With so many excellent cruise line companies out there, you should know which of them receive the best ratings for what you value most. Some cruise lines focus on luxury and romance. Others are all about family. The best cruise lines are the best at something, but it’s up to you to determine which ‘something’ matters most.
The U.S. News & World Report provides a series of cruise rankings. This ranking, along with the Forbes overview of the 2020 world’s best cruises, are exceptionally helpful guides. It is good to know the specific benefits of each cruise line. It is even better to understand how that cruise line gained its reputation. In this article, we will share the details about the best cruise line companies.
Viking Gets the Vote for Luxury and Romance
Viking cruises are great for those looking for luxury or a romantic getaway for several reasons. For one thing, there are no children under 18 onboard. Viking is not a family-focused cruise line. Viking is a smaller cruise line with a mission to provide a quality experience.
Viking received its highest rankings (#1) both for luxury and for couples. These rankings, from U.S. News, also featured Viking in third place for cruises in the Mediterranean. Viking has a myriad of Mediterranean cruises. Those include a few options that last 3-4 weeks. Below are examples of Viking cruises in the Mediterranean. We’ve included some necessary details, such as the number of days and countries listed in the itinerary.
- Mediterranean’s Iconic Shores: 29 days—8 countries—23 tours—Barcelona to Istanbul
- Cities of Antiquity and the Holy Land: 15 days—4 countries—9 tours—Athens to Rome
- Italian Sojourn: 8 days—2 countries—6 tours—Rome to Venice
- West Indies to Spain: 14 days—5 countries—4 tours—San Juan to Barcelona
Viking cruises are meant to be culturally immersive. Even before you board, Viking’s website offers you virtual language lessons, cooking sessions, and historical explorations. These cruises are tour-heavy and meant to provide you with a true sense of the culture in each country you visit. Some days, you will even have a local guide for your tour.
Promising to offer more complementary features than most cruises, Viking aims to provide a luxurious and enlightening experience. A complimentary shore excursion awaits you at every port. Between tours, you can always access the spa and fitness center. Or, you can relax and enjoy complimentary beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee, tea, or water.
Disney Delivers Fun for the Whole Family
Disney consistently ranks as the best family cruise line. There are many reasons why, but perhaps the top reason is their quality family entertainment. Dinners have delightful themes. Fireworks are frequent. And Broadway-quality theater brings the best of Disney characters to life. The live shows on Disney cruises are much like live shows at Disneyland or Disneyworld.
Another reason Disney cruises are great for families is that their cabin staterooms have a family-friendly design. Disney aims to provide more privacy and more sink availability than other cruise lines. Bathrooms include divisions so that you have access to the sink while someone is using the other facilities. Additionally, there are plenty of different staterooms you can select.
Disney is more than a family-oriented cruise line. Along with that distinction, Disney earned recognition as the best cruise line in the Caribbean. Disney Caribbean Cruises range from 4-9 nights and depart from numerous ports of call. Prices tend to range from $1,600 – $2,200 for two guests. Some popular Disney cruises to the Caribbean include:
- 4-Night Western Caribbean Cruise: Departs from Galveston, Texas
- 5-Night Very Merrytime Western Caribbean Cruise: Departs from Miami, Florida
- 6-Night Western Caribbean Cruise: Departs from New Orleans, Louisiana
- 8-Night Halloween on the High Seas Caribbean Cruise: Departs from Port Canaveral, Florida
Disney also owns a private Caribbean island. Castaway Cay is an exclusive island in the Caribbean reserved for guests of Disney cruises. Guests can relax at the Castaway Family Beach, snorkel at the Snorkeling Lagoon, or rent a boat and set sail, among many other fantastic entertainment features. The island even has a place specifically for teenagers, called Teen Hideout.
Carnival Closely Follows Disney in Family Fun
Trailing closely behind Disney and Royal Caribbean, Carnival sits in third place among the best family cruises. Like Disney, Carnival earns this ranking through its dedication to entertainment. Between rides, lip sync battles, and IMAX theaters, Carnival promises lots of fun. Kids can enjoy the Water Works, while parents indulge in the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat.
Carnival Cruise Line focuses a bit more than the Disney Cruise Line on adult alone time. Whereas Disney is all about fun group family activities, Carnival seems to have more activities for family members to enjoy individually. In addition to the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, adults can enjoy the following while their kids are enjoying themselves elsewhere:
While you and your partner are getting massages at the spa, your kids can enjoy:
These are just a few of the many onboard activities Carnival offers its cruise line guests. In general, there are many onboard activities that kids can partake in without their parents. Likewise, there’s a heap of exclusively adult onboard activities. Carnival is a top-rated family cruise line, but there are plenty of options for families in need of a little time apart.
