I’m often asked which cruise line is the best, and I always give the same answer: The best cruise line is the one that fits your interests and travel style. The key is in finding the one that delivers everything you want in a vacation. To that end, here are the best cruise lines for…
These days it seems as if every line wants to be known as family-friendly. Your kids will likely enjoy any mainstream or premium line. However, Carnival and Disney Cruise Line stand out for their exceptionally comprehensive children’s and teens’ programs.
Disney Cruise Line is no surprise winner in this category, for obvious reasons. The Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have entire decks dedicated to kid-friendly activities and separate family and adults-only pools. Cabins are designed to accommodate families with extra beds and split bathrooms, and Disney characters make appearances throughout the sailing.
Camp Carnival offers age-specific, supervised activities for kids ages two to five, six to eight, nine to 11, 12 to 14, and 15 to 17. Its ships offer extensive children’s play areas, as well as the Club O2 teen lounge. Children do not need to be toilet-trained to take part in Camp Carnival activities.
Cruising is no longer solely about playing shuffleboard or frying by the pool. Thanks to innovative cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Princess, the cruise industry has taken onboard entertainment to new heights.
There’s never a dull moment on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Its ships, particularly the Voyager- and Freedom-class vessels, offer onboard rock climbing, ice skating, mini-golf, surfing, and boxing. Whether your definition of active is working up a sweat in the fitness center, working out your credit card in the ship’s shops, enjoying family fun in a water park, or spending evenings watching Broadway-style shows, Royal Caribbean will keep you busy morning ’til night.
Princess may not have the facilities of Royal Caribbean, but its onboard programming is extensive. Taking its cue from reality TV, Princess pits guests against each other in competitions such as the Ballroom Blitz dance competition, Princess Peer Factor team challenge, and the Bee at Sea spelling competition. The cruise line offers kids a chance to learn to cook in the ship’s galley and runs various educational programs for adults.
If you’ve seen The Love Boat or Titanic and decided formal dinners and forced socialization are not for you, try Norwegian Cruise Line before you give up on cruising. Norwegian’s “Freestyle Cruising” concept aims to give cruisers more choices and freedom as to how to structure their time onboard. Dress is always resort casual, and guests can dine whenever they want in about 10 different restaurants. A variety of lounges and bars lets cruisers choose the atmosphere and drinks that suit them, and the ships’ funky decor states clearly that these cruises are neither stodgy nor traditional.
You’ll find the 55-plus set on any cruise line, and most companies are vying for baby boomer vacation dollars. But, seniors looking for the company of their peers (rather than a boatload of kids) need to be a little more discriminating.
Luxury lines have the highest average ages due to their hefty price tags. You’ll find plenty of seniors on Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea. The exceptional service and spacious cabins on these ships make traveling easy and comfortable, and small and mid-size ships eliminate the need to walk long distances from your cabin to the dining room or pool. Plus, the wealthy, educated, and well-traveled people who sail these lines make for plenty of interesting conversations over dinner or on the bus to a shore excursion.
Seniors with less cash to burn should consider Holland America. This cruise line is known for attracting an older audience, and its Alaska cruises are very popular with multigenerational groups. Its longer, more exotic itineraries are ideal for retirees who can take a two- or three-week vacation.
The romance of the open ocean and a no-hassles style of travel make cruising an ideal honeymoon. The most romantic for your post-wedding getaway option is Windstar. Unlike typical cruise ships, Windstar’s ships are motor-sail-yachts with a full set of sails and teak decks. What could be more romantic than pulling out of port in the Greek Isles or the Caribbean as the sun sets behind the billowing sails of your ship? Plus, the line’s luxurious amenities and gourmet cuisine set the right mood for love.
Honeymooners who like the exotic often choose a Tahiti sailing on Regent Seven Seas’ Paul Gauguin. The intimate 330-passenger ship features all oceanview accommodations, high space-to-guest and crew-to-guest ratios, several elegant dining areas, and a retractable water sports marina on the back of the ship. Adventurous honeymooners can learn to dive through the cruise line’s instructional program. Plus, Tahiti’s gorgeous landscapes and tropical weather can quickly melt away any residual wedding-related stress.
By the way, if you’d prefer to tie the knot onboard, book a Princess cruise. It’s the only line whose captains are legally authorized to marry guests at sea.
Solo travelers can feel like second-class citizens when they’re forced to pay single supplements of up to 200 percent or be the third wheel at a dinner table full of couples. Luckily for those who like to see the world on their own, Holland America, Cunard, and Crystal do a better-than-average job of welcoming singles.
