Choosing the best cruise line as a first-time cruiser is no doubt challenging. Most people start by looking at all the top cruise lines, but for the best first-cruise experience, you need to look for cruise lines that specialize in what you want.
Whether you want to sample a short three-night adventure or plan to jump straight into an expedition cruise, we’ve got important details that make the decision easier. Below is our guide to the 11 best cruise lines for first-time cruisers of all travel styles.
Why Royal Caribbean Is the Overall Best Cruise Line for First Timers
First-time cruisers can sail on Royal Caribbean ships from 15 U.S. ports and 18 international ports. That access makes it easy for first timers to cruise with Royal Caribbean from close to wherever they call home or to wherever they hope to explore.
Lengths vary from two to 15 nights. Finding a cruise is simple, whether it be booking a cruise online or through a travel advisor.
The line caters to a broad spectrum of guests, with ample activities and attractions onboard that perfectly match the needs and desires of guests of all ages. It’s at the top of the list of cruise line companies that truly cater to cruisers from two to 82.
Royal Caribbean Highlights
Although recognized for its enormous mega-ships, Royal Caribbean’s fleet of 26 ships includes seven modest-sized ships for first-time cruisers who prefer to start small and work their way up. All their ships feature multiple dining options, some of which are included in the cruise fare while others require an additional charge.
The fleet is geared toward family-oriented fun and relaxation. Many of the line’s ships feature impressive technology-based attractions like robotic bars, virtual reality games and entertainment venues. Cabins range from budget-friendly rooms to two-story suites with five-digit cruise fares.
Where Does Royal Caribbean Sail?
Royal Caribbean itineraries have a heavy emphasis on the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. They also offer several seasonal sailings, including Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, Hawaii, both U.S. Coasts, Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean cruise fares are not inclusive, except for those in the highest-priced suite categories. Drinks and food beyond the complimentary options may be purchased a la carte onboard or as separate packages. Entertainment and most activities are included in the fare, but keep in mind that crew tips are not.
Here’s Why Carnival Cruises Is the Best Cruise Line for Value
First-time cruisers on a budget find Carnival’s cruise fares pack a lot of value into every dollar. The line has long been praised by its fans for having plenty of tasty food choices included with the cruise fares. Think burgers and barbecue from TV chef Guy Fieri and fried chicken inspired by basketball legend Shaquille O’Neil (who happens to be a Carnival spokesperson).
Cruise fares on Carnival are often some of the lowest among North American cruise lines. Carnival’s 25 ships, sailing from 21 worldwide ports, make it easy to find cruises to popular destinations. Carnival cruise discounts are quite easy to discover and financing options are available.
Carnival Cruises highlights
Besides value, Carnival puts a strong emphasis on fun for everyone. Music and entertainment are lively throughout the ship, often attracting a slightly younger crowd than some other cruise lines. That doesn’t mean you won’t find all ages onboard a Carnival ship. In fact, the ages onboard any given sailing are likely to range from toddler to octogenarian.
Low cruise fares and plenty of top-deck attractions like pools, slides and even roller coasters are perfect for families, young singles and couples escaping on cruises ranging from short three- and four-night routes to full-week vacations from ports scattered across the U.S.
Carnival’s fleet is boisterous fun all around. Whether it’s a hairy chest contest at the pool or late-night club hopping, the party begins from the moment you step onboard. Maybe it should be ranked as one of the best cruise lines for fun, as well as for being budget friendly.
Where Does Carnival Cruises Sail?
Carnival’s main cruise destinations are The Bahamas, Caribbean and Mexico, but Carnival also has a seasonal presence in Alaska, Hawaii, Northern Europe, Canada and New England, Bermuda, Tahiti and the South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and more).
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Carnival
Sodas, specialty coffees, beer, wine, cocktails and mocktails all incur extra charges, and gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.
The dress code onboard is casual, but many Carnival cruisers love formal nights, which are known as “Cruise Elegant nights.” The Carnival Cruise Elegant night's dress code is quite straightforward: cocktail/club attire works well for those nights.
