Aruba or Athens could be an even better deal than you were anticipating.
Try a different restaurant every time you eat
This cruise line boasts a variety of unique features that set it apart from traditional cruise ships. For example, there are no main dining rooms or buffets on board; instead, there are over 20 different restaurants and eateries that offer a range of cuisine from around the world, including Korean barbecue, Mexican street food, and plant-based options. All dining is included on a Virgin Voyage, as well as any "essential drinks" (basically all water, juice, soda, tea, and coffee, just nothing alcoholic or specialty beverages like smoothies).
Get a lot of extras included in the fare
While not billing itself as "all-inclusive" , Virgin Voyages does give you a lot of features at no extra charge beyond those "essential drinks" . Gratuities? Included. WiFi? That too. You'll definitely pay for those with most rival cruise lines, especially at Virgin Voyages' price point. And if you book a Sea Terrace cabin (what most lines call "verandah" ), you'll probably have a hand-woven hammock just waiting for you to take a relaxing swing.
Some sailings with no "single supplement"
Another reason some travelers like Virgin Voyages is the opportunity to take a cruise without a "single supplement" . You'll have to watch for that to be on offer, and in case you don't know what we're referring to, it's the surcharge solo travelers have to pay when taking up a cabin that can accommodate at least two people. At the time of this review, Virgin Voyages was offering a "Solo-Sailing Summer in Europe" valid on all travel dates from early May through late October: no single supplements, plus a $600 per cabin drink package on all sailings of at least 7 nights.
The fun never stops
Virgin Voyages places a strong emphasis on entertainment and nightlife. Onboard you'll discover a variety of bars and lounges, including an outdoor bar that overlooks the ship's wake, as well as a nightclub that hosts live music and DJs. There are also immersive theatrical productions, such as a circus-themed show that takes place in a custom-built venue on board.
We really appreciate that Virgin Voyages has also taken steps to make its cruises more environmentally sustainable. Their ships are designed to be more energy-efficient than traditional cruise ships, with features like LED lighting and a hull that reduces drag in the water. The ships also have a ban on single-use plastics, and use seawater for their toilets and air conditioning systems.
New but already winning awards
While Virgin Voyages is still a relatively new player in the cruise industry, it has already received positive reviews from many passengers and travel experts, from Conde Nast Traveler's Best New Cruises in the World in 2022 to Cruise Critic Cruisers' Choice Awards in 2023. The company's innovative approach to dining, entertainment, and wellness has helped to set it apart from traditional cruise lines, and its commitment to sustainability and responsible travel is also a selling point for many travelers.
Best for affordable, adults-only cruising
Overall, if you're looking for a unique and innovative adults-only cruise experience, Virgin Voyages is definitely worth a look because it offers something different from the more traditional cruise lines on the market. You'll get some of the benefits of all-inclusive luxury sailing without having to max out your credit card, all with a fun vibe you won't necessarily find elsewhere, and on practically brand-new ships that are already winning awards. For anyone who loves the idea of a no-kids-allowed vacay where everything caters to grownup fun, Virgin Voyages is an excellent choice.
Viking Cruises is a luxury cruise line that offers river and ocean cruises around the world. The company was founded in 1997 and is known for its Scandinavian-inspired design and focus on cultural experiences.
Small- to mid-range ship sizes
One of the most notable aspects of Viking Cruises is the company's fleet of ships. The river ships are relatively small, with a maximum capacity of around 200 passengers, which allows for an intimate and personalized experience. The ocean ships are larger, but still maintain a sense of exclusivity with a maximum capacity of around 930 passengers. All cabins feature a veranda or French balcony, and the ocean ships also have a variety of suite options available. The company's Scandinavian design aesthetic is evident throughout the ships, with sleek, modern decor and plenty of natural light.
Best choice for river cruises in Europe - and elsewhere
Viking Cruises is particularly known for its river cruises in Europe, which travel along the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and other scenic waterways. These cruises offer a chance to explore historic cities, picturesque villages, and stunning landscapes. Shore excursions are included in the fare and are designed to immerse passengers in local culture, such as wine tastings in Burgundy or a visit to a working windmill in the Netherlands. But, river cruising with Viking is hardly limited to Europe: you can just as easily sail the Mekong, Mississippi, or Nile.
Get to know your destination well
The ocean cruises offered by Viking Cruises also emphasize cultural experiences, with a focus on destinations rather than onboard amenities. The ships visit ports around the world, from the Caribbean to Asia to the Mediterranean, and often stay in port for longer periods of time to allow passengers to fully explore each destination. Excursions are again included in the fare and are designed to give passengers a deeper understanding of local culture, such as a visit to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra in Jordan. And, for the truly adventurous, Viking Expeditions can take you to sights few people have seen in Antarctica, the Great Lakes, and Canada.
Not your traditional spring break option
Still, it's probably not going to come as a huge shock when we say that there were no traditional "spring break in the Caribbean" options here, like we used as our comparison sailing across cruise lines. Sure, you'll get results if you enter a March date with the Caribbean as the preferred location, but the itineraries will include sailings like an Amazon and Caribbean Adventure from San Juan to Manaus, several Atlantic crossings, and Panama Canal/Pacific Coast. Nonetheless, it's pretty exciting to think of spending 15 days traveling from Barcelona to Ft. Lauderdale, taking three tours and visiting five countries, starting at just $3,299 per person.
Most amenities included in your fare
Moving on to amenities, Viking Cruises offers a range of options to keep passengers entertained and relaxed. Your sailing will always come with complimentary Wi-Fi; house wines, beers, and soft drinks with onboard lunches and dinners; coffee and hot tea available 24/7; and self-service launderettes. Viking Cruises also offers a range of wellness and fitness options on board, including a spa, fitness center, and yoga classes. The company's ocean ships feature a Nordic-inspired thermal suite with a snow grotto, heated loungers, and a sauna. All of these are part of the "Viking Inclusive Value" .