Seabourn Scores the Highest in Mediterranean Cruises
Seabourn Cruise Line sits at the top spot for cruise lines in the Mediterranean. But that’s not all. Seaborn ranks 2nd in cruises for couples and for luxury. Beyond that, Seabourn is also in the top 3 for cruises in the Caribbean.
Seabourn strives for repeat-customers through special offers and the Seabourn Club membership. Seabourn promises an all-inclusive and intimate experience. The aim of a Seabourn cruise atmosphere is to make it feel like a private club. The staff is stacked so that each guest feels as though they have a personal attendant.
Actually, each suite does have a personal stewardess. Your personal suite stewardess can provide several personal services after he or she welcomes you on board with a glass of champagne. Your stewardess can draw you a bath or even arrange a small cocktail party in your suite for you. And, of course, they’ll manage your laundry services and upkeep your other amenities as well.
Seabourn is a smaller cruise line, affording them the ability to use hidden harbors and marquee ports. This means you can go places with Seabourn where a larger cruise ship simply could not take you. For example, here are some of the Caribbean cruises Seabourn offers that arrive in Bridgetown, Barbados:
- 14-Day Exotic Caribbean In-Depth
- 7-Day Classic Yachtsman’s Caribbean
- 18-Day Holiday Yachtsman’s Antillean
- 14-Day Caribbean Skies
And, perhaps the best thing about Seaborn is the All Ocean-Front Suites promise.
Royal Caribbean Runs the Lowest Tab
Royal Caribbean is ranked the best cruise line for the money. It’s also worth noting that it’s ranked 2nd best cruise line in the Caribbean (one would hope it would be up there in that category). And, it’s also ranked the 2nd best cruise line for families. Though it falls behind Disney in those categories, Disney can’t beat it in affordability.
While luxury cruise lines market their intimacy and service, Royal Caribbean screams value at you the moment you visit their website. You’ll see offers like 60% off for the second person or Summer 2021 cruises starting at $259. And, indeed, you can find a 4-Night Western Caribbean Cruise for under $300 per person very quickly. Here are some Royal Caribbean cruises under $500.00:
- 4-Night Best of Fukuoka Cruise—Starting from $313.00
- 4-Night Thrill and Chill Bahamas Cruise—Starting from $379.00
- 5-Night Kumamoto and Nagasaki Cruise—Starting from $415.00
- 6-Night Western Caribbean Cruise—Starting from $472.00
You might be wondering why Royal Caribbean’s package deals are so inexpensive. The answer is simple. It’s the largest cruise line. As a cruise line with more than 20 ships sailing and thousands of guests on each ship, Royal Caribbean can afford to offer the lowest rates. In fact, they must offer the lowest rates in order to fill up those thousands of suites.
Regardless of the reason, the fact is that Royal Caribbean is the best cruise line in terms of economic value. You can sail to the same kinds of destinations for a lot less by going with Royal Caribbean. As a larger cruise line, you can also choose from a wide variety of departure locations, saving you a lot of money. The bottom line is that Royal Caribbean has a massive fleet and more cruises to offer overall to the most people at the lowest rates.
Celebrity Comes Close to Royal Caribbean in Value
Celebrity is the 2nd best cruise line for the money, just behind Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean is large enough that no cruise line can compete with its rates. However, Celebrity continues to grow and thereby continues to lower its rates. The primary way to assess the difference is to consider that whereas you can easily find Royal Caribbean cruises for under $500.00, you can easily find Celebrity cruises for under $800.00.
Celebrity, like Royal Caribbean, is on the larger side of cruise lines. This means you have more ports to choose from, among other economic benefits. More ports mean less cost to get to the port. For example, you can cruise to the Caribbean from Cape Liberty, New Jersey with Celebrity—a rare departure port opportunity.
If you’ve ever flown into Newark instead of JFK, you know that flying to New Jersey instead of Cozumel, Mexico (or even Miami) can save you a lot of money. Larger cruise lines are also more affordable simply because you have more cruises to choose from, which include cheaper packages. Here are some cruise packages with Celebrity under $800.00:
- 5-Night Short Alaska Cruise—Starting from $779.00
- 7-Night Alaska Southbound Glacier Cruise—Starting from $789.00
- 5-Night Western Caribbean Cruise—Starting from $619.00
- 5-Night Key West & Mexico—Starting from $709.00
- 5-Night Bahamas & Dominican Republic—Starting from $729.00
- 5-Night Labadee &Puerto Plata Cruise—Starting from $799.00
In addition to being affordable, Celebrity aims to be a family-friendly cruise line. Family fun features include a teen spa, where teens can work on themselves, essentially. They can get their teeth whitened and their hair styled. They can work out with a personal trainer or just go to relax with a facial or a massage.
