Cruising 101 Part 3---Which Cruise Line?
Ok, so from our previous posts, we now know when you want to take a cruise and for how long and even to where. Great! You would think that those details would make the cruise planning process a breeze, but there is still so much to decide. Picking the best cruise line will be the next big decision. And trust us when we say that not all cruise lines are created equal.
Counting some of the luxury cruise lines like Oceania, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas etc along with more mainstream cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney and Princess, you basically have 15+ cruise lines to choose from. How on earth are you supposed to choose from such a vast number and variety of cruise line options?
Well again that is where we come in. We know what makes each cruise line different and what their strengths are as well as their weaknesses. Its not simply a price decision when looking at the cruise lines. It really boils down to which cruise line better suits you and your style of travel.
For the sake of time and space on this blog post, we are going to hone in on what we will call the major mainstream cruise lines that most have heard about. I am calling them mainstream because these will not fall into the ultra-luxury category like Regent or Silversea of Oceania do. The ultra-luxury cruise lines are more like large floating yachts where every luxurious detail is thought of and offered to the guests. Those cruise lines are amazing but we want to focus on those cruise lines that appeal more to the larger cruise public. And those are:
1) Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
2) Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)
3) Princess Cruises
4) Holland America
5) Disney Cruise Line
6) Celebrity Cruise Line
7) Carnival Cruise Line
A lot of the general, non cruising public will have most likely heard of 2 or more of the ones mentioned above. So we need to explain what makes each of the 7 cruise lines different. Why would someone choose Royal Caribbean over Holland America or maybe choose NCL over Carnival etc. Let's look at each of the 7 and we will explain what makes each one appealing in its own way to a variety of demographics.
First, there are two cruise lines that are very similar in their design, decor, onboard activities, eating venues and they both appeal to a wide range of cruiser demographics. The two are Royal Caribbean and NCL. They both will have state of the art, modern cruise ships with similar stylish, contemporary decor. They are not over the top when it comes to the color scheme and style of their interior spaces. They design their ships and staterooms in a way to appeal to the younger as well as the more aged cruiser. They have things such as large waterslides, rock climbing walls, and other unique activities to make sure kids and the kids at heart have plenty to do while onboard. Their nighttime venues will also appeal to the couples looking for a night of dancing and music. So Royal Caribbean and NCL will appeal to the young couples on their honeymoon, the older couples celebrating an anniversary as well as the families with kids of all ages. And their pricing for each itinerary will be similar per stateroom. Price wise...NCL and Royal Caribbean run very close to the same for similar stateroom categories. They are not the lowest priced cruise lines but they are also not the highest.
Second, there are 3 others in the list above that also share some similarities in style, onboard offerings, as well as cruiser demographic. Princess, Holland America and Celebrity are the more stately cruise lines out of the 7. Many know Princess from the ever popular show, The Love Boat. The show and the cruise line really vaulted cruising into the travel mainstream. They as well as Holland and Celebrity appeal more to the veteran cruiser. Their decor is more stately and formal feeling. You will find more shiny brass and dark woods on Princess and Holland America. Celebrity will be the most modern out of the 3 but they still design their ships and their activities around the idea that they will be appealing more towards those that have cruised before as well as adults that are most likely traveling without small children. These are cruise lines we would not usually recommend to cruisers who are possibly under the age of 40 with the exception of Celebrity and that also would depend on which of Celebrity's ships we were considering. These 3 again will price very similarly. They tend to price higher for the same type of stateroom category and length of itinerary than Royal Caribbean or NCL, but are still affordable and far less than the ultra luxury cruise lines mentioned at the beginning of this post.
That leaves us with two more cruise lines to discuss...Disney Cruise Line and Carnival. And Please know that we do not consider Disney and Carnival to be even close to the same. Not at all! Disney far surpasses Carnival when it comes to ships, service, food and overall experience. I break them out from the pack above because both are somewhat in a class all by themselves.
Disney is Disney. If you are a fan of anything Disney, you would love their cruises. While it is somewhat subdued, compared to their parks in Orlando and California, you still see Disney every you look while onboard. Again, that is a great thing if you are a fan of Disney. It might be a little much if you are one that really does not care much about the Disney characters and theming. Disney does not miss a beat when it comes to their cruise line. They pay as much attention to detail on their ships as they do in their parks. They service and decor is top notch. Their staterooms are actually closer in decor to those of Royal Caribbean but with some of Disney's own special touches. Their food and dining venues are about at the same level as Royal Caribbean and NCL. Specialty restaurants will have incredible food while the food in the other venues such as the main dining rooms and buffet will be good...not incredible...but good. And it should go without saying that Disney's cruise ships will have LOTS of things onboard that will appeal to families with kids of all ages. But don't overlook the adult fun that they have available as well. Their nightclubs and bars are awesome for adults without kids or adults who want to take a night off from their kids. So Disney should not be overlooked by those sans-children couples out there but again, you need to know that the Disney theming will be very prevalent while onboard. And why shouldn't it be...its Disney for crying out loud. Price wise again...you will find their prices more on par with Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. For sure higher than that of NCL and Royal Caribbean, but there are some small inclusions in their price that will will point out in the next blog post.
So now we are left to discuss the last cruise line in this group, Carnival. Why did we break them out from the pack and stick them down here near the bottom of the blog you ask? Its because they belong at the bottom of this list. Their pricing by far is the lowest. Their service can sometimes be less than any of the above mentioned cruise lines. Food is good overall. They still sail a lot of older ships that are need of major overhauls. Their decor is at times gaudy and a bit over the top...more Vegas feel aboard their ships. They appeal to the partier demographic. They want the party goers to come aboard. Their motto is that they are the "fun ships" and the noise onboard will remind you quickly that you chose a cruise line interested in keeping its cruisers engaged in drinking and dancing and "fun" as long as they can each day of the cruise. A mistake made by a lot of first time cruisers is that they think Carnival is an apples to apples comparison to say Royal Caribbean or NCL or even Disney. Then they see their lower pricing and choose Carnival based on the price point. That is a big mistake because Carnival cannot be compared to any of the other cruise lines mentioned above. They are in the lowest class all by themselves. Do they have happy, loyal cruisers? Or Course they do. But our purpose for explaining them this way is to set the proper expectations for someone who still may choose Carnival simply because of budget.
Hopefully you see by this blog that all cruise lines are not created equal. Each one has its own uniqueness and appeal and matching the right cruise line with the client is as important as matching them with the right itinerary for the time of year they want to cruise. Hopefully this grouping and explanation helps you see some of the differences as well as similarities. Time and reader attention is prohibiting us from writing details about what truly makes each cruise line different from another. Things like dining choices, onboard entertainment (i.e. nightclub acts, main broadway-style shows etc), and other things like rock climbing, ice-skating, waterslides all will differ from ship to ship and as well as cruise line to cruise line.
But based on who you are, what you like to do, your overall tastes will determine which grouping and inevitably which cruise line we need to help you focus on.
So now that we have covered, how long, where and which cruise line might be best for you...next up, understanding REAL cruise pricing. So stay tuned.