There are so many cruise ships in existence, it’s hard to tell which would be the best choice to go with for your traveling needs. This is especially true if you’ve never been on a cruise before and don’t know what to expect.

There are over a dozen different cruise lines that sail around the world and cater to all kinds of preferences. These cruise lines ship out from ports all over the world. Some cruise lines are oriented more towards family travel, while others focus on a more luxurious experience.

How do you know which cruise line to pick? Read on for the ultimate guide to all the cruise lines to figure out which one would be best for you.

What Are the Top Three Cruise Lines?

With so many cruise lines available, how does a person go about picking one? It helps to know what the best-rated cruise lines in the world are. These are the cruise lines that are most sought-after among their guests for specialized amenities as well as access to popular travel destinations.

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean International is among the most popular luxury cruise lines available, and it’s also the largest cruise liner fleet in the world. The largest vessels run by Royal Caribbean are twenty percent larger than any other cruise liner on the water. Cruise prices range from $295 to $6838 per person.

One of the major draws of Royal Caribbean cruises is that, because of their large size, these ships can hold a wide variety of exotic attractions from ice-skating rinks to rock-climbing walls. Because it’s such a large cruise line, Royal Caribbean International has ships that sail worldwide. However, most of its port destinations can be found in either Europe or the Caribbean islands.

Here are some of the amenities you can expect to find on Royal Caribbean Cruises (Source: Royal Caribbean Cruises):

  • Spaces for teens: The youth programs on Royal Caribbean are world-renowned, which makes this one of the more family-friendly cruise lines available. With spaces set aside for children as well as teenagers, Royal Caribbean ensures that there is something available for everyone, no matter what age.
  • Water parks and wave pools: A major perk of the Royal Caribbean cruise ships is that they feature large water slides and pool-based attractions, including wave pools that simulate ocean surf for boogie-boarding.
  • Casino: The Royal Caribbean cruise line features a full-service casino on board with slots and a variety of table games such as blackjack, roulette, and poker. The ship’s casino is a great place to cool down and get out of the sun between shore excursions and can give adults a place to relax away from the kids.
  • Broadway shows: The shipside entertainment and nightlife on Royal Caribbean is a popular attraction among guests. Shows range from classics like Grease and Hairspray to original productions that feature singing and dancing from some of the most popular musical eras.

Because these cruise ships are so large, and can hold so many travelers, the cruise line has no problem earning a sizeable profit. This in turn allows Royal Caribbean to keep ship fares reasonable and competitive. Another advantage of these floating cities is that the larger ship size also means that these ships feel steady and stable, even in turbulent waters.

Ultimately, the main reason for Royal Caribbean’s popularity over other cruise lines other than the size of its ships is the sheer number of activities there are to do on board. Whether you’re interested in dancing the night away or you want to hang out with the kids by the pool, you’re sure to find something you want to do on your days at sea.

Disney Cruises

Disney cruises often rank sky high in the cruise line rankings for their family-friendly atmosphere as well as their spacious cabins. These cruises are also among the most popular in the Caribbean. Cruise prices range from $1,409 to $9,395 per person.

While a Disney cruise is especially fitting for those who want to cruise with young children, Disney is a franchise that is universally loved by people of all ages. Chances are you won’t have to twist anyone’s arm to get on a Disney Cruise boat. Along with their family-oriented activities, there is a full range of adult-oriented services such as bars, fine dining restaurants, and nightclubs.

Here are some of the amenities you can expect to find on a Disney Cruise (Source: US News):

  • Activities for all ages: Disney Cruises are designed with activities for every age group in mind. Free childcare services are provided through the “It’s a Small World” nursery, and there are age-appropriate club activities available for ages 3 through 17. This means that even though the Disney Cruise is set up for families to have fun together, there are activities for them to do apart, too.
  • Theme parties: For those who enjoy Disney movies, there are several theme days on Disney Cruise ships that help bring the wonder of those animated films to life. Guests can enjoy such entertainment as a Star Wars Day at Sea or a Pirate Night. Guests of the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder can even enjoy a Frozen-themed deck party.
  • A mixture of casual and fine dining: Several restaurants are geared towards easy dining for multigenerational groups, but there are also a few restaurants that are adults-only on Disney Cruise ships that give the older crowd some much-needed quiet time. Overall, Disney does a phenomenal job of balancing the needs of young and old in both food and entertainment.
  • Film screenings and live character shows: The live shows with Disney characters are unlike anything you will see on any other cruise line.