Another major value of the Celebrity Cruise line is that drinks, wi-fi, and tips are always included. At a very basic level, these amenities are available. Of course, there are upgrades. Upgrading allows you to get premium drinks and shore excursion credit. An additional upgrade gets you streaming wi-fi.
Crystal is Best for Couples Visiting the Mediterranean
Crystal Cruise Line is among the best cruise lines for couples and the best cruise lines in the Mediterranean. Crystal sits at the number 2 spot for cruise lines in the Mediterranean and the number 3 spot for couples. It earns its merits because of its extensive Mediterranean itineraries, which include both more and less popular ports. And, because it is not a cruise line shy of luxuries, it stands among the top 3 for couples.
Luxury is important for couples looking for romance. Crystal offers luxurious suites with a private verandah. Beyond that, it’s known for exquisite cuisine. You can book butler-serviced suites and penthouses. On top of that, the Hollywood Theater is the perfect entertainment for couples.
As for its accolades in the Mediterranean category, Crystal clearly has an immense array of Mediterranean cruises. There’s a 7-night cruise called Dreaming of Dalmatia with an unbelievable itinerary. It departs from Dubrovnik and arrives in Venice. The rates start from $6,999.00.
The reason the rate is high is that this cruise takes place on a luxury yacht. This cruise takes you from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Kotor, Montenegro. From there, you continue to explore different parts of Croatia. Before arriving in Venice, you get to explore Piran, Slovenia, which has been called an antidote to Venice.
Crystal also offers some extensive cruises, by which I mean length of time. The Grand Journey: The Mediterranean is a 26-night cruise that starts and ends in Rome. Fares for this cruise start from $10,867. It is an all-inclusive luxury cruise that takes you through many destinations within Italy, Monaco, Ajaccio, Spain, France, and Corsica.
Regent Seven Seas Serves Up Sophistication
Regent Seven Sea Cruises promise immersive exploration and thousands of free shore excursions. Luxury is the company’s aim, and its ships are its pride. Regent touts that its ships have the perfect size to give you an intimate atmosphere with spacious suites. Far larger than a penthouse suite, the Grand Suite is impressively large at around 900 square feet.
The size of your suite and the luxury of your amenities go hand in hand. With a Grand Suite, your amenities include all of the following at no additional charge:
- A pre-cruise hotel package with ground transfers, breakfast, and porterage
- Unlimited wi-fi with up to 4 logins/devices
- Laundry service
- Your personal suite butler
- Flat-screen TV
- A welcome bottle of champagne
- Bathrobes and slippers
- A one-time caviar service
- Priority check-in
- Restaurant reservations
- Shore excursion reservations
- Special discount packages
As a luxury cruise line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises tend to have higher rates than non-luxury cruises. However, it has some cruise options that are quite affordable compared to smaller, luxury cruise lines. For example, cruises from Seward to Vancouver start under $6,000.00. This particular cruise is 7-nights, and it stops in Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, Alaska, before arriving in Vancouver, Canada.
Another Regent cruise on the lower end of luxury cruise fares is the 7-night Stockholm to Copenhagen cruise. Fares start from $8,999, and it includes visits to 5 countries (6 if you include the departure port a destination). Departing from Sweden, the next stop is Helsinki, Finland. The following destination is St. Petersburg, Russia.
After multiple nights in St. Petersburg, the next stop is Tallinn, Estonia, which is on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. After that, the last visit before arriving in Denmark is Wismar, Germany. Fares for all-inclusive luxury cruises like this typically include the following:
- Round-trip air
- Unlimited shore excursions
- Beverages (including wine and spirits)
- Airport and ship transfers
- Tips (pre-paid gratuities)
- Pre-cruise hotel
The main reason to go with a luxury cruise line like Regent is to have the fare take care of all the planning for you. The fare grants you more than you could have asked for (or would have paid for otherwise).
Azamara Club Bookings with Complimentary Upgrades
Azamara Club is a small, luxury cruise line with a lot to offer, including solo cruises, back to back voyages, double upgrades, and future cruise savings. Azamara Club cuts solo cruisers a break on their stateroom fares. You can get complimentary upgrades by two categories when you book between specified time frames. You can also make Onboard Credit by booking back-to-back voyages, which you can save for future cruises as well.
Starting from under $7,000.00, Azamara Club has some incredible cruises like the 12-night Bali & Western Australia Voyage. Other options include what Azamara Club calls intensive voyages. For example, here are some intensive voyages with Azamara Club:
- 8-Night Iberia Intensive Voyage
- 16-Night New Zealand Intensive Voyage
- 17-Night Australia Intensive Voyage
- 7-Night Greece Intensive Voyage
Starting from under $2,000.00, the 7-Night Greece Intensive Voyage is among the less expensive cruises with Azamara Club. There are numerous voyages in that price range. Intensive voyages are less expensive because they mainly stick to a single country. The 7-Night Greece Intensive Voyage, for example, begins in Athens, visits 5 Greek islands, makes one stop in Kusadasi, Turkey (a major resort spot), and returns to Athens.