Gratuities are extra
However, Viking Cruises doesn't include your gratuities as part of their complimentary offerings. Your account will automatically be charged $17 per guest per day, which is shared among the waitstaff, stateroom stewards, laundry staff, and others.
All dining is included
Dining on Viking Cruises is a highlight for many passengers, with a focus on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and regional cuisine. The ships feature a variety of dining venues, from a casual poolside grill to a more formal chef's table experience. All dining experiences are included with your fare.
Passengers tend to be older
One potential downside to Viking Cruises is the demographic of its passengers, which tends to skew older. While the company is making efforts to attract a younger crowd (still 18+, though) with its ocean cruises, these sailings still tend to be popular with retirees.
Top pick for river cruises - especially among retirees
Overall, Viking Cruises is a good choice for (older) travelers who are interested in cultural experiences, scenic destinations, and a luxury onboard experience. The company's attention to detail and emphasis on local culture make for a unique and memorable vacation.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is a luxury cruise line that offers all-inclusive sailings to some of the most desirable destinations in the world. The line is known for its exceptional service, spacious accommodations, and gourmet dining options.
Small-ship, luxury sailing
Regent Seven Seas Cruises operates six ships, each with its own unique style and personality. The fleet includes the Seven Seas Explorer, Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Grandeur, Seven Seas Splendor, and Seven Seas Voyager. All of the ships are designed with a focus on luxury and comfort, and offer a range of amenities and activities to suit every type of traveler. And, with a maximum passenger capacity from 490-750 guests, depending on the ship, you'll never feel crowded or have to wait in a line on a Regent Seven Seas sailing.
Limited spring break sailings in the Caribbean
As our apples-to-apples comparison, we looked at taking a week-long cruise in the Caribbean in March, booking about a year in advance. Regent Seven Seas only had one option, the Seven Seas Splendor, sailing from San Juan, PR to Miami, FL. We were given a starting fare of $5,099 per person on an itinerary including St. Barts, Antigua, St. Thomas, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.
Many extras included in your fare
While that fare may initially seem extraordinarily high compared with rival cruise lines' options, be aware that Regent Seven Seas includes many things in its fares that will be an extra (and sometimes surprise) charge elsewhere:
Not a high-end online booking experience
At first, it feels like you can't book your Regent cruise outright through the cruise line's website: when you create an account or look at a sailing that interests you, it says that your information will be passed along to an agent. But, if you keep clicking through, filling out a form indicating the number of guests, your airport of choice, desired cabin, and so on, you will eventually reach the point where you can place a 7-day hold, pay the required booking deposit, or pay in full. You'll probably still be contacted by a Regent Seven Seas agent, to see if you have any questions or need to make any changes. The online booking process doesn't feel as luxurious as we'd expected - but then again, at this level of cruising, most travelers likely let the agent do the work from the get-go.
All dining options are part of your fare
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is known for its exceptional dining options. The line offers a range of gourmet restaurants, from classic steakhouse fare to Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. While some dining is open seating and others are reservation-required, all options are included as part of your fare.
Good selection of onboard activities
In addition to its fantastic dining options, Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a variety of onboard activities and entertainment. Guests can enjoy everything from live music performances and Broadway-style shows to cooking demonstrations and wine tastings. The line also offers a range of wellness activities, including fitness classes and spa treatments.
Shore exclusions are included
Regent Seven Seas Cruises also offers a wide range of shore excursions, which are included in the cost of your cruise. These excursions are designed to provide guests with a unique and immersive experience in each destination. Excursions might include guided tours of historic landmarks, wildlife safaris, or cultural experiences such as cooking classes or traditional dance performances.
Attention to service
This cruise line prides itself on its exceptional service. The line employs a staff-to-guest ratio of 1-to-1.5, which means that there is always someone available to assist you with anything you need. The line also offers a range of personalization options, such as customized shore excursions and in-room dining experiences.
Eco-friendly cruise line
Finally, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is committed to sustainability and responsible tourism. The line has implemented a number of initiatives to reduce its environmental impact, such as using energy-efficient lighting and reducing waste. The line also works with local communities in its ports of call to support conservation and preservation efforts.
Top pick for all-inclusive luxury cruising
In summary, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is a luxury cruise line that offers all-inclusive sailings to some of the most desirable destinations in the world. The line is known for its exceptional service, gourmet dining options, and commitment to sustainability. Whether you're looking for a relaxing getaway or an immersive cultural experience, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is an excellent choice for luxury travel.
Norwegian Cruise Line, commonly referred to as NCL, is a popular cruise line that was founded in 1966 by Knut Kloster and Ted Arison, who also co-founded Carnival Cruise Line. Norwegian Cruise Line is headquartered in Miami, Florida, and is currently part of the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., which also includes Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Solid option for a Caribbean cruise during spring break
Norwegian had several available itineraries in our apples-to-apples comparison, looking for a trip in March within the Caribbean and booking about a year in advance. Prices were about average, starting at $599 per person for a 5-day sailing out of Miami to Great Stirrup Cay (NCL's private island) and Cozumel, and going up to $1,319 for a 7-day sailing from Puerto Rico to Barbados, Antigua, and St. Lucia. Interestingly, a 12-day cruise out of Punta Cana and visiting Barbados, Curacao and Aruba was less expensive, with a starting fare of $1,079 per person. At the time of our review, NCL had a promotion in place offering free airfare for the second guest on the booking, which could be a pretty significant savings depending on your departure port.
Great choice for Alaskan cruises
For what it's worth, we've also heard really good things about NCL for anyone looking to sail to Alaska: among the big ships, travel agents and travelers alike say that the experience is top notch when you use Norwegian.
