Things to Consider For Your Cruise
Choosing an itinerary can seem daunting, especially for first-time cruisers. Click here to find out how to choose the right itinerary for you.
Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin
Let's review the different types of cruise acommodations to help you pick the best cabin on a ship according to your needs and style.
Picking the Cruise Line
Picking the perfect ship is like choosing the perfect love match, its tricky. Even if cruise lines seem similar at first, they all have their own perks and quirks. And even the same line can offer different experiences based on the age and size of a ship and the destination and time of year you're sailing. Here is the breakdown for best cruises for romance, seniors, families with little kids, families with older kids, fitness enthusiasts, budget conscious cruisers, a splurge, foodies, enrichment, night owls, entertainment, exploring on shore, water lovers, and solo cruisers. Click on the link to jump to the type of cruise you are interested in.
Best Cruises For Romance
Windstar Cruises: Nothing says romance like a sunset sail complete with billowing sails. Windstar's intimate yachts offer luxurious touches and port-intensive itineraries in honeymoon-worthy destinations. Their yachts offer spacious suite accommodations for all and sail around the globe to places like Europe, Asia and the Panama Canal.
Paul Gauguin Cruises: The line's namesake ship sails in the South Pacific year-round. It's a favorite for romantic getaways, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations, perhaps due to itineraries stopping in remote islands and offering plenty of time to splash about in bathing suits or lie in the tropical sun.
Princess Cruises: The cruise line that owned the original Love Boat still uses to the notion that cruising is the ultimate in romance. Princess turns on the charm with alfresco balcony dinners for two, adults-only sun decks with spa-like atmospheres and several alternative dining venues perfect for date night.
Best Cruises For Seniors
Holland America Line: Their midsize ships appeal to mature travelers with their cruise traditions (afternoon tea, gentleman hosts, ballroom dancing), comfortable cabins and focus on enrichment with cooking and technology classes. In addition, its wide range of itineraries — from family-friendly one-week sailings to weeks-long exotic journeys and world cruises — appeal to retirees looking for multi-generational trips or long vacations to new places.
Cunard Line: Cunard offers the only regular season of transatlantic crossings on its flagship Queen Mary 2, evoking the days of the great ocean liners. On board, you will be dressing up for formal dinners and ballroom dance parties, attending performances of well-regarded plays or jazz concerts, sipping Darjeeling and nibbling scones at afternoon tea, or playing lawn bowls on deck.
Best Cruises For Families With Little Kids
Disney Cruise Line: Disney leads the pack for introducing the little ones to cruising. Its ships offer nurseries for babes as young as three months, themed play spaces for preschoolers and school-age kids, plenty of Disney character interaction, and cabins that cater to families with split baths, extra berths, a room-dividing curtain and childproof balcony locks.
Royal Caribbean International: As Royal Caribbean rolls out toddler play spaces and nurseries with babysitting to more of its ships, it continues to solidify its reputation as one of the better family bets. The line has always been a leader with innovative kid programming and expansive youth facilities. A partnerships with DreamWorks brings the characters little ones love on board with parties, parades and photo ops sure to please preschoolers and their parents.
Carnival Cruise Line: A kids' program that starts at age 2 with dedicated time for parents to play with infants, on board water slides and aqua parks, and plenty of free, kid-appealing food options also makes Carnival a standout in the family department. Add in some of the largest standard cabins in the industry, the interactive “Hasbro, the Game Show,” Seuss at Sea programming featuring a character breakfast, lots of home-port sailings and affordable cruise fares, and the family vacation has just found a new destination.
Best Cruises For Families With Older Kids
Royal Caribbean International: The line's tricked-out mega-ships are a hit with tweens and teens, offering everything from rock-climbing walls and on board surfing to DJ classes, zip lines, high-energy shows and late-night free pizza. Teen clubs feature the latest in video games plus disco and lounge space.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Older kids will appreciate Norwegian's freestyle approach — no set dining times or eating with strangers, no strict dress code (jeans are always acceptable) and plenty of choice for entertainment and food. Teen clubs offer gaming stations, exclusive parties, teen outings to see the comedy show on board and late-night snacks. Plus, on board facilities like video arcades, water parks, outdoor sports courts and cool musical venues and shows mean no one ever complains of being bored.
