Choosing a Cruise Line- An Overview of the Cruise Lines and the Experiences Offered

Holland America offers some wonderful Alaska cruises- and much more.  Image courtesy of Holland America Cruises

Holland America offers some wonderful Alaska cruises- and much more. Image courtesy of Holland America Cruises

Choosing the right cruise vacation, based on your needs and interests

To choose the cruise vacation that is perfect for you, it’s important to know that one size does not fit all. Ask yourself the questions that will help you determine what will make your cruise experience memorable. What is your budget?— Would you prefer to buy a cruise that includes only the basics — accommodations, meals in the dining room or complimentary snack areas — and then pay for whatever extras you want (shore excursions, alternative dining, beer, wine and soda, etc.)? Or would you prefer a higher ticket price that includes such extras as beverages, shore excursions and alternative dining venues?

Will you be traveling with children? If so, you may choose a line that offers many family-friendly services (like babysitting). If yours will be an adults-only cruise, perhaps you’d prefer a cruise that attracts adults rather than families (there still may be some children, the more expensive the cruise the less likely you will see children). Do you like to spend long days at sea — or do you want a cruise that’s destination-rich, that calls at a different port every day?

No matter which line you choose, you can be confident that no other vacation experience offers the value, the convenience and pleasure of exploring multiple destinations without packing and unpacking. You will see beaches and mountains and historic landmarks, enjoy a variety of activities, and relax and be pampered in onboard spas.

Your cruise ship serves as your luxurious hotel, taking you to exotic ports of call while you enjoy spacious staterooms, award-winning restaurants, multi-million dollar collections of art and antiques and services designed to make your vacation truly memorable.

The NCL Pearl boasts an extensive waterpark.  Image courtesy of NCL

The NCL Pearl boasts an extensive waterpark. Image courtesy of NCL

About the Contemporary Cruise Lines

  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Costa Cruises
  • MSC Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Royal Caribbean International

The ships of the contemporary cruise lines are the largest and while the greatest number of itineraries they sail collectively are in the Caribbean, Alaska, the Mediterranean and other areas in Europe, they also offer worldwide sailings. Because the ships are large (some carrying over 5,000 passengers), they can only dock in larger ports, with the cruise experience possibly focused more on the ship and what it has to offer rather than on the destinations.

As the ships are large, they offer the most dining, entertainment and recreational options, as well as special services for families traveling with very young children (babysitting, complimentary equipment, etc.). They also tend to offer pricing options that represent good value for these families. Some of the ships of the Norwegian Cruise Line have a limited number of single cabins, an appealing option for solo travelers who wish to avoid the single supplement.

These lines are well suited for:

  • Families with young children
  • Families with teen-agers
  • Family reunions, multi-generational
  • Young adults looking for soft adventure and sports activities
  • Shipboard and destination weddings
  • Solo travelers
  • Honeymoons
Disney provides exceptional offering for families.  Image courtesy of Disney Cruises

Disney provides exceptional offering for families. Image courtesy of Disney Cruises

About the Premium Cruise Lines

  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Holland America Line
  • Princess Cruises

The ships of the Premium lines tend to be large, though not in the mega-ship category, and offer itineraries similar to the ships of the Contemporary cruise lines. These ships, too, are limited to fairly large ports. They offer solid service, upgraded amenities, enhanced dining options, innovative spa treatments, adult enrichment activities and a generally more sophisticated cruise experience.

All the lines have extensive children’s programs serving babies to teens.

These lines are well suited for:

  • Families with tweens and teens
  • Families who enjoy sharing educational experiences
  • Family reunions, multi-generational
  • Boomers
  • Destination weddings
  • Honeymoons/romantic getaways

About the Luxury Lines

Formal from press

Cunard provides a more formal, upscale atmosphere. Image courtesy of Cunard Ltd.

  • Azamara Club Cruises
  • Cunard Line
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Windstar Cruises

The ships of the Luxury lines tend to be smaller, between 600 and 900 passengers (except for Windstar), with itineraries that include not only popular ports, but also off-the-beaten-track destinations not accessible to the larger ships. Unlike cruises on the mega-ships, where the focus is on the ship rather than the destinations, these cruises are destination-rich, with more time spent in ports.

