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Which Ship Should You Board? Norwegian vs Royal Caribbean vs Carnival vs Princess vs Celebrity

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Celebrity Cruises logo
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Disney Cruises logo
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Norwegian Cuises logo

Want a hassle-free getaway with little to no worries about planning an itinerary, finding good restaurants or arranging transportation from one place to the next? Why not consider taking a cruise? Cruises are popular with families and adults alike for a simple reason — they take the “work” out of your vacation (and its planning) so you can sit back, relax and enjoy! And with today’s cruise options, you have your pick of amazing destinations, high-quality, onboard entertainment and activities, fine dining and much more.

What Are the Benefits of a Cruise?

Why consider a cruise over a single destination vacation, especially if you’ve never taken a cruise before? Although you don’t get to soak up a single destination for long, there are many benefits.

  • Value: You’ll typically pay less per person for lodging, meals and activities on a cruise compared to one destination vacations. Keep in mind that almost all cruises charge extra for sodas, alcoholic beverages and shore excursions.
  • Less Planning: Once you choose your desired cruise, there’s not much planning left to do once you’re on board.
  • Multiple Destinations: Depending on your cruise length, you may get to travel to multiple ports of call. You may even find your next vacation location!
  • Easier to Track Costs: With most meals and activities included while you’re on board, you don’t have to worry as much about racking up additional travel costs.
  • No Hassle Transportation: This one’s a biggie — no subway systems to navigate, taxis to find, car rentals, etc. It’s a much easier way to relax and enjoy everything within walking distance.

What Details Should You Consider?

  • Cost per traveler, what’s included in the per person rate and any additional fees
  • Dates and length of cruise
  • Departure locations
  • Your desired destinations/ports of call
  • Ship amenities & quality of food
  • Onboard activities & entertainment
  • Customer service reputation

Best Cruises

First, we’ll give you our choices for best overall cruise lines, taking into consideration all the factors and details we covered above. But we’ve also broken down our top picks into “best of” categories to help you find the best cruises for your individual needs. Click on a category below to jump to our review of the cruise line you’re considering. Or read below for our overall top three winners!

Celebrity Cruises Review

#1

View on Priceline

Celebrity Cruises wins our top spot for the best overall cruise line and best cruise line for couples. What sets them apart? There are a lot of reasons why they’ve been voted Best Premium Cruise Line by Travel Weekly’s Reader’s Choice Awards for eight years in a row. Celebrity’s ships are among the most stylish compared to all other major cruise lines. Consumers rave about their specialty restaurants and level of service — Celebrity has more crew members per passenger than other major lines. And they offer a wider variety of onboard activities (not just pools and live shows — although they have those too!). You may pay a bit more for your initial cruise package, but Celebrity doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for “extras” on board.

Onboard activity highlights: adult-only pools, indoor pools, spa, basketball, mini golf, arcade, trivia contests, casino, upscale live musicals, comedy shows, glass blowing classes, dance contests, interactive Top Chef Quickfire Challenges (they partner with the Emmy Award-winning Bravo show), presentations by naturalists and experts about the history and culture of your ports of call and much more.

Pros

Cons

  • Competitive pricing, especially for quality of amenities and service by their plentiful crew
  • Smaller ship options (starting at 800 capacity)
  • Cabin sizes and options are above average
  • More onboard activities included in cruise rates than some competitors
  • Food quality is excellent, among the best out there
  • New in Nov. 2016: “Dine Aware” program caters to passengers with food allergies and special dietary needs
  • In addition to traditional pools & sports, many onboard activities include fun, educational programs for kids & teens
  • Plenty of adult activities — good for couples
  • Entertainment and live shows are high quality
  • Excellent customer service and crew
  • Onshore excursions not included in cruise rates
  • Fleet is smaller so not quite as many options for dates, departure locations, destinations, etc.
  • Automatic tipping charge of $13.50+ per day

Disney Cruise Lines Review

#2

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Disney Cruise Lines, quite obviously, is the best cruise line for younger kids and their families, and we’ve also chosen them as our number two pick for the best overall cruise line. Their ships are surprisingly elegant with more spacious cabins compared to other major cruise lines. The Disney element is carefully scattered throughout the ship so as not to overdo it, but when it comes to a lot of the activities, it’s definitely Disney. Most of their cruises are heavily kid-centered, although they do offer a few adult-only decks, pools and restaurants (even an adult only beach on their private island, Castaway Cay). If your kids love Disney, they deliver ten-fold, and the babysitters are awesome. There are some secluded spaces and activities for teens, but not as many as some other cruise lines offer. If you’re looking for an excellent vacation with kids under 12 and don’t mind the Disney-themed vacation, take a serious look at Disney!