Disney is a name that has been associated with entertainment for decades, and the brand has left its mark on the cruising world. These cruises are favored by those who want to go on a cruise with children, but they’ve gone out of their way to make sure that adults have plenty of fun too.

While all these attractions make Disney one of the best cruise ship lines in the world, there are a few drawbacks to this cruise line. Beverages and gratuities are not included, and dining is assigned. Both of these factors can be inconvenient, but neither are enough to detract from Disney’s status as a superior cruise line.

Viking Cruises
Viking River Cruises offer something a little different than the average cruise ship. Unlike the Royal Caribbean and Disney cruises listed above, Viking Cruises are small luxury cruise ships that are designed for river travel throughout Europe, Asia, Egypt, and even on the mighty Mississippi River.

One of the advantages of a smaller cruise ship like the longboats offered by Viking is that they can remain in ports of call longer for multiday stays. This also allows the cruise line to offer a higher level of luxury for each of its staterooms such as heated bathroom floors and spacious verandas. Cruise prices range from $1,999 to $9,198 per person. (Source: Retirement Living)

Viking Cruises consistently rank highest among cruise lines in value and quality. They must be doing something right. (Source: Viking Ocean Cruises) Here are some of the amenities you can expect to find on Viking Cruises:

  • Cozy Nordic aesthetics: The décor of Viking cruise ships reflects the cool, calming beauty of Scandinavian design. Viking cruise ships are among the most beautiful cruise ships in the world. Guests can enjoy panoramic viewing on the Explorer’s Lounge, high tea service in the Wintergarden café, and a library with a large selection of books to choose from.
  • Destination dining: One of the advantages of a Viking cruise is that these river ships can carry passengers through the heart of many countries. The influences of those international cuisines can be seen in the dishes on offer at the ship restaurants.
  • Specialty shore excursions: A major benefit of cruising with Viking is that when it comes to shore excursions, being a passenger on a Viking ship can get you into tours and places you wouldn’t otherwise get access to. Local Life tours are designed to help you taste a slice of life in your country of the day. Working World tours show you artisans working on their crafts.

Viking cruise ships are luxurious but still manage to keep costs reasonable due to their small size. Still, these cruise ships are considered luxury cruise ships in comparison to larger cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Disney.

They also have a distinctly adult flavor in comparison to these two other cruise lines, with no passengers under eighteen even allowed on board. If you’re looking for a classy, sophisticated cruise line for grown-ups only, Viking is a perfect choice.

Top Cruise Ship Lines

While Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Viking are the top cruise ship lines on the market, they have plenty of competition. There are dozens of cruise ship lines available for destinations all over the world. Below you’ll find some of the very best cruise ship lines by category.
The Best Luxury Cruise Lines

Luxury cruise lines are known for being a cut above the rest when it comes to amenities. These cruise fares tend to be a bit more expensive, but they’re also more likely to include amenities like all-inclusive drinks and personalized service. Luxury cruise lines also tend to favor the more refined set of attractions (such as four-star restaurants) over things like mini-golf and water slides.

Here are some of the best luxury cruise lines:

  • Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity is a premium cruise ship line that is based out of Miami. Big on style and sleek aesthetics, Celebrity is a cruise line that is aimed at a more sophisticated crowd. Amenities include infinity-style balconies as well as all-inclusive cocktails and coffee. Cruise prices range from $279 to $17,961.
  • Crystal Cruises: Crystal Cruises is one of the smallest cruise lines with only three ships in its fleet, but it’s also known as the pinnacle of luxury cruising. On-board amenities include all the standard amenities offered by mid-line cruise ships along with luxury additions such as complimentary excursion reservations and formalwear pressing. Cruise prices range from $1,799 to $3,299.
  • Cunard: Cunard is one of the oldest transatlantic cruise lines in the world, with lines going back to the 1800s. For those cruise fans who want to recreate Titanic without the catastrophe, Cunard offers ballroom dancing and nightly dress codes to keep up this ship’s classy vibe. Cruise prices range from $299 to $16,799.
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Regent is another luxury cruise line based out of Miami and was originally called the Radisson Seven Seas Cruise line. Along with being an all-inclusive luxury line, Regent Seven Seas also features a fleet of small ships that helps to keep their guest to staff ratio low. This is one of the ways the Regent Seven Seas line maintains its high level of service. Cruise prices range from $2,999 to $11,000 a night.

