The post is updated with new information on a regular basis.
Are you planning on taking a cruise?
Let me tell you that you will love it. I have been cruising for 25 years and I can tell you that it is a great way to travel.
It is not for everybody. There are a lot of people who don't like it. People who wouldn't even think of going on a ship for a vacation are called "never cruisers."
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Survey after survey shows that the majority of people who try a cruise for the first time give it high marks. You will give it high marks even though the odds are high.
You have a big decision to make: Which line should you book?
It is a difficult decision. There are so many different cruise lines that no one is exactly the same. Some ships are large. Small ships are operated by some. Some people just sail. Some people sail all over the world. Some ships are designed for families. Children aren't allowed on board by others.
Is it right for you to cruise? Ask yourself these 7 questions.
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You can find cruise lines all over the map. Similar to land-based resorts and hotels, there are cruise lines that cater to people who don't mind spending money.
There is something for everyone on the cruises. Not all lines will do. It's important to find the perfect cruise line.
I will try to help you understand the options.
There are many cruise lines in the area. I had sailed with 41 different cruise companies and still hadn't hit every major brand, despite being my full-time job for years to test cruise ships
There are companies on the lists of cruise lines that offer a wide range of experiences.
The kind of ships that carry thousands of passengers and have all sorts of gee-whiz amusements are the kind of ships that are advertised in television commercials. Smaller vessels that carry just a few dozen to a few hundred people are included in the world of cruising. The ships have different vibes. They are more of a small boutique hotel that floats.
Plans for a cruise with points and miles.
In addition, you will find adventure-focused cruise companies that offer a completely different kind of cruising, one that involves heading to off-the-beaten-path places likeAntarctica on small, hardy vessels. Cruises that travel on rivers and lines that only operate sailing ships can be found.
If you hear someone say they won't go on a cruise because the ships are too big or crowded, you know they have no idea what they're talking about.
You can go on a big, boisterous ship with 5,000 people or a tiny, yacht-like vessel with 50 people.
There is a guide to 20 top cruise brands.
The cruise industry divides its offerings into categories such as "contemporary" and "premium" That's all marketing speak to me. Don't pay attention to it when you see it. After covering the industry for a couple of decades, I like to break it down into six categories that appeal to different types of vacationers.
Most of the cruises taken by North Americans are by seven lines. They are in order of their size.
If you are cruising for the first time, you will most likely travel with one of the above brands because they dominate the market for cruises in North America and the world. The Royal Caribbean brand alone accounts for 20% of all cruises taken around the world. Up to 50% of the cruise business can be achieved with the addition of the next three players.
There is an Ultimate guide to Norwegian Cruise Line.
The cruise industry likes to call these seven lines eithercontemporary orpremium. The idea is that the brands have something for the first four. The early days of cruising don't have much relevance now.
The brands have changed over the years. It is possible to get a premium experience in the exclusive The Haven area on Norwegian ships. The experience on a Royal Caribbean ship can be just as good as the experience on a Princess ship.
All of these brands operate large, mass-market vessels that are relatively affordable. It's important to remember that the term "large" is relative. The brands have different sizes of their ships. The Holland America ships are smaller than the Royal Caribbean ships and hold less passengers.
While Holland America vessels are large compared with many of the luxury, expedition and river ships that I will talk about later in this story, the brand often is labeled a "midsize" ship operator in the industry to differentiate it from the lines operating the very big ships.
The fleets of each of these brands have different sizes of ships. The biggest ships are three times the size of the smallest ships.
The type of experience that they offer varies a lot. If you are booking a cruise for the first time, be aware that the seven lines are not always the same. You can love one brand but not the other.
Three broad categories appeal to different types of vacationer.
Are you a fan of big, bustling megaresorts with lots of fun things to do? You will probably want to go to Royal Caribbean. The floating megaresort lines are similar to land-based megaresorts such as Atlantis in the Bahamas.
There are so many deck-top fun zones on ships, from surfing pools to go-kart tracks, as well as lots of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, spas, casinos and more. We are talking ships that can hold as many as 5000 or 6000 people, not including the crew.
There are 9 crazy attractions on a cruise ship.
Families with children of all ages are drawn to these brands. There are cabins for $100 per night, cabins for $1,000 a night, and everything in between. They are similar to the big Las Vegas resorts but they float.
The sizes of the ships operated by these brands vary. Most megaresort-like vessels are the newer vessels in the fleet.
If you don't like the idea of fun on a cruise ship, Princess, Holland America and Celebrity are the best choices. The lines are called the anti-floating megaresort lines.
The floating megaresort lines operate medium-size to big ships that are not loaded up with waterparks, rock climbing walls, surfing sims and other crazy things. These ships are for people who don't want a resort experience.
Instead of bustling attractions, the top decks of the ships these lines operate offer lots of quiet and relaxing pool and lounge areas. Dining, classic entertainment, and a classy bar and music scene are some of the things that can be found inside.
There is a guide to Celebrity Cruises.
