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Which Cruise Is For You?

Answer these lifestyle questions to learn which options match your personality


spinner image cruise ship in body of water with trees and mountains in background
Courtesy: Windstar Cruises

The range of ships, experiences and destinations now available can seem as vast as the ocean. Answer our questions to help find the vacation cruise options that will best suit your needs.



spinner image huge cruise ship with swimming pools on it on left; small boat on right
Photo Collage: MOA; Photographs left to right: Courtesy Royal Caribbean; Courtesy Windstar Cruises

Choose your ship size. Which sounds like a lovelier Sunday afternoon? 

I prefer a bustling city street fair filled with craft vendors, music stages, food stands and rides. If so, consider a megaship. The major cruise lines all sail these cities at sea. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship, carries up to 7,600 guests. “Big ships appeal to people who like lots of options when it comes to entertainment, dining and deck-top fun,” says Gene Sloan, cruise editor at the website The Points Guy. On the Norwegian Escape, there are 18 distinct dining options. On Carnival’s three newest ships, you’ll find a top-deck roller coaster. Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas boasts an intimidating 10-story-tall slide.

Or, a country drive with lunch, a little shopping and enjoying the locals in a quaint rural town. Then, consider a small ship. Even in the megaship age, there’s been a resurgence of small ship launches. These relatively intimate vessels­­ — operated by such lines as Oceania and Explora Journeys — are usually more upscale, with larger cabins, more refined food and extra elbow room. They’ll also access more remote ports of call. “We love the attention from the crew on the smaller ones,” says Deb Susi, 65, of Columbus, Ohio. “We did a Tahiti trip on a 300-passenger Windstar ship and, boy, you really connect with the staff. The bartenders know you. You get to know other passengers.”

 

spinner image cruise ship with swimming pool on it under sunny sky on left; man and woman outside with penguin in snow on right
Photo Collage: MOA; Photographs left to right: Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Lines; Courtesy Abercrombie & Kent

Choose your destination. In photos, what do you want to convey? 

I want to show how chill my life is — relaxing by the pool, drink in hand. If so, consider a mainstream cruise itinerary. Travelers who want calm and predictability should look to popular routes — the Caribbean, Alaska or the Mediterranean. Enjoying the ship’s amenities, especially on sea days, is as important as the ports you visit. “It’s mostly the Caribbean for us,” says Lea Johnson, 63, of Fairfax Station, Virginia. “It’s easy. I don’t have to worry about making dinner reservations. Everything’s taken care of.”

Or, how adventurous my life is — in hiking boots, conquering nature. If so, consider an expedition cruise. This has been one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry over the past decade. These are immersive adventures to places that are difficult to get to, such as Antarctica, Greenland or the Galápagos Islands. You’ll likely sail on a small luxury line such as A&K, Atlas, Silversea or Seabourn. “Older adults usually have the time and money to take what are typically longer itineraries,” says Anne Kalosh, editor at the online publication Seatrade Cruise News.

 

spinner image bumper cars on left; woman in sauna in center; two people sitting in chairs outside on right
Photo Collage: MOA; Photographs left to right: Courtesy SBW Photo/Royal Caribbean; Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Lines; Courtesy Abercrombie & Kent

Choose who’d you like to vacation with. Family, partner or alone?  

Lots of family, fire up the grill and laugh away the blues. If so, consider a cruise that caters to multigenerational groups. Families have become a key market segment for the industry. So large ships are sure to offer activities throughout the day that appeal to different ages — waterslides, live game shows, go-kart tracks, bingo sessions and more. But it isn’t all fun and games. You’ll also find more refined options, like world-class spas, intimate dining venues, adults-only lounges with private cabanas, and Broadway-style shows that work for parents and grandparents. “Cruises are the best multigen vacations, especially lines like Royal Caribbean or Princess Cruises,” says Allison Amini, a San Diego–based travel adviser with Novel World Travel. “Their ships have something for spending time together as a family and apart as individuals. Onboard activities like scavenger hunts and mini golf are great for family bonding. But when everyone wants some alone time, grandma can head off to the spa while dad enjoys a dip in the adults-only pool and the children go to the kids’ club.”