The above cruise lines aren’t the cheapest ones you’ll find, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find sleeker, more sophisticated ships than these.

The Best Cruise Lines for Families

Two of the best cruise lines for families are already listed above (Royal Caribbean and Disney, respectively) but there are also a few other cruise lines that are geared towards children or multigenerational travel groups. Here are two more cruise ship lines that are a good choice for those traveling with kids:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian is known for its massive ships that give off the air of giant resorts. Attractions include family-friendly fare like go-kart racing, laser tag, water slides, and obstacle courses. There are also attractions for older family members such as Broadway plays and luxury spas. Cruise prices range from $299 to $2,677.
  • Carnival: Carnival is known as the “fun ship” and with good reason. These flashy cruise vessels not only offer a lot for children to do, they’re also reasonably priced for young families. Another advantage of these ships is that they focus on short voyages. This makes them a good experimental choice for beginners who haven’t been on a cruise before. Cruise prices range from $129 to $1,849.

Getting away on a vacation with kids can be difficult, but these cruise lines make it just a little bit easier for everybody to have some fun on a cruise vacation.

The Best Value Cruise Lines

Some people may associate cruise lines with a luxury they can’t afford, but the truth is that there are many economy and mid-range cruise lines that are affordable for most. While there are definitely expensive cruise lines out there, there are plenty more that recognize that their customers are working on a budget.

  • Princess Cruises: Princess cruise ships aren’t as big and flashy as larger cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian, but what this fleet lacks in size it makes up for in diverse itineraries. Princess is an especially popular choice for those guests who are looking for an Alaskan cruise. Cruise prices range from $269 to $2,575.
  • Holland America: Like Cunard, Holland America is an older cruise line that originated in the 1800s. These somewhat sedate ships aren’t recommended for families with children, but they’re perfect for middle-aged couples or retirees. They’re also a perfect match for anyone who is looking for a comfortable and affordable voyage. Cruise prices range from $349 to $22,499.
  • MSC Cruises: MSC Cruises is one of the major cruise lines out of Europe, but this line based out of Switzerland has recently begun to expand its sights to the American market. One unique feature of this cruise line is access to their private island in the Bahamas. Cruise prices range from $99 to $15,349.

Getting the best value out of a cruise means looking for quality and affordability at the same time. The cruise lines above offer cruise guests the biggest bang for their buck.

The Best Small Cruise Lines
Some cruise lines market the large size of their ships as a feature, while other cruise lines focus on a smaller fleet. The advantages of choosing a small cruise include less crowded decks, more intimate environments, and a smaller ratio of ship staff to ship guests. Small cruise ships are also able to get access to ports that larger ships can fit in, and they’re capable of staying at port longer.

  • Azamara: Azamara is one of the smallest cruise fleets in the world with just three ships holding less than seven hundred and fifty passengers apiece. Azamara focuses on the destination rather than days at sea and these ships are known to spend multiple days at port, allowing guests to do more sightseeing on shore. Cruise prices range from $1,499 to $6,199.
  • Oceania: Oceania falls between luxury cruise lines and mid-range cruise lines on the affordability scale, but the small size of these ships allows them to focus on keeping the ship’s design sleek and sophisticated. Without having to worry about accommodating as many people as possible, Oceania ships allow guests to bask in cozy, intimate surroundings. Cruise prices range from $1,499 to $42,199.
  • Quasar Expeditions: Quasar Expeditions is a cruise line for those who want a little something different out of their cruise. This small cruise line focuses on expedition-style cruises that venture into hard-to-reach places such as Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands. Cruise prices range from $2,400 to $9,000.

Just because a cruise ship is small doesn’t mean that it’s shabby. Many of these smaller cruise ships are even more luxurious than the large ocean liners.

What to Look for in a Cruise Ship Line

Now that you’ve explored a wide variety of cruise lines, it’s time to start looking at which cruise line would be best for you. When you’re trying to narrow down your choices for a cruise line, it helps to ask yourself the following questions.