How about a themed cruise?
In addition to its regular cruise itineraries, Norwegian Cruise Line offers several themed cruises throughout the year. For example, the "Sail Across the Sun" cruise is a music-themed cruise that features live performances by popular bands and musicians, while the "Wine, Dine, and Music Cruise" offers guests the opportunity to sample world-class wines and gourmet cuisine while enjoying live music performances. Themed cruises on NCL aren't just for the more, ahem, seasoned travelers either: check out EDSea "as the magical world of EDC meets paradise" with immersive art, performers, themed stages, non-stop music and more - but at least when we checked, EDSea sells out quickly so you'll have to book well in advance (or join the waitlist).
Exciting onboard activities
One of the standout ships in Norwegian Cruise Line's fleet is the Norwegian Joy, which was launched in 2017 as part of the Breakaway Plus class (along with the Escape, Encore, and Bliss). The ship features a number of unique amenities, including a two-level go-kart track, an open-air laser tag arena, and a virtual reality arcade. NCL's most exciting amenities are found in the ThrillPlex activity zones, available on both Breakaway Plus and Breakaway class ships. Just be aware that some experiences come with an extra cost: $15 per session for go-karts (or pay a one-time fee for unlimited use, typically $199 for a 7-day sailing), $9.95 per session of laser tag, and so on.
Another feature that sets Norwegian Cruise Line apart from other cruise lines is its onboard entertainment. The cruise line offers a variety of shows, ranging from Broadway-style productions to comedy acts and live music. One of the most popular shows on Norwegian Cruise Line is "Burn the Floor" , which is a dance show that features world-class dancers performing to a range of music genres, including ballroom, Latin, and contemporary.
No gratuity required or recommended - but not refused, either
Unlike the majority of big-ship cruise lines, Norwegian doesn't require tipping or even recommend an amount for it, beyond the 20% automatically added for spa and salon services plus beverage purchases. But, they do point out that they encourage their staff to "go the extra mile" and that their employees are allowed to accept cash gratuities for outstanding service. So, it's up to you, but know that your stateroom attendant, the counselors in the kids' club, and your dining room servers would probably not turn down a tip.
Be sure to understand Freestyle vs. Free at Sea
Not having to pay gratuities is part of what Norwegian likes to call "Freestyle Cruising" . That also includes having no assigned dining times: you're free to choose where and when you want to eat, dress it up or stay casual, it's up to you. But, don't confuse "freestyle cruising" with NCL's "Free at Sea" promotions. Depending on when you book, you might be offered the latter as a perk, with five options you can choose for customizing your cruise experience:
Free at Sea Plus upgrade might be available
But wait, there's more! You may also have the option of upgrading to "Free at Sea Plus" , which would give you extra specialty dining, extra credit towards excursions, unlimited Wi-Fi, and a premium beverage package. As you'd expect, the cost for that upgrade will depend on what promotions are in place, your itinerary, and the length of your cruise, but it's safe to anticipate paying anywhere from $99 to $899 per person (the lower amount being for a three-day cruise and the higher amount being for sailings longer than seven nights).
Not the most sterling safety record
But, we give Norwegian somewhat of a downgrade for its safety record. The cruise line has had several incidents in recent years, including a fire on one of its ships in 2019 and a mechanical issue on another ship in 2018. The company has faced criticism for its handling of these incidents. While no cruise line is completely immune from problems, there are several that have never experienced a major incident and that invest heavily in safety training and technology. We wouldn't say Norwegian is unsafe, per se, but it's one area where some of its rivals outpace its track record.
Online experience leaves room for improvement
We also weren't overly impressed with the online booking experience and the NCL website overall. When we went to get more information on the Freestyle vs. Free at Sea vs. Free at Sea Plus differences, every result link we got when we searched gave us a 404 Not Found error. And, when we went to reach out for help via live chat, it took a long time to connect with an agent - and even when we did, the chat was super-slow and we waited over 10 minutes to get an answer to our one question.
Great option for most destinations served by larger ships
Still, there's a lot to love about Norwegian, especially with all of the "free" aspects of their sailings (even if it can be a chore to work out what exactly they mean by it). This cruise line absolutely offers fun for guests of all ages and adventure levels, and if there's a destination you've been dying to visit, chances are good that NCL can take you there. Don't hesitate to put Norwegian Cruise Line on your list of options if large-ship cruising - with all of the associated amenities - is what you're after.
Princess Cruises is a premium cruise line founded in 1965 and headquartered in Santa Clarita, California. The company operates a fleet of 16 ships that sail to destinations all over the world, including the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. The company's ships range in size from the intimate Pacific Princess, which can accommodate just 670 passengers, to the larger Royal Princess, which can accommodate up to 3,560 passengers. Princess Cruises is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, the world's largest leisure travel company.
Spring break in the Caribbean? No problem
Princess had no problem coming up with an itinerary for our across-cruise-lines comparison sailing, going to the Caribbean in March and booking a little less than a year ahead of time. There were 13 options, starting at $418 for a week-long sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale (either Eastern or Western Caribbean itineraries) and going up to a 20-day Caribbean Explorer itinerary with 13 ports, priced at $2,148 per person.
Upgrade to Princess Plus to get more included in your fare
How about gratuities? On Princess, it's called "Crew Appreciation" , and while it's adjustable it'll still be added automatically to your onboard account: $16 per guest per day for interior, oceanview and balcony cabins, $17pp per day for mini-suite and Reserve Collection guests, and $18pp per day in Suites. But, if you choose a "Princess Plus" fare at the time of booking, your gratuities have already been taken care of, along with a beverage package and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Choose when and where you'd like to eat every night
Princess Cruises is known for its excellent food and beverage offerings, with a range of dining options to suit all tastes and preferences. The company partners with renowned chefs such as Curtis Stone and Ernesto Uchimura to create menus that feature both classic and contemporary cuisine. Passengers can choose from a variety of dining options, including the main dining room, specialty restaurants, and casual eateries. Princess Cruises also offers a unique dining experience called "Anytime Dining," which allows passengers to choose when and where they want to dine each night.