How many elegant nights are on a Carnival Cruise? Usually, just one on short cruises and two on six nights or longer sailings.
Here’s Why Seabourn Is the Best Cruise Line for Luxury
Seabourn tops the luxury cruises category for first-time cruisers with an almost 1-to-1 ratio of crew members to guests. The line’s fleet of all-suite ships incorporate luxurious pampering into every aspect of the cruise, from décor to complementary premium spirits and wines throughout the voyage.
Seabourn luxury cruises are exceptional for offering some of the highest space for all guests in the industry while offering a private club atmosphere.
Suite hosts are the key to fine tuning every aspect of a Seabourn cruise. Once onboard, guests can rely on their suite host for everything from dinner reservations in the ship’s restaurants to popcorn for a movie afternoon.
Whether sailing in the Mediterranean or in the frigid Antarctic waters, the Seabourn crew is trained to serve each guest as if they are the most important person onboard. Every sailing includes experts that share their knowledge of the destinations while focusing heavily on cruising and exploring in luxurious style.
Where Does Seabourn Sail?
As you might expect from the best cruise line for luxury cruises, Seabourn sails the world. There are no cruise-friendly areas of the globe that Seabourn does not visit (at least in passing) including both the Arctic and Antarctic, Asia, Africa, Alaska, the Middle East, and Northern Europe. The line has a strong presence of often four ships in the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Seabourn
While drinks, tips and all dining venues are included in the cruise fare, excursions are not. As with most luxury lines, the Seabourn dress code is a notch up from the mainstream ships.
Most Seabourn cruisers dress in resort-style casualwear during the day and dress up more for dinner, which is either elegant casual or formal. Elegant casual for the Seabourn dress code means slacks, collared shirts, blouses, and optional jackets, while their formal is tuxedos and ballroom gowns.
Here’s Why Disney Cruise Line Is the Best Cruise Line for Families
Disney Cruise Line's entertainment and hospitality expertise adds up to the best cruise line for families, especially those cruising for the first time.
Every step of the way, cruisers can expect the same attention to detail onboard as they would find in a Disney park or resort. As with land-based Disney attractions, there are things for both kids and adults to enjoy on a Disney cruise which makes it easily the best cruise line for families.
Disney Cruise Line Highlights
Disney Cruise Line packs an impressive amount into their short three- and four-night cruises from Florida, making it simple for guests to build a combo theme park and cruise vacation.
Disney cruises range from three to 14 nights in length, which makes the longer cruises ideal for guests wanting to see more of the world in Disney style.
The ships are designed with whimsical elegance. Disney staterooms are a touch larger than average across all categories and have split bathrooms featuring tubs along with room-dividing curtains (standard in most cabins).
Add in the onboard laundry facilities, and cruising with kids becomes a whole lot easier -- and whole lot more enjoyable.
Where Does Disney Cruise Line Sail?
Disney cruises are heavily focused on The Bahamas, Caribbean and Mexico, but also have seasonal cruises along the Pacific west coast, Alaska, Bermuda, the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Disney Cruise Line
Cruising with Disney is expensive when compared to budget cruise lines. But, there are a few things included while sailing on Disney Cruise Line that you’d end up paying extra for on other lines.
Disney cruise fares include free room service, soft drinks and character meet-and-greets. However, note that alcoholic beverages and adults-only specialty restaurants incur extra fees. Gratuities for the crew are not included in the cruise fare.
Here’s Why Celebrity Is the Best Cruise Line for Couples
Celebrity Cruises has always catered to cruising couples. The atmosphere on board is similar to that at an all-inclusive couples’ resort. The ships are intimate with the largest one carrying barely over 3,000 passengers.
The décor is a step up in elegance from sister company Royal Caribbean, as is the food. Celebrity also offers more cruises of eight nights and up, allowing couples to cruise a little longer if desired.
