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11 Best First Time Cruise Lines for Every Travel Style
Couple on the sun deck on Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cunard)

11 Best First Time Cruise Lines for Every Travel Style

11 Best First Time Cruise Lines for Every Travel Style
Couple on the sun deck on Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cunard)
Cruise Critic
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Choosing the best cruise as a first-time cruiser is like trying to decide what kind of wine is best without ever having tasted wine before. The starting point of booking a cruise ship is choosing the best cruise line to suit your needs, but there are vast differences between lines and, if you choose the wrong one for you, that decision can negatively impact your trip enjoyment.

This is precisely why we’ve compiled a guide to the best cruises for first-time cruisers based on cruise type.

Looking for a romantic getaway? We’ve got it. Wanting to treat the kids to a new style of vacation? We've got that too. Whether you want to sample a short three-night adventure or desire to jump straight into the deep end on an extended cruise, we’ve put together the important details that make the decision easier.

Below is our guide to the 11 best cruises for first time cruisers.

1. Best Overall Cruise Line for First Timers: Royal Caribbean

Brilliance of the Seas TA Listings Page Image

Why is Royal Caribbean the best overall 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 wherever they call home and to wherever they hope to explore. Lengths vary from two to 15 nights. Booking is simple, either online or through a travel advisor.

The line caters to a broad spectrum of guests. The ages of guests on most sailings range from toddler to octogenarian, but the ample activities and attractions onboard perfectly match the needs and desires of guests of all ages.

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.

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.

2. Best Budget-Friendly Cruise Line for First Timers: Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Imagination

Why is Carnival Cruises 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 food choices included with the cruise fares as well, which 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. Discounts are quite easy to discover and financing options are available.

Carnival Cruises highlights

Carnival’s main focus has always been on fun for everyone. Cruisers of all ages sail with Carnival, but the average age onboard at any given time is likely to be lower than on most other mainstream cruise lines.

Families with children, young singles and couples all appreciate the low prices and abundance of short three- and four-night cruises from easily accessible 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.

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. Dress onboard is casual, but many Carnival cruisers love formal nights – 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.

3. Best Luxury Cruise Line for First Timers: Seabourn

Seabourn Encores Main Pool (Photo: Seabourn Cruise Line)

Why is Seabourn 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.

Seabourn highlights

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 exploring in luxurious style.

Where does Seabourn sail?

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.

4. Best Family-Friendly Cruise Line for First Timers: Disney Cruise Line

Disney Wonder Dining

Why is Disney Cruise Line the best cruise line for families?

Disney Cruise Line packs all their entertainment and hospitality expertise into the cruise experience. Every step of the way, cruisers can expect the same attention to detail onboard as they would find in a Disney park or resort. And 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 easy 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. 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 a Disney Cruise Line that you’d end up paying extra for on those other lines.

Disney cruise fares include free room service and 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.

5. Best Couples' Cruise Line for First Timers: Celebrity Cruises

Carlos Martinez and Joel Vazquez relax with drinks on the Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge. (Photo: Naima Green/AIPP)

Why is Celebrity the best cruise line for couples?

Celebrity Cruises has always catered to cruising couples. The atmosphere onboard makes you feel like you escaped your everyday worries and ran off to an all-inclusive couples’ resort. The ships are intimate, with the largest 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 they so chose to do so.

None of that means children aren’t welcome, simply that they 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.

There's a whole lot for the kids to enjoy aboard the Camp at Sea, from scavenger hunts and building robots to making personal pizzas and even competing in teen ping-pong tournaments.

Celebrity highlights

The staterooms come in six categories, including three with added perks like private dining rooms and spa privileges, more than 80% of which offer a stunning ocean view. Concierge Class even has a special breakfast room service menu featuring smoothies and fresh-squeezed juice at no extra charge. 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 an abundance of Caribbean and Bahamas 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 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.

6. Best Cruise Line for Solo First-Timers: Cunard

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Why is Cunard 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.

Related: The Truth About Solo Cruise Cabins

Cunard highlights

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, and 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.

7. Best Cruise Line for Senior First Timers: Holland America Line

Couple on Deck (Photo: Holland America)

Why is Holland America Cruises 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. And for mature singles, 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, which 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.

Drinks, Wi-Fi and crew tips are not included in the cruise fare. Packages and pre-pay options are available.

8. Best Expedition Cruise Line for First Timers: Viking Cruises

Viking Octantis in Antarctica (Photo/Viking Expeditions)

Why is Viking the best for expedition cruises?

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.

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 expedition ships place a heavier emphasis on educational experiences during their polar, global and Great Lakes adventures.

Viking highlights

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 and beer and wine are 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.

9. Best Cruise Line for First-Time River Cruisers: AmaWaterways

Exterior of AmaWaterways AmaMagna (via AmaWaterways)

Why is AmaWaterways the best for river cruises?

AmaWaterways is known for innovation in river cruises. Their wider ships, active and guest-tailored excursions (as well as more included excursions than many other lines) and staterooms that feature both a step-out balcony and a French balcony are all truly impressive characteristics.

And the innovation doesn't stop there. 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.

AmaWaterways highlights

Food onboard the ships is all included in the cruise fare, even the specialty dining Chef’s Table. Wellness is a priority onboard AmaWaterways ships, with onboard 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 onboard 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, whether “gentle walking” tours with fewer stairs, or 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.

10. Best Cruise Line for Foodie First Timers: Silversea

Hot Rocks (Photo: Silversea Cruises)

Why is Silversea 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 food, inspired by the regions 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 highlights

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 Mediterranean and Northern Europe, as well as seasonal routes in Alaska, Canada and New England, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Bermuda. The line maintains a year-round presence in the Galápagos and has expedition ships sailing both the Arctic and Antarctic.

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. And 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.

11. Best Cruise Line for Entertainment-Seeking First Timers: Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Breakaway

Why is Norwegian 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.

Updated September 19, 2022

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