Most guests are 50+
One of the biggest things to be aware of with Princess is the demographic. The average age of a Princess Cruises guest varies depending on the itinerary and time of year. In general, Princess cruises attract a diverse mix of passengers, ranging from families with children to retirees and solo travelers. However, on average, the majority of guests are over the age of 50. Many of the onboard activities, such as bridge and ballroom dancing, may be more popular with older passengers. Princess also attracts a significant number of repeat guests, many of whom are retirees. These guests often appreciate the line's longer itineraries and world cruises, which provide the opportunity to travel extensively while enjoying the comfort and convenience of a cruise ship.
Kids and young adults are welcome too
That doesn't mean that kids aren't welcome - or kept busy - when sailing on Princess. Families with children can take advantage of the line's Camp Discovery program, which provides age-appropriate activities and entertainment for kids and teens. The line also offers family-friendly shore excursions, such as snorkeling and beach trips.
Trying to appeal to wider range
In recent years, Princess Cruises has made efforts to appeal to a wider range of passengers, including families and younger adults. The line has introduced new dining options, such as the Salty Dog Gastropub and SHARE by Curtis Stone, which offer more casual and contemporary cuisine. Princess Cruises has also partnered with Discovery Communications to offer onboard programming, such as Shark Week at Sea and Discovery at Sea, which provide educational and immersive experiences for all ages.
Trustworthy cruise line
We have no concerns about recommending Princess as a trustworthy cruise line with an attractive variety of destinations and onboard experiences, from small-ship sailing to large-ship amenities. This is especially true if you're retired, because much of what the company offers is geared towards you and your peers. It'll be a little less appealing if you're traveling with children, but it's still worth a look as long as you know what you're getting (and what you're not).
Holland America Line offers a wide range of itineraries to various destinations worldwide. The company has been in operation since 1873, making it one of the oldest cruise lines in the world. With a reputation for offering exceptional service, exquisite cuisine, and a sophisticated onboard experience, Holland America Line is a popular choice for older travelers looking for a luxurious and elegant vacation. The Holland America fleet is made up of mid-sized ships, which allows for a more intimate and personalized experience than many of the larger cruise ships on the market.
No shortage of spring break cruises in the Caribbean
It was no problem finding options for our comparison cruise: a Caribbean sailing in March, booked a little under a year in advance. There were 23 cruises to choose from, all departing from Ft. Lauderdale (hooray for no international flights required for US travelers). Three of those sailings were priced at $799 per person for a seven-day sailing, with itineraries for Eastern, Western, and "Tropical" Caribbean. Even the 21-day Caribbean itineraries were reasonably priced at $2,359 or less per person.
Look for promos that give you more included in your fare
And, at the time of this evaluation, Holland America was offering the "Have It All" promotion on some sailings, a premium package that included four "high-value amenities" for the first and second guest on each booking:
No assigned dining locations or times
In terms of dining, Holland America is known for offering exceptional cuisine. The company has partnered with renowned chefs, such as Jacques Pepin and Rudi Sodamin, to create menus that are both sophisticated and delicious. Passengers can choose from a variety of dining options, including formal dining rooms, specialty restaurants, and casual eateries. Holland America also offers a unique dining experience called "As You Wish" dining, which allows passengers to choose when and where they want to dine each night.
Children welcome, but most guests are 55+
Children are welcome to sail on Holland America cruises. However, Holland America is primarily known as a cruise line that caters to adults, especially those over 50 years old (in fact, 75% of their passengers are age 55+). As a result, Holland America does not have as many activities and facilities designed for children compared to other family-oriented cruise lines. They're trying, though: they have Club HAL, which is their youth program that offers age-appropriate activities and entertainment for kids and teens from 3-17 years old, but those are only available during specific hours. They also have family-oriented shore excursions and some onboard activities like swimming pools, movies, and game rooms. Additionally, Holland America's dining options cater to children with kid-friendly menus and options.
Most onboard entertainment is for the older set
Entertainment on Holland America sailings definitely trends "mature" , with live music, theater productions, and enrichment programs such as cooking classes and wine tastings. The line also has partnerships with institutions such as BBC Earth and the Lincoln Center Stage, which provide unique and educational experiences for passengers.
Gratuities are extra but can be modified
Holland America will charge gratuities to your onboard account: $16 per guest per day for non-suite staterooms and $17.50 per guest per day for suites. They call this "Crew Appreciation" and emphasize that it's an important part of their team's compensation - but, unlike some cruise lines, you're allowed to modify the amount if you wish (for poor service).
Solid choice for cruising - especially for older guests
Holland America Line is a premium cruise line that offers a luxurious and sophisticated onboard experience. With a focus on personalized service, exceptional cuisine, and immersive entertainment and enrichment programs, Holland America is a popular choice for older travelers looking for a relaxed yet classy vacation to the world's most sought-after ports of call.
Cunard is a British cruise line with a rich history and tradition, dating back to 1840. It is known for its luxurious ships, outstanding service, and elegant formal evenings. Cunard operates three ocean liners, the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth, which offer a wide range of itineraries around the world.
Think British and formal
The Queen Mary 2 is Cunard's flagship and the only ocean liner in the world that regularly makes transatlantic crossings between New York and Southampton. It is a grand and stately ship that harks back to the golden age of ocean travel, with elegant public areas, formal dining rooms, and spacious cabins. Onboard, guests can enjoy a wide range of activities, including live entertainment, art classes, and lectures by well-known experts.