None of that means children aren’t welcome; they simply aren’t the line’s primary market. You won’t find massive water slides and zip lines on Celebrity ships, but Celebrity’s Camp at Sea is designed as a flexible way for children on board to have as much fun as their parents.
This program includes activities like scavenger hunts, building robots, Pizza making parties and teen ping-pong tournaments.
The staterooms come in six main categories, more than 80% of which offer a stunning ocean view. Aqua class includes a private dining room and spa privileges. Concierge class has a private luncheon along with in-room perks like sparkling wine.
Suites in The Retreat, which are sold as an all-inclusive package, includes meals in Luminae (the suite-class private dining room), Wi-Fi, drinks and gratuities. There are adult-only areas on all ships including deck cabanas, indoor pools and extensive spa facilities.
Where Does Celebrity Sail?
Celebrity ships cruise a large part of the globe. With options for Caribbean cruises year-round, the fleet spreads out seasonally to Alaska, Antarctica, Bermuda, Canada and New England, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Hawaii, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.
The line also keeps a three-ship year-round presence in the Galapagos Islands.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Celebrity
The tricky part of booking a Celebrity cruise is having a clear understanding of what you are paying for. Some staterooms are offered as “Drinks, Wi-Fi and Tips Included.” Others are “Cruise Only” fares that can have those three things added for an additional cost. Be sure to do your research on your specific cruise ship and the package you paid for.
Here’s Why Cunard Is the Best Cruise Line for Solo Travelers
Solo travelers will find cabins without added single supplement fees in Britannia Inside and Oceanview classes. Upper classes and suites are available for booking by singles with an added supplement, but Cunard often has reduced supplements available.
Daily onboard events are organized specifically for solo cruisers, from morning coffee get-togethers to pre-dinner cocktail gatherings.
Cunard’s ships, Queen Mary 2 in particular, returns passengers to traditional ocean liners with her elegant Art Deco design and white-gloved service on a ship where afternoon tea is a grand affair.
Along with the impressive onboard amenities, like a planetarium and an onboard kennel, it becomes hard to compare the experience with cruising on most other cruise lines.
Where Does Cunard Sail?
While best known for its seven-night Trans-Atlantic crossings between London and New York and its 100-plus-night world cruises, Cunard’s fleet actually sails almost the entire globe aside from the Arctic and Antarctic.
Their seasonal cruises include Alaska, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, as well as short sailings from London, which make the iconic line more accessible for the average cruiser.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Cunard
Staterooms are sold under a class system on Cunard ships. Your cabin class assigns you to a specific restaurant, each class being a step up in both the stateroom and included dining experience.
There are alternative dining options for a charge, as well as a complimentary buffet. In the top class of Queens Grill Suites, complimentary mini bars are stocked with soft drinks and two bottles of wine or spirits.
In all other classes, beverage packages are available for purchase, as are Wi-Fi packages. Crew tips are not included in cruise fares.
Here’s Why Holland America Is the Best Cruise Line for Seniors
Holland America, an elegant midsize line, has traditionally drawn a more mature crowd by emphasizing the classic cruising experience over partying. For mature singles in particular, Holland America ships feature a choice of solo cabins.
Holland America Highlights
Holland America offers an abundance of quieter pleasures. A few stellar examples include the Culinary Arts Center, a partnership with America's Test Kitchen that focuses on cooking demos and hands-on workshops, self-guided art tours of the onboard art collections and Explorations Central. Explorations Central aims to highlight local culture and history onboard via special talks, port guides and cultural demonstrations.
For those in search of athletic pursuits, there are plenty of options to match any preferences, such as tai chi, yoga and tennis, none of which require a 21-year-old's physique.
Holland America's innovative additions to the entertainment lineup above also keep the company's loyal cruisers in mind.
Where Does Holland America Sail?
Holland America offers an extensive list of global itineraries (including world cruises) with a more traditional presence in The Bahamas, Caribbean, Alaska and Mexico.
