How to Pick a Cruise Line

Cruise ship at sea

Sitting down to pick the right cruise for your next holiday is like speed-dating. You can't take all day getting to know someone, but you need to figure out whether your personalities match. In cruise terms, there are tons of lines from which to choose -- but who's got time to narrow it down?

While cruise lines try to persuade travellers they can offer all-things-to-all-people, they're increasingly carving out distinct lifestyle niches. And even if all cruise lines seem the same at first, each one has its own perks and quirks. In fact, the same line can offer different experiences based on the age and size of a ship, the destination and time of year you're sailing.

So, which line is right for you? Here's our guide to get you started.

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Best for Romance

Windstar Cruises couple dining

Windstar

Nothing says romance like a sunset sailaway, complete with billowing sails. Windstar's fleet of three intimate motor-sail-yachts offers luxurious touches and port-intensive itineraries in honeymoon-worthy destinations in the Caribbean and Europe. 


Paul Gauguin Cruises

This line's namesake ship sails the South Pacific all year round. It's a favourite for romantic getaways because its itineraries stop at remote islands and provide plenty of time to splash about in bathing suits or lie in the tropical sun. A second ship brings the romance to Europe and the Caribbean.


Princess

The cruise line that owned the original Love Boat still insists that cruising is the ultimate in romance. While midsized and large ships might not be your idea of romance, Princess turns on the charm with alfresco balcony dinners for two, adults-only sun decks with spa-like atmospheres and dining venues perfect for date night. 


Best for Over-60s

Fred. Olsen Bar

Saga

You can't get on Saga's two ships unless you're over-50 (although you can bring a guest as long as they are over 40). The fleet consists of just two small ships -- Saga Pearl II and Saga Sapphire (449 and 720 passengers, respectively) -- both of which date from 1981, but have had significant refurbishments fairly recently (2015 and 2012). They are very traditional, in a British sense -- afternoon tea, Bridge, deck quoits, comedians as entertainment -- with superb cuisine and UK-style pubs onboard.


Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

The average age of a Fred. ship hovers around the 65 mark, and higher on longer cruises or out-of-season cruises. Fred. operates four small, old ships and sell exclusively to the British market (despite being Norwegian owned). Expect a cosy, traditionally British cruising experience -- think Afternoon tea, ballroom dancing and gentle pursuits on deck such as quoits and shuffleboard.


Cunard

Another great line for classic cruising, Cunard offers the only regular season of transatlantic crossings on its recently-refurbished flagship Queen Mary 2. Onboard, you'll dress up for formal dinners and ballroom dance parties, attend performances of well-regarded plays, sip Darjeeling at afternoon tea, or play lawn bowls on deck. 


Best For Families with Little Kids

Character Breakfast on Disney Cruise Line

Carnival

Kids love this line because there's so much to do. It has WaterWorks water parks, "Seuss at Sea" kids' programmes, kids' clubs, mini-golf courses and colourful "SportsSquare" outdoor activity areas. Some even have a Skycourse high ropes activity. Its newest ship, Carnival Vista, goes one better with the first IMAX at sea and Skyride bikes course.


Disney

Youngsters are treated to 24/7 Disney magic onboard, with kids' clubs in the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, as well as special film-themed areas. Other highlights include Mickey's Pool (on Wonder, Dream and Fantasy), AquaLab water play areas (on Fantasy and Magic), theatre productions, Pirate's Night deck parties and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (on Magic, Dream and Fantasy). Parents with very young children will also appreciate the nursery for youngsters from six months to three years (fee payable) and the fact that staterooms have baths as well as showers.


Royal Caribbean

This line has the most facilities for kids, especially on Harmony, Oasis and Quantum-class ships, which each have an H20 Waterpark on board. The RCI DreamWorks Experience is ideal for pre-teens and features characters from Shrek, Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon. You'll find it on Allure, Oasis, Liberty, Freedom, Quantum, Voyager and Mariner of the Seas. The Seaplex on Quantum and Anthem is another amazing space for young cruisers, with bumper cars, roller-skating, basketball, a circus school and "Seapods" boasting XBox Live gaming zones, table tennis and table football.


Best For Families with Older Kids

FlowRider on Allure of the Seas

Royal Caribbean

The best ships for teenagers are those that divide "teen clubs" into two age groups. Royal Caribbean does this (as does Carnival), providing both age groups with their own area. Highlights include the FlowRider surf simulator, Scratch DJ academies and climbing walls.


