WRITTEN BY: SUSAN FINCH
How to Choose a Cruise Line
Cruising has soared in popularity over the years and has expanded past elite cruises for retirees and couples. It’s really no wonder the cruise business is booming with the hundreds of destinations and onboard amenities to choose from whether live entertainment or pools. There’s also a cruise for everyone whether you’re craving adventure, romance, relaxation, or a kid-friendly itinerary. But where do you start with dozens of cruise lines to choose from? Narrow down your choices and find the perfect cruise with this resource to help guide you along the way.
Look at the Cruise Itinerary
Before you book that next vacation, take a closer look at the cruise itinerary and carefully consider what kind of amenities you need. Ships come with various tantalizing choices from fine dining and live Broadway caliber entertainment to kids clubs. Focus on the areas that you need the most, and make sure the length of the cruise actually accommodates everything you want to do. You may not need a lengthy month-long cruise, but affordable, short cruises often aren’t worth the trade-off. We find the ideal length of a cruise is 7 nights to accommodate the fun you want to have on a ship, as well as off the ship. Remember that shore excursions are part of the cruise experience, but you still need adequate time to really enjoy it all.
Check the Number of Ports
Some people love cruises because of the onboard indulgences. Booking an afternoon at the spa, relaxing at a wine tasting, and meeting other travelers in the dining room could be an ideal vacation for some. Others want to shore hop and see more of the world whether you’re cruising through Europe or the Caribbean. If you’re in the latter camp, you need the right number of ports to enjoy your time onshore. We’ve found the ideal number of stops on a cruise is four. This leaves just enough time to open the door to new excursions and fun.
Note the Time in Port
Experienced cruisers may have the itinerary, amenities, and the number of ports checked off their list. But the actual time you spend in port is also crucial to a successful vacation. For example, some ships only port in Alaska for just 5 hours which really isn’t enough time to enjoy the area. Some ships are also only in port from just 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., which significantly reduces the availability of excursions and tours. Instead, the ideal arrival and departure time for each port is 8am to 6 p.m. to take advantage of those magical shore excursions.
Once you’ve got the foundation for what your cruise should look like, it’s time to find the best cruise line for your interests:
Best Cruise for Families
One of the best parts about cruises for kids is that the fun starts as soon as you board. The instantaneous convenience can be especially ideal for kids ready to throw their suitcases down and get the party started. Royal Caribbean offers a variety of fantastic departures, robust itineraries that caters to families and lots of activities. They also boast award-winning kids club with activities ranging from science to art, along with tween and teen programs. And with Mom and Dad in mind, Royal Caribbean also offers sitters at sea to entertain and care for little ones while grown-ups play.
Royal Caribbean cruises also gets bonus point for being moderately priced. They even offer multi-generational activities so you can invite the grandparents, aunts, and uncles along and know everyone is going to have a good time. For a cruise excursion on shore, look for a family-friendly adventure. A snorkeling Catamaran trip in Ocho Rios, Jamaica takes guests on a “toned down” party to Dunn’s River Falls. Meanwhile, families docking in Hawaii who are hungry for some local food and entertainment can try the Kauai Garden Luau designed with cruise ship passengers in mind.
Best Cruise for Romance
A romantic cruise to an exotic locale helps couples reconnect at sea. Silversea hits more than 800 worldwide destinations while offering a luxurious experience. You can even travel to Antarctica and the Galapagos, as well as favorites like the Caribbean and Asia. Other romantic cruise options include Windstar, Viking, or the no-kids-allowed Crystal Cruises.
Crystal Cruises sets sails to multiple destinations including Panama, the Mexican Riviera, and beyond with a variety of ship options. Travelers can choose between the big cruise ships, river boats, or yachts to customize the type of experience they’re looking for without skimping on amenities and shore excursions.
For example, couples who want an unbelievable Mexican Riviera adventure can swim with the dolphins with a 3-hour Royal Swim. Or you can explore the jungle on an ATV Jungle Adventure and zip through the forest and swim in a cenote – a natural swimming hole or sink hole – on a Canopy Adventure Tour.
Best Cruise for Solo-travelers and Singles
You don’t have to be part of a cozy two-some to have an amazing time on a cruise. There are plenty of ships that are ideal for single and solo travelers of all ages. Holland America cruise line has a solid reputation for catering to solo cruisers. Especially suited for older singles, the ship offers activities that don’t require partners but opens the door to socializing like wine tastings. There’s even a Single Partners Program on most ships that includes solo traveler games and cocktail events.
Younger singles flock to Norwegian cruise lines for its lively activities and special accommodations like the single studios. These 100-square feet studios are an industry first and include exclusive access to a Studio Complex and Lounge where other solo travelers relax and stretch-out. This helps keep the price down instead of absorbing the full cost of the room that is typically priced-out by couples. It’s also just a fun way to meet other solo travelers.
Regardless of your age, solo travelers enjoy shore excursions and pick and choose their favorite activities without having to compromise. Both Holland and Norwegian cruises glide into the same destinations including ports peppered throughout Australia. Adventurers can try a 4WD Rainforest and Waterfall Exploration in Cairns or a City Sights Kayaking tour around Melbourne. For something more laid back that leaves more opportunity to chat intimately with others, a Drink Sydney’s Tour lets you taste the history of Australia while savoring a cold brew at local pubs.
Best Cruise for Seniors
One of the best parts about being a senior is transitioning into retirement with dreams of travel ahead. Whether you’re new to cruising or a seasoned expert, cruise lines like Holland America, Cunard, and Oceania cater to discerning seniors looking for top-notch amenities, dining, and entertainment; along with itineraries that leave flexibility for shore excursions.
For example, an Oceania cruise to Cuba lands in Havana where seniors can take a leisurely walking tour through Old Havana. Literary buffs thrill over Hemingway’s Havana where visitors see the city through the eyes of the famed author.
NOTE: Due to the recent travel ban issued on June 4, 2019 by the U.S. government, these excursions are no longer available for purchase on . We will study these new regulations. Although the US State Department allows travelers who have purchased (prior to June 5th) at least one portion of their Cuba trip to continue without restrictions, we will let you know if this matter changes.
Best Cruise for the Budget-Conscious
The idea of a cruise often evokes images of high-luxury cabins and the finest dining with an expensive price tag to match. It’s true there are plenty of cruises that cater to the luxury jet set, but there are also fabulous cruises designed for budget-conscious travelers. Try Norwegian Cruise Lines and look for ongoing sales to destinations you love like Alaska. Use the money you save for a thrilling shore excursion to add more adventure to your trip. A helicopter and dog sled tour in Juneau, Alaska showcases the brilliant landscape of Alaska while offering a surreal experience in the snow. For a less expensive excursion, the White Pass Train and Drive through Skagway offers a relaxing way to soak up the landscape and see glaciers, mountains, and wildlife.
You can also scour cruise ship deals, cheap cruises, and compare cruise lines by doing some online sleuthing. Pay attention to available destinations during shoulder season. Here’s a tip: The cheapest time to sail with Norwegian Cruise Alaska is typically at the beginning of cruise season like May, or at the end of the season like September. Of course, cruising to the Caribbean in late spring or early fall can also yield discounts, but you also face the risk of hurricane activity. Cover your bases and opt for travel insurance that specifically covers cruises and hurricane weather.
Best Luxury Cruise
What if you’re not looking to save, but just want to go all out on a luxury cruise? Celebrate those milestone birthdays or anniversaries and hop on board Crystal Cruises, Silversea, or Oceania. Oceania’s ships also cater to just 684 guests on their Regatta, Insignia, Nautica and Sirena and 1,250 guests on Marina and Riviera offering both luxury and intimacy. Their smaller ships can also glide into smaller ports to skip the crowds.
Choose from popular destinations like the Caribbean or shake things up and head to Seychelles or Zanzibar, Prince Christian Sound, and Reykjavik and still find the shore excursions you love. For example, a private foodie tour of Reykjavik takes guests through the land of volcanoes and geysers and into the country’s most delicious dishes. For something that puts you in touch with the great outdoors, there are also whale watching and ATV tours that take you across the lava fields of Iceland.
Best Cruise for Adventure Seekers
A classic cruise to the Caribbean or through Europe is always a popular choice, but there are still plenty of destinations and cruises open to adventure-seekers. Un-Cruise offers small cruises to unique destinations around the world like Galapagos. Meanwhile, Lindblad cruises take travelers on a journey to the North Pole to explore the farthest corners of the earth.
Believe it or not even the most exotic and seemingly remote locations have their own shore excursions. Cruising to the end of the world to Ushuaia opens up a whole new world to travelers. Oceania, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess, and Holland cruises all sail to Ushuaia with time to explore. Hop off the cruise and see Argentina’s Lago Escondido to see the incredible vistas of the area. Or explore the extreme southern tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego and come home with stories of the ends of the earth.
Choose to Cruise
At the end of the day, choosing the right cruise is really about picking a cruise that fits your priorities whether shore excursions, amenities, or price tops your list. Just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to really soak up your adventure and enjoy the experience of traveling by sea.