The brands draw more couples and less families than the floating megaresort lines. They are old. At Princess, the average age of passengers is 57, with many couples in their 50s, 60s and 70s on board.
The average age of passengers is close to 70.
Then there is carnival. The budget line of the big brands is called the fun ship line.
A family of four could pay as little as half as much for a cruise on a Carnival ship compared with a cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship, assuming the same cabins and itineraries. When we compared the cost of a family vacation on a Carnival ship with the cost of a trip on a Disney Cruise Line ship, the difference was greater.
Carnival ships are cheap, fun, and a bit loud and wild. The brand that holds a Hairy Chest Contest around the pool deck on every voyage is this one.
There are 12 best cruise ships.
Like the floating megaresort lines above, Carnival also has lots of amusements on its ships, including a roller coaster on its new ship, and a waterslide area. The big ships of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC Cruises are larger than Carnival vessels. It didn't have a single ship among the top 30 largest cruise ships in the world until the arrival of Mardi Gras.
Carnival doesn't target as many people as the megaresort lines. It is a class of its own among the bigwigs.
There are a few mass-market lines in the world that cater to non-Americans, but I didn't include them in the list.
There are two lines that are aimed at German-speaking travelers with onboard programs that are done in German. When it comes to passenger capacity, Aida is larger than Celebrity or Holland America. Unless you live in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, you won't be able to sail on it.
Costa Cruises, which is based in Italy, draws 80% of its customers from Europe but does not market to Americans. The majority of its customers are from the UK.
When talking about the number of berths on a ship, I am referring to the number of berths on a ship, which used to be referred to as "lower berths" in the industry. Extra berths with pull-down bunks and pullout sofas are not included in the totals.
If your idea of a vacation is being pampered at every turn, and you have a lot of money to burn, you might want to start looking for a cruise line.
Half a dozen major luxury players in the cruise business market to North America.
Compared with mass-market cruise ships, luxury cruise ships typically offer bigger cabins, more elegant dining and crazy high levels of service. There are more crew members on a luxury ship than there are passengers.
The most expensive ship of all time is Seven Seas Splendor.
Mass-market ships usually have less onboard space than luxury ships. The interior space to passengers can be twice as large as the exterior space. You will have a lot of room to spread out and never see a crowd. Mass-market ships are usually larger than luxury ships. A more intimate experience is brought about by that.
The size and style of the ships on offer are different within the luxury space. Regent has five ships, four of which are large and elegant. They carry 700 to 750 passengers.
Most of Regent's vessels are larger than five of Seabourn's vessels. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is a line of vessels that are small.
Restaurants and lounges will be less frequent with each step down in size. You might find the experience more intimate. Smaller ships can sometimes get to off-the-beaten-path ports that larger ships can't.
All the luxury lines have one thing in common, they can be expensive. You can pay more for a luxury cruise than a mass- market cruise. It is not uncommon to see cabins listed for $1,000 or more per person per day.
A cruise ship's supersuite costs $11k a night.
The pricing of mass-market cruises can be different from the pricing of high-priced cruises. Drinks, car transfers to the ship, and even flights to the ship are all included in the base fare of a luxury line.
The suites on Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Splendor are larger than a hotel room. There are seven sea cruises.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is a German line that only offers cruises in German. In the last few years, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has begun to market to English speakers with specific sailings that are bilingual. It operates several of the most elegant, spacious and service focused cruise vessels in the world.
There are several more lines that offer an upscale, elegant experience that isn't quite as white-glove as what you'll find on the luxury lines above. These are included.
Most of the time these lines operate smaller ships than the luxury lines. The ocean ships of the line carry 700 to 1,250 passengers, while the river ships of the line carry 930 passengers. The Windstar vessels have room for as many as 362 passengers. Sea Dream has two vessels that hold just 112 passengers.
You can now book a cabin in a crew area.
The staff-to-passenger ratio of these lines is similar to that of the luxury lines. They offer more space per passenger than mass-market lines but not as much as luxury lines.
They are cheaper than the luxury lines. They don't always include enough in their base fares. It is likely that you will pay more for drinks on ships.
The entry level pricing of this group is more expensive than the mass-market biggies lines. An entry-level cabin on a ship operated by these lines can be as good as a suite on a big ship.
It's difficult to quantify which lines are upscale but not quite luxurious. Viking doesn't call itself a luxury line. It offers an experience on its ocean ships that some would call luxury, with spectacular onboard service, high-end eateries and a lot of extras in its base fares. It's between the two categories.
The ocean ship fleet is new. The last seven years have seen the construction of every ocean ship. This group of lines is not used to that kind of thing.
The fleets of three of the lines listed in this segment are made up of vessels that are at least a couple of decades old. Most of the time, they are ships that were originally built as luxury vessels and were state-of-the-art in their time, but no longer have as many amenities as newer luxury ships.
Many cabins on Windstar and Sea Dream vessels lack balconies, a feature that was rare a few decades ago but is now standard. cabins on today's luxury ships are larger than cabins on the four Azamara ships.