Carnival Cruise Line: The cruise line offers separate cool clubs for tweens and teens, and shore excursions just for 12- to 17-year-olds, chaperoned by the youth staff. Look for ships with outdoor movie screens, water parks with water slides and soaker areas, ropes courses and mini-golf for all-day fun.
Best Cruises For Fitness Enthusiasts
Royal Caribbean International: Boxing? Check. Ice skating? Got it. Surfing, rock climbing, basketball, jogging track and huge gyms with cardio machines, free weights and weight machines, and class space for Pilates, cycling and aerobics? It's all there. Add in active shore tours (kayaking, hiking and more) and plenty of space for dancing the night away, and you've got a fitness-lover's dream cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line: First it was on board bowling in a funky disco setting. Then it was a rock-climbing and rappelling wall and a two-story climbing cage. Now new ships are debuting ropes courses and group classes in TRX suspension training, Flywheel indoor cycling, boot camp, Fight Klub and Zumba. Large gyms, sports courts and large-screen Wii tournaments round out the line's active offerings.
Best Cruises For Budget Conscious Cruisers
Carnival Cruise Line: The Fun Ship line has always been king of the budget cruise offerings. A variety of short itineraries, frequent promotions and plenty of close-to-home sailings allow you to get a vacation at sea for less. Plus, the line is committed to making on board amenities accessible to all, and many of its new entertainment and dining options are included in the fare.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Some of the lowest cruise fares we've ever seen have been on shoulder-season, week long Norwegian cruises. Eagle-eyed deal spotters with flexible schedules can save a buck or two sailing with this line, if you plan to stick to what's included in your cruise fare. In addition to the off season, look at short sailings and re-positioning cruises for the best value. Just be sure to avoid all the for-fee dining options once on board, or you might be tempted to blow your savings.
MSC Cruises: MSC Cruises is making an effort to reach out to the U.S. market, positioning Divina and Seaside in Miami and tweaking its European product for Yankee vacationers. To lure new-to-MSC cruisers aboard, the line is constantly offering promotions and low fares (including inside cabins starting at $40 to $60 per person, per night).
Best Cruises For a Splurge
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: This luxury line might be the most inclusive line out there. Its fares are astronomical, but they include pre-cruise hotel stays, nearly all shore excursions, gratuities, on board alcohol and soft drinks, fine dining in main and specialty restaurants, attentive service and accommodations in suites (either with windows or balconies). If you want to splurge, you cannot go wrong with Regent.
Seabourn Cruise Line: Seabourn's fleet of four modern ships, which carry 450 to 600 passengers, are havens of luxury. Indulge yourself at the two-level, 11,400-square-foot spa (complete with a spa pool and private spa villas); relax in a suite tricked out with marble bathrooms, high-end sound systems and upscale bedding; enjoy complimentary drinks and course-by-course in-cabin dining; and generally let the attentive staff cater to your every whim.
Norwegian's The Haven: If you want an exclusive experience on a large, mainstream ship, splurge on a suite in Norwegian's Haven. Depending on which ship you pick, The Haven will feature a communal area only for top suite residents with a private pool, sun deck, fitness center, restaurant and/or lounge. You can choose from an array of spacious suites, all with butler and concierge service, but still enjoy Norwegian's big-ship amenities — multiple dining venues, a plethora of watering holes and plenty of top-notch entertainment.
Best Cruises For Foodies
Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity is all over the specialty dining scene, devoting tons of square footage on its ships to a variety of on board restaurants. Choices range from upscale Tuscan steakhouse cuisine to an exclusive venue serving spa cuisine and a whimsical venue specializing in out-of-the-box international comfort food. Add in a grill-your-own-meat/bake-your-own-pizza eatery, delectable Gelato and an alfresco soup and sandwich venue, and you might forget to stop at the cruise ship staple main dining room or buffet.
