It is never possible to definitively assign a rating to any cruise ship as one person’s experience can vary greatly from another’s. For most major lines, it’s not only the line’s reputation that you have to think about, but that of the individual ship. Several lines have ships ranging from the smaller, older “classic” ships to the brand-new mega ships. So within the same line, you will generally find lower prices on the older ships. If the dollar is your bottom line, then consider one of these; the ship may be smaller and not as glamorous, but the quality of service and food should be the same on all ships within a line.
This is why it’s very important that you find an agent who is knowledgeable about cruising when you plan your vacation. Some travel agents sell only a few cruises a year and may have only cruised on 1 or 2 cruise lines. Some 800 number outlets may have order takers that have never cruised. A cruise travel specialist is your best assurance of having the best cruise vacation and getting the best value.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” is true of cruise lines and ships as well. Yes, there is a difference between budget and premium – in the quality of the ship, service, entertainment, and food. If those things and the little things – getting great service the first time you ask, consistent quality food, great entertainment, etc. – are important to you, then don’t go for the lowest price. Sometimes an extra $50 or $100 will let you move up from a 3 or 4-star ship to a 5-star ship? now that is true value.
The best way to ensure a great cruise is to leave your cares behind and just enjoy yourself. That being said, several different organizations and groups have tried to put together ratings for the cruise lines in order to help people decide what cruise will suit them best. The information given here is a compilation of the experiences of ourselves, our clients, and our ongoing research, but it is not meant to be a definitive guide. The ratings are general guidelines based on a scale of 1-6 stars. The higher the rating, the better the overall quality of service, dining, and amenities.
AZAMARA (5+ stars) www.azamaracruises.com
Azamara is a relatively new cruise line, but it is owned by Celebrity and is operated as an even more upscale version of Celebrity, earning a rating of over 5 stars in dining, amenities and service. Because it is still a relatively unknown line, Azamara offers very competitive pricing to attract new guests, making it one of the best values at sea.
CARNIVAL (3 stars) www.carnival.com
Carnival is a good all-around cruise line that is best known for being fun. They cater to all ages and have excellent children’s programs. Carnival has a reputation in some circles for being a low-budget ‘party’ line for young people, but it does not deserve that title as it has improved in quality and sophistication a great deal in the past several years.
CELEBRITY (5 stars) www.celebritycruises.com
Celebrity stands at the top of the major cruise lines with excellent marks in service, dining, and amenities. A Celebrity cruise is always a great choice.
COSTA (3 stars) www.costacruise.com
Costa is an Italian cruise line that offers a European standard of cruising. Costa offers a wide variety of Mediterranean itineraries.
CUNARD (5-6 stars) www.cunard.com
The most famous shipping line in the world, featuring legendary ocean liners (as opposed to ‘cruise ships’) built to withstand the rigors of the North Atlantic. Quintessentially British (but aimed mainly at the American market) and impeccable service.
DISNEY (5 stars) www.disneycruise.com
Disney’s reputation for premium quality at a premium price holds true on their cruises as well. They offer the best kid’s programs at sea, bar none. They also offer a great deal of choices for adults too.
HOLLAND AMERICA (5 stars) www.hollandamerica.com
Holland America stands beside Celebrity at the top of the major cruise line ratings. Holland America has been known to cater to an older crowd, but that is an image they are working on changing and they do have programs for all ages. Their ships are typically somewhat smaller than the other major lines, giving them a bit more of an intimate atmosphere.
MSC (3 stars) www.msccruises.com
As the name states, MSC is a very Italian cruise line. Overall quality is good and so are the itineraries, but you may find that English is not the language of choice onboard.
NORWEGIAN (3-4 stars) www.ncl.com
Norwegian’s newer ships offer good all-around cruise experiences for budget-minded cruisers. They offer a wide variety of cruises from home ports all over the United States, including the only year-round cruises in Hawaii.
OCEANIA (5 stars) www.oceaniacruises.com
Oceania is a relatively new line’, having only come into existence in 2002. Reviews so far have been outstanding, placing it in the 5+ star range for dining, amenities, and service.
PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES (6 stars) www.pgcruises.com
The Paul Gauguin is known for offering the most romantic cruises in the world. Sailing out of Papeete, Tahiti to French Polynesia and other exotic South Pacfic Islands, Paul Gauguin cruises are a great value when one considers the extreme high quality and all-inclusive pricing they offer. KVI also offers exlusive pre- and post-cruise interline deals with Intercontinental resorts in French Polynesia – including overwater bungalows in Bora Bora!
PRINCESS (4 stars) www.princess.com
Princess offers a wide variety of cruise options in the good to excellent range. They often offer some of the more exotic itineraries in Asia & Australia. Princess is the home of the original ‘Love Boat’.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES (6 stars) www.rssc.com
Regent’s philosophy of ‘casually elegant’ cruising puts them in a class of their own. Less formal, but just as high quality as other six-star lines, Regent is also known for being the most inclusive of all cruise lines, especially with their free unlimted shore excursions. Regent cruises are a great value when one considers the extreme high quality and all-inclusive pricing they offer.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN (4 stars) www.royalcaribbean.com
Royal Caribbean is the world’s premier large ship cruise line, catering to guests of all ages and featuring the largest and most advanced fleet of ships in the industry. Typically rated a step above competitors like Carnival and Norwegian for offering more space-per-person, higher quality amenities and dining and fewer onboard charges.
SEABOURN (6 stars) www.seabourn.com
Seabourn is at or near the very top when it comes to the world’s best luxury cruise lines. Along with Silversea, they are more formal than Regent and offer all-inclusive rates (alcohol, gratuities, etc. included).
SILVERSEA (6 stars) www.silversea.com
Silversea usually wins the awards for ‘best of the best’ when it comes to cruising. They spare no expense when it comes to pampering their guests with everything the heart desires. Along with Seabourn, they are more formal than Regent and offer all-inclusive rates (alcohol, gratuities, etc. included).
WINDSTAR (5 stars) www.windstar.com
Windstar offers a unique, high-quality experience aboard their beautiful sailing ships. They travel to many of the more exclusive, ‘out-of-the-way’ ports that the larger ships can’t get to.
River cruises offer outstanding values in Europe, Egypt and Asia. These cruises allow excursion-rich itineraries to fascinating historical areas not accessible by cruise ships. Guided shore excursions are included in cruise fares. Reviews from passengers on these lines are always very positive and emphasize the incredible value of these tour-inclusive vacations.