After the destination is chosen, one of the most important decisions to be made is how to choose a cruise ship. With almost 200 ships in more than 20 major cruise lines that may seem like a daunting task at first, but you'll find it easier than expected to narrow down the field.
Make sure to select a cruise line that matches your personality and your expectations from your vacation. Are you taking a family vacation? The Disney cruise ships, not surprising, are geared towards families and children, but Royal Caribbean also has an excellent reputation for ships that are family friendly and have great teen programs. If you're looking for a cruise ship for the perfect honeymoon, Princess is associated with romance, while Windstar or Regent Seven Seas are outfitted for luxury and private intimate moments.
Decide whether you're most interested in the time spent at the destination, or in how you want to spend the time on the ship itself. All but the smallest cruise ships generally offer such amenities as spas, gyms, shows or entertainment and a variety of dining options. Travelers that are more interested in the destination itself will find that Carnival is known for offering some of the best shore excursions, although lines featuring smaller cruise ships can often visit exotic smaller ports that are inaccessible to the large ships
On the other hand, if you're more interested in your time on the ship, perhaps you should consider Norwegian, which features cruise ships known for their suites as well as their entertainment. Norwegian is also more casual than other cruise ships, and skips the assigned dining times. If you're looking forward to a fantastic dining experience, Oceania is known for wonderful specialty restaurants, while Celebrity is famous for healthy and alternative dining choices. But if luxury is the goal, Crystal Cruises offer some of the best luxury ships and fine dining to be found at sea, or check out Costa Cruises' Concordia class for an incredible spa experience.
Of course, for many people, the budget is an important issue. Cruises can be divided into three basic categories – budget, premium, or luxury. On-board amenities as well as on-shore activities play a role in price, but probably the primary difference in the categories will be the staff-to-customer ratio. If personalized service and having someone at your beck and call is important to you, opt for a luxury cruise ship.
Cruise ships also come in a wide range of sizes, although size may not be the primary concern. Cruise West and SeaDream Yachts offer some of the smallest ships, under 200 passengers. Small ships will offer a more personalized experience, and their size allows them to visit smaller and less-trafficked ports. As a down side, smaller ships are not able to offer the extravagant entertainment of larger ships. If you're prune to sea-sickness, a larger ship is definitely the better option. The larger the ship, the less noticeable the rolling motion of travel at sea.
One last consideration that may not come immediately to mind – is this a maiden voyage, or will you be traveling on an established ship? While the first thought may be "the newer the better," there are disadvantages to being on the first trip of a new cruise ship. Certainly everything is brand new, and there are certain bragging rights when you can say, "I was on the first voyage of ship XYZ."
But the first cruise is sometimes a shake-out cruise. The staffs probably have not worked together before and are still trying to come together as a team. They may be inexperienced and going through on-the-job training. And of course, a ship is a massive construction project, just like building a new apartment or office building, and just like a new building, a new ship may have glitches in the plumbing or the wiring to be worked out. If you want perfection on your cruise, you may want to make sure that you've chosen an established ship.
Your choice of ship is a big factor in enjoying your dream vacation. Take the time to choose the perfect cruise ship for you.