Oceania Cruises: You can't go wrong when Jacques Pepin is overseeing your on board restaurants. All of Oceania's ships have superb cuisine in both main and specialty venues, but its newest and biggest ships have a wide array of dining venues. Go for fee-free Asian, Italian, steak and continental cuisine, or for a splurge, pony up for an exclusive dining event that pairs seven courses with an equal number of fine wines.
Crystal Cruises: Crystal doesn't go overboard with restaurants, but what it does, it does well. It partners with celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa to offer a sushi bar and pan-Asian cuisine in its Silk Road restaurant and with Piero Selvaggio, proprietor of Valentino's in Santa Monica and Las Vegas Prego, to serve up Northern Italian in its other specialty venue, Prego. But the regular dining options also shine, and poolside buffets and afternoon tea are always special treats.
Best Cruises For Enrichment
Cunard Line: With sea day-filled ocean crossings and other sailings, Cunard is experienced in finding top-notch enrichment programs to fill passengers' days. Its Cunard Insights speaker series and Cunard Book Club literary discussions are offered on all three ships, while flagship Queen Mary 2 offers even more programs. Embrace your inner thespian with Royal Academy of Dramatic Art acting workshops, gaze skyward with members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and get intellectual about your musical entertainment with Juilliard Jazz groups.
Crystal Cruises: Crystal made on board enrichment a priority before other lines decided “edu-tainment” was cool. Its Creative Learning Institute offers computer skills training, language classes, golf instruction and art workshops, as well as cooking demos and music lessons. Guest lecturers are always on hand to speak about region-specific topics, as well as popular interests such as political science, current affairs, food and wine, astronomy, and art and antiques. Theme sailings bring in big names to speak or perform.
Oceania Cruises: Oceania's options aren't diverse, but what it does, it does well. Hands-on cooking classes, demos and lectures on culinary topics all take place in the high-end Culinary Center on Marina and Riviera, while onshore, Culinary Discovery Tours take foodies on visits to artisan cheese-makers, chocolatiers, vineyards or fish markets. Budding artists can find their happy place in the Artist Loft, where artists-in-residence give instruction in watercolors, needlepoint, and arts and crafts.
Best Cruises For Night Owls
Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian ships have an array of bars and lounges, from the bordello-meets-bowling-themed Bliss Ultra Lounge to Getaway's Sugarcane Mojito Bar and other specialty venues focusing on beer, whiskey, cocktails or Champagne. Norwegian's signature White Hot and Glow Parties (they vary depending on what ship class you are on) are the hottest dance parties aboard, where cruisers come dressed in white and the entertainment staff, bedecked with angel wings or layered in neon, keep the fun going with group dancing and on some ships, a mesmerizing video screen. We've also heard some mighty impressive karaoke on these ships.
Carnival Cruise Line: It's no shock that the Fun Ships are ideal for night owls. Carnival's piano bars just might have the most happening in cruising, and karaoke is offered nightly. You're never far from a bar or dance club, and the casino is often in the heart of the action. Late-night 18-plus comedy has always been a staple event at the line's Punchliner Comedy Clubs.
MSC Cruises: When you're cruising the European way, be sure to adjust to European bedtime, when even the smallest children are found in the nightclub around 10 p.m. That's the vibe on MSC, even on its U.S.-geared ships. Piano bars, sports bars, lounges with wine-blending classes and hangouts with international beer — it's all there. What keeps the nightlife lively isn't only the atmosphere, it’s the clientele; MSC passengers typically keep the party going until the wee hours of the morning.
Best Cruises For Entertainment
Disney Cruise Line: Disney knows the entertainment biz better than anyone, and that shows in its cruise line offerings as well. Its on board stage shows mix original productions with live versions of hit movies like “Frozen” and “Tangled,” but all feature catchy tunes, creative props and costumes, and favorite Disney characters. Its best known event is its once-a-cruise pirate-themed deck party, which combines an interactive musical show with dance parties and at-sea fireworks.