Though pricing is generally higher, these cruises tend to be more inclusive, with concierge-level service and an upscale, relatively unregimented cruise experience resembling that in a boutique hotel.

Though children are certainly allowed on these ships, there are no special programs or provisions for them, which makes these cruises appealing to those who prefer a quieter, adult experience.

These lines are well suited for:

  • Affluent seasoned travelers who prefer adult-oriented cruise experiences
  • Boomers
  • Travelers interested in exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations
  • Travelers who prefer casual, low-key luxury


Crytal's gourmet cuisine is just one of the attractive features of this ultra-luxury cruise line.  Image courtesy of Crystal Cruises.

Crytal’s gourmet cuisine is just one of the attractive features of this ultra-luxury cruise line. Image courtesy of Crystal Cruises.

About the Ultra-Luxury Cruise Lines

  • Crystal Cruises
  • Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
  • Paul Gauguin Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Seabourn
  • Sea Cloud Cruises
  • SeaDream Yacht Club
  • Silversea Cruises

Except for Crystal’s ships, which carry about 1,000 passengers each, the ships in this category carry about 500, while the yachts serve only about 100 passengers. Some offer luxury with all the attendant bells and whistles (like formal evenings, dramatic penthouses and over-the-top meals by celebrity chefs), while others maintain an atmosphere of casual elegance. All provide impeccable service. The larger ships offer sophisticated enrichment programs and entertainment, such as language instruction and wine-tasting.

Here, too, the smaller ships access smaller, out of the way ports worldwide and spend more time docked. And while you may see children on the ultra-luxury ships during school holidays, it’s safe to say that they do not cater to children.

These lines are well suited for:

  • Mature affluent travelers
  • Affluent international travelers of all ages
  • Travelers who expect the best of everything
AmaWaterways offers lovely cruises though beautiful French wine country.  Image courtesy of AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways offers lovely cruises though beautiful French wine country. Image courtesy of AmaWaterways

About the River Cruise Lines

  • AmaWaterways
  • Avalon Waterways
  • A-Rosa River Cruises
  • American Cruise Lines
  • American Queen Steamboat Company
  • Emerald Waterways Imperial River Cruises
  • Scenic Cruises
  • Tauck River Cruising
  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
  • Viking River Cruises

River cruising has been growing in popularity at a faster rate than ocean cruising, with many new clients ÔÇ£graduatingÔÇØ from ocean cruises. Why this growing popularity? There are no days at sea where passengers see nothing but water. River boats dock at a new port every day, virtually in the heart of every destination, allowing passengers to simply walk off and begin exploring immediately. As most riverboats accommodate fewer than 200 guests, there are no long lines for boarding or disembarking — or anything else.

Open seating for meals means passengers can sit with new friends for any given meal. Most riverboats now offer a second dining option, usually a casual venue on the top deck where limited space requires prior reservations. As river cruises are fairly inclusive, complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks are served with meals.

Though river boats were once fairly spartan and so were popular mainly with Europeans, today’s boats have many of the amenities associated with oceangoing ships — elevators, for example, balconies (usually French-type), marble bathrooms, fitness areas, even small spas.

These lines are well suited for:

  • Those mature adults looking for an up close and personal experience
  • Small ship lovers
  • Those looking for a destination immersion
BM312- Dolphins Media

Lindblad Expeditions focuses on exploring and preserving the environment. Image courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

  • Abercrombie and Kent
  • Blount Small Ship Adventures
  • Lindblad Expeditions
  • Swan Hellenic
  • Voyages to Antiquity
  • Voyages of Discovery
  • Un-Cruise Adventures

Though the cruise experiences are different among these lines, they are all aboard small ships and they are all about ÔÇ£discovery,ÔÇØ whether of remote destinations or of ancient cultures.

Swan Hellenic’s single ship, the 350-passenger Minerva was once meant to be a Russian spy ship with an ice-hardened hull. In 2012, an extensive 2012 upgrade created 32 cabins with new balconies and comprehensive updates of all 181 cabins, with new en suite bathrooms. There are many inside and outside single cabins to accommodate the many passengers who travel solo.