Or, just me and my amore at a favorite restaurant. If so, consider a ship for couples. Luxury lines like Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea cater to those traveling without children, so you won’t find any kids’ clubs or waterslides here. Some cruise lines even prohibit teens and younger children from sailing, including Viking Cruises, which programs onboard entertainment and shore excursions for the 50-plus crowd, and Virgin Voyages, which aims for a playfully adult environment with such diversions as drag shows and tattoo parlors. “I just got off Virgin’s Scarlet Lady — what a hoot,” says cruiser Lea Johnson. “I wouldn’t take my 88-year-old mother, because I don’t think she’d enjoy the entertainment, but my friends and I are all in our 60s, and for my age group, it was fabulous.”

Or, heading out on the open road (or into the wild) on my own. Then, consider a solo trip. Historically, cruise lines haven’t catered to individual travelers, charging them a hefty premium to occupy a cabin meant for two. But that’s changing. “Norwegian Cruise Line made a big splash announcing nearly 1,000 new solo rooms across its 19-ship fleet,” says Seatrade Cruise News’ Kalosh. “Some of these ships have a studio lounge with key card access for solo guests only.”

 

spinner image different foods in dishes on left; people holding up drinks on right
Photo Collage: MOA; Photographs left to right: Courtesy Virgin Voyages; Courtesy Princess Cruises

Choose your package. Think about dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Did you like it?

It was a great deal. I could pay one price and load up my plate with what I wanted. Then, explore a cruise with an all-inclusive package. There’s no question that some cruise lines have earned a reputation for tacking on fees, charging extra for drinks, Wi-Fi access, shore excursions and more. But all­inclusive fares can prevent surprises. These are mostly in the luxury sector — Crystal, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea. “To me, the best part of all-inclusive pricing is not constantly having to worry about how much you’re spending on your vacation,” says travel adviser Amini. “Instead, you can sit back, relax and enjoy that second margarita, knowing everything’s already paid for.” Sandi Valente, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based travel adviser, notes that with the average cost of a cocktail at $12 to $15, for example, à la carte pricing can add up. “All-­inclusive works for the person who likes a set budget and set dollar amount,” she says. “It’s not just alcohol. Most cruise lines don’t include things like smoothies, soft drinks or cappuccinos. It’s a mind game you have to break down.”

Or, I would have rather just paid for the specific choices I made at the time. If so, consider a standard cruise with pay-as-you-go options. Those who carefully manage their budget could save money on a cruise. Although the math can be complicated — with port fees and taxes, automatic gratuities, shore excursions, the cost of every drink beyond coffee or water, and sometimes dining surcharges and other fees—you can come out ahead with careful planning. “We’ve done the booze package on a big cruise ship — and we drink,” says cruiser Deb Susi. “But we did an Excel spreadsheet after and found it would have been less expensive to sign for and pay for each drink.”

 

spinner image balcony of room with pool on it on left; inside of a room with bed on right
Photo Collage: MOA; Photographs left to right: Courtesy Silver Nova Renderings; Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Choose your room: When you open the curtains in the morning on vacation, which would you prefer to see?

Beautiful views of nature that I can savor over a cup of coffee. Then, consider splurging on a balcony cabin. It used to be that cruise ships offered mostly cramped cabins with a porthole (in industry parlance, an “oceanview cabin”). Now cabins may feature private verandas with fresh air and great views, but at a higher cost. These can be worth it if the cruise is through a scenic area. American Cruise Lines vessels, for example, travel on rivers and along the Alaskan coast. Silversea vessels are known for deluxe accommodations, including corner suites with wraparound balconies on two ships.

Or, the sight of my rental car, waiting to take me to my next adventure. If so, consider a limited-view cabin. “My top tip for value is to save on the cabin and spend on excursions,” says Elaine Glusac, who writes the Frugal Traveler column for The New York Times. Cabins that have a limited view — or even no view at all — cost considerably less than those with an exterior balcony. “You can have a great cruise from an inside cabin,” says Glusac, “because you’re really only using it to shower, change and sleep, and they’re always the cheapest accommodations on ships.”

 

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