When I started working as a travel advisor in 2017 with AAA, I didn’t think I would be going on as many cruises as I had. That’s even with their heavy promotion over all other kinds of travel, like land tours, resorts, road trips or trains. In fact, the only cruise I took with AAA was a Viking river cruise on the Rhine.
I’ve been on every major contemporary and premium line except Disney for the last four years with Cruise Planners. I still haven’t been on any of the luxury companies like Oceania, Regent Seven Seas or Seabourn, and I’m not sure when I will. Since most people and my clients don’t cruise on these lines, it’s not my current focus. But I’d love to sail these someday soon.
Because of these opportunities, I feel I can share my knowledge on the best cruise lines for different kinds of vacations. The categories include romance, culinary, active, wellness, and family/multi-generational. And just to be fair, I’ll rank them from first to third, so there are options. It’s also a bit controversial to choose just one “winner,” and I don’t want anyone to come after me for not thinking thoroughly about this.
So, here are my best cruises for different kinds of vacations:
1. Virgin Voyages
I am not a romance travel expert, but I know what RAS and I like on a vacation. We like a quiet atmosphere, places to walk and see the sunset and intimate dining venues. Virgin Voyages fulfilled all these categories. The ship is great for romantic moments while you have a party-like atmosphere in the evenings, especially at their signature party, Scarlet Night.
The cruise line also offers a romance package where you have your cabin specially decorated, love-themed foods delivered, freshly squeezed juices, one-time access to the thermal spa, and one Shake for Champagne service (which we didn’t do since we don’t like it).
1. Holland America
2. Virgin Voyages
This was a surprising decision, as I haven’t heard of Holland America being the best in much, except cruises to Alaska. Maybe it’s because the cruise line has recently established a culinary council of renowned chefs worldwide. But I didn’t have one bad meal onboard Koningsdam, and that included the main dining room and the buffet.
Naturally, the specialty dining was even more outstanding. Tamarind was my favorite, as every dish served was complex yet delicious in Asian flavors. The other places I dined at, Canaletto (Italian) and Pinnacle Grill (steakhouse) were also outstanding. Having said this about Holland, I have appreciated most of my meals on cruises.
2. Virgin Voyages
I'm a happy camper if a cruise ship has a decent fitness center and outdoor running track. Given all that I eat on a cruise trip, I must work to keep those pounds off. But some ships don’t even have the track anymore (see MSC Seashore and NCL Prima), which I don’t understand. I appreciate these cruise lines, but Princess impressed me the most.
They have an extensive fitness center with plenty of new cardio equipment and weight machines, and they have partnered with established brands for fitness classes. These include YogaSix, Stretch Lab, and others. I think having associations that people know and trust gives credibility.
2. Virgin Voyages
With a spa and wellness feature on a cruise ship, I’m always reluctant to recommend anything. Cruise ship spas are notorious for persistent upselling and cross-selling, subtracting from the overall experience. And the prices for treatments are already inflated. A simple 60-minute massage somehow becomes a shopping spree for firming gel, muscle relief lotion, and a 50% off body wrap that still costs $200.
Even with this issue, I still found that Norwegian’s spa has wonderful facilities, especially on their newer Prima-class ships. These include an extensive warm jacuzzi pool with a dramatic beaded water wall, a thermal area with different elements (salt, mud, steam, ice) and a relaxation room that overlooks the ocean. There is also the first charcoal sauna at sea. As far as treatments go, Norwegian has the standard offerings. Just be sure not to spend any more than you’d like.
1. Royal Caribbean
Since my kids haven’t been on a cruise in nearly ten years, I’m hardly the expert on family cruise vacations now. But I know the top lines to recommend for younger travelers and their parents and grandparents, and the best one is Royal Caribbean. It’s the one I always recommend first for this group.
Despite its reputation for huge town-size vessels, Royal knows how to keep families busy onboard. There are all kinds of amusement park-type diversions, including surf wave pools, rock climbing walls, long slides, bumper cars, ice skating rinks, ziplines, and other activities. There are also great options for entertainment, especially Broadway musicals. The food and accommodations are above average and will please just about everyone.