Though there is relaxed open dining, there is a sense of occasion at principal meals and passengers dress at least to a business-appropriate level.

The ambiance onboard has been described as high-end British country hotel, but it should be said that it is also like the best of the old expedition ships, where the emphasis is on cultural enrichment, featuring lectures, classical music concerts and the contents of the extensive library.

As the name suggests, Voyages to Antiquity offers cultural and historic cruises to ancient civilizations, with a special focus on the civilizations of the Middle East and Asia. The MV Voyager of Voyages of Discovery travels to destinations like India, Africa, the Middle East and Iceland.

Accommodations and amenities vary on these ships.

These lines are well suited for:

  • International travelers, especially from the U.K. and Australia
  • Single travelers with a taste for exploration
  • Mature, well-educated travelers who prefer cultural enrichment to cabaret shows and casinos
  • Travelers who enjoy soft adventure
  • Those who value educational experiences more than luxury
Seadream's yachting vessels provide a private club atmosphere.  Image courtesy of Seadream

Seadream’s yachting vessels provide a private club atmosphere. Image courtesy of Seadream

About the Lines with Sailing Vessels / Yachts

  • SeaDream Yacht club
  • Sea Cloud Cruises
  • Star Clippers
  • Windstar Cruises
  • Variety Cruises
  • Compagnie du Ponant

These vessels are all able to visit ports and destinations that are not accessible to the big ships. Their itineraries can be flexible; for example, the captains may, for a number of reasons, remain longer in a port than previously scheduled — or even make an unscheduled call. In general, these vessels spend more time in port, especially those which have an active nightlife.

While the ticket price, the service, the cuisine and the amenities earn the adjective ÔÇ£luxury,ÔÇØ you won’t find soaring atriums or a lot of black tie events. This cruise experience resembles a voyage aboard a private yacht, where you have a comfortable cabin with nice amenities, where you can dress as you please and have some flexibility about when and with whom you dine. Some of the vessels listed are fairly inclusive (wine, beer, soft drinks, cocktails, gratuities), some are not.

These sailing vessels are well suited for:

  • Affluent young adults
  • Travelers who prefer casual luxury to formal settings
  • —International travelers
  • Mature well-educated, well-traveled adults
European Waterways barges cruise the rivers of Europe for a destination-rich experience.  Image courtesy of European Waterways

European Waterways barges cruise the rivers of Europe for a destination-rich experience. Image courtesy of European Waterways

About Luxury Hotel Barges

  • French Country Waterways
  • European Waterways
  • France Cruises

Hotel Barges operate on the rivers and canals of France, Belgium, Germany, Scotland and the U.K. Where once they carried wine, grain and other products, the barges now carry affluent passengers. They vary in size, configuration and the quality of their accommodation, accommodating anywhere from four to 24 guests. All have a lounge where guests may congregate and an upper deck for outdoor relaxation. Some have hot tubs and one (the Orient-Express Amaryllis) even has a small heated pool.

Though the term ÔÇ£luxuryÔÇØ is used to describe the hotel barges, the cabins can be small, with basic furnishings, tiny bathrooms and few amenities. The exceptions are the accommodations on the more upscale barges, for example, those of Orient-Express.

The experience, however, is similar. Service is attentive and personal, with a high staff-to-guest ratio, and the food, sourced locally whenever possible, is prepared ├á la minute by a skilled chef who is attentive to guests’ dietary needs and wishes. The meals consist of several courses, all accompanied by good quality regional wines.

As the public space is fairly limited, the cruise experience can be most satisfying when fellow passengers are convivial and good company.

The basic price of a barge cruise is high, somewhere around $5,000 in a twin/double en suite cabin, but it includes all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers. Gratuities are not included.

Barges can be chartered for family or business groups and can be customized around special interests, for example, golf, tennis, wine, etc.

These hotel barges are well suited for:

  • Family reunions
  • Corporate retreats
  • Seasoned travelers seeking to explore a particular region
  • Affluent travelers interested in regional food and wine

Many of the lines are becoming all-inclusive; to view the amenities please go here:

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