The following is my opinion of the top ten cruise lines that the average person can afford. I’m choosing to leave off the luxury cruise lines that the majority of cruisers will not be able to afford because those lines are so exceptional that they would probably take up the top five spots of the list. This way the list helps more people find the best cruise lines. I’ve also tried to note where a cruise line is the best for families or the best for older or younger cruises. In other words depending on what yo uare looking for your list may be a little different than mine. But hey this is a good start anyway.
1. Celebrity Cruise Lines
Having sailed on the Celebrity Millennium over seven years ago on our honeymoon, my wife and I still consider this to be our favorite cruise line. Everything including the ship, service, food and itinerary were outstanding. If you want a taste of luxury that everyone can enjoy then choose Celebrity. The newest Celebrity ships are right up there with the likes of the Oasis of the Seas and help make Celebrity one of the top cruise lines for couples, families and seniors alike. While other non luxury lines are typically known for being good at one or two things Celebrity gets it all right in one affordable package. The new Solstice even offers the first cruise ship with actual grass onboard.
2. Holland America Line
Holland America is one of the top rated cruise lines for service. Their “Signature of Excellence” service provides an unforgettable cruise experience and its hard to find a past cruiser that speaks bad about the line. If you are a cruise traditionalist and like formal dinners and ball room dancing this is the line for you. Many also consider HAL to be the best cruise line for seniors so if you are planning a family trip or looking for a party boat this may not be your best option. Holland America also offers a great variety of itineraries. While many lines stick to the traditional 7 day cruises Holland America offers a much wider selection of reasonably priced 10+ day cruises. This is no doubt a big reason you will find more retirees on these cruises instead of the average worker who can only take off a week at a time.
3. Royal Caribbean International
Next to Carnival, Royal Caribbean is the most recognizable name in cruising and if you are willing to spend a little more than what you will pay for Carnival you will be rewarded with some of the best cruise ships at sea and a cruise you won’t soon forget. The new Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas have set the new standard for cruise ships with zip lines, surfing parks, rock walls, moving bars, central parks, merry-go-rounds, loft suites and inside balconies. The list of one of a kind items is so long it would take a whole post to talk about them. Even if you don’t take one of the new mega ships most of RCL’s other ships are fantastic as well such as the Navigator of the Seas or the Freedom of the Seas. Just stay away from their two oldest sovereign class ships as they do not offer near the amenities of the rest of the fleet.
4. Disney Cruise Lines
Disney without a doubt is the top cruise line for families and if it weren’t for the cost, Disney might be looking at the number one overall spot instead of dropping all the way to number four. Disney has always been known for their state of the art technology and their cruise ships are no exception. The new Disney Dream may be the second best cruise ship at sea behind the Oasis of the Seas. The Dream features a one of a kind 765 ft water coaster called AquaDuck which goes up and down four decks and even out over the water. If that wasn’t enough Disney magic for you they have even added Magic Portholes to their inside cabins. The magic portholes broadcast live views of the ocean outside to a porthole shaped screen in your room. Even with all the Disney Magic onboard though its hard to justify spending more for an inside cabin on a 4 night cruise than you would pay for balconies on other lines with longer itineraries.
5. Cunard Line
I was originally going to put Cunard in the top three based mainly on tradition alone. Cunard is a storied line that has been around for over a century but after going trough several reviews it seems the more recent ownership by Carnival Corporation may be wearing off on Cunard in a bad way. Cunard still has the appearance of ships of old and you can even still find class like structures on board their ships with separate dining, lounge and deck areas for suite holders. That may or may not be a good thing but what isn’t a good thing are the multiple complaints of service. It seems Carnival is more concerned about bottom lines and shareholders than the best possible cruise experience. As a result over the past ten years service has declined much as it has on all of Carnival’s cruise lines. Even with spotty service, everyone should try a Cunard cruise at least once just for tradition alone.
6. Princess Cruises
Like Celebrity Princess does a great job of providing a great cruise for everyone on some great ships such as the Caribbean Princess. At one time Princess even owned the original Love Boat. Princess was the first cruise line to offer “Movies Under the Stars” where you can relax on comfy loungers with a bag of popcorn and a blanket all provided by the staff. Princess also offers lots of dining options onboard and offers great areas for teens to hang out and get to know each other. Princess is another one of the lines that was bought by Carnival but unlike some of the other Carnival lines they have been able to maintain a decent level of service.
7. Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival may not have the best ships, or the best service or even the best food but what they do offer is the most affordable, fun for the whole family cruise experience you can get anywhere. With prices for some cruises under $200 a person it’s no wonder they are the largest cruise line in the world. The Carnival kid’s program is also a close second to Disney and they offer some of the largest standard cabins at sea. Carnival gets a bit of a bad wrap for being a party boat and to some extent they have earned it with the drink of the day being sold around every corner and a pretty solid night life going to the wee hours of the morning but that doesn’t have to stop you from having fun. Just avoid cruising on spring break and the first couple of weeks of summer after graduation and you will have a blast. After all it is the Fun Ship.
8. Norwegian Cruise Lines
NCL is a strong 8 spot on the Top Cruise Lines list. An innovator of “Freestyle Cruising” and voted best cruise line for honeymooners, best cruise line for gamblers and best cruise line for evening entertainment, Norwegian could start to climb this list quickly. If you are a cruise traditionalist then NCL is not for you. They actually embrace a more casual experience and you will rarely see a tux onboard. Perhaps its this more contemporary cruise experience that leads to mixed reviews of the line. Norwegian also offers the only year round cruise through the Hawaiian Islands and is a great way to visit Hawaii.
9. Costa Cruises
Costa is the largest cruise fleet in Europe and the first of the European cruise lines to make our list. They are also a subsidiary of Carnival so you will recognize some of the ship designs. For instance many of the ships are designed similar to a Carnival Glory or Carnival Miracle. This is where the similarities end however. Since Costa is an Italian inspired cruise line many Americans are put off by the differences from American lines and tend to give Costa low ratings. For instance Italians are big smokers and while there are now designated areas on all ships you should expect a smokier voyage. Other European customs such as the way they stand in line, get in and out of the elevators and even the language announcements are made in tend to put some Americans off as well. I chalk most of this up to spoiled Americans with a sense of entitlement. I’m guessing the same people who want only English to be spoken on an Italian ship also get mad when they see Spanish spoken anywhere in the states. Anyway, sorry for my rant. If you go with an open mind Costa cruises can be a great experience and a good way to travel other parts of the world with folks from around the world.
10. MSC Cruises
Last up is our second European cruise line and newest cruise line on the list. While the Mediterranean Shipping Company has been around for a long time they only just got into cruising during the late 80′s. Because of this they tend to be a bit behind the curve on most things. One thing that does make MSC stand out however is the new “Kids Sail Free” promotion. All children 11 and under sail free when booking with two adults. Taxes and fees still have to be paid but that’s still quite a deal in a rough economy and might be worth looking over some of the little things. Like Costa this is very much a European cruise line so don’t expect your typical Carnival cruise here. Also be prepared to pay for things such as coffee and room service that you typically get free on American lines.