Top rated cruise lines are regarded as industry leaders. They provide a host of impressive amenities, destinations, and overall experience for vacationers. Whether luxury and private, deluxe or budget, eco-friendly or family-friendly, travelers can use smart ratings to find superstars.
Luxury Cruise Lines
Luxury cruises offer all the amenities you might imagine and more. Destinations are exotic, the staff is attentive, and onboard amenities rival most resort hotels. This is the best way to cruise when a vacation must be a truly pampering experience.
- Crystal Cruises: Among luxury lines, Crystal Cruises received the highest ranking on the Condé Nast Traveler's 2014 Gold List. From marble en-suite bathrooms to top-rated restaurants, the feeling aboard these midsize ships showcase turneries from Antarctica to Alaska and many exotic ports in between.
- Seabourn: The Seabourn Quest is a top pick among travel reviewers, winning best ship in the small ship category in the 2014 Cruise Critic Cruiser's Choice Awards. It was also named best value for the money among luxury brands. Cabins aboard all three Seabourn ships (Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest) are limited to just 450, of which all are suites.
- Regent Seven Seas: Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a one-price, all inclusive experience. With this cruise line, you can choose a voyage around the world or a trip to one of many exciting locations offered throughout the year. Rest assured, your cruise will include any amenity you need in order to feel pampered and entertained. Regent earned a very respectable 91.5 out of 100 overall rating from Condé Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards, with the marks for itineraries and cabins each scoring above 94.
While these are three of the most highly rated luxury lines, they are not the only options. Windstar is another top-rated cruise line which received the Best for Honeymoons award from Cruise Critic in 2013. Silversea Cruises, with thoughtful itineraries and overall service both rating over 95 on the Condé Nast Traveler's Reader's Choice Awards for an overall score of 90.9.
For vacationers with a thirst for decadence, some companies offer private-chartered yacht voyages that include a full crew and five star amenities. The Sea Dream Yacht Club offers small, 112 passenger maximum ships which often overnight in local ports that larger ships miss. These ships were ranked as the top two in the boutique ship category in the Berlitz Cruise Guide in 2013.
Deluxe or Premium Cruise Lines
Not everyone is prepared to pay the costs associated with a luxury cruise, yet they still want an experience elevated above those offered by budget cruise lines. The highest rated intermediate (also referred to as deluxe or premium) cruise lines include names that are a little more familiar to the average cruiser. With these lines, travelers will experience impressive amenities and interesting destinations, but without the sticker shock of a luxury cruise.
The best rated among these cruise lines include:
- Disney Cruise Line: The Disney Fantasy was named best large ship for the second year in a row in Cruise Critic's 2014 Cruisers' Choice Awards. Disney's fleet is small and the brand caters to family-friendly cruises. They strive to create an experience focused on stress-free travel for parents with features like online check in before you embark.
- Holland America Line: This company has a rich nautical history dating back to the 1870's. Holland America Line (HAL) offers a more traditional experience with formal, upscale dining and longer world sailings available. They focus on the repeat cruiser and award past passengers with exclusive perks as part of their Mariner Society rewards program. HAL deserves consideration as a repeat winner of the Best Cruise Value award from the World Ocean and Cruise Liner Society.
- Royal Caribbean: The second largest cruise line is one with a bit of something for everyone. Royal Caribbean operates the two biggest ships in the world, Oasis and Allure of the Seas, which fill up with families in the summer. Innovations and entertainment options include skydiving simulators and boxing rings at sea. Activities on all the ships are constantly evolving, and that's why Royal Caribbean won the Best Entertainment award in 2013 from the editors of CruiseCritic.com. When dinnertime rolls around, many of the shipboard restaurants are cafe style, and the overall feel is easy and modern. They offer free in-room Wi-Fi and options galore for dining, activities and itineraries.
- Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity offers a high standard in personal service. This is the perfect line for the choosy cruiser. Ships are traditional with modern touches, and passengers who book suites receive access to exclusive restaurants and lounges, think Napa Wine Bar. This line also loves to bundle before-and-after land-based options with cruises, so they are a great choice for sailing to Alaska and Europe. The Celebrity Silhouette received the 2014 CruiseCritic.com Cruisers' Choice award for Best Mediterranean Cruises.
Mainstream or Budget Cruise Lines
While some cruise lines cater to wealthy vacationers with money to burn, others are marketed toward vacationers on a budget. Many of these lines focus on a particular location, like Hawaii or the Caribbean, and attempt to corner the market in that port area with affordable vacations. Even travelers on a budget want to choose among the best rated cruise lines within the category.
The highest rated budget cruise lines include:
- Carnival: As the world's most popular cruise line, according to CruiseCompete.com, Carnival provides a broad spectrum of affordable options. Many younger vacationers are thrilled with the service they receive onboard Carnival 'fun ships'. These ships create a youthful environment with casual dress and no pretension. It's no wonder World Ocean and Cruise Liner Society gave Carnival their Best Cruise Value award in 2013 in two categories - 4 Star Plus and Short Cruises.
- Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL): A mainstream cruise can be the right choice for people who want the cruising experience and all-inclusive travel in their favorite location. Norwegian's ship Pride of America is a great example. NCL America employs a 100 percent U.S. crew in order to meet international regulations for sailing the Hawaiian islands. This avoids a trip to international waters like other Hawaiian cruises and creates a unique seven day island-hopping itinerary. This ship overnights on Maui and Kauai, and it's more affordable in the off season than multiple hotels and flights to see them separately. Porthole Magazine named this trip as the Best Hawaiian Itinerary from 2005 to 2013.
eco-friendly Cruise Lines
For travelers considering environmental concerns, Friends of the Earth.org releases an annual report card of the overall environmental and human health impacts of each cruise line. Each were graded on their overall environmental footprint. Separate scores for sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, and water quality compliance were combined into an overall letter grade.
- Disney Cruise Lines was the only line to receive and "A" overall due to high water compliance and treatment marks. The A+ ship was the Disney Wonder.
- Holland America, Norwegian, and Princess Cruises were all close behind, each earning overall "B" ratings.
- Celebrity received a C+ overall due to air pollution concerns, but it was the only cruise line listed with four ships that received individual A grades (Constellation, Infinity, Millennium, and Summit).
Research Before Booking
Not all cruise ratings are created equal. Travel magazines like Condé Nast Traveler provide an annually updated Gold List, which breaks down the best rated cruise lines ranked by ship size, cruise type and amenities. Professional travel writers do a good job of comparing the statistics, but to reveal the real truth about a cruise line, read reviews written by past travelers.
Read several cruise reviews before booking. Regardless of the cruise line's rating, remember that each person's experience may vary. Cruising is a seasonal activity, so look for reviews from the same time of year and from travelers who have similar interests, like newlyweds or groups with large families celebrating a special occasion.
Considering ratings and reading reviews from professionals or fellow travelers can help narrow the field and give vacationers a place to research options. Cruise travel has evolved into an industry with something appealing for every traveler. Your research should lead to a true bon voyage!