Norwegian

Older kids will appreciate Norwegian's "Freestyle" approach -- no set dining times or eating with strangers, no strict dress code (jeans are always acceptable) and plenty of choice for entertainment and food. Teen clubs offer gaming stations, exclusive parties, teen outings to see the Second City show onboard and late-night snacks. Plus, onboard facilities like video arcades, water parks, outdoor sports courts and cool musical venues and shows mean no one ever complains of being bored.


Carnival

The cruise line offers separate cool clubs, Circle C for tweens and Club O2 for teens, and shore excursions just for 12- to 17-year-olds, chaperoned by the youth staff. Look for ships with outdoor movie screens, water parks with waterslides and soaker areas, ropes courses and mini-golf for all day fun. 


Best for Active Travellers

Climbing the mast on Star Flyer

Princess

Alaska offers a host of natural thrills. Sailing along the scenic Inside Passage gives you plenty of opportunity to spot stunning glaciers and abundant wildlife. Princess Cruises is the top cruise line in this area, offering an engaging enrichment programme en route.


Star Clippers

For an authentic experience, try the classic tall yachts of Star Clippers. These call at off-the-beaten-track destinations in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia and also sail through the Panama Canal.


Royal Caribbean

This line has a vast array of facilities to keep you busy, including ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, basketball courts, surf simulators and zip lines (on Oasis-class ships). The Quantum and the Anthem even have RipCord by iFLY skydiving simulators and circus schools.


Best for Budget Cruises

Pool Deck on Magellan

P&O Cruises

With sales all year round, low prices can be snapped up on modern P&O Cruises' ships that don't fall into the budget category. Their Last Minute Cruise Deals mean there are even bargains to be had during the summer holidays. Plus, with Early Saver and Saver fares, there are great discounts on trips to far-flung destinations.


Fred. Olsen

Offering the largest number of U.K. departures, this line has a variety of deals available including Summer Cruise Offers, Latest Cruise Deals and Last Minute Cruise Deals, so there's always a chance to book a cheap getaway.


Cruise & Maritime Voyages

When it comes to cost, CMV often has bargain-basement prices online. Its Last Minute Getaway deals can reduce fares by up to 60%, while its Top Deals and Buy One Get One Free (Cruise) deals are not to be missed.


Best for a Splurge

Regent Suite

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

This luxury line's fares might be astronomical, but they include pre-cruise hotel stays, nearly all shore excursions, gratuities, onboard alcohol and soft drinks, fine dining and suite accommodation. Regent has also recently launched "the most luxurious ship afloat" -- Regent Explorer -- where a suite will set you back a cool £10,000.


Seabourn

Seabourn currently operates three luxury vessels, with a fourth -- the Seabourn Encore -- debuting in December. Indulge at the two-level spa (complete with pool and private villas); relax in a suite decked out with marble bathrooms, high-end sound systems and top-of-the-range bedding; enjoy complimentary drinks and course-by-course in-cabin dining; and let the attentive staff cater to your every whim. 


Norwegian's Haven

If you want an exclusive experience on a large ship, opt for a suite in Norwegian's Haven. Depending on the ship you pick, the Haven will feature a communal area for Haven residents, with a private pool, sun deck, fitness centre, restaurant and/or lounge. You can choose from an array of spacious suites, all with butler and concierge service, and still enjoy Norwegian's big-ship amenities. 


Best for Foodies

Blu on Celebrity Reflection

P&O Cruises

Britannia is an excellent example of a "foodie ship". It features five Food Heroes, including TV favourite Marco Pierre White, wine guru Olly Smith and master Patissier Eric Lanlard, who spread their magic across the ship. The Cookery Club with James Martin, master chef Q&A sessions and book signings will further enhance the experience for food fans.


Celebrity

Celebrity is all over the specialty dining scene, devoting tons of square footage on its ships to a variety of onboard restaurants. Choices range from upscale French-continental cuisine to a creperie with sweet and savory options and a whimsical venue specializing in out-of-the-box international comfort food. Add in an Italian steakhouse and a grill-your-own-meat/bake-your-own-pizza eatery, delectable gelato and an alfresco soup and sandwich venue, and you might forget to stop at the cruise ship staple main dining room or buffet. 


Oceania

You can't go wrong when Jacques Pepin is overseeing your onboard restaurants. All of Oceania's ships have superb cuisine in both main and specialty venues, but its newest and biggest ships have a wide array of dining venues. Go for fee-free Asian, Italian, steak and continental cuisine, or for a splurge, pony up for an exclusive dining event that pairs seven courses with an equal number of fine wines. 


