|Cruise lines are very much like hotels in the sense that there is a wide range to choose from and each represents a different level of quality, service, amenities and price. Selecting the right cruise line that's consistent with your lifestyle, preferences, interests and budget is critically important to the satisfaction you will experience. Cruises lines are broken down by category below with a brief description of that category to assist in finding the right cruise for you. Click on the cruise line icon to see offers.|
Luxury Cruise Lines
The "Luxury" cruise lines represent the ultra-deluxe segment of the cruise business, and most are primarily small ship operators. These also tend to be the most expensive cruises, noticeably more expensive than the regular five-star cruises. The luxury cruise lines offer the most polished and sophisticated product in the industry. Exceptional service, elegant and refined ambiance, extra attention to passenger comfort and satisfaction, larger food budgets, a very high level of ship's maintenance, and more inclusive pricing are some of the hallmarks of the five-star cruise lines. Some luxury lines have eliminated tipping, or have a "tipping not required" policy. Single seating dining and/or alternative onboard restaurants that are open throughout the evening (at no extra charge) are popular features of many luxury ships. Passengers generally tend to be older, more experienced travelers who desire a less structured environment, and are more interested in "life enrichment" than a high onboard activity level. Indeed, some of the very expensive small ships in this classification offer almost no planned activities at all. The larger five-star ships usually offer production shows, movies, live music, and other activities typical of similar size ships, but oriented toward a mature clientele. If you have had a really great time on three-star ships, and become addicted to the activity level on these ships, a five-star cruise may not be for you. Luxury lines generally offer a greater diversity of itineraries, since many of their typical customers have already been to the mass-market destinations. Luxury ships usually have a very high percentage of repeat passengers on board, and generally receive the highest marks in customer satisfaction.
Premium Plus Cruise Lines
The Premium Plus cruise lines offer most of the amenities of the luxury lines at somewhat less cost. Smaller staterooms, a slight reduction in amenities, and perhaps a little less personalized service (not necessarily less effort to serve) is often compensated for by an increase in things such as shipboard activities, theme cruises, more contemporary and/or more lavish stage shows, and increased nightlife. They tend to place more emphasis on service and the overall quality of the cruise than the Premium lines. They also have larger food budgets, and higher quality and more diverse food offerings. In this area, although they are not quite up to the standards of the luxury ships, most travelers will not notice the difference. The cruise lines in this category have a large number of repeat passengers, and a high degree of customer satisfaction. People who choose a Premium Plus cruise wisely are unlikely to be disappointed.
Premium Cruise Lines
The Premium cruise lines often attract a more diverse and somewhat younger clientele than the luxury or Premium Plus Cruise lines, but this also depends on the itinerary (mass market destinations tend to attract younger passengers). Premium cruise lines generally offer good value and a solid product. The enormous expansion of the cruise industry in recent years, and consequent low fares, has put pressure on all the major cruise operators to raise additional revenues. Unfortunately, onboard "revenue generation" has become a fact of life on most cruise lines, with "art auctions," "gold chain by the inch" sales, increased adult beverage prices, and a generally more commercial atmosphere. This has sometimes been accompanied by a reduction in onboard services. Most of the Premium and Mass Market cruise lines have been affected, and their passengers are no longer immune from crass commercialism at sea.
Contmporary Mass Market Cruise Lines
The standard Contemporary Mass Market Cruise lines are the norm of the cruise industry. Most lines in this category provide a good product and a good value. The cost of a CMM cruise is generally less than that of a Premium Plus cruise but may be very competitive with Premium. The general emphasis is on delivering a good cruise rather than absolute perfection afloat. CMM are generally more crowded, and offer fewer frills. The pace of the cruise is generally faster, particularly on cruises of less than 7 days. Food budgets are typically lower and there may be less variety, but the food is good. Dining in alternative restaurants, when available, is usually not included in the price of the cruise ticket. Extra charges are often levied for services that are complimentary on luxury and Premium Plus cruises. There is often a lot of extra "revenue generation." The environment is more structured, and there is less personalized service. This does not mean that the crews do not try hard to do everything within their means to satisfy their passengers--they do. These ship lines are for most people, but not for everyone. If you expect a lot of personal service, or have become accustomed to being pampered on luxury ships, a CMM cruise may not fulfill all your expectations. They are popular with young families and younger people in general. The average passenger age is usually somewhere in the 30's or 40's, but all ages will be found onboard.Most itineraries will be in the high volume areas, particularly the Caribbean. The outstanding success in the category, Carnival Cruise Line, carries more passengers per year than any other ship line. Royal Caribbean is Carnival's biggest rival, with the newest, biggest and most innovative ships and is continuously upgrading their operation. Some of the other lines in the CMM category operate a mix of old and new ships. In fact, the age, size, and style of the ships in this category vary widely between lines, as well as within some of the lines. The CMM cruise lines, in general, receive favorable comments from their passengers and have become very comparable and in some cases better than the Premium Category.
River Cruise Lines These cruise lines offer a product that is outside of my normal classification system. Most operate vessels that are not ocean going cruise ships. These lines' vessels principally operate on protected waters, inland waterways, and rivers, and often offer specialized itineraries. River cruising has become extremely popular over the last several years and the river cruise lines are adding new ships with larger staterooms, more amenities and expanded itineraries. City tours are often included in the price of the cruise.
Niche Cruise Lines
In general, these lines operate ships that do not attempt to compete with mainline cruise ships in the areas of stateroom size and comfort, onboard entertainment, food and dining options. Instead, these ships offer unique features that traditional cruise ships do not. The passenger mix tends toward older clients and the adventurous, people who are seeking something different from the typical cruise. Smaller ships with less passengers can gain greater access by permit and permission to many places big ships cannot Fewer passengers, a few hundred compared to thousands can provide more in-depth and exclusive shore excursions. Bringing 100 people to a location does not change the character. Once destinations build large docks and infrastructure for the big ships the destination by sheer numbers of visitors is destined to change. Smaller ships may allow you to swim off the boat, fish off the boat, kayak right from the boat. Activities not possible with large ships. Smaller ships can bring on locals from the area. You can interact, eat a meal, be one on one, up close and personal instead of watching them make a presentation in a show room.