More relaxed experience on the smaller ships
The Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth are both smaller than the Queen Mary 2 but still offer a luxurious cruising experience. These ships have a more contemporary design and a relaxed, informal atmosphere, but still retain the high standards of service and cuisine that Cunard is known for. They offer a range of itineraries, from short breaks to longer voyages to destinations such as the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and the Caribbean.
Spring break cruises are available - just not in the Caribbean
Because of what Cunard does and doesn't specialize in, it was to be expected that there wouldn't be any March sailings in the Caribbean (which is what we used as a comparison point across cruise lines): they're just not operating in that part of the world at that time. Of course not: why would a cruise line with British heritage have anything to do with spring break timing in the US?! But, if you're trying to line up an amazing trip over that holiday, Cunard can be found going from Sydney to Hong Kong (16 nights), Sydney to Singapore (22 nights), Sydney to Cape Town (39 nights), or taking "short break" trips in Australia, from Hong Kong to Singapore, you get the idea.
Pack your tux or gown
One of the unique features of Cunard is its formal evenings, which are a throwback to the grandeur of the early days of ocean travel. On these evenings, guests are expected to dress up in their finest attire, with men wearing tuxedos or suits and women donning elegant gowns. The formal evenings include a special dinner, dancing, and live entertainment, and are a highlight of the Cunard experience.
Cunard is also known for its exceptional dining options. Each ship offers a range of restaurants, from traditional formal dining rooms to more casual eateries. Most dining choices are included in your fare, but the gastro-pub options at The Golden Lion will incur an extra cost. The cuisine is inspired by the destinations visited on the itinerary, with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Cunard also offers a famous afternoon tea service, which is a nod to the line's British heritage.
Luxury but not all-inclusive
Cunard is a luxury cruise line, but it's not all-inclusive. You'll have to pay for any shore excursions you choose, and your gratuities ($14.50 per person per night for Britannia and Britannia Club staterooms, $16.50 per person per night for Queens and Princess Grill suites) will be automatically added to your account. WiFi is another extra that you'll pay for, unless you reach Gold, Platinum, or Diamond World Club "frequent sailor" benefits - or if you're taking one of Cunard's exceptional World Voyages (think sailings of at least 16 nights, and ones that go up to 100+ nights and visit ports in all four continents).
Also, don't expect your Cunard cruise to be child-free. Children are welcome on Cunard, and there are clubs for those young cruisers with age-specific activities offered day and night.
Wonderful cruise line but not a match for many US-based guests
For US-based vacationers looking to cruise in exotic locations around the world and have a fancy onboard experience, Cunard could be worth looking at - especially for those who love all things British and having a daily afternoon tea would be the epitome of excellence. On the other hand, if you want easy-peasy departures from US ports year-round, Cunard won't fit the bill.
Seabourn is known for its small-ship, ultra-luxury cruising experience. Its fleet of five ships carry anywhere from 458 to 600 passengers, and most suites feature a private veranda. If you want to cruise in relaxed luxury, a Seaborn sailing might be perfect for you, especially with the nearly 1:1 ratio of staff to guests. And, almost anywhere you could dream of visiting -from the Arctic to the Antarctic and literally everywhere else - chances are good that there's a Seabourn cruise that goes there.
Take a winter getaway in the Caribbean
In order to compare cruise lines, we looked at each company's offerings for a week-long Caribbean sailing in March - peak season for spring breakers and anyone trying to escape a long winter - about a year in advance. Seabourn had four week-long sailings, four 14-day sailings, and one 21-day sailing. Almost all of them departed from Barbados, so you'd have to factor in the international flights as part of your vacation planning. Two sailings finished in Miami, though, so at least the return would be a domestic flight for travelers from the US. Pricing on the week-long sailing started at $4,339 per person, and itineraries included Classic Caribbean Yacht Harbors (Bequia, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten), Yachtsman's Caribbean (many of the same ports, with the addition of Dominica), and Windward Island Jewels (Tobago, St. Lucia, Martinique, Antigua, and St. Kitts).
Seabourn is described as all-inclusive. That means your sailing will come with complimentary dining venues, open bars and fine wines at both lunch and dinner, unlimited WiFi, and no gratuities are required (or expected). You'll also experience the Seabourn Signature Delights, ranging from Caviar in the Surf during beach barbecues ashore to Massage Moments on deck and much more. On the other hand, some features included by other all-inclusive luxury cruise lines are fee-based with Seabourn, most notably the shore excursions.
Entertainment is more low-key
Another area where Seabourn comes up a little light is onboard entertainment. As with any smaller cruise ships, you shouldn't sail with this cruise line expecting Broadway-size shows: there just isn't a venue for it. What you can expect in the Grand Salon are cabaret performances, classical recitals, live music for dancing, cooking demonstrations, and movies, among other gatherings.
The dining trends American
In terms of dining, Seabourn offers a partnership with Chef Thomas Keller, who has developed a menu of classic American dishes for the line's restaurants. The line also features The Grill by Thomas Keller, which offers a classic steakhouse experience. You may even be able to take advantage of "Shopping with the Chef" for fresh ingredients at local markets, if you love all things culinary. In addition to these dining options, Seabourn offers an innovative program called "Seabourn Conversations", where guests can engage with experts in various fields such as food and wine, history, culture, and more.
How about a more high-octane port experience?
Perhaps you're more on the adventurous side. Be sure to look into Ventures by Seabourn, optional shore excursions that help you get up close and personal with your destinations: hop on a Zodiac, paddle a kayak, or take an exploratory hike, all guided by Expedition Team members you've already met onboard and learned from during formal presentations and casual conversations.