The line has long offered both one-way and round-trip Panama Canal cruises, and seasonally moves a number of ships to Northern European and Mediterranean routes, as well as to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Holland America
Itineraries on Holland America tend toward longer sailings and are often sold in point-to-point segments as well as long and short options sold for the same start date.
For example, you might find there are two cruises leaving a particular port on the same ship on the same day. One might be an 11-night cruise and the other a 21-night cruise. This makes Holland America the best cruise line for allowing cruisers the flexibility to build the itinerary that suits them.
Drinks, Wi-Fi and crew tips are not included in the cruise fare. Packages and pre-pay options are available.
Here’s Why Viking Is the Best Cruise Line for Expedition Cruising
Viking Cruises launched into the expedition cruise market with the same approach it has used for decades: first in European river cruising, then with its ocean-going cruise ships. This approach assists the line in maintaining its reputation as one of the best cruise lines for adults overall.
Viking's main goal is to provide a consistent cruise experience that allows guests to explore the world from a comfortably casual ship with many of cruising’s minor details managed for them. The Viking expedition ships place a heavier emphasis on educational experiences during their polar, global and Great Lakes adventures.
All guests must be 18 or older on embarkation day to cruise with Viking. As with the line’s river and ocean cruises, at least one excursion or landing is included in every port along with beer and wine being complimentary with meals. Wi-Fi is also included, as is gear suitable for the specific expedition. All snacks and meals are complementary, including in the specialty dining venue, Manfredi’s. Coffee, tea and water are also included.
Staterooms feature comforts like Viking’s famous heated bathroom floors, but the expedition ships are also equipped with heated drying closets for wet gear and in-room coffee makers supplied with coffees and teas.
Where Does Viking Sail?
Viking’s Expedition ships currently devote June, July, August and September to cruising the Arctic and Great Lakes. Between October and February, the ships explore Antarctica and spend the in-between months cruising the Atlantic Coast, Caribbean and South America.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Viking
There’s no need to overpack for your Viking Expedition. The provided gear will include outerwear (a souvenir parka is yours to keep on polar expeditions) and the ships are equipped with complimentary launderettes.
Here’s Why AmaWaterways Is the Best Cruise Line for River Cruises
AmaWaterways is known for innovation in river cruising. Wider ships, active and guest-tailored excursions (as well as more included excursions than many other lines) and staterooms with a step-out balcony and a French balcony: all make it one of the best river cruise line companies in the industry.
The innovation doesn't stop there, however. Ama recently partnered with Ancestry to help guests trace their family history and heritage. During the summer cruise season, the line partners with Disney to make family river cruising magic. What they do for their guests is undeniably above and beyond.
Food on Ama ships is all included in the cruise fare, even the specialty dining Chef’s Table. Wellness is a priority onboard AmaWaterways ships, with Wellness Hosts on each ship as well as swimming pools, spas and bicycles for use in port.
AmaWaterways ships are fraught with enthusiasm and excitement to see what is around the next bend in the river. The ships are small enough that new friendships form easily over shared dinner or lunch.
Where Does AmaWaterways Sail?
AmaWaterways leans heavily on its array of European river cruises, with itineraries on the Rhine, Danube, the Seine, the Rhone and the Douro in Portugal. Beyond Europe, the line cruises in Egypt, Africa, Vietnam and Colombia.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With AmaWaterways
Almost everything you need while on board is included in the cruise fare, even Wi-Fi -- just don’t expect it to be lightning fast. The ship’s movement and hills that surround the rivers block towers and slow the land-based signal.
Gratuities are not included for either the ship’s crew or the shoreside tour guides. Ama often has airfare specials and airport transfers included when you book airfare through the cruise line.
River cruise tours often include a good deal of walking, whether it’s through charming towns, Christmas markets, castles and/or museums. AmaWaterways offers nearly identical tours, but with differing mobility requirements.
Guests can choose what works best for them, such as “gentle walking” tours with fewer stairs and even tours where the cruise line supplies a car at the end of the tour for guests too tired to make the walk back to the ship. This makes AmaWaterways one of river cruising’s best cruise lines for accessibility.
