- Best Value for Money
Winner: Carnival Cruise Line
Why: Carnival is the Everycruiser’s line, appealing to a broad spectrum of vacationers who share one common trait: They all want a crazy-fun escape without going bankrupt. The combination of Carnival’s sizable fleet (24 ships), emphasis on popular destinations (Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico) and dedication to accessible three- to seven-night itineraries translates to low prices and frequent deals. Time it right, and a cruise could cost you less than if you’d stayed home — say, $30 to $50 per person, per night. Carnival keeps its cabins simple, with plenty of standard insides and outsides, and does not go overboard with a plethora of fee-extra venues onboard. For budget rates, avoid holiday periods (especially school vacations) and consider an Early Saver rate, which could knock 20 percent off the price.
2. Best All-Around Cruise Line
Winner: Princess Cruises
Why: A solid line with something for everyone, Princess has a large fleet with ships ranging in size from 680 passengers (double occupancy) to 3,600 passengers. Its itineraries cover the globe; the line is a leader in Alaska cruising, and offers mainstream trips to the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe, plus exotic voyages to Africa and Asia. Onboard, tradition meets innovation. Princess offers all the prerequisites — spa, multiple dining venues, kids programming, varied entertainment — but was the first to introduce poolside jumbo movie screens; adults-only, spa-like deck spaces; and a dining-shopping-entertainment-people-watching hub in its atriums, called the Piazza.
3. Best for Families With Tweens or Teens
Winner: Royal Caribbean International
Why: Older kids need distractions and special attention; Royal Caribbean gives them both. Depending on the ship, the line taps into the T-sets’ bottomless well of energy with rock-climbing walls, zip-lines, ice- and inline-skating, surf simulators, boxing rings, and basketball and volleyball courts. For its youth programs, RCI wisely splits up tweens and teens into their appropriate age groups. They also treat the underage crowd like mini-adults with such sophisticated amenities as spa treatments designed especially for the primping generation and their adolescent needs; DJ lessons; teens-only casino nights; backstage tours of the ship; and no-elders-allowed lounges where they can dance, drink mocktails and socialize with their confreres until past their parents’ bedtimes. The packed schedule, overseen by an attentive crew, lets parents enjoy their own downtime without worrying about their charges growing bored and antsy.