Four of the oldest ships in the line are sister ships. Renaissance Cruises used to own them. The R class is a class related to the Renaissance.
One of the fastest-growing segments of cruising in recent years has been expedition cruising, a type of cruising that involves traveling to remote, hard-to-reach places such asAntarctica on small vessels that carry their own landing craft.
This type of cruising is so different from mass-market lines that it could be considered an entirely different type of travel.
Getting to off-the-beaten-path places that don't have a lot of land-based infrastructure is what expedition cruising is all about. The only way to get to them is by sea.
On expedition cruises, the focus is often on the wilderness areas and the wildlife that live there. You will be accompanied by expedition leaders with deep knowledge of the destination along with scientific experts such as biologists, geologists and ornithologists, who will lead landings and lecture on board.
Canada's Northwest Passage is one of the big expedition cruise destinations. The wildlife-filled Galapagos, where many islands are uninhabited, is a classic expedition cruise market.
There are expedition cruise vessels in remote parts of South America, Asia and the South Pacific as well as in some more mainstream destinations such as Alaska.
Notable players are in the space.
Four of the lines listed above, Silversea Cruises, Hapag Lloyd Cruises, Seabourn and Viking, also appeared in the story. The expedition cruise ship market is dominated by the four brands.
Traditional cruise lines are entering the expedition cruise space. In the past year, two brands added their first expedition ships.
A luxury river cruise specialist has just unveiled its first expedition ship. Two years ago, an all-new luxury expedition cruise company was founded. The line is called a "luxe- adventure"
UnCruise adventures is included in this category. It is a small line that specializes in ship-based trips in remote parts of Alaska. Its trips include hiking, kayaking, whale watching, birdwatching and exploring by boat.
Typically, expedition ships carry under 200 passengers, which is a manageable number for an exploration-focused vessel. There are more ships carrying more. The new expedition ships were designed to carry a lot of people. The vessels are designed for 500 people.
It can be quite expensive to go on an expedition cruise. Mass-market cruise ships can be built on a per-berth basis, but expedition ships need a high ratio of staff to operate.
All of the lines that I have talked about are oceangoing ships. There is more than one segment of cruising that involves travel on rivers.
This is a fast-growing segment of the cruise world, with capacity among the major river lines growing at a rapid pace.
The shipbuilding program of a single line, Viking, has led to the growth of river cruising. Over the past 10 years, Viking has exploded into a cruising colossus with the introduction of more than 60 new river ships and ocean ships.
Half of all river cruises taken by North Americans are done by Viking. There are other river cruise players. River cruises to North America are marketed by other major brands.
There is no shortage of companies that offer river cruises. France-based CroisiEurope and Germany's Nicko Cruises are among the river lines that cater to Europeans.
You should book your first river cruise. You need to know what to look for.
Due to lock sizes and bridge heights, the vessels that these lines operate are all the same size. River ships have less variation than ocean ships. The brands above offer a variety of experiences.
River ships' interiors can vary greatly, with some being more luxurious and other less so.
One way to judge the luxury level of river lines in Europe is to look at how many passengers they put in their vessels. The lock sizes in Europe make that the most common standard river ship size.
A river cruise in Portugal may be ideal for friends groups.
The 135-meter vessels designed by Viking carry 190 passengers. There are 166 and 156 passengers on the same-length ships. The number of people at Tauck is 130.
The ships with fewer passengers offer a more premium experience and are more expensive. Tauck is more expensive than Viking.
There are many small cruise lines that are called "niche" lines. Many of the lines offer a very specialized product, with just a few ships.
Some lines only operate in a part of the world such as Alaska or the South Pacific. They only cater to a small group of people who love sailing.
You probably won't sail with them all the time because they don't offer all the types of cruises that you want to experience
I include its specialty in parentheses.
The Disney line is at least 10 times smaller than Royal Caribbean. Alaskan Dream Cruises is a brand that is more than 100 times smaller.
The only ship that Paul Gauguin has is 332 passengers. It operates a very specialized set of French Polynesian itineraries out of Tahiti to destinations that draw a lot of honeymooners and couples celebrating their one year anniversary.
New people can meet on a small ship.
The lines are niche in nature. They are well-known in the travel world for their work. Disney has just five ships, compared with 26 for Royal Caribbean, but if someone says that Disney is the first line to come to mind, that's right.
You have to know everything about the Disney Wish.
The Star Clippers and Sea Cloud Cruises are popular with people who want to travel in the days before steam power. Small-ship voyages along the coast of Maine, up the Hudson River, and in the Bay of Fundy are offered by American Cruise Lines.
The storied, U.K.-based Cunard Line has been sailing between New York and England since the 1800's. The sailings are a return to the days of ocean liners. The yearly around-the-world sailings that include stops in dozens of countries is a hallmark of Cunard.
Are you planning to go on a cruise ship? These are the stories to start with.