How to Choose the Best Cruise Line for You
There are tons of options when it comes to planning a cruise vacation. You may find yourself perusing cruise reviews and cruise deals aplenty, wondering how in the world you’re going to narrow down a specific cruise line and itinerary that best fits your travel preferences and budget. And while cruise deals are easy to find, booking your best cruise vacation is more about finding one that makes sense for you, and less about grabbing last minute or all-inclusive cruise deals that you may not fully enjoy.
Deciding on a cruise vacation is a lot like planning any other vacation, only you’re choosing your transportation, accommodations and oftentimes your activities—all in one. Keep in mind that each cruise line has its own unique vibe, and what works for a large family may not appeal to a couple wanting a romantic getaway. You’ll have to do a little bit of homework, but once you know what to look out for—you’ll alleviate some of the guesswork and perhaps feel more confident in choosing a cruise line that aligns with how you prefer to travel and spend your time while on vacation.
So, before you snag that all-inclusive cruise you’ve been eyeing, consider these helpful tips:
How to Choose a Cruise Line
We recommend that you first “ground” yourself with our easy trip planning tips, Trip Planning: Steps to Choose the Best Vacation, which lists questions you’ll want to answer before deciding on a cruise line. Answering key questions like, “Who will be traveling with me?”, and “When can I take my trip, and for how long?” can significantly narrow down your choices and point you in the right direction—whether you’re researching online cruise reviews or chatting with a travel agent.
Cruise Reviews and Insider Tips
Finding the best cruise line—and best cruise deals—is a lot like matchmaking. If you know what you want, you’ll have better luck matching up with the right cruise line that will hopefully show you a great time and offer new ways to see the world—a vast ocean view from the deck, perhaps? And you certainly don’t want to be taken on a wild ride that will make you want to “jump ship”! Here are a few cruise-specifics to be aware of:
1) The average cruise vacation lasts about a week. While there are 3 to 5 day cruises, most cruise vacationers will plan for about a week-long vacation. Note: Some cruise vacations last 14 days, or even longer. Realistically knowing when you and your travel companions can travel, and for how long is critical when booking a cruise.
2) All-inclusive pricing may not include “must haves”. Once you’ve established your budget, you’ll want to know what’s included in an all-inclusive cruise offering. Most mainstream cruise lines include onboard activities, dining and some gratuity in their base fees. But, if one of your “must haves” is staying digitally connected at all times, you’ll more than likely have to pay extra for wifi.
3) Wave season is a good time to find cruise deals. Every year, cruise lines celebrate their “wave season” from January through March by offering cruise deals and perks like extra onboard spending credits—to lure in customers. You’ll get the best deal by either booking really early or if you’re flexible, a last minute cruise.
4) Most cruises are still booked through travel agents. Consulting a travel expert that specializes in cruises can be very helpful, especially if you’re booking your first cruise. In addition to booking, they can assist you with cruise-specific travel arrangements like pre- and post departure lodging. Note: Some travel agents only represent a few cruise lines, so you’ll still want to familiarize yourself with what’s out there. Online recommendations and passenger cruise reviews from websites like cruisecritic.com are widely popular.
5) You’ll want to know the differences between popular cruise lines. Mentioned earlier, selecting a cruise line that best matches your personality is crucial, as it can make or break your experience. Some cruise lines are fancier than others and have dress codes and assigned seating and time slots for meals—so if you’re more of a free spirit, you’ll want to ensure that you’re on the right boat! When it comes to cruise lines, they’re often categorized by mainstream, premium, and luxury brands; here are some top choices by category:
Popular Mainstream Cruise Lines
Mainstream cruise lines aim for their ships to be just as much of a destination as the ports you’re sailing to; think of a floating resort and theme park—in one!
- MSC Cruises: Known for Mediterranean style food and amenities and more traditional cruise experiences. Rated as having some of the best night life activities of any cruise line. Great choice for a romantic getaway.
- Carnival Cruise Line: Has a laid-back atmosphere and lots of onboard activities like miniature golf and plenty of sports bars. A good match for multigenerational family vacations.
- Royal Caribbean: With the largest ships at sea, they offer active onboard entertainment like sky diving machines, rock climbing walls and surfing simulators. A good match for active vacationers and bachelor parties.
- Disney Cruise Line: A steady top-choice for families with small children; read more on why a Disney cruise isn't just for kids.
Popular Premium Cruise Lines
Premium cruise lines are a step up from mainstream offerings in price and offer fancier accommodations and amenities. Although most ships are family friendly, you’ll find less crowded ships and fewer children.
- Celebrity Cruises: Offers many specialty dining options, and prides itself on elegant and stylish accommodations. A good match for couples.
- Princess Cruises: Renowned for its expertise in Alaskan cruises, but offers many other itineraries and a handful of onboard educational classes. A good match for curious travelers, families and singles alike.
Popular Luxury Cruise Lines
Luxury cruise lines are essentially 5-star resorts, and offer more exotic itineraries and gourmet food and wine selections than their mainstream and premium counterparts.
- Crystal Cruises: Known for its celebrity entertainment, this cruise line also offers yacht and river cruise experiences. A top choice for older adults seeking a more formal cruise vacation.
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruises: Often listed as a favorite in the Europe river cruise market among older adults, this cruise line is expanding its cruise offerings to Millennials. Read more on the differences between river cruises and oceans cruise.
6) When you go on your cruise is important. Timing is everything for many cruise lines, as some itineraries are seasonal due to weather conditions. If you’ve always wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise, you’ll want to ensure that you’re able to travel during summer months as waterways tend to freeze in winter.
7) Most cruise lines offer only limited travel insurance coverage. When booking a cruise, it’s important to understand why travel insurance is crucial for cruise trips. To ensure you have enough coverage, consider comparing the travel insurance offered by the cruise line to other insurance providers. Simply enter your trip costs in the Get a Quote form and you can quickly compare the cost and coverages of Generali Global Assistance travel insurance plans to your other options.
All Generali Global Assistance plans include coverages that are generally most important to cruise vacationers:
- Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption and Missed Connection- in case a covered reason causes you to miss the boat
- Medical and Dental- because on-board treatment isn’t necessarily free and health insurance doesn’t always follow you on your trip
- Emergency Assistance and Transportation- if you get seriously sick or injured you might need medical evacuation, and that’s not cheap