Azamara Club is also considered a luxury cruise line because of its sophisticated dining, entertainment, and service. The Chef’s Table dining experience is purchased separately at $95 per person. It is a 7-course meal. Each course is paired with a select wine that accentuates the dish.
Oceania Offers Around the World Adventures
The Oceania Cruises Experience is divided into three main categories: Europe and North America, Tropics and Exotics, and Around the World in 180 Days. Coming in 2022, the Around the World in 180 Days voyage aboard the Insignia cruise ship with Oceania offers a globe-circling journey. Also coming in 2022, the Europe and North America collection includes voyages within the:
- Baltic and Scandinavia
- Northern Europe
- Canada and New England
Additionally, the Europe and North America collection includes some transoceanic voyages. For example, there is a 14-day voyage aboard the Insignia from New York to Reykjavik. Moving first from New York to Canada, the trip takes you to multiple ports in Greenland before arriving in Iceland.
The Tropics and Exotic collection includes voyages throughout:
- Africa and Asia
- Panama Canal and Mexico
- South America
- South Pacific
- Australia and New Zealand
Additionally, the Tropics and Exotic collection includes some transoceanic voyages.
One example of an extensive voyage for the worldly connoisseur is the 61-day voyage aboard the Regatta from Los Angeles to Sydney. The Regatta makes its way along the west coast of the United States, stopping in Seattle, Washington. Then, continuing north, it stops in British Columbia, Canada. Following that stop, the Regatta makes several stops along the glaciers of Alaska.
After moving on from Alaska, the Regatta stops in Russia before making its way to Japan. It voyages to several locations in Japan, spending multiple nights in Tokyo. After Japan, the Regatta makes numerous stops along the shores of China, spending multiple nights in Shanghai. The Regatta continues to Vietnam, then Singapore, then Indonesia, and finally begins to make its way to Australia (visiting many parts of Australia before reaching Sydney).
Oceania’s cruise fares include all of the following:
General Considerations for Choosing a Cruise
Cruise lines can hold the distinction as being the ‘best’ for several different reasons. Generally, that ‘best’ designation indicates that they are the top option in a certain category. Here are some of the general categories you should consider when looking for the best cruise lines.
Big Cruise Lines
Some cruise lines are the best because they’re the biggest. Among these kinds of companies are Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Celebrity cruises. Big cruises come with a few benefits. Among the most notable of these advantages is that larger cruise lines offer the most competitive rates.
Niche Cruise Lines
Other cruise lines are the best in their niches. They are the best in a certain region, for families, or for couples. Some cruise lines are the best in multiple categories. For example, Disney has reached beyond its well-known family-friendly category and become the best cruise line in the Caribbean. The main reason for that is because of its private island, Castaway Cay.
Small Cruise Lines
Smaller cruise lines have to focus on luxury. Since their ships cannot hold thousands of guests, they have to focus on what they can include in their higher fares. Many luxury cruise lines offer a personal suite butler or stewardess. These cruise lines also tend to include airfare, and pre-cruise hotel stays in their fares.
Honesty in Expectations
The best cruise lines tend to be honest and obvious about what they aim to offer their guests. For some, the best thing they have to offer is entertainment. For others, it’s personal service and an intimate atmosphere. Cruise lines tend to be clear about whether or not they aim to accommodate entire families or just a pair of adults.
Most of the best cruise lines can offer just about anyone the base-line of what they are looking for in a cruise. However, they still tend to specialize in some area. It is good to get to know what a cruise line is most interested in offering guests. That way, you can determine whether a cruise line values what you value.
A new trend in cruises is eco-consciousness. Many smaller cruises deserve an honorable mention for the efforts they put into being environmentally friendly. These cruises tend to serve meals with ingredients that the chef sourced from local markets. They aim to offset carbon emissions as well as reduce waste. They also try to partner with smaller, family-owned businesses.
Through these efforts, eco-friendly cruises like the following stand to offer a more authentic local experience:
Smaller cruises also mean more exclusive ports. For example, the Ecoventura cruise line makes its way around the Galapagos. If the biggest and best cruise lines do not have your full attention, you might look into the smaller, eco-friendly cruise lines. After all, their respect for the environment does not mean they are shy of luxury.
Consider what you are looking for in a cruise and who will be joining you. Not all cruise lines provide entertainment meant for the whole family. Most cruise lines tout their cuisine, but some do a far better job of backing it up than others. The best cruise line for you is going to be the one that cares about what you care about the most.