A good option but compare with rival luxury lines first
While Seabourn has plenty of loyal cruisers, we also found some travelers who felt that there wasn't enough included for the fare they paid. Some felt that the ships seemed a bit outdated, and even we noticed that the "all-inclusive" features of Seabourn weren't as robust as what comparable luxury lines offered. If you're looking for a luxury cruise that can access smaller ports and harbors, and you find your destination on Seabourn's list, there's no reason not to book your trip. But, we'd recommend looking at this cruise line's higher-ranked competitors in the luxury tier too, just in case you could get a little more for your fare.
Azamara is a luxury cruise line that operates four mid-sized ships: Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, Azamara Onward, and Azamara Pursuit. The cruise line was established in 2007 as a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, and its ships have a reputation for providing guests with an intimate and immersive cruising experience.
Stay longer in port
One of the defining features of Azamara is its focus on destination immersion. The line's itineraries are designed to provide guests with a deep and authentic experience of the places they visit. Each ship offers a variety of shore excursions, ranging from cultural tours to active adventures. Azamara also offers longer stays in port, with many itineraries featuring overnight stays and evening tours, allowing guests to experience the local nightlife and culture. That could be a big advantage compared with some of the larger cruise lines, where port departure times are often as early as 4PM.
Small ships = better service
Azamara's ships are smaller than some luxury cruise ships, with a capacity of around 700 guests each. This allows for a more intimate and personalized experience, with a high staff-to-guest ratio ensuring exceptional service. The ships feature a range of amenities, including several restaurants and bars, a spa, fitness center, pool, and live entertainment venues.
Drinks are included with dining
Dining is a highlight of the Azamara experience, with a focus on fresh and locally-sourced ingredients. Each ship has several restaurants, including a main dining room, a buffet, and specialty restaurants that require reservations (and that will incur extra charges above and beyond your cruise fare). The specialty restaurants include a steakhouse, a seafood grill, and an Italian restaurant. Guests can also enjoy complimentary wine, beer, and spirits with their meals.
Limited Caribbean sailings
To make a fair comparison across cruise lines, we looked for sailings in the Caribbean in March, about a year in advance. That's peak season in the US, as travelers often try to line up a winter escape over spring break. However, Azamara doesn't sail in the Caribbean most of the time: when we searched, the only options there tended to be in November and December, though we did spot one Caribbean Journey sailing available for booking almost two years in advance, and extremely well-priced starting at $1,439 per person for a nine-night cruise.
Around the world in 155 days
And, if you're looking to go, well, everywhere, you should consider Azamara's World Voyage: 155 nights, 22 overnights, 27 late stays, 40+ countries and 75+ unique destinations. You could start in Fort Lauderdale, go through the Panama Canal, visit the Pacific Coast of South America before sailing over to French Polynesia, check out the koalas in Australia, follow ancient trade routes from Singapore to Dubai, you get the idea. Yes, you'll pay at least $36,000 per cruiser, but what an experience!
Best for immersive port experiences and luxury sailing
Azamara gets a just-above-average rating. It's missing the all-inclusive value of some other luxury cruise lines (you'll pay for your gratuities and shore excursions here, as well as any dining upgrades you select and other amenities), but it still gives you access to destinations not served by the bigger cruise ships. It's worth looking into if you love taking a deep dive into the cultures in your ports of call, especially some of the events and experiences that are only available after sunset. Azamara misses a lot of the must-haves for many vacationers, but it's still a cruise line we can wholeheartedly recommend if it checks the boxes for you.
MSC Cruises is a family-oriented cruise line that was founded in 1960 in Naples, Italy. The company is now one of the largest cruise lines in the world, with a fleet of 23 ships that sail to destinations around the globe. MSC Cruises offers a wide range of itineraries, from short Caribbean cruises to transatlantic voyages and longer world cruises.
Spring break in the Caribbean is a go
Caribbean sailings are MSC's bread and butter, and so we weren't surprised at all to find 35 itineraries in March of the next calendar year. These sailed from Miami, NYC, and Port Canaveral (Orlando), giving travelers plenty of options for their spring break vacay or winter escape. MSC's base fares on those itineraries were extremely budget-friendly: not counting taxes, fees, and port expenses, you could take a three-night cruise to the Bahamas starting at just $139 per person. Even the most expensive itinerary in that timeframe, an 18-night cruise to the Western Caribbean sailing in and out of Miami, still came in at just $1,389 per person for the lowest-priced stateroom. And, most Caribbean sailings include a stop at MSC's private island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.
Tips are mandatory but removable
But, you'll need to factor in not just the taxes, fees, and port expenses (which are displayed in small print on each cruise listing), but also many other costs you might not be anticipating. For example, gratuities (described as a "Hotel Service Charge" ) are mandatory on MSC, usually $14.50 per person per night for guests 12 and over and half that for children ages 2-11. You can ask to have them removed at Guest Services onboard if you aren't happy with the service. (Also worth noting: unlike most cruise lines we're familiar with, MSC does not recommend tipping individual members of staff beyond the automatic gratuity.)
It gets spendy to drink anything besides water
Drinks and dining are another area where MSC guests often get taken by surprise, especially if they've sailed with another cruise line that is a little more all-inclusive. You'll get water, coffee, tea and iced tea with meals, plus juice at breakfast. Otherwise, you'll need to purchase a drink package, even if all you want are soft drinks, if you don't want to rack up massive a la carte beverage charges. Be aware that the packages are for the duration of the cruise, they can't be shared between guests, and all guests in a stateroom have to buy a package to get unlimited drinks (obviously this won't apply if one cruiser is an adult and the other is a minor; there are non-alcoholic and minor drink packages available too). Expect fees starting around $25 per person per day for the non-alcoholic options and around $70pp per day for the top tier wine, beer, cocktails and soft drinks package.