Onboard activity highlights: kid & adult-only pools, mini golf, basketball & volleyball courts, Disney musicals & live shows, Star Wars Day at Sea (on Disney’s Fantasy ship), movies, fireworks, fitness center, spa, nightclub (no casino)

Pros

Cons

  • Pricing is affordable for the quality
  • Cabins are more spacious than other major cruise lines
  • Ship sizes aren’t as mammoth as Royal Caribbean or Norwegian
  • Excellent activities for kids, teens and whole family — majority included in cruise rates
  • High quality live shows and entertainment
  • No automatic gratuity policy
  • Stops at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, are included in cruise rates (but their other onshore excursions cost extra)
  • Great customer service and crew
  • Free soda stations on some ships
  • Food and dining choices are largely kid-oriented (although each ship has at least one adult-only fine dining choice)
  • Not the best choice for couples wanting time away from kids
  • Smaller variety of departure locations, dates, cruise lengths and destinations

Norwegian Cruise Line Review

#3

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Are you looking for a more laid back cruise experience? Norwegian Cruise Line could be just what you need. With no dress code or fixed dining times, Norwegian bucks the trend of most other major cruise lines. Although they tend to be on the pricier side, they provide reduced rates for kids under 2, and they offer a wide variety of specialty restaurants on each ship and a more diverse list of activities than many other lines. Their typical passengers include couples, honeymooners and families. Norwegian provides plenty of kid, teen and adult-oriented activities, but their standard cabins are smaller than most other lines. However, look for ship improvements. Norwegian is investing $400 million in fleet-wide upgrades and experience enhancements, which are currently underway. If you’re single or a couple looking for a longer-range cruise, we recommend you look into Norwegian.

Onboard activity highlights: Nickelodeon characters, water slides, bowling alley, gourmet beer bar, trivia contests, wine tasting events, Broadway shows, improvisational comedy shows, dancing and cooking lessons, casino, separate teen center

Pros

Cons

  • Wide variety of specialty restaurants on every ship
  • Longer voyages offered as well as good options for destinations, departure locations and dates
  • Above average live shows and entertainment
  • Great variety of activities
  • No automatic gratuity policy
  • Good for couples (especially when kids are in school)
  • Large ships but consumers say they don’t feel as crowded as other mega ships
  • Pricier than some of its competitors
  • Standard cabins are smaller than most other cruise lines
  • You end up paying more for some onboard activities that other cruise lines include in their rates
  • Some consumers report their level of customer service has dropped

Our Other Best Cruise Lines Choices

Although they didn’t make it into our top three winners, Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean are still major players in the industry. Each has its unique experiences, and they’re definitely worth consideration. Click below on a cruise line you’re interested in to jump to the review.

Carnival Cruise Lines | Princess Cruises | Royal Caribbean

Carnival Cruise Lines Review

Carnival Cruise Line logo

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A Carnival cruise is best summed up as a floating Los Vegas, with a fairly flamboyant and high-energy atmosphere. Carnival is all about boisterous fun, but they have toned it down from years past when their ships were referred to as a floating frat party. Carnival is extremely budget friendly, but what you save in money you lose in luxury. Their ships just aren’t as upscale as many other major cruise lines. Still, Carnival offers a huge variety of entertainment and dining options — and they include a majority of onboard activities in their cruise rates. If you’re looking for a bargain, Carnival frequently offers sale prices and incentives.

Onboard activity highlights: water slides, sports courts, water parks, mini-golf, jogging track, ropes course, kids camps, spa, fitness center, adult-only pools, Vegas-style live shows, comedy acts, live popular comedian and band perfomances, IMAX movies, casino, nightclubs, piano bars and more

Pros

Cons

  • Most affordable of all major cruise lines we reviewed
  • Larger variety of cabin types and sizes
  • Majority of onboard activities included in cruise rates
  • Wide variety of dining options with more flexible dining times than some competitors
  • Large fleet with a lot of dates, departure locations and destinations
  • Good for younger couples looking for a rowdy vacation
  • Alcoholic beverages less expensive than most competitors
  • Onboard activities lack learning opportunities
  • Automatic $12.95+ tipping charge per day
  • Ships are large, loud and can get fairly crowded
  • Consumers report that customer service and crew are decent, but not as high quality as some other lines

Princess Cruises Review

Princess Cruises logo

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Princess Cruises is another solid option for budget-minded travelers. They have a large fleet, so there are plenty of cruise options, but if you’re looking for a kid-oriented mega ship, you might want to look elsewhere. Passengers run on the older side (40’s, 50’s, 60’s), but younger couples and families are starting to choose Princess more often now than in the past, and they have plenty of kid and teen activities to satisfy all age groups. Featured as the “Love Boat” in the hit TV series, Princess is still a good option for couples looking for a romantic getaway.

NEW in 2016: Princess has been hard at work enhancing its passenger experience with the fleet-wide addition of new club class mini-suites and club class dining options. They’ve also forged new partnerships with celebrity chef Curtis Stone, master chocolatier Norman Love, the Discovery Network, and Stephen Schwartz (award-winning composer of Wicked) for a variety of new onboard enrichment experiences.

