Ocean cruises are extremely popular and for good reason. They can represent some of the most affordable ways of traveling multiple countries without having to worry about driving or flying from destination to destination. Ocean cruise fares are often inclusive of meals and onboard activities, making this a good option for those who want to take control of their vacation budgets.
Ocean cruise ships are typically large vessels with extensive amenities, similar to those at land-based resorts, including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, music halls, shops, swimming pools, casinos and fitness facilities. Onboard activities include theater, concerts, lectures, magic shows, children's programming, and other activities, such as crafts, wine tastings and cooking classes. These ships sail the oceans and visit ports of call where passengers can disembark to take in the sights and attractions before returning to the boat.
Ocean cruise lines operate all over the world. While many people in the United States are familiar with Caribbean, Panama Canal, and Alaskan cruises, ocean cruise ships also operate throughout Europe and Asia and even to Antarctica.
How many ocean cruise companies and their brands are often quite distinct. While there certainly can be differences in the level of services and amenities provided, the reality is that the selection of an ocean cruise line is a deeply personal decision for most travelers. Below are some of the considerations that people have when selecting a cruise line:
People choose to go on ocean cruises for different reasons. Some enjoy taking time off and relaxing and allowing ships staff to pamper them for a week or two. Others enjoy a high-energy party atmosphere where they can eat, drink, gamble and dance as much as they wish. Others appreciate the ability to visit multiple ports of call during a single trip. Since some cruise ships visit relatively exotic and inaccessible ports of call, such as Antarctica, there is also a segment of cruisers who enjoy adventure or expedition cruises that focus on the destination more than onboard entertainment.
As you might imagine, many cruise lines have developed their brands to cater to any and all of these travelers. Some cruise lines focus on high culture with excellent entertainment, onboard lectures from academics and professionals, and innovative cuisine. Others cultivate the party crowd with many bars, casinos, nightclubs and social events. There are even cruise lines that specialize in expedition cruises that combine cruising with adventure travel.
When choosing a cruise line, take note of its website and other marketing materials. Pay attention to the ages of the people depicted in these materials and how the cruise line presents itself and its onboard amenities. Your travel agent can be a big help in this regard: Let him or her know about the things you like to do, your interests, and what you want from a cruise. The travel agent can steer you to the right cruise line.
Many experienced cruisers have decided preferences when it comes to the size of the ships they sail. Some cruisers prefer very large ships, while others prefer a more intimate, yacht-like experience.
On a related note, it's also important to consider the number of passengers that a ship can accommodate. There are some larger ships that have lower passenger capacity simply because they offer larger or fewer cabins. The latter is particularly the case on ships where all the cabins are "outside," and have either a window or balcony.
Most people don't plan to spend a lot of time in their cabin while on a cruise, but it's still nice to be in a space that is comfortable and well-appointed. If you have any mobility challenges or plan to cruise with friends or family members and need separate areas or beds, it's wise to look for ships that offer accessible staterooms, additional beds, or family suites.
Some ships also offer a "ship within a ship" experience for those who select a higher level of accommodation. These passengers typically stay in suites and may have access to private lounges, restaurants, fitness facilities, swimming pools and hot tubs. Some ships even provide butlers to these guests.
Amenities can differ significantly between ships, such as:
If access to amenities such as these matters to you, check the cruise line's website or talk to your travel agent to ensure that the ship you choose meets your needs.
Cruises are known for being an inclusive travel option: At a minimum, your fare will almost always include accommodations, meals, port fees and taxes, and onboard entertainment. Other costs may, or may not, be included in your fare. These include:
Cruise lines that don't include the above in their standard fares may offer you the option of adding them to your fare when you pay for your cruise. For example, you might be able to purchase a beverage package that entitles you to unlimited non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages (with a few restrictions) throughout your cruise.
While it is true that many cruise enthusiasts are more interested in the onboard experience than they are ports of call, other cruisers are eager to check out ports of call. Ocean cruises operate in many different areas, so if there is a region that you'd like to explore, consider a cruise: You can always return for a longer, land-based trip to the city or cities that you enjoyed the most.
Below are some of the top-ranked ocean cruise companies within their market segments, ranging from mainstream cruise companies to high-end luxury lines:
Otherwise known as NCL, Norwegian offers affordable cruises throughout the world. NCL is relatively unique among many cruise lines because it offers a single occupancy cabin option on many of its ships. Those who opt for these cabins are in a private area with their own lounge and activity director. It is possible to upgrade accommodations to The Haven, a ship-within-a-ship area that offers suites, butlers, private areas and a range of perks and amenities.
Princess Cruise Line is most famous for its connection to the popular TV series, The Love Boat. Many people feel that Princess offers the best "all-around" cruising experience, with amenities and programming to suit people of all ages. Upgraded amenities and privileges are available to those who opt for suites and mini-suites.
Celebrity Cruises is a premium cruise line that offers a sophisticated experience that is also affordable. As with many other lines, suite guests can receive premium amenities and privileges, including private dining and butler service.
Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking Ocean Cruises is known for its beautiful ships that do not include casinos or nightclubs: If you prefer a more sedate, highly cultured cruise experience, Viking might well be for you. If you enjoy swimming, note that Viking pools have a retractable roof that allows passengers to enjoy a swim even if it is raining. Other popular options include the ability to dine in the ship's specialty restaurants without having to pay extra.
This line bridges the premium/luxury categories and offers a much more inclusive fare than many mass-market lines: All passengers receive complimentary wine, beer, and soft drinks with meals and free specialty teas and coffees are available 24/7. One tour or activity at each port of call is also included.
Oceana Cruise Lines
Known as the "foodie" cruise line, Oceana is known for its elegant ships, superb menus and cultural activities. Vegans and those with special diets may want to consider booking cruises through Oceana, which prides itself on freshly prepared food and an ability to accommodate special diets. The ship's menus indicate the suitability of a dish for those who are vegan, vegetarian and who wish to avoid added sugar. Oceana also offers special culinary-themed cruises, along with onboard cooking classes.
Regent Seven Seas
Regent is a luxury line that caters to those who want a high-end experience. If you want to visit out-of-the-way ports of call, stay on a boat that is as elegant as any five-star hotel, and enjoy a highly-inclusive fare, Regent Seven Seas may well be your best option.
Seabourn is a luxury cruise line that offers an all-suite experience. Every cabin is an outside suite with an ocean view or private veranda and fares are highly inclusive: Beverages, specialty dining, Wi-Fi, and other amenities are included in passenger fares.
Fortunately for cruise passengers, there are many different cruise lines that offer excellent value along with a memorable travel experience. This is true at just about every price point and there are multiple ways to customize your trip so that you get the vacation you want. Take time to review cruise websites, talk to friends and co-workers to learn about their experiences, and work with a professional travel agent who can help steer you to the right cruise product for you and your family.
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