You may also like
Aerial rendering of Royal Caribbean's colorful two-level pool deck on Odyssey of the Seas
The two-level pool deck on Odyssey of the Seas (Image: Royal Caribbean)

Compare the 8 Most Popular Cruise Ships in the World

Aerial rendering of Royal Caribbean's colorful two-level pool deck on Odyssey of the Seas
The two-level pool deck on Odyssey of the Seas (Image: Royal Caribbean)
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Jan 12, 2023

Read time
5 min read

What does it take to make the list of the eight most popular cruise ships? Every ship on our list has one thing in common: An enormous amount of people sail on them every year. But beyond that, these cruise ships all appeal to a wide array of travelers. Ships that become crowd favorites invariably have great food, a wide choice of comfortable rooms, and enough entertainment to last through the cruise.

If you're hungry for even more information about these top eight cruise ships, click on its name. You’ll find a comprehensive expert review, hundreds of reader-submitted commentary, and enough photos to help you decide if one of these eight popular ships might become your new favorite.

Read on to see how the world's most popular cruise ships stack up against each other and start your cruise vacation planning off on the right foot.

On This Page

1. Harmony of the Seas: Enormous in Both Size and Opportunities for Fun

(Photo: Cruise Critic)
Harmony of the Seas pool

One of the largest vessels at sea, Harmony of the Seas has pretty much everything you could imagine on a mega ship -- and more. From giant water slides and ziplines to Broadway musicals, there's no lack of things to do, see, eat and explore on board. All 2,747 rooms on Harmony of the Seas come in dozens of varieties that range from two-story suites to solo studios. Restaurants top the two-dozen mark, some included in the cruise fare, others bearing an additional charge.

Deployment: Caribbean and Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale (2022 and early 2023), Miami (2023) and Galveston (late 2023 and 2024).

Dining Highlights on Harmony of the Seas:

  • Included snacks galore, from pizza and small plates to gourmet hot dogs.

  • Wildly popular Izumi has both sushi and hibachi grill shows for dinner.

  • If you're staying in Suite Class rooms, check out Coastal Kitchen for an elevated experience.

Sleeping on Harmony of the Seas:

  • Cabins are designed with both family and solo cruisers in mind.

  • Almost 2,000 total balcony cabins, meaning you're likely to score a sea view.

  • An array of solo cabins for cruisers traveling on their own

Coolest Things to Do on Harmony of the Seas:

  • Broadway musicals are the name of the game -- "Grease," in particular.

  • Ride a carousel, ice skate, rock climb or plunge down the Abyss waterslides.

  • A bar or lounge for every level of fun, including one run by robots.


2. Celebrity Apex: Sharp and Innovative for Cruisers Who Like a Little Action

Aerial shot of Celebrity Apex in the Bahamas
Celebrity Apex in the Bahamas (Photo: VitaminSea53/Cruise Critic member)

Celebrity Apex is the second ship in Celebrity's distinctive Edge Series, which has taken cruising -- and the Celebrity brand -- in a new direction by applying innovation on par with sister-line Royal Caribbean. Celebrity Apex cruisers will find themselves on a high-tech ship with plenty of large windows, indoor greenery, swanky lighting and outdoor dining and bar options. The ship's stand-out feature is the bright-orange, tender-platform-turned-exclusive-eatery-and-lounge known as the Magic Carpet.

Deployment: Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico from Fort Lauderdale; Mediterranean from Civitavecchia (Rome) and Piraeus (Athens); Northern Europe from Amsterdam.

Dining Highlights on Celebrity Apex:

  • Suite-class and AquaClass guests have private dining rooms.

  • La Petite Chef is a hit for families, with its high-tech animated dining experience.

  • Dinner on the Magic Carpet is a unique thrill.

Sleeping on Celebrity Apex:

  • Unique to Celebrity's Edge-class ships, Infinite Verandah cabins feature more outdoor space.

  • The Retreat ups the luxury experience without fully shelling out for a luxury cruise.

  • Single Infinite Verandah rooms give solo travelers way more space (and light) than they may normally be used to.

Coolest Things to Do on Celebrity Apex:

  • Why stop at dinner on the Magic Carpet -- head there for seaview drinks, too.

  • Take a turn on one of the most interesting walking and jogging tracks at sea.

  • Lively, but sophisticated vibe, with live music in The Club, theme nights at Eden and one of the most high-tech theaters at sea.


3. Carnival Mardi Gras: Roller Coaster at Sea, Anyone?

BOLT on Carnival Mardi Gras (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
BOLT on Carnival Mardi Gras (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Carnival's most popular ship, Mardi Gras is named after Carnival's first Mardi Gras ship, which retired in 1993. This new ship shows just how far cruising has come in the decades since. One of the most obvious upgrades on the newer Mardi Gras is BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea. It also includes Carnival's first-ever Grand Central Atrium, complete with three-story walls of glass overlooking the sea. Of course, sticking to Carnival's brand, the vibe onboard still skews upbeat (in other words, it's a party).

Deployment: Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico and Central America from Port Canaveral.

Dining Highlights on Mardi Gras:

  • Emeril's Bistro 1396 is the seagoing debut of Chef Emeril Lagasse.

  • Casual favorites include Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina.

  • Rudi's Seagrill is Carnival's first seafood-focused eatery.

Sleeping on Mardi