Top 5 Cruise Lines

Gargantuan cruise ships are steaming through the world’s oceans in unprecedented numbers, carrying thousands of travelers on their trips of a lifetime. If it’s time to plan one of your “bucket list” vacations, how will you choose the best cruise line?

If you’ve never cruised before, one way to get on board the best cruise ship is to ask seasoned cruise professionals. They all have their favorite cruise lines, ships and destinations. The travel experts I spoke to are experienced travel agents, travelers and vacation advisors. Here are their top picks:

1. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

With 22 ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, this cruise industry giant boasts two of the largest cruise vessels in the world: The Oasis of the Seas and its twin, the Allure of the Seas, each carrying up to 5,400 passengers. These giants contain a replica of Central Park rising five stories from the middle of deck 8, and balcony rooms that offer a park view. Another innovation is the addition of bi-level studio cabins, which are smaller cabins without the claustrophobia factor. The size of these ships allows for a great variety of on deck activities, including a zip line that soars 82 feet above the deck. RCCL also has smaller cruise ship options. In February, the company fitted its 1,800-passenger Splendour of the Seaswith iPads in every cabin. For service, amenities, and dining excellence, you can’t go wrong with a Royal Caribbean cruise, and the list of destinations stretches around the world.

Editor's Note: Two more gargantuan ships have been added to this fleet: The Harmony of the Seas became the world's largest cruise ship until November, 2018, when her sister, the Symphony of the Seas takes over that title.

2. Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line controls around 8% of the worldwide cruise market. Although smaller than RCCL with 13 ships in its fleet, this may be the most innovative of the cruise lines reviewed here. NCL was the first cruise line to combine “sea and air” programs, and once offered automobile hangars hidden in the stern areas of the Starward and Sunwardships. The new, brightly painted Breakaway was voted “best new ship” by Cruise Critic editors, and another colorful addition to the fleet, the Getaway, took to the waters this year. Their latest innovation puts them squarely in the favorites column: “Freestyle cruising” allows dining at any hour and informal dress at all times. You don’t have to pack a suit or a formal gown.  One outstanding factor in choosing this cruise line as a number 2 favorite is the great variety of dining options, with small French bistros, Japanese-style teppanyakis, and more traditional formal restaurants and buffets.

3. Celebrity Cruises

New ships join the Celebrity fleet at a rate of one a year. In addition to the brand new ships, Celebrity upgrades the older ships on a continuous basis so all rise to the same standards. Celebrity Cruises are known for their interesting array of onboard activities. For example, on the new Celebrity Silhouette, cruisers can take interactive cooking classes at the Lawn Club Grill, or a self-guided iPad tour of the onboard art collections. A recent enhancement on the Celebrity Reflection is the Reverie Dream Sleep System, which allows guests to adjust bed settings from their iPhones. Once sailing mostly in the Caribbean, now you can take a Celebrity Cruise in the waters of Asia, Europe, Alaska and Australia.

4. Oceania

It’s not just the all-inclusive beverage package that leads to this top billing. The food and restaurant programs aboard Oceania’s four ships are simply incomparable. Land excursions in Europe include guided market and wine tours, followed by cooking classes onboard with guest chefs. Toscana, the traditional Italian restaurant, is a world-class dining experience available on all four ships. A menu of artisan-style olive oils and fresh bread for dipping are reason enough to book a cruise.  Oceania Cruises are truly a luxury experience, and the exotic destinations make it a favorite for that “bucket list” cruise. On Oceania, you can visit the waters of Greenland, Canada, New England, Europe, China, Southeast Asia and through the Panama Canal.

5. Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Cruise Lines is the world’s largest cruise company with 24 ships that carry 21% of the worldwide market share.  Yes, they’ve had their share of negative news in the past few years. But the cruise line continues to receive supremely favorable online reviews and seems to be making a public relations comeback. The ships are being rewired and refitted to make them safer, and a new CEO is making changes that include money-back guarantees of satisfaction. Cruiser loyalty is strong for Carnival Cruise Lines, and the reputation of the “fun ships” is solid. The cruises onboard the fun ships are known for a great variety of activities, including shows, casinos, water slides, zip lines, sports decks, outdoor theaters and more.  It’s clear that with the “satisfaction guarantee” and the great variety of ships, destinations and amenities, we can’t leave Carnival out of the “Top Five Cruise Lines.”

By Kay D. Harrison

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