Pay extra for services that most rivals include at no cost
Finally, MSC has "Experience" packages you can apply to your reservation.
If you've ever cruised elsewhere, you can see that MSC charges for services that many cruise lines just give you automatically, like letting you request a particular dining time or free room service whenever you wish. Plus, those "Experience" packages don't come cheap: our research indicates that you could pay an extra $50-$100 per person per day for the mid-tier upgrade and $100-$200pp per day for the highest upgrade.
Good option for families
On the positive side, MSC cruises are very family-friendly, with plenty of activities to keep cruisers of all ages entertained. Some travelers enjoy having a more international experience aboard as well, since many passengers are European (and specifically Italian, go figure).
Worth doing some comparing before booking a cruise here
MSC definitely has its fans, especially among those who want to get away from the typical American cruise line environment and try something different. And, if you understand what you will and won't get with MSC, you could get a really low-priced cruise that reaches some top destinations. However, too many cruisers get drawn in by the low initial fare, only to find that by the time they've covered their taxes, fees, gratuities, drinks, and "experiences" , it's not so much of a bargain anymore. We encourage you to look at some of MSC's higher-ranked rivals (outside of the luxury categories, of course) before booking with this cruise line: you might be able to take advantage of a travel deal that would get you more for your money elsewhere.
Costa Cruises is an Italian-based cruise line that was founded in 1854. It was one of the first companies to offer passenger shipping services and has since grown to become one of the largest cruise lines in the world. Today, Costa Cruises is part of the Carnival Corporation, which also owns several other popular cruise lines.
Plenty of itineraries
Costa Cruises offers a wide range of itineraries to destinations all over the world, including the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and South America. The cruise line has a fleet of nine ships, each with its own unique style and amenities. Costa Cruises caters to a diverse range of travelers, from families with young children to retirees looking for a luxurious getaway, but you'll find your fellow cruisers to be distinctly European on most sailings.
All things Italy
One of the standout features of Costa Cruises is its emphasis on Italian style and culture. Each ship is designed to reflect the warmth and charm of Italy, with a focus on art, music, and cuisine. The ships feature elegant interiors, with plenty of open spaces and natural light. Italian cuisine is a highlight of the dining experience on Costa Cruises, with fresh ingredients and authentic recipes that showcase the flavors of Italy.
No US departure ports
How did Costa do with our comparison cruise: a Caribbean itinerary sailing in March, about a year in advance? There were just four options, one 4-day trip, two 8-day trips, and one 15-day trip. Starting fares ranged from $649 to $1,529 per person, not including taxes, fees, and port expenses. Keep in mind that unless you live in La Romana or Guadeloupe, you'd have to factor in international airfare as well. In fact, for US travelers, every Costa cruise will require an international flight to start: there are no departure ports in the United States. That's not a big deal if you were planning on a cruise in the Middle East or South America anyway, but also not ideal if you live within driving distance of Miami or Galveston, for example, and just wanted a getaway to the Bahamas.
Only water is free
Your base fare with Costa will allow you some of the perks found with our highest-rated cruise lines, like being able to select your cabin and your seating time for the dining room. However, where many cruise lines will give you access to some kind of complimentary beverage, even if it's just lemonade or coffee, everything but water will cost you on Costa (see what we did there?). You can either go a la carte, which gets spendy, or purchase the All-Inclusive/Total Comfort fare tier and it will come with a drink package.
Costa's "service charges" , also known as gratuities, are mandatory and automatically applied to your onboard account. Being an Italian cruise line, those fees are in Euros: $11 per person per night for guests 15+, and half that for children ages 4-14. Unlike some cruise lines that allow you to modify that if you've been unhappy with the service, Costa states that their service fees "cannot be altered" .
Ongoing safety concerns
Our biggest reason for giving Costa a below-average rating is its track record for safety. While it's true that the cruise industry as a whole has had its share of safety incidents over the years, and cruise lines are constantly working to improve their safety practices and protocols to ensure the well-being of their passengers and crew, Costa has had several high-profile incidents, the most significant being the Costa Concordia disaster back in 2012 (resulting in more than two dozen deaths). Despite implementing new safety procedures and improving protocols overall, Costa ships still had collisions in 2017 and 2019, though fortunately there was no loss of life resulting from those incidents.
We recommend choosing a different cruise line
For cruising in Europe, Costa is just one of many options to consider. This cruise line has quite a few rivals in that area, and it doesn't really compete with other companies sailing in the Caribbean. Overall, Costa is not one of our favorite cruise lines in any category, and we recommend looking at competitors serving the destination you're hoping to visit instead.
Carnival Cruise Line is a popular American cruise line that is part of the Carnival Corporation, the world's largest leisure travel company. The company was founded in 1972 by Ted Arison and has since grown to become one of the most recognized names in the cruise industry, offering affordable and fun-filled vacations to travelers of all ages.
Lots of ships and itineraries to consider
Carnival has a fleet of 24 ships that sail to destinations all over the world, including the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, and Asia. The cruise line offers a range of itineraries, from short weekend getaways to extended voyages, and caters to a variety of travelers, including families, couples, and groups of friends.
Fun fun fun
One of the defining characteristics of Carnival is its focus on fun and entertainment. The cruise line offers a wide range of onboard activities and amenities, including water parks, sports facilities, casinos, live entertainment, and comedy shows. Carnival's ships are known for their vibrant and colorful designs, which feature themes such as "Fun Ships" and "Carnivalization". The interiors of the ships are filled with bright colors, playful designs, and eye-catching art pieces, giving the vessels a lively and energetic atmosphere. But, depending on the Carnival ship you sail on, you might find that it has a somewhat outdated vibe - especially if you're been on other cruise lines that have been refreshed more recently.
