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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, December 8th
Royal Caribbean International is a cruise line headquartered in Miami, Florida, operating a fleet of 27 ships that sail to destinations worldwide, including the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Alaska. The company offers innovative onboard experiences, such as Broadway-style shows, the Bionic Bar, and Virtual Balcony cabins, as well as a wide range of activities like ice skating and rock climbing while at sea. Royal Caribbean is suitable for guests of all ages and is well known for having some of the largest ships in the cruise industry, 300+ ports of call, and two private islands: CocoCay and Perfect Day. The company is also known for great last-minute cruise deals and having an excellent safety record. We recommend Royal Caribbean as one of the first places to search for your next cruise.
It's no surprise that Disney cruises are the #1 pick for families traveling with children, but it's an excellent choice for the young at heart too. The attention to detail and service provided onboard are legendary, from the rotational themed dining and Broadway-caliber shows to the pirate deck party complete with fireworks. Whether you want to relax on Disney's private islands or catch the world premiere of the latest Marvel movie while at sea, there's no shortage of magic when you sail with DCL. This is one of our favorite cruise lines, with or without kids in the travel party.
Celebrity Cruises offers a variety of cruise experiences for all ages and to various destinations, with a fleet of over a dozen ships ranging in size from 16 to 3,260 passengers. Celebrity's dining options are renowned for their quality and variety, and the company offers both Cruise-Only and All-Inclusive fares. The cruise line has a strong commitment to safety and has never experienced a major incident, earning recognition as the Best Premium Cruise Line by Travel Weekly's Readers' Choice Awards for 14 consecutive years. Celebrity is an excellent choice for guests of all ages and interests.
Virgin Voyages is one of the newest cruise lines in the industry, getting its start in 2020. They offer a unique, fun, and modern experience strictly for adults, but there's nothing outdated or stodgy about these sailings. From the exciting onboard entertainment to the balconies with hammocks, Virgin Voyages does cruising differently. The amenities are tech-forward and eco-friendly, sailings are available that won't charge the dreaded "single supplement" , and you'll get a lot of premium perks at no extra charge (like WiFi and gratuities). For adults-only fun and relaxation, Virgin Voyages is a perfect choice.
Viking Cruises is a luxury cruise line known for its sophisticated and immersive travel experiences. With a fleet of more than 60 river and ocean-going vessels, Viking offers river cruises in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Asia, and Egypt, as well as ocean cruises to destinations including Scandinavia, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, North America, the Caribbean, and the Arctic. The company is well-loved for its all-inclusive pricing, which covers everything from onboard meals and drinks to shore excursions and WiFi (but not gratuities, FYI). Viking is also known for its emphasis on cultural immersion and enrichment, with onshore experiences designed to help travelers connect with local people, history, and traditions. With an emphasis on comfort, relaxation, and exploration, Viking offers a high-end cruise experience for adult travelers seeking a refined and enriching vacation.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is a luxury cruise line that operates six ships with a focus on exceptional service, gourmet dining options, and all-inclusive sailings with most "extras" at no extra cost (like beverages, WiFi, gratuities, and so on). The line offers a wide range of onboard activities and entertainment, as well as unique and immersive shore excursions in some of the most sought-after ports of call worldwide. Regent Seven Seas Cruises is committed to sustainability and responsible tourism, and prides itself on its exceptional service and personalization options. For luxury cruisers, this should be one of the first cruise lines you consider.
Norwegian Cruise Line, or NCL, offers sailings to destinations around the world plus exciting entertainment and flexible amenities. NCL is suitable for cruisers of all ages and adventure levels, and it's one of the only non-luxury class cruise lines that doesn't require gratuities (or even recommend them at any particular amount). While being on a ship with 2,000-4,000 other passengers might not appeal to some vacationers, NCL's large ships make it easy to eat, play, and relax in any way you want.
