Today I'm starting to wade through all the major cruise lines and detail the good, the bad, and the ugly.
These are my personal insights and recommendations about which cruise lines should be on your personal shortlist, and which ones shouldn't. They have been developed over many years from my own experience and that of people we have booked.
I've listed them as preferred for different segments such as couples, families, retirees, singles, and honeymooners all broken down by budget and different age demographics.
If you read this initial series of blog posts, you will come away with the confidence to know exactly what you are looking for, and just as importantly how to find that perfect cruise at a price that is just right for you.
Obviously, these are my personal views and they may differ from your own experience, and if so I really want to hear from you about what you think I've got wrong.
Understanding our recommendations.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED is reserved for those lines that we considered the product is of such a high standard that you are virtually guaranteed to have an incredible cruise.
This is not to say that each of these cruise lines is right for you. But as you read through the posts that follow you we learn which lines are best suited to what demographics.
Once I get through all the main brands I will be drilling down further and explaining the difference between individual ships in each fleet.
Stick around and by the end of this series, you will have learned all you need to know to shortlist the top 3 or 4 cruise lines that are a perfect match for you.
As mentioned in our previous post, there are two major corporations that own over a dozen brands, which equate the about 70% of the industry.
They are the Royal Caribbean and the Carnival group. What is confusing is that each of these corporates is actually the name of an individual cruise line, under the master corporate name. Today we kick off with the brands operated by the Royal Caribbean Group
Royal Caribbean International (The Cruiseline)
4/5 star - Home of the biggest mega-ships in the world
26 ships starting at 3000 pax along with 5 of the biggest in the world at 5500 to 6500 pax. The new Icon of the Seas pictured above has 7600 passengers at maximum capacity, in addition to 2,350 crew.
Founded in 1968 in Norway, is now based in Miami, and organized as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Royal Caribbean Group since 1997. It is the largest cruise line by revenue and second-largest by passenger counts. In 2018, Royal Caribbean International controlled 19.2% of the worldwide cruise market.
More than any other RCI pioneered innovations that forever changed the industry. Back in the 90s, they started designing ever larger ships, which to many might seem unappealing, but with size came the most amazing array of features from Ice skating rinks, dodgem cars, ice caves, jazz and comedy clubs, actual broadway shows like Hairspray, and even an open-air central park with thousands of plants, wave pools and so much more.
They have become cities at sea to rival everything Las Vegas has to offer. At 6500 pax and 3500 crew, they are not for everyone - but they have certainly created a product that has made a cruising holiday an affordable option for millions of people.
Don't be put off by the huge size of their mega-ships, which are predominately based in the USA. The ships utilized in Australia and New Zealand are of a smaller less daunting size, but still crammed packed with features that shock and delight the whole family.
They are absolutely family-focused with kids' clubs that act as free childminding. And as all parents know, holidays with kids can be a stressful time. If the kids are happy, doubly so are the parents. A great innovation they have pioneered is family dining where the kids start their meal with the whole family and then they are taken off by counselors so that mum and dad can have a romantic dinner.
FAB: Highly recommended for families and first-time cruisers who worry they might get bored.
5+ star 15 ships with 3 being expedition 2000, 3600 Pax - expedition 48/100
Celebrity Cruises was founded in 1988 in Greece and merged with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in 1997. Celebrity's signature logo is an "Χ" displayed on the funnel of Celebrity ships, and is the Greek letter chi, for "Chandris"
A step above Royal. Contemporary design is not unlike a W hotel. The ships are built for adults without all the waterslides and thrills. But if your kids enjoy nice hotels, fine restaurants, and resort-style pools then they will equally enjoy Celebrity. With kids, if you choose port-intensive itineraries you won't need lots of activities onboard for them to keep them distracted.
In recent years, like Royal, Celebrity have been pushing design boundaries and their Edge-class ships feature new infinity balconies and the amazing Magic Carpet. Check out the photos. If your budget is tight look at the older smaller Celebrity ships as these are still fabulous and are now priced well below the new members of the fleet.
Recently they have moved to inclusive fares of drinks and tips. This has seen fares rise and explains why they 'appear' to be more expensive than their direct competition. We can however sell fares without the extras.
Celebrity is a perfect choice for couples, first-time and experienced cruisers. Only for kids who can appreciate nice hotels and fine restaurants. They have a brand new Expedition ship Flora especially designed for the Galapagos Islands and I am hopeful of last-minute deals to start to flow early next year.
FAB Highly recommended a step above mid-range, couples more so than kids.
6 ships all-suite ships @ 600 pax 5 expedition ships 100 - 200 pax
All-inclusive of drinks, mini bar, tips, taxes/port fees. Royal's 6-star option.
All the bells and whistles and generally the most expensive cruise line in the world.
Their marketing, pricing, plus their signature butlers for every cabin puts them above Seabourn however their dress code at dinner is more formal, and there are some that really enjoy this elevated sophistication.
Silversea has a long-established expedition division that offers exceptional ships built for the Antarctic and Galapagos Islands without the need to dress up for dinner.
FAB: Highly recommended where budget is not important and especially for milestone events like birthdays or retirement. They visit far more remote bucket list destinations than anyone and we get more last-minute discounts as a result.
5.5 stars 4 small ships @ 700 pax
(Sold to private equity and will be breaking away from Royal early next year).
An interesting bird, not well known in Australia, but one with a lot to love, especially for those seeking amazing last-minute deals.
At only 700 pax they look and feel very intimate. They really are a bridge between the 5-star brands like Royal/Princess/Celebrity and the 6-star ones.
The new decor is elevated and more sophisticated than the old English country club theme of past years.
They are almost all-inclusive as standard beer/wine/spirits and tips are included in their fares which alone equate to a value of about $100 USD per person per day, or $700 per 7-day cruise. That makes them instantly $700 better value than brands like Royal or Princess.
We routinely get Azamara fares with this inclusion well below base fares on 5-star lines, meaning we can save you many thousands of dollars by putting you on their smaller better appointed ships.
Azamara is perfect for those who have outgrown the large mid-market ships or who want to try, but can't afford the six-star ones. But a warning once you try small ships - it is hard to go back. Not for kids who need clubs or constant activities.
FAB: Highly recommended - currently offering the biggest bang for your buck. Great for first-timers, and those wishing to move up a gear. Not much to keep active kids occupied.
Read the next post in this series: P&O Aust and UK, Carnival, Costa, Princess, Holland America, Seabourn
FAB - Step by step guide to find your perfect cruise
FAB Last Minute and Interline Cruises