Royal Caribbean International: This line loves to the push the boundaries of on board entertainment options. It's the only line to offer ice-skating shows and water-based acrobatic shows. Plus, it was the first to bring Broadway to the high seas with condensed versions of “Chicago,” “Hairspray” and “Saturday Night Fever.” It utilizes every square inch of space on board to keep the fun going, with toe-tapping parades along its indoor Promenade shopping and dining district and aerial performances in the atriums of its Vision-class ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian is RCI's competitor when it comes to innovative entertainment options. The line has also introduced Broadway-quality shows including “After Midnight” and “Million Dollar Quartet.” Add to that a production featuring the cult hits of “16 Candles” director John Hughes, the unique Cirque Dreams and Dinner Show, jazz and blues clubs, celebrity musician impersonators, dueling pianists and comedians, and it's hard not to be entertained.
Best Cruises For Exploring On Shore
Azamara Club Cruises: Azamara's catch phrase is “destination immersion,” and its fleet of two small ships achieves this in several ways. Itineraries include less-touristy ports and cruise regions, and often feature late-night stays and overnights in port. Plus, nearly every cruise includes an “AzAmazing Evening,” a complimentary shore-side event that presents the local culture in an intimate or exclusive setting. When possible, Azamara also tries to schedule its cruises around major destination events, such as Carnaval in Rio or the Grand Prix in Monaco.
Celebrity Cruises: One of Celebrity's goals is to offer sailings to every continent, including Antarctica, with more overnight calls and more small-group excursions. A Destination Concierge is on every ship; these port experts assist passengers in making the most of their time ashore, even going as far as creating individual excursions tailor made to your touring desires. A fleet of three expedition ships cater to cruisers looking to explore the Galapagos.
Viking Ocean Cruises: Join a home visit in Stavanger, Norway, or a full-day walking tour in Rome. At least one shore excursion is included in each port on all Viking's itineraries. Plus, itineraries tend to be port intensive, so expect to visit a new city nearly every day of your cruise. If you're not impressed by a morning exploring the city, opt to pay for one of the line's more custom shore tours like a helicopter ride or a journey through Nice in the footsteps of Henri Matisse. Want to arrange a private car ride in port? They're a way to do that, too.
Best Cruises For Water Lovers
Windstar Cruises: Water-lovers have two reasons to love Windstar. First, the line's yachts have plenty of open deck space, including alfresco dining options, for getting that sea-wind-in-your-hair feel. Second, the ships offer complimentary water sports from a built-in on board marina. You can borrow kayaks, windsurf boards, small sailboats and inflatable boats and mats. Passengers have access to free snorkel equipment, and water skiing is offered by the ship's staff. Select itineraries feature beach party days, as well.
Paul Gauguin Cruises: Paul Gauguin's namesake ship sails in the South Pacific, an ideal place for savoring water-based activities and scenic island views from the sea. The ship has a retractable aft marina used for complimentary water sports, such as kayaking, windsurfing and water skiing. The ship also lends out snorkel equipment, but it can't be used from the on board marina, and offers a scuba program with both recreational dives and certification classes. Water-lovers will also enjoy beach days on a little island in Bora Bora and Motu Mahana, a tiny island off Taha'a complete with a floating bar offshore.
Seabourn Cruise Line: Another big-name luxury line with a water sports platform is Seabourn. Its marina is stocked with all the toys: banana boats, kayaks, pedal boats, water skis, windsurf boards and the “doughnut,” an inner tube in which you sit while being pulled along by a speedboat. If you're excited about taking advantage of this option, choose your itinerary wisely — cooler weather sailings and busy ports are not conducive to marina use.
Best Cruises For Solo Cruisers
Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian's much acclaimed Studio cabins proved to the world that solo travelers aren't always overlooked. Norwegian Epic offers the line's largest studio offering with 128 single cabins measuring 100 square feet with a corridor-facing window, mood lighting and access to a shared social space with large-screen TVs, coffee-making facilities and a bartender. You'll find 82 studio rooms on Escape, with an area that includes a lounge bar and social space. Getaway has 59 studio cabins, with access to a two-deck lounge, complete with a 50-inch TV and a self-service wine bar, as well as a tea and coffee machine.
Holland America Line: Even before dedicated cabins, solo cruisers were choosing Holland for its social atmosphere and a ton of independent travelers sail the line every year. HAL's Single Partners Program is designed for single cruisers with meetups, activities and events geared just toward solos. On longer itineraries, social hosts serve as greeters and dance partners for women. Prinsendam now features single cabins and Koningsdam, the line's newest vessel, has solo cabins without a single supplement. If you're sailing a ship without a solo cabin, the program can arrange for you to share your room with another same-sex single to save you money.
Crystal Cruises: A popular choice for solo travelers, Crystal entices lone travelers with its wide range of on board activities, singles get-togethers, gentleman hosts and low solo supplements. Many single cruisers choose the line's set-seating option to meet new friends over dinner, while its Table for 8 program matches solo travelers for group meals at the specialty dining venues. The on board atmosphere is communal and social, so no passenger needs to feel lonely.
Things To Consider For Your Cruise
Cruises range from three-night weekend cruises to 100-plus-day trips around the world. If you are uneasy about spending a full week or more aboard a ship, try easing into cruising by trying out a shorter cruise. The Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera and the Bahamas are all regions where you'll commonly find three-, four- and five-night trips.
Do you want to fly or drive to your ship? From the East and Gulf Coast, you'll find itineraries to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Canada/New England. From the West Coast, there are cruises to Hawaii, Alaska and the Mexican Riviera.
For some travelers, reading a book a day on the beach or by the pool is paradise while others are rejuvenated by sightseeing, shopping and interacting with locals. Research potential cruise regions carefully to make sure that the ports of call you'll visit jive with your personal preferences.
Many first-time cruisers choose the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera, where itineraries are for one week or less. These cruises operate from Florida and California ports. Caribbean cruises are also available from places like New Orleans, Galveston, Baltimore and New York. The ships take you to island paradises where you can soak up sun on the beach, try water sports, sample the local cuisine and shop for discounted jewelry. Cruises leaving Florida may include a beach party at a pretty tropical island owned by the cruise line. Most week long cruises include at least one day at sea.
Standard itineraries are either Eastern Caribbean (with ports like San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Maarten) or Western Caribbean (with ports like Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, Cozumel and sometimes Key West), and the Southern Caribbean (with ports like Martinique,Guadalupe, St. Bart's, St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Mexican Riviera voyages call at Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, among other ports. The Bahamas are generally shorter than one week and popular among cruise newbies.
More First-Time Friendly Cruises
Other itineraries that are appropriate for first-time cruisers include:
Alaska Cruises: More than 700,000 cruise visitors flock to the state from May through September for the history, the frontier ambiance, the wildlife and — above all — the scenery. Most cruises depart from the Northwest or within Canada, last about seven days, and follow either an Inside Passage of Gulf of Alaska route, with glacial views being a highlight. The major ports include Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Ketchikan.
Bermuda: Week long departures are offered from the East Coast. Cruise lengths can vary. The major ports are King's Wharf and Hamilton.
Canada/New England: The season runs from May through September, from the East Coast or within Canada. Sailings vary from 4 to 14 days. The major ports are Halifax, Saint John (New Brunswick), St. John's (Newfoundland), and Newport and Bar Harbor.
Europe: A cruise is a great way to see Europe. Itineraries generally range from 7 to 14 nights. Eastern Mediterranean cruises generally visit Greece and Turkey while Western Mediterranean voyages skirt the French Riviera, Spain and the Italian coastline. Many lines also sail Baltic cruises that include Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki and several days in historic St. Petersburg, as well as British Isles voyages calling at cities in England, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Hawaii: Hawaii cruises is popular with honeymooners. Norwegian Cruise Line is the only cruise line offering week long all-Hawaiian-island itineraries round trip from Honolulu. Other lines generally offer lengthier cruises that depart from the mainland U.S. and visit at least one international port, such as Fanning Island or Ensenada. Popular ports of call include Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island.
Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin
Standard Cruise Ship Cabins – Inside Cabins (No Porthole or Window)
Many cruise ships today have standard cabins of similar size and amenities, with the price differential being the location. The least expensive, inside standard cabins on a mainstream cruise ship run from about 120 square feet to 180 square feet. Since most cruise ships are relatively new or have been refurbished, the cabins usually are tastefully decorated with twin beds that can be pushed together to make a queen-sized bed for couples. Bathrooms will be tiny.
Standard Cruise Ship Cabins – Outside Ocean View Cabins (Porthole or Window)
Oftentimes the ocean view standard cabins and the inside standard cabins are almost identical in size and layout. The only difference is the window. Most modern ships have large picture windows rather than portholes, but these windows cannot be opened. So, if you want to have a sea breeze in your room, you will need to get a balcony. Some ships have both porthole cabins and those with windows. The porthole cabins are on the lowest decks and are least expensive. About the only view, you have from a porthole is whether it is daylight or dark.
Cabins with Balconies or Verandas
The next step above an outside cabin is one with a balcony (veranda). These cabins have sliding glass or French doors giving you access to the outside. Usually, the balcony cabins are larger than the standard cabins. Some have a small sitting area with a love seat or convertible sofa, which also usually have a curtain that can be drawn to separate the sleeping and sitting areas.
A “suite” can mean you have a small sitting area, a curtain to separate the bed from the sitting area, or a separate bedroom. It's important to ask and look at the cabin layouts before booking since the name can be somewhat misleading. Suites almost always have balconies. The suites are larger, and many have bigger bathrooms with tubs. Suites are a wonderful treat, especially if you have a lot of seas days or want to spend a lot of time together in your cabin.
Lower Deck Cabins
The inside cabins on the lowest decks are usually the least expensive cruise ship cabins. They are also the furthest from the common areas such as the pool and lounges. You will be hiking the stairs or riding the elevators more from a lower deck. You can save a few hundred dollars by choosing to be on a lower deck. Two problems that you might experience with cabins on the lower decks are engine noise and anchor noise. If your cabin is near the front of the ship, it can sound like the ship has hit a coral reef when the anchor is dropped. This will wake anyone up, so the only good thing about the noise is it can serve as an alarm. Newer ships tend to have less engine noise and their stabilizers suppress the ship's motion, but you might get that anchor noise a couple of times a day at ports.
Higher Deck Cabins
Cabins on the upper decks usually cost more than those on the lower decks. Since these cabins are nearer the pool and sun decks, they are more desirable for those on warm weather cruises who plan to use these amenities. They also offer better panoramic views. However, you will get more rocking motion up high, so those who are seasick prone might want to avoid a higher deck cabin.
Standard cabins can be a good choice due to their central location and less motion. They are excellent for those who have mobility problems or who are seasick prone. However, a mid-ship cabin can have more traffic outside in the hallways. Some cruise ships charge slightly more for mid-ship cabins, or even have them in a separate category. If you are thinking of a mid-ship cabin, be sure to check out the location of the tenders or lifeboats. They can block your view and be noisy when raised or lowered. Most cruise lines will tell you if a cabin has a blocked or limited view, but it is wise to check for yourself.
Bow (Forward) Cabins
Cabins on the front of the ship get the most motion. You will get more wind and spray on the front. The windows on cabins on the front are sometimes smaller and slanted or recessed, meaning you can't see as much as you might on the side or rear of the ship. Cruise ships often put suites on the front of the ships to take advantage of the unusual shape and use the opportunity to provide the passengers with larger balconies.
Aft (Rear) Cabins
If you want a large balcony with your cabin, look to the rear of the ship. These cabins also provide a panoramic view of where you have sailed. Cabins in the aft of the ship have more motion than centrally located cabins, but less than those forward. One disadvantage is that passengers in the lounges or restaurants can look down on the balconies of the aft cabins. Not much privacy!