For first-time cruisers, choosing the perfect cruise line can be overwhelming. From modern lines to luxury ships, no cruise line is identical to another. This can make it difficult to know which cruise line is the right for you and your travel group.
If you are wondering what is the best cruise line, it's a subjective question. Depending on your destination desires, vacation budget and travel style, there is a cruise line that will perfectly fit your needs. Each company targets a certain demographic and aims to offer a unique experience to keep cruisers coming back again and again.
Although each cruise line offers a different experience, any cruise will be a great vacation! After sailing on 24 cruises myself, I am confident you will love your vacation regardless of the cruise line you choose.
Below we summarize what each major cruise line is known for and what you can expect to experience onboard each.
If you’re looking for a cruise line that your whole family will love, Royal Caribbean is a great option to consider for your next vacation. With 24 ships in its fleet (and more on the way!), Royal Caribbean has a ship to fit your travel needs. You might even set sail on some of the world’s largest ships at sea, which is a title that the company proudly holds.
Royal Caribbean’s ships are large and in charge - they’re jam packed with entertainment, dining options and onboard activities. Adventure is at the heart of every Royal Caribbean cruise. You’ll find the most innovative features at sea - including zip lines, mega water slides, skydiving simulators and ice skating rinks. Adults looking to have a more relaxing vacation will appreciate the adult-only Solarium, which is found on every ship in the fleet.
When it comes to budget, you won’t need to break the bank to pay for your next Royal Caribbean cruise. You’ll find this cruise line offers very affordable itineraries without sacrificing any cruise luxuries. Royal Caribbean aims to offer a great experience for its guests. Cruisers can set sail on Royal Caribbean’s ships around Europe, Asia and, of course, the Caribbean!
Another popular cruise line based in North America is Carnival, which has dubbed itself as having the most fun ships at sea. Carnival offers a high-paced vacation for cruisers looking to let loose and party! The most fun ships at sea showcase bold and bright colors everywhere throughout the ship - especially the famous Carnival ‘Tail’ on the top deck. Carnival’s fleet has 24 ships that sail all over the world, from Europe to Australia and Alaska.
It’s no surprise there’s endless fun onboard, making your cruise both energetic and lively. Carnival encourages cruisers to come as they are to feel right at home onboard. With a heavy presence in Europe and the Caribbean, Carnival itineraries will likely offer you the best fare in comparison to other cruise lines. Budget-travelers rejoice!
Families with kids will certainly appreciate the onboard thrills and activities available onboard Carnival’s ships. Nonstop activities and entertainment will keep your kids happy from sunrise to sunset. Young cruisers looking for an awesome budget-friendly vacation will love the party atmosphere on Carnival’s ships.
If you’re looking to explore exotic locations onboard your next cruise, Norwegian sails to more than 450 ports around the world. The company is known for its innovation in the cruise industry, as Norwegian was one of the first cruise lines to ditch cruising traditions and introduce a “freestyle” experience onboard. Don’t expect to dress up for a formal night or have a set time for dinner on Norwegian ships. You’ll have the freedom to dine whenever and wherever you like.
Norwegian sails 17 ships in its fleet and is known for offering high-quality entertainment, often showing full-length Broadway musicals for theatre-loving passengers. Guests will love the amount of entertainment and live music available on Norwegian ships. Specialty dining and complimentary cuisine options are also available onboard.
If you’ve dreamed of cruising the Hawaiian islands, Norwegian offers the only round-trip itinerary around the islands on its Pride of America ship. You’ll also be able to cruise on less common itineraries in Africa, Antarctica and South America without paying the premium price for a luxury liner.
Norwegian is also known for offering multiple ‘Free at Sea’ pricing options that allow cruises to choose various packages to fit their travel needs. These include all-inclusive alcoholic beverages, internet, specialty dining, and excursions.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line is known for offering the ultimate kid-friendly, family-focused cruise experience. Your days will be filled with character Meet and Greets, Disney movies, themed dinners, on-deck family parties and quality entertainment. Disney even offers firework shows at sea, just like its theme parks! For families and kids that love Disney, these cruises can be an incredibly special and memorable voyage.
