Despite the glossy ads, not all ships are created equal. Choosing the best ship for your cruise vacation is a lot like choosing the best hotel for a land vacation. If you pay “Holiday Inn” prices you won’t get a “Ritz Carlton” experience (no matter how nice the pictures look in the TV ads!). Now I happen to like both these hotel brands, and sometimes the “best” hotel for me depends on the purpose of my trip. I can be very happy with a Best Western for a one-night stay to break up a long road trip, but want more service and amenities for a romantic weekend getaway or a business trip in a major city. But I always want to know which level of product and service I am buying before I choose.
The first step in choosing the right ship for your cruise vacation is to understand where the cruise lines fall on the price and service spectrum. There are 3 standard classifications for Cruise Lines from CLIA (Cruise Line Industry Association)
- “Contemporary” (think 3 star hotel) usually offers the lowest fares for a good basic experience. Often these are the mega-ships with 3,000 – 6,000 passengers. They usually attract a lot of families, younger and first time cruisers. The cabins are smaller, the guest to staff ration is larger. The food and service is good basic quality. Contemporary ships always have kids clubs and plenty of family activities and entertainment.
- “Premium”(think 4 star hotel) offers bigger staterooms, smaller guest to staff ratio and often attract more experienced travelers and fewer children. The Premium cruise lines have smaller ships (1,000 – 3,000 passengers). Premium lines often have better itineraries and more ports of call. The food and service also tends to be better than Contemporary ships. These lines tend to attract fewer children, but they do offer kid’s clubs and activities during school holidays (or whenever there are at least 20 children sailing).
- “Premium Plus” (think 4 ½ star hotel) is a sub-category that promises better service, food and amenities for a slightly higher fare. Celebrity and Oceana dominate this category and are aiming to attract an upscale traveler.
- “Luxury” cruise lines are the 5 star ships of the industry. These tend to be smaller ships (250 – 700 passengers). Some are all-suite, and all offer concierge level service and gourmet dining. They attract experienced, upscale travelers (no children) and offer the most exotic ports of call for travelers looking for a new and different experience. Often these cruise Lines offer all-inclusive packages including business class airfare, pre & post hotel stays, shore excursions (and more) in the cruise fare for a seamless concierge experience.
Overall, choosing the best ship for your cruise vacation depends on the budget, age and interests of your travel party and can vary over time. I usually prefer Premium Cruise Lines, but just had the opportunity for a last minute, very affordable Caribbean cruise on NCL. Despite the VERY small cabin, we had a great time with the more casual and relaxed “anytime” dining and entertainment schedule. It was definitely the right price and right timing for an impulse cruise.
What Cruise Lines have you tried? How was your experience?
For help choosing the BEST cruise ship for your vacation contact:
Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel – Cruise Planners