Onboard activity highlights: pools, sports tournaments, spa, fitness center & classes, putting greens, upscale bars, casino, learning program with classes in digital photography, Italian cooking, etc., book club, live shows, kid camps, teen lounges, dance parties and more

Pros

Cons

  • Pricing slightly higher than Carnival but still overall a good budget alternative
  • Smaller ship options (starting at 680 capacity)
  • Large fleet so plenty of different cruise options and destinations (cruises up to 100 days long)
  • Good variety of dining options and flexible dining times (they’ve upgraded their food quality in recent years)
  • Most onboard activities are included in cruise rates
  • Great for couples of all age groups with romantic touches in their amenities
  • Consumers report overall great customer service and crew
  • Their larger ships can seem crowded at peak vacation times
  • While they offer a variety of cabin types, they tend to be smaller than some competitors
  • Not ideal for families with kids and teens — typically an older crowd
  • Automatic tipping charge of $13.50+ per day

Royal Caribbean Review

Royal Caribbean logo

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Royal Caribbean is one of the most popular cruise lines (especially for multi-generational families), but don’t let their name confuse you. Royal Caribbean’s fleet of 23 ships sails to 235 destinations in 69 countries across the globe. Their pricing is competitive, and the number and variety of onboard activities are impressive. Royal Caribbean offers something for any age group, making it our Best Cruise Line for Families. In addition to onboard sports and water activities, they offer a host of fun, educational programs for kids as young as three up to adult-age language courses. Their Port excursions also include a wide variety of activities for all age groups.

Onboard activity highlights: zipline, rock wall, ice rink, zero-gravity machine, water park, pools, casino, spa, nightclubs, Broadway-style shows, Dreamworks Experience for kids

Pros

Cons

  • Affordable initial pricing for the whole family
  • Great choices of activities for all family members — kids, teens, adults
  • Extensive variety of dates, departure locations, cruise lengths and destinations all over the world
  • Royal Suite Class luxury suites include inclusive amenities, personal concierge and more
  • Wide variety of specialty restaurants
  • Addition of VOOM fleet-wide for faster onboard WiFi
  • New rewards program: earn points for discounts on next cruise
  • Most ships are extremely large (if you’re not into huge crowds) – However, this could be a pro if you’re prone to motion sickness as it’s less likely to affect you on larger ships.
  • You end up paying for more onboard activities compared to other lines
  • Cabins are small on their older ships
  • Not ideal for couples looking for a romantic getaway
  • Automatic tipping charge of $13.50+ per day
  • Some customer complaints about sub-par customer service and crew
  • A lot of customers aren’t crazy about the food quality

How Much Fun is a Cruise?

Check out the video below to see how much fun a Carnival cruise (and other cruise lines) can be.

Why Consider a Cruise?

Some people love cruises; some don’t savor the idea, even though they’ve never tried one. Although seemingly popular, in reality only 24% of the U.S. population has ever taken a cruise vacation, according to CruiseMarketWatch.com. What does this mean for U.S. travelers? The cruise market is trying to entice more U.S. customers, so you likely can find some pretty good deals, especially during non-peak times. Cruises can be an excellent getaway for singles, couples and families alike. If you’ve done the same old one-destination vacation and want to explore something new, consider a cruise. In this day and age, you can find a lot of enriching experiences for your whole family and explore parts of the world you might not have the opportunity to see otherwise.

How do you rate the cruise lines you’ve experienced?

An international traveler since she was under 10 years old, Sally loves exploring the world’s mysteries first hand. Her favorite destinations? Greece and the British Virgin Islands. She grew up learning to question, explore, and discover new things and ideas — it’s probably why she went into journalism as a career! She loves what the Internet has brought to research and exploration, but she still hits the ground to travel whenever she gets the chance.

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3 Comments on "Which Ship Should You Board? Norwegian vs Royal Caribbean vs Carnival vs Princess vs Celebrity"

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Susan M
Susan M

I am going stir crazy and usually go somewhere warm in January or February to escape the winter cold. I haven’t been on a cruise before though as I’ve heard mixed things about them. While they are affordable and easy I don’t quite know if I’m the right fit for a cruise, but this has sort of made me rock the boat!

C. Anderson
C. Anderson
Hi Susan M, I am a 42 year old female, married for 19 years (in April this year!) and you MUST CRUISE…AT LEAST ONCE! We went on our 1st cruise in April 2013 for our 15th anniversary. My husband was not interested at all in cruising for a long time. However, unbeknownst to me, he began seeking feedback from his coworkers who have cruised to get an idea of whether he should give it a try or not. Thankfully, he agreed to a cruise for our 15th…and I then began my journey of planning. Ultimately, my travel agent (via RCI)… Read more »
Sadie Cornelius
Admin
Sadie Cornelius

Awesome thanks for sharing your cruising experience, sounds like it’s the key to a happy marriage!

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