  • How much money do I have to spend? Budget will play a huge part in narrowing down your search for a cruise line, as some cruises cost only a few hundred dollars while others can go for as much as a thousand dollars a night. High prices will naturally knock some potential cruise lines off your wish list.
  • Where do I want to go? Destination will be another big deciding factor in what cruise line you ultimately go with. If you’re more interested in the ship’s amenities and attractions than you are in ports of call, you may gravitate to a ship that features several days at sea. Check with each cruise line to see what destinations they feature if you’re not sure where you want to go yet.
  • Will I be taking children with me? Some cruise lines such as Disney feature free childcare services, while other cruise lines such as Viking don’t allow children on board at all. Check into the youth attractions available on each cruise line to make sure that you don’t end up listening to your kids complain about being bored all week.
  • How happy am I around crowds? If you prefer less crowded settings, you should look at a smaller ship in a smaller cruise line. However, if you’re looking to meet people on your cruise or you aren’t bothered by crowds, you should look into one of the larger cruise lines such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean.
  • Do I like having a travel plan? Some cruise lines feature open-seated dining without dinner reservations and casual dress, allowing guests to come and go as they please. Other more traditional cruises feature strict schedules and even formal dress codes. Which type of cruise you want to go on depends on whether you want to party like it’s 1999 or 1899.
  • When do I want to cruise? How long you want to cruise for and what time of year you want to go will make a big impact on which cruise line you eventually choose. For some cruises, such as Antarctic expeditions and Alaskan cruises, you’ll want to look at the patterns of wildlife activity to ensure you get the best seats for whale-watching and seeing other forms of sea life.

When it comes down to it, figuring out what to look for in a cruise line comes down to figuring out what your cruising personality is like. Some people want to go on a cruise to wear fancy clothes and eat in fine dining restaurants and look out over the star-swept sea. Others go on cruises to work on their tan in between trips on the water slide. It all depends on what you want out of your vacation.

How to Choose a Cruise Ship Line

Along with thinking about what you want to get out of your cruise, there are also some other ways you can help narrow down your search for a cruise line. Here are some things to look at that can help you make your final choice:

  • Check out user reviews. Websites and forums such as Cruise Critic allow cruise guests to compare and contrast different cruise lines. You get to browse insider information, from attractions and amenities to cleanliness and friendliness of staff.
  • Look for packages and discounts. Every cruise line is constantly running different deals and travel packages on their cruises that offer everything from discounted airplane tickets to ship credit for drinks. If you plan on going cruising as a regular yearly or bi-yearly vacation, joining a cruise line loyalty club can also net you additional discounts to help keep your cruise fees low.
  • Check out destinations, not just the ship amenities. Attractions on the ship are all well and good when you’re out at sea. However, to get your money’s worth on a cruise, you should look around to find a cruise that is stopping in places you want to visit. If you’d rather take a luxury river cruise through Europe than go on a cheap Caribbean cruise, it’s worth saving up for.
  • Look for hidden fees. If you’re attracted to a cruise line because of their cheap tickets, look more closely at the fine print. Many cruise lines that feature a cheap ship fare are not all-inclusive and will charge for amenities on the ship such as drinks. Many cruise lines also do not pay for shore excursions as part of their ship fee, while some include at least one per port.
  • Book your cruise well in advance. Like airplane tickets, the earlier in advance you reserve your cruise tickets, the better deal you can get on them. Booking a cruise early (such as a year in advance) can also allow you to budget for the trip more easily since many cruise lines allow you to pay off your cruise in installments.
  • Compare and contrast. Writing down the features of each cruise line you’re seriously considering can help you decide which ship amenities you can’t live without. Weigh the pros and cons of each cruise line against each other to figure out which one has the most features you want.

There are many things to consider when you’re trying to decide which cruise line to go with. Taking your time to really research each cruise line you’re interested in can help you choose the best one for you in the end.

Cruise Ship Lines Are Diverse

People who aren’t familiar with cruise ship lines may think of them as all being the same. But there are cruise lines that only have a few ships while others have dozens. Some ships like to party hard, and other ships offer a more sophisticated experience. No matter what you’re looking for in a cruise vacation, there is a cruise line out there that can give you what you want.