Are you thinking about going on your first cruise and not sure where to start? Unless you're invited by a close friend or family member to join them on a cruise, picking the best cruise line is often the most daunting part of planning a cruise vacation.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, you're not alone. I'm approached by travelers like yourself who are suffering from the "too many choices" syndrome, and they're stuck. To give you a helping hand, I've created a simple cheat sheet outlining what all the major cruise lines do best.
Just like you can expect when working with me as your travel advisor, I'll be honest and as unbiased as possible to help make sure you find the best cruise line for your first cruise vacation.
Which is the best cruise line for me?
Is Carnival Cruise Line best for me?
Carnival is known as the Fun Ship with its trademarked funnel. As a value cruise line, the company is dedicated to the American market and has a "drivable" port strategy with ships strategically placed along the US Coast Line.
Carnival is the only cruise line with a Fun Guarantee that gives you the option to get a full refund and flights home if you do not have a great time within the first 24 hours of your cruise. On the ships, you'll find a wide array of activities for kids of all ages with dedicated kids clubs, teen spaces, family spaces, and nightclubs for adults to party until dawn.
Because Carnival calls more ports in the US home than any other cruise line, you most likely can drive to a Carnival ship instead of flying to the more popular home ports. This can significantly reduce the overall cost of the cruise for larger families.
Carnival cruises are priced affordably to get you on the ship.
Because Carnival is priced affordably, there are many add-ons once you are on the ship (and even pre-sail purchases) that cause your total trip cost to quickly add up. These include onboard gifts, spa services, drink packages, excursions, photo passes, IMAX movies, upcharge dining, and more. In many cases, a realistic budget is to plan on spending at least double what you paid to get on the ship.
Carnival is a party ship, especially on shorter cruises. Expect to see lots of overdrinking on these shorter sailings. If you're a family traveler, look at one of the longer 7-night cruises to minimize the partying.
The Cheers! Package has daily limits. Carnival is the only cruise line limiting the number of drinks you can get with their drink package.
Is Celebrity Cruises best for me?
Celebrity Cruises is a premium cruise line with ships that sail worldwide. Celebrity has been positioning itself as the leader of affordable luxury cruising for the last several years, with their EDGE class ships being the pinnacle of that evolution.
Celebrity cruises reflect a premium price, but as you would expect, when you pay more, you get more. On every Celebrity cruise, tips, basic WIFI, and a drink package that includes drinks up to $9 are Always Included. You also have the option to Elevate your package to include a shore excursion credit or Indulge to get a shore excursion credit, onboard credit, upgraded WIFI, and the premium drink package.
Celebrity Cruises is a strong partner for the LGBTQ community, providing support year-round instead of just during Pride Month. Many LGBTQ groups find Celebrity the best option for their annual group cruise because of the Always Included WIFI, Tips, and Drinks, plus the ships are designed to be elegant and comfortable.
Celebrity has home ports around the globe, giving cruises a consistent experience while seeing more of the world.
The Always Included WIFI, Tips, and Drinks mean all the basics for a great cruise are covered with limited spending on the ship required. Beyond the basics, you'll want to plan for excursions, any upcharge dining, spa services, and onboard shopping.
All guests in suites have access to The Retreat, including a suite-only restaurant, sundeck, and other amenities.
Celebrity is primarily adult, but children are allowed.
Because the ship is geared mainly for adults, the kid spaces are not as well laid out as other options that cater to families.
Most cruises are at least 7 nights or longer. Celebrity introduced shorter Caribbean cruises in 2021; however, they are not as prevenient as other cruise lines.
Is Disney Cruise Line best for me?
Disney Cruise Line has a cult following from Disney lovers young and old. Disney started their own cruise line in the '90s and has created a product that allows for every type of cruiser. Sailing on a Disney ship is one of the best ways to get fully immersed in Disney on vacation without feeling like you're getting overloaded.
Disney characters, Broadway-caliber shows, first-run movies, and Disney Magic can be felt throughout the ship. But for those looking to escape children, the Adult-Only parts of the ship are tastefully decorated with only hints of Disney for those looking for it.
Disney has created unique experiences that you will only find on their ships, with many cruise firsts introduced by the brand. For example, Rotational Dining is a unique way to experience different restaurants while keeping the same servers; you'll form a great relationship as they learn your family's preferences. I'm still friends with some servers I've had over the years.
Disney Touches of Magic.
Disney does age-appropriate spaces the best, from fully immersive children's clubs for each age group to adult-only spaces.
Children's clubs have programmed by trained professionals, many of the counselors have undergrad degrees in education.
There are a LOT of kids. If you're someone looking to escape children, Disney is not for you.
Disney prices are high. The company prices as a premium cruise line, and you're still responsible for all the extras (drinks, WIFI, tips, spa, etc.).
Disney doesn't have traditional drink packages. You'll be paying out of pocket for every drink you want.
Is Holland America best for me?
Holland America is a cruise line that focuses on adult cruising, bringing immersive experiences to its cruisers for over 140 years. Holland uses mid-sized ships, which provide a more intimate experience and cruise to places larger ships cannot go.
On the ship, you'll experience world-class dining, entertainment, and luxurious accommodations. With over 500 itineraries going to 100 countries, Holland is well equipped to take you to see the world. You can dive deeper into the local culture with Holland's Exploring Central program because why else do we travel but experience life in a new way.
Holland has a long tradition of providing a luxury experience for over 100 years.
Sailing to nearly every country that has oceanfront property, Holland really does see it all.
Holland is typically cruised by Baby Boomers and older Gen X. Others are welcomed with open arms but often feel out of place.
The entertainment ends early in the evening. If you're looking to party until late at night, Holland is not for you.
Is MSC best for me?
MSC originally started cruising in the Mediterranean and moved into the US market, sailing out of Florida to the Caribbean. MSC is putting a lot of effort into creating new ships that appeal to US travelers and will have one of the youngest fleets for an established cruise line.
Because of its heritage, MSC has the most international passenger list. Many cruisers will travel from Europe to Florida to take an MSC cruise because they know the experience of the product from past trips. Americans traveling on MSC should know that the experience will feel different than typically expected, not in a wrong way, just different.
Pricing is very competitive because MSC is entering a new market. If you're looking for an affordable option, we can get you onto an MSC ship for less than what other cruise lines charge. But be sure to read the cons….
MSC has a lot of different food options that reflect the diverse cultures onboard.
The ships are new and well-appointed for comfort.
MSC's pricing structure is the most complicated out of all the cruise lines. When booking your cabin, you first need to select an experience, these range from the bare minimum to the "ship-within-a-ship" Yacht Club. Each cabin can choose which level of service they want, so you may not have the same services as your neighbor one door over.