Crystal is known for its reduced single supplements, often as low as 125 percent. Cunard goes further, offering single staterooms on the Queen Elizabeth 2. These rooms are smaller (and therefore priced lower) than their double-occupancy counterparts. Holland America runs a roommate-finding program, so single guests can avoid paying a supplement by agreeing to share a cabin with another solo traveler. All three lines offer gentleman hosts who will chat and dance with single ladies.
Every ship you sail nowadays has an onboard spa, but Celebrity, Crystal, and Cunard really take pampering to new levels. Featuring panoramic sea views, Crystal’s award-winning spa uses feng shui techniques to set a calm tone and pampers weary cruisers with treatments such as Aroma Stone Therapy, Japanese Silk Booster Facials, and Well-Being Massages.
Cunard’s 20,000-square-foot Canyon Ranch Spa features 24 treatment rooms, a coed relaxation room, and an AquaTherapy Centre. Guests can indulge in Canyon Ranch’s signature treatments, such as massages or facials, or get ready for a formal evening with a haircut or style, makeover, or manicure-pedicure.
Celebrity’s AquaSpa has made a name for itself among the premium lines. Unique treatments include a hydrotherapy spa bath, seaweed-soap shower and mud bath, Ionothermie, and Hawaiian four-hands massage. Cruisers can relax in the Persian Garden or soak in the Thalassotherapy pool.
When you travel in Europe, do you prefer to mix with the locals and get a taste of European culture, or do you run to the nearest McDonald’s or seek refuge amid a tour group from the good ol’ USA? If you answered the former, you might want to book a cruise on Costa or MSC Cruises.
Both lines are Italian yet cater to Americans and an international clientele. Instead of spending days in Rome and Venice and nights eating Texas steak and Baked Alaska, you can experience an onboard atmosphere that’s truly European. Costa’s guests are 80 percent European on its Europe sailings, its restaurants serve Italian-inspired cuisine, and its activities include toga parties and bocce ball games.
MSC Cruises serves up traditional Italian cuisine with a New World flair, and waiters serenade guests celebrating a birthday or anniversary in Italian. Can’t understand what they’re singing? You can learn to speak Italian through onboard classes. With both of these lines, the appeal is in the other cruisers; you can mingle and chat with vacationers from a multitude of countries.
If you prefer intimate luxury to overcrowded mega-ships, Silversea and Seabourn are the crème de la crème of small-ship cruising. Both are luxury lines with all-inclusive policies and a high crew-to-guest ratio. Silversea carries between 300 and 400 guests, and Seabourn can accommodate just over 200 passengers.
In addition to fabulous service, no lines, and spacious staterooms, these small ships allow guests to get to know one another over the course of the cruise. Single travelers never feel lost in the crowd, and changing dinner companions means a variety of conversation topics. Ships feature all the usual amenities—pools, lounges, theaters, and casinos—but onboard life takes a slower, more relaxing pace.
Crystal and Regent Seven Seas take home the gold medal for providing onboard luxury without sacrificing amenities. Most of their ships carry between 700 and 1,100 passengers, but still offer exceptional service, top-notch cuisine, and luxurious accommodations.
Regent Seven Seas offers several alternative dining venues in addition to its main dining room, which consistently serves excellent cuisine. Its children’s program on select sailings is much more comprehensive than many of its luxury-line counterparts (plus kids often sail free as third or fourth guests in a stateroom). The line recently adopted an all-inclusive beverage policy.
Crystal offers a robust onboard learning and theme cruise program, which includes famous guests and even onboard piano lessons. Its spa was rated tops in Conde Nast Traveler‘s latest reader poll, and Italian and Asian specialty restaurants offer dishes created by Wolfgang Puck and Japanese master chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
If you can’t afford a luxury line, Celebrity offers all the amenities of larger ships with more luxurious elements than its mainstream and premium competitors. Its Concierge Class staterooms boast extra amenities such as butler service, a welcome gift of Champagne, and canapés every afternoon. Its large spas garner much acclaim, as do its gourmet specialty restaurants and classy lounges. Better yet, its fares are competitive, even though it doesn’t offer all-inclusive pricing.
Glitz and glamour
If you’ve always longed for the good ol’ days of transatlantic crossings when well-heeled passengers dressed in their finest and danced the night away, Cunard is the only line for you. While other lines are catering to casual cruisers, Cunard upholds its longstanding tradition of elegance at sea.
Guests dine according to their stateroom category, with passengers booked in the largest suites eating in the posh Queens Grill. Afternoon tea is served to all cruisers by a white-gloved waitstaff. Cunard ships feature Canyon Ranch spas, planetariums, theaters, and ballrooms. Ball gowns and tuxedos make regular appearances, especially on the QE2. It’s hard not to imagine yourself as a wealthy socialite heading abroad for a Grand Tour. Then again, perhaps you are one.