Food is surprisingly good
Carnival features a variety of dining options, including casual eateries, upscale restaurants, and specialty dining venues that showcase global cuisine. Despite being a "bargain" cruise line, we were surprised to find that the food quality on our Carnival sailing rivaled other large cruise lines in the same class (not luxury or all-inclusive).
Over 50 options to spend spring break in the Caribbean
One of the reasons why Carnival is so popular is its commitment to providing an affordable vacation experience. The cruise line offers a variety of deals and discounts, making it possible for travelers to enjoy a cruise vacation without breaking the bank. Looking at our comparison sailing, a Caribbean cruise in March about a year in advance, Carnival was indeed one of the lowest-priced options out there - and with a whopping 53 results (where some rival cruise lines only had a handful or none at all during that time of year). There were several 4- and 5-day sailings from New Orleans, Tampa, Miami and Galveston, with starting prices under $400 per person (not including taxes, fees, and port expenses). Even on the high end, you'd still be paying under $1,000 per person, even on a 12-day Southern Caribbean sailing out of New York with stops in St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Maarten.
But, in some ways, Carnival makes up for its lower cruise fares with its extras. For example, you'll pay more in gratuities here than in some places: Carnival's recommended service charges are $16 per person per day in standard staterooms and $18 pp per day in suites Fortunately, you can ask that those be modified once your onboard, but that should only be done if you've received poor service and Carnival can't make it right.
Kids' clubs don't compete with other cruise lines
And, even though Carnival cruises are advertised as being fun for the whole family, that wasn't exactly our experience. First, at least on an Alaskan cruise we experienced, the kids' clubs were only open periodically and rarely followed the posted schedule. Even when the kids were in the club, the counselors seemed to phone it in most of the time and often didn't do the activities that had been planned - instead leaving the kids to play video games or have open time in the club. There weren't as many all-ages entertainment options either, so the kids in our travel party wound up in the stateroom watching TV because "there wasn't anything else to do" .
Not exactly PG-rated sometimes
Beyond that, Carnival cruises almost always have a party atmosphere. That's totally okay if you're sailing to celebrate a bachelorette party or trying to have a wild spring break in the Bahamas! But, for those traveling with children, it isn't the most wholesome environment. (Let's just say that while one of our staffers went to look at the northern lights on that Alaska sailing, their kids had to avert their eyes from some... adult activities happening on the loungers). You might want to look at other cruise lines if you wouldn't enjoy that kind of experience.
Underperforms with respect to safety
The last factor in Carnival's lower-than-them-all ranking here is safety. While most cruise lines experience issues from time to time, Carnival typically ranks as one of the lowest-performing. There have been several incidents involving Carnival ships, including fires, power outages, and mechanical failures. The highest-profile issue was back in 2013, when the Carnival Triumph was stranded at sea for several days. People even referred to it as the "poop cruise" because of how a fire aboard knocked out the power and left cruisers without AC, lights, water, food, and working toilets.
You won't choose Carnival again once you've tried another cruise line
Now, we'll probably incur the wrath of devoted Carnival VIFP Club members, who wouldn't dream of sailing on any other cruise line. That's fine, but most people we found who've cruised with one of our higher-ranked options (which is ALL of them, by the way), have a hard time seeing Carnival in a very positive light once they've tried a rival's ship, service, and itinerary. Even if a super-big bargain is your deciding factor, with the right promotions you can probably get a great deal with a higher-performing cruise line. Whether you're a first-time cruiser or you've sailed with Carnival before, we really encourage you to see if you can make the numbers work with a different company before settling for Carnival.
Another factor that can influence which cruise line you choose is the itinerary. Cruise ships travel all over the world, but some cruise lines may not have destinations available where you're hoping to go. You should also consider the size of the ship: larger ships offer more amenities, but smaller ships can access ports that bigger ships can't.
Speaking of amenities, make sure you understand what you'll get as part of your fare and which extras will come with an additional cost. For example, most cruises offer drink packages for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, but a few have drink stations where you can get complimentary lemonade, coffee and tea. Other amenities that might be important to you are Wi-Fi, spa services, babysitting, fitness classes, and upgraded dining experiences. You can usually get a decent discount if you sign up for an amenities package before you sail, so keep an eye out for promotions in the months leading up to your sailing.
When you take a cruise, it's almost always expected that you'll tip the crew members who have attended to your needs while onboard: your cabin steward (who probably leaves your towels folded into fun shapes every night), your servers at your nightly meals, and the head waiter. Cruise lines have a recommended gratuity to cover all three of those staff members, usually $15-$20 per traveler, per day; the total gratuity amount may be charged automatically to your account, or you may be given envelopes to make cash payments.
While it usually isn't mandatory to pay those gratuities - you can ask to have them removed if they're applied automatically, especially if you've received poor service - it's typically considered in poor taste not to tip at the suggested levels (because crew members' salaries, much like servers at your local restaurant, are based on the expectation of tips paid by guests). And, if you receive service that goes above and beyond, adding to the recommended gratuity is always appreciated. Be aware that tips for bartenders, poolside servers, and professional services provided in the spa or elsewhere are not included in the daily suggested gratuity and may be charged automatically at the time of service.
Now that you have a good overview of the cruising experience, which cruise line should you choose? Beyond the points we already covered, here are a few additional criteria that might make it easier to pick:
Here at Top Consumer Reviews, cruising is one of our favorite ways to travel and experience new things. And with so many different cruise lines to choose from, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. But, don't worry: take a look at our in-depth analysis of today's most popular options, find the one that's the best match for your vacation ideas and your travel party, and book that trip you've been dreaming of. Bon voyage!
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