How To Choose The Perfect Cruise Line For You!

So, you’ve finally decided to take a cruise? Well, before you start throwing your swimsuit in a bag while humming the theme from “The Love Boat” stop and consider the variety of cruise lines there are to choose from.

If you’ve never cruised before you want to work with a travel professional in choosing your cruise line. They have the ability to match your needs with the line most likely to provide a memorable trip. There are so many to choose from!

Start first with how the cruise lines define themselves: there are the Mainstream Lines, such as Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean; the Premium Lines, which include Celebrity, Holland America and Princess and the Luxury Lines, such as Crystal and Regent Seven Seas. This division, which can be an indicator of price, is really more of a barometer of your style, desires and special needs. Do you love formality and dressing for meals or are you more casual? Are you looking for a spa experience at sea? Do you want a lively casino experience and world class entertainment or do you just want to relax? Next you must look at your traveling companions- is this a romantic getaway for two or a multigenerational celebration of a family milestone? Will you need entertainment for the younger ones or are you looking for a port intensive educational experience?
If you are traveling with children you will want a cruise line that is prepared to offer their younger cruisers the same care they offer the adults. You want a line with a children’s program – especially one that is well segmented by age. Some people feel that their children won’t want to be part of the programs – they will want to spend their vacation as a family but they are usually surprised! Most youngsters like the opportunity to take advantage of the offerings – even if it’s just as hour or so of video games away from Mom & Dad.
Disney Cruise Lines, not surprisingly has a great deal of time and space devoted to their Junior Cruisers. Parents are issued pagers to allow them to stay in touch. Activities are scheduled from 9AM – midnight in the Oceaneer Club for ages 3-7 (must be toilet trained to participate) and the Oceaneer Lab from ages 8-12. There is also a teen club – The Stack – with a dance club, internet café and large screen televisions. A small fee is charge for Flounders Reef Nursery, where children from 3 months to 3 years can spend some time.
Carnival Cruise Lines, the self proclaimed “fun ships” has earned very high marks for their Camp Carnival. It is run year round by trained professionals. They have an extensive childrens’ area with playrooms and splash pools. They have more levels of campers with narrower age divisions. This makes for smaller more manageable groups. The 2-5 year olds are entertained with puppet shows, drawing and coloring while the 6-8 year olds get computer time and arts and crafts. There is also a group for the 9-11 year olds with pool parties and dance lessons, social events and sports for the 12 – 15 year olds and “Club 02” for the 15-17 year olds. They have late night movies, karaoke and a place to just hang out. There are even shore excursions just for teens.
Holland America Line has worked very hard to promote their Club Hal. They offer a professionally staffed youth and teen program with groups from 3-7 years old, 8-12 years old and 13-17 years old. The offerings include storytelling, pizza parties and Sony Play Stations. The teen club has its own dance contests and, on some ships, their own sun deck.
If there are no children along then you have some other questions to answer. A cruise vacation is your money, your time and should fulfill your dream. Consider your likes and dislikes. How long a cruise do you want to take? Which lines offer the itineraries you’re interested in?
How about the style of the ship? Do you love the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas? Are you delighted with an action packed casino? Carnival Cruise Lines is probably for you. Their ships are fun; all of the public rooms are decorated with themes ranging from ancient Egypt to a futuristic décor. The food is the best of the Mainstream lines – with 4 set meal times and casual alternatives. The service may not have a great deal of polish but it is always upbeat and friendly!
If you are a lover of the Disney Theme Parks, can’t get enough of audience participation entertainment and won’t miss a casino – try the Disney Cruise Lines. Strangely enough many adults on their own love the Disney ships. There are adults’ only sections throughout the ship and even an adult restaurant. Their short cruises are all casual – no formal nights and the ships horn plays “When You Wish Upon A Star”!
Moving up to the Premium Lines will usually offer you more itineraries, different length cruises and some different ports of call. This is usually the place where more gourmet food choices make their appearance. Holland America has long been known as a food lovers cruise line. Celebrity also bills itself as having some of the finest food at sea.

The décor will take a step back and be more understated. Some cruise lines showcase world class art throughout the ship and very high end merchandise in the on board shops. The service will be a bit more polished and personal – on Holland America it isn’t unusual for room stewards to recognize previous passengers! The entertainment will be more Broadway than Las Vegas and there won’t be too many wacky games around the pool!
The Luxury Lines, including Crystal and Regent Seven Seas, offer very personalized service. They are usually smaller ships with generous staterooms, a variety of dining options and amazing food. Not many Junior Cruisers on these lines! Some have small youth programs but only offer them during a specific season. Some of these lines bill themselves as “country club casual” and the casinos are more Monte Carlo then Atlantic City.

One last consideration – how large a ship do you want to be on? Cruise lines are building new ships at an incredible pace – and some of them are enormous! Holland America has pledged to continue with their mid size ships of 1500 to 2100 passengers. Princess Cruise Lines offers both the mid size ships (1500-3000) and has a group of smaller ships holding less than 700 guests. This smaller size allows them to offer visits to some unusual ports that are unable to handle the larger ships. Royal Caribbean keeps going for “bigger is better!” When they introduced Freedom of the Seas it was the largest cruise ship afloat at 1112 feet long. It has a capacity of over 3600 people, has hot tubs that cantilever 12 feet over the side of the ship and The Flowrider” a wave pool that allows you to surf at sea. By this summer there will be 2 more Freedom class ships offering the same amenities. What’s coming in the future? An as yet unnamed Royal Caribbean ship with a capacity of over 5000 passengers!
How to decide? Cruise ships are like small (and not so small) cities at sea. When you make a decision for a land vacation you look at where you want to go, what you want to see and how long you want to stay. The questions for a cruise are the same! Work with someone who knows what to ask – listen to what they say – pack a bag – have fun!

Creative Commons License photo credit: jacreative