Princess Cruises tends to attract older guests on its sailings to destinations around the world. The 16 ships on this cruise line range from intimately-sized to large, from the petite Pacific Princess to the super-sized Royal Princess. The company offers Standard and Princess Plus fares, with the latter including a drink package, Wi-Fi, and gratuities. Princess Cruises is known for its excellent food and beverage offerings, with a variety of dining options to suit all tastes and preferences. While families with children are certainly welcome on Princess sailings, the onboard activities are definitely geared towards the more "seasoned" guests. However, this cruise line is still a reliable option with many desirable itineraries to choose from.
Holland America Line is a premium cruise line with a fleet of 11 mid-sized ships, offering over 500 itineraries with stops in 100+ countries. The line is known for its exceptional service, exquisite cuisine, and sophisticated onboard experience, making it a popular choice for older travelers seeking luxury and elegance. Overall, Holland America Line offers a relaxed and classy vacation experience to the world's most sought-after ports of call, especially for those ages 55+.
Cunard is a British luxury cruise line with a rich history dating back to 1840. The company operates three ocean liners (soon to be four), including the flagship Queen Mary 2, which is the only ship in the world to regularly make transatlantic crossings. One of the unique features of Cunard is its formal evenings, where guests are expected to dress up in their finest attire. Although not all-inclusive, Cunard offers a wide range of itineraries for vacationers looking to cruise in exotic locations around the world, including World Voyages lasting up to 100+ nights. Neither ultra-luxury nor on-a-budget cruisers will find Cunard to be a good match, but it's a trustworthy cruise line overall.
Seabourn is a small-ship, luxury cruise line with destinations in all seven continents. Their cruises are described as all-inclusive, with complimentary dining venues, open bars and fine wines, unlimited WiFi, and no gratuities required. However, some features like shore excursions are fee-based. For the adventurous types, Seabourn has Ventures by Seabourn, optional shore excursions that help you get up close and personal with your destinations. Because some travelers have felt that the ships seemed a bit outdated, and the all-inclusive features of Seabourn weren't as robust as what comparable luxury lines offered, we give this cruise line a just-above-average rating.
Azamara is a luxury cruise line that focuses on destination immersion, offering a variety of shore excursions and longer stays in port. The ships have a capacity of around 700 guests each, providing a more personalized experience with exceptional service. Dining is a highlight of the Azamara experience, with a focus on fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, and complimentary wine, beer, and spirits with meals. Although this isn't an all-inclusive cruise line, Azamara offers unique destinations not served by larger cruise ships, and is a good option for those who enjoy exploring cultures in their ports of call.
MSC Cruises is an Italian-themed, family-oriented cruise line with a fleet of 23 ships that sail to destinations worldwide. They offer a wide range of itineraries, from short Caribbean cruises to longer world cruises. Caribbean sailings are one of their specialties, with budget-friendly fares often starting at $139 per person for a three-night Bahamas cruise. However, guests should be aware of additional costs for gratuities, drinks, and dining packages, and even for basics like choosing the stateroom or dining room seating time. While the low initial fares may seem like a bargain, fees for "extras" can add up quickly, so it's worth comparing MSC to other cruise lines before booking your sailing.
Costa Cruises is an Italian-based cruise line that offers a variety of itineraries to destinations worldwide. On the nine ships in the fleet, Costa Cruises emphasizes Italian style and culture, with a focus on art, music, and cuisine. The cruise line offers some perks to all cruisers, such as the ability to choose your cabin and dining time, but all beverages except water come with an additional cost, and Costa's mandatory service charges are spendy and can't be modified. Most influential to our ranking, the company has a below-average safety record with several high-profile incidents, making it less favorable compared with other options you have for cruising in Europe, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
Carnival Cruise Line is a popular and affordable American cruise line that operates 24 ships sailing to destinations all over the world, catering to families, couples, and groups of friends. The defining characteristic of Carnival is its focus on fun and entertainment, all for less money than its rivals in the industry. However, Carnival cruises have a party atmosphere - great for some adults, not as desirable for cruising with children - and lower safety rankings, with several incidents involving Carnival ships, including fires, power outages, and mechanical failures. You'll get more for your money, and a better overall onboard experience, with a higher-ranked cruise line.
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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