Here’s Why Silversea Is the Best Cruise Line for Foodies
The food onboard Silversea’s fleet stands out among even the line’s luxury class competitors. While each ship has slight variations among its dining lineup, the one constant is the quality of the food, as it is inspired by the regions that the ships visit, including the line’s home country of Italy.
Two ships take the concept of locally-inspired and locally-sourced food to a new level in a program called S.A.L.T., which stands for Sea and Land Taste. Guests have the opportunity to participate in food-oriented shore excursions, elevate their experience in onboard cooking classes or simply enjoy the food and drinks of each region in the S.A.L.T. Bar and Kitchen.
Silversea ships are all-suite with butler service and capacities that range from 100 guests to just over 700. Though each ship is distinct, the fleet consists of a mix of expedition-class vessels and “classic” ships, but even the expedition ships are designed around making every trip both exciting and luxurious.
Silversea offers door-to-door inclusive fares featuring executive car transfers within 52 miles of your chosen airport, plus flights and hotels as needed.
Premium alcoholic beverages are included, as is Wi-Fi (premium speeds are only available in the upper suites). On select sailings, guests may opt for a port-to-port package in order to book their own flights.
Where Does Silversea Sail?
The more appropriate question is where doesn’t Silversea cruise? Silversea currently has 700 destinations around the world. Silversea offers annual world cruises and has a strong presence among the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, as well as seasonal routes in Alaska, Canada and New England, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Bermuda.
The line also maintains a year-round presence in the Galapagos and has expedition ships sailing both the Arctic and Antarctic -- in fact, we’d place it a close second on the list of best cruise lines for expeditions.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising with Silversea
The butler service onboard, which is available in every suite, is provided by highly-skilled staff trained to help guests with every need, from dinner reservations to shoeshining. Keep in mind that while the butler can arrange for your laundry to be done, there is an extra charge for that.
Most Silversea ships also have complimentary launderettes. Crew gratuities are included in the cruise fare, but tips for excursion tour guides on non-expedition cruises are not.
Here’s Why Norwegian Is the Best Cruise Line for Entertainment
Select Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ships regularly play host to current Broadway hits. Four ships feature the unique Cavern Club look-alike to the legendary Liverpool club where the Beatles performed -- complete with a cover band.
Add in the line’s musical productions shows, comedy clubs, bowling and live game shows, like Deal or No Deal, and cruisers can find enough entertainment onboard Norwegian ships to keep things lively during almost any sailing.
Norwegian Cruise Line Highlights
Norwegian’s family-friendly cruise operation is best known for freestyle dining and ongoing Free at Sea promotions that allow cruisers to book cruises with open bar, Wi-Fi, excursions and specialty dining included in one all-inclusive fare.
The 17 ships in their fleet are large, but not overwhelmingly. They range in capacity from around 2,000 to just over 4,000 passengers on the four newest ships.
Stateroom options run the gamut of choices between interior and suites tucked away in a ship-within-a-ship enclave called The Haven. Top deck attractions include slides, spray parks, and even go kart tracks on the largest ships.
Where Does Norwegian Sail?
Cruisers can cruise NCL ships throughout most of the globe, including on limited Antarctic schedules. It is the only cruise line able to cruise the Hawaiian Islands without including a foreign port; it has an extensive Alaskan schedule, and has a strong presence in The Bahamas, Caribbean, and Mexico.
It transits the Panama Canal, has ships that visit Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and the Canary Islands.
What You Need to Know When First-Time Cruising With Norwegian Cruise Line
Free at Sea, a popular promotion offered by Norwegian, does not apply to all bookings; some rooms are sold with traditional a la carte pricing for drinks, Wi-Fi, excursions and specialty dining.
All components of the Free at Sea program have limitations. For example, the “open bar” consists of the Premium Beverage Package and all the standard restrictions apply to that. Gratuities are not included and will be added to your stateroom account.