Disney has a very small fleet in comparison to other cruise lines, as it only operates 4 ships currently. Even with a smaller footprint, Disney still sails in some of the most popular destinations, like Europe, Alaska and the Caribbean. You can even visit the real-life inspiration for Frozen on an extraordinary cruise through Norway’s beautiful fjords.
Just like all things Disney, you’ll pay a premium price for this premium cruise line. Compared to more affordable cruise lines, Disney prices tend to be 2x to 3x more expensive than other cruise lines, even ones sailing on nearly identical itineraries. Families looking to enjoy a Disney cruise will want to budget and plan accordingly, just like a typical land-based Disney experience.
Cruises onboard Princess ships promise an experience full of elegance and class. The cruise line prides itself on offering world-class cuisine and top-notch, engaging entertainment for its guests. This includes plenty of options for music lovers throughout the ship.
Princess is also known to offer longer cruises that feature more port-intensive itineraries. These are unique sailings that cater to adventurous travelers looking to see the world and experience different cultures.
Princess aims to offer a more immersive voyage for cruisers with longer in-port stays and visiting unique ports. Some of these ports, which Princess considers the ‘world’s best kept secrets’ include The Azores, Morocco, Peru, Ecuador, Bora Bora, Indonesia, Cambodia and Taiwan.
With longer itineraries, you can expect to find slightly more expensive fares; however, the cruise line is still considered to be a mid-budget line with plenty of affordable sailings. Princess cruises tend to attract couples and older travelers than other cruise lines. These are travelers who appreciate the tradition, elegance and art of cruising. With such immersive itineraries, travelers will appreciate the opportunity to have in-depth exploration at each port.
One of the most traditional cruise lines at sea is Holland America, which caters to an older demographic of cruisers who appreciate the simplicity of sailing at sea. Nonstop activities is not the typical experience onboard Holland America’s ships. You won’t find bumper cars or water slides onboard these ships either. Instead, the itineraries are focused on enrichment learning onboard while offering immersive excursions and in-port experiences.
Holland America has a decently sized fleet with 15 ships sailing to more than 400 ports around the world. These ships are modestly sized compared to other cruise lines, as Holland America isn’t interested in building huge ships. By sailing smaller ships, this creates a comfortable environment onboard that allows guests to mingle and create a ship wide community.
Holland America is known for its presence in Alaska, offering incredible itineraries through the inside passage and fjords of the state. This line is also known for offering lucrative world-cruisers for guests looking to spend an extended amount of time at sea.
As for pricing, Holland America sailings are more expensive than other cruise lines while still being more affordable than luxury liners. This allows cruisers to have a high-quality, elegant experience without breaking their travel budget. Given the typical experience offered onboard, Holland America is the most popular brand with older travelers who appreciate a slower-paced vacation.
Those looking for a more luxurious vacation on their next cruise will want to consider sailing on Celebrity. In a smaller fleet with just 14 ships, Celebrity’s ships are sleek, modern and innovative. The cruise line focuses on offering a more refined experience with excellent service for its guests. You’ll find world-class cuisine onboard Celebrity’s ships, which is perfect for foodie cruisers looking to have a more premium experience.
Celebrity offers sailings to incredible destinations all over the world, including Europe, Asia, Alaska and Bermuda. If you’ve dreamed of seeing the Galapagos Islands, you will want to cruise with Celebrity. This is the only major cruise line that offers itineraries to the amazing Galapagos Islands - a truly once in a lifetime adventure!
By offering a more upscale cruise experience, you can expect to pay more than other economy cruise lines. Personalized service and luxury accommodations come with a price! Celebrity also recently unveiled an all-inclusive style of pricing for some of its itineraries, which includes unlimited alcohol, wifi, discounted shore excursions and included gratuities. Since guests pay more to sail on Celebrity, the demographics are less family focused and tend to attract more couples and friend groups.