How do you choose a cruise line with so many choices?
Whether you have been on a cruise before or not it always helps to know that each cruise line is different and will offer a different experience for its passengers. Some may want a cruise that concentrates on fun and games, while another wants a more relaxing cruise filled with luxury and exquisite dining. Almost every cruise line tries to offer something for both ends of this spectrum, but every cruise company has its perks. This article will attempt to compare the 5 most popular cruise lines to help you decide which is best for you.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Corporation has the largest market share of all the cruise lines with 10 cruise brands owned and operated by the company. Most people will cruise with Carnival for their first cruise because of their low rates that lure them in, and most will generally enjoy the experience. Because they have more ships than anyone else you have more possibilities for destinations around the world. Known for having more of a party atmosphere, Carnival ships can feel a little crowded in areas like lounges and pool decks when music is playing and games are being played. But even with a packed ship, there are always areas of solitude where you can get away, read a book, or relax. Carnival advertises their ships as the fun ships and there is always something fun to do on-board, whether it’s hopping on a water slide or joining in on the on-board games and activities. This is a great cruise line to start with since it’s very affordable and offers a good variety of activities.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian offers a mixture of casual and contemporary cruising. Their “Freestyle” cruising allows passengers to have a more casual approach to dining anytime they want in a more relaxing atmosphere, which also means no formal attire is required. There is also a good variety of dining options aboard a Norwegian ship. Norwegian Cruise Lines, the 3rd largest cruise line, is also considered a budget cruise line but offers some great entertainment and food services, similar to Carnival. Some have said they enjoy the entertainment more aboard NCL ships, but most of this comes down to taste and personal opinion. You will find cruisers of all ages aboard a Norwegian ship. The entertainment aboard ships like the Norwegian Epic with the Blue Man Group is outstanding.
MSC’s main focus and operation has been in Europe and the Mediterranean. It’s an Italian cruise line that caters to low-budget cruisers who don’t mind a mix of ethnic culture. Most of the announcements are in 3 or 4 languages, and the entertainment is usually music and dance that is language-indifferent since many different languages are represented in their audience. Shows also consist of some opera and acrobats. But MSC has slowly been breaking into the American market and they are still adapting to the different tastes that American cruisers have. The line has some large, beautiful ships, and the company is the 4th largest cruise line right now. The service and food may not be as good as some of the more expensive cruise lines, but you can score some amazing deals on these ships for a very affordable cruise vacation. Cruisers are usually younger but the ships have an elegant classic feel to them.
Costa Cruises is another Italian cruise line and is under the control of Carnival. The line is rapidly expanding with 14 cruise ships, although it is now most famous for the Costa Concordia ship that ran aground in January of 2012. The line offers some very reasonable prices and is ahead of MSC as far as adapting to North American cruisers tastes. With Costa you can take Mediterranean cruises in Italy or cruise the Bahamas on one of their cruises out of Florida. Although one of Costa’s mottos is “Cruising Italian Style” don’t expect only Italian stewards. The staff is diverse and multi-cultural as any other cruise line now. Announcements and shows are going to be in Italian and a couple other languages. There is usually a Toga party the last night of most cruises.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
A notch in class above Carnival and Norwegian, Royal Caribbean offers the largest cruise ships on the seas that provide elegance and adventure. This is also the 2nd largest cruise line next to Carnival. You may pay more for your experience, but many cruisers love Royal Caribbean ships and the staff’s dedication to service. They also have an excellent kid’s program that is free all day long until 10pm. The shows are top-notch and full of amazing talent, and there is plenty of pizzazz aboard with games and activities going on constantly. The ships are clean and safety protocols like the muster drill are annoying but thorough. Although a Royal Caribbean Cruise will typically cost more than sailing with Carnival or Norwegian, it is cheaper than some of the other premium lines and you get a good value for your dollar.
Princess offers large elegant ships in their fleet with cruises that serve excellent food and service. This is another company under Carnival, and they have spent the last few years updating some of their ships, including putting a huge movie screen above the pool deck for movie nights. ON certain ships Nintendo Wii tournaments are held on the big screen as well. The company is known for great service and amenities, and they allow you to eat anytime you want between 5:30 and 10pm in the main dining rooms. Their Scholarship at Sea program allows cruisers to learn anything from Photoshop to cooking while at sea. Princess offers some of the old time aspects of cruising, like allowing friends of a cruiser to “see them off” by having lunch with them on the ship for a small charge. Many say the ships have a more relaxed feel and there is a good mix of age ranges aboard.
Disney Cruise Line
Although Disney cruise ships are geared towards kids, this magical cruise line has some of the most beautiful ships on the sea. With Disney characters walking around the ship, exciting shows, waterslides, and plenty to do for the whole family, Disney ships offer separate areas of the ship depending on what you want to do, whether it’s to have fun or relax. The cost of a Disney cruise is much more than Carnival or even Royal Caribbean, but it’s one of the best family cruises you can get. There is a family-friendly atmosphere (no worries about adult-themed shows), great service, absolutely gorgeous ships, and everything that’s magical about Disney. There are no casinos on Disney ships.
Holland America Line
Holland America ships are refined and full of amenities to pamper you on your cruise, including super comfy beddings. You will find most cruisers on Holland America cruises are retired vacationers and there are not as many activities and “things to do” as a Carnival or Royal Caribbean ship. HAL ships are great if you just want a relaxing, tranquil, and quiet cruise, and their ships are some of the most beautiful of all the cruise lines, with art work and wood finishes. There is a classic, old-time, traditional feel to Holland America cruises. Their entertainment is more low-key and after 10pm most of the activities have come to a dull roar. Holland America is a subsidiary of Carnival and operates 14 ships to 7 continents.
Crystal Cruises are world-renown for being one of the most luxurious cruise lines to travel on. The ships are gorgeous and the service is second to none. They offer destinations all over the world, including a world cruise for those who want an extended cruise experience. But all of this luxury comes at a cost, as Crystal Cruises is one of the priciest cruise lines to take. This upscale cruise experience will provide a polished staff to cater for every whim and fancy, and the formal dining is just that, formal. Getting dressed up is not just a suggestion, and it’s actually enforced. Crystal cruises have been described as elegant and sophisticated without being stuffy. The rooms are spacious and beautiful. This cruise line is a step in class above Holland America and Princess but the formality and price may not be for everyone.
Celebrity is owned by Royal Caribbean and is their upscale offering of cruising the high seas. You will find an older crowd, more traditional, with some nice elegant touches and more sophisticated onboard activities. The cruise line offers excellent food and service but may be too sedate for younger cruisers looking for a lot of activity. Also, formal dressing in dining rooms are required to meet dress code. For those looking to just relax and enjoy some refined luxuries on their vacation Celebrity has a lot to offer. For the class and upscale cruising experience that Celebrity offers the prices are fairly reasonable too.
You will get all kinds of varying opinions when you ask what the “best” cruise line is. And experiences can differ within the same cruise line with different ships. Just because you read that one cruise line is horrible from one person, does not mean that someone else may have had the best cruise of their life with the same line. Hopefully this comparison of the top 10 cruise ships will help. Feel free to let us know where you agree or disagree with my assessment of the cruise lines in the comments below as well.