Best for Enrichment

Guest lecture hosted on Queen Mary 2

Cruise & Maritime Voyages

You have the chance to get creative on CMV's Super Craft Cruises. Enthusiasts can learn anything from calligraphy to card art or jewellery making while onboard.


P&O Cruises

Learn to dance with Strictly Come Dancing professionals, where celebrity dancers and judges host workshops, performances and even the chance to compete yourself. You can also learn to cook in The Cookery Club, with onboard chefs -- or with celebrity chefs on selected sailings.


Cunard

The Cunard Insights speaker series and Cunard Book Club literary discussions are offered on all three ships, while Queen Mary 2 offers even more programs. Embrace your inner thespian with Royal Academy of Dramatic Art acting workshops, gaze skyward with members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and get intellectual about your musical entertainment with Juilliard Jazz groups.


Best for Night Owls

Carnival Nightclub

Norwegian Cruise Line

NCL is a party line, with its "Freestyle" cruising ethos creating a lively atmosphere. NCL ships can boast as many as 22 bars and lounges, plus nightclubs, casinos, shows, deck parties and more. Highlights on Norwegian Epic, Breakaway and Getaway include an ice bar and open-air nightclub.


Carnival

Carnival vessels have up to 12 bars and extensive entertainment options, including the adult-only Punchliner Comedy Club, live music, karaoke, and an on-board nightclub. There's also the Carnival Live programme, where top bands perform one-off concerts.


Celebrity

If high-end drinking is your thing, a Celebrity ship is the place to be at night. You can listen to jazz while sipping craft beers at Michael's Club, treat yourself to your own wine tasting from the enomatic dispensers at Cellar Masters or order creative cocktails at the Molecular Bar. Or let your hair down at the Martini Bar, where juggling bartenders pour colorful concoctions, and watch the moon rise at the outdoor aft Sunset Bar. There's always someplace to dance, whether it be a designated disco or another space co-opted for a party, and the casino is nearly always open to take away your hard-earned cash. 


Best for Entertainment

Disney Dreams

Disney

Disney's onboard stage shows mix original productions with live versions of hit movies like Aladdin and Toy Story. Its best known event, however, is its once-a-cruise pirate-themed deck party, which combines an interactive musical show with dance parties and fireworks. 


Royal Caribbean

This line is the only one to offer ice-skating shows and water-based acrobatic productions. Plus, it was the first to bring Broadway to the high seas with condensed versions of Chicago, Hairspray and Saturday Night Fever. It uses every inch of space to keep the fun going, with parades along its indoor promenade and aerial performances in the atriums of its Vision-class ships. 


Norwegian

This line often works with well-known brands, bringing the likes of Blue Chicago's Second City comedy troupe to its guests, as well as West End stage shows such as Rock of Ages. Its newest vessels offer the unique Cirque Dreams and Dinner Show (part acrobatic show, part alternative dining venue), jazz and blues clubs, musicians and comedians and on Epic, a recreation of the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles first played. 


Best for Water Lovers

Norwegian Breakaway's Water Park

Norwegian Cruise Line

NCL's Breakaway-class ships and Norwegian Epic boast brilliant aqua parks with flumes and slides right on your doorstep. These include the fastest drop-slide at sea on Breakaway ships and the Epic Plunge bowl slide on Epic.


Carnival

This fantastic family-friendly line has more water parks across its fleet than any other cruise line. You can splash around in WaterWorks aqua parks on 13 Carnival ships, including the new Carnival Vista, which features flumes named Twister, Drainpipe and the Speedway Splash.


Disney

Boasting lots of fun flumes, this line also has the high-speed AquaDuck water coaster on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. This slide features clear sections, where the tube overhangs the edge of the ship, guaranteeing a nail-biting ride.


Best for Solo Travellers

Studio Cabin on Norwegian Getaway.

Norwegian Cruise Line

This line's solo Studios are tailor-made for people cruising alone. Plus, there are opportunities for solo travellers to mingle in the Studio lounge and bar, which is only for guests staying in Studio accommodation (Norwegian Breakaway, Getaway, Epic, Escape and Pride of America).


Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Fred.'s passenger demographic means that the line attracts a disproportionate number of solo cruisers, and caters for this with no single supplements promotions, single cabins, singles meet-and-greets and gentlemen hosts.


Saga Cruises

Again, due to its older passenger demographic, solo passengers are well catered for. Saga Pearl II boasts 57 single cabins that are the same size as doubles, some with balconies, and with all the same amenities as other cabins. On Sapphire, there is slightly less choice: two balcony cabins are allocated for single occupancy, and there are 44 single cabins in total.

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