Alright, now that we’ve covered the basic When and Where of cruising (see Part 1 of this series), we will now explore how to figure out the Who (picking a cruise line) of cruising.
Selecting the cruise line you want to patron is kind of like selecting a college. You can pick one based on its reputation for parties, sophistication, affordability, or its focus on a specialty that’s right up your alley. Sound daunting? Don’t you worry, there are no standardized tests required before boarding your cruise.
Take a moment and look at the cruise line’s marketing brochure. Do the photos feature young folks dancing through the night? Silver-haired passengers in formal wear? Children splashing about? This is a good clue as to the kind of vibe the company is going for.
That being said, here’s a quick rundown of the major cruise lines and what they are best known for.
- Carnival: Your cruise director really earns his or her wages on this line. There are lots of entertainment options throughout the day, night, and wee hours of the morning. This, plus the affordability of the line, results in a younger clientele who are ready for a fun time. There are also more families since cheaper prices enable many people to bring their kids along for the vacation.
- Celebrity: This line focuses on posh sophistication. Entertainment options are more likely to include guest lecturers and cooking classes than late-night discos or belly-flop contests. Generally, the ships offer top-notch cuisine and superb service. The line spends a good deal on keeping the ships looking and feeling modern, which results in a higher quality experience and higher price tag.
- Disney: Naturally, this line is Uber-family friendly. Disney has succeeded in bringing magic to the seas. They have excellent, high-quality programs for children of all ages, including teenagers. The “Disney-ness” is both obvious and elegant; costumed characters roam the ships but the designers have made sure that the overall theme is classy ocean liner instead of overwhelming amusement park. Since the line expects families to vacation together, the staterooms are larger than average. However, all the magic comes with a steep price tag.
- Norwegian: NCL is an excellent generalist. They offer a little bit of everything at a reasonable price. They offer premium dining experiences for an additional cost, decent children’s programs, and a flexible dress code. On formal nights you’ll see anything from plain front shorts and Hawaiian shirts to tuxes and cocktail gowns. NCL offers top-notch entertainment, performing well-known musicals and hosting genuinely clever comedians from Second City. The variety of bars and night clubs ensures that there’s always a party going on somewhere.
- Oceania: Prepare yourself to be immersed in a luxury experience. Since you’re paying top-dollar, well-trained staff provides gracious service, the décor is full of beautifully polished woods and thick carpets, and there are specialty restaurants that don’t require an additional fee. The menus are prepared by a James Beard Foundation trustee known for being personal chef for three French heads of state. (Oh lá lá!) The passengers on these lines tend to be over 50 and, though it does not discourage children from coming aboard, there are very few families since there are no children’s programs.
- Princess: Princess is great at providing you with options. You’ll never feel as through you’re being diverted into the same eating and entertainment pattern as everyone else. The line offers flexible dining plans, an array of alternative eateries and chef’s table experience (for a fee), plus numerous enrichment classes ranging from cooking to digital photography to pottery. This is another reasonably priced line that offers something for everyone, so passenger demographic is wide and varying, depending on the itinerary and time of year.
- Royal Caribbean: This is another good all-around line. The food isn’t superb but will please just about everyone with its buffets, flexible dining, and alternative (for a fee) restaurants. Ships can offer a variety of active options, such as rock climbing walls, mini golf courses, ice skating rinks, zip-lines, and/or surfing. For entertainment, there are flashy productions in the theater, great live music through the ships’ many venues, and amusing audience participation game shows. Like with NCL and Princess, the affordability of the line means a slightly younger demographic and fuller ships.
- Windstar: Want a relaxing, country club experience? Then Windstar is for you. The dress code is always “casual elegance,” even during dining hours. These smaller ships don’t have a gamut of entertainment options with gaudy productions or embarrassing game shows. Instead there may be talks about the next port of call or lavish buffets that never come to a close. Each vessel offers a water sports platform with complimentary snorkeling, windsailing, paddle boating, and water skiing. The passengers of Windstar tend to be active adults who are willing to pay a higher price for a quality, peaceful experience.
Tune in next week when I discuss the “Which” of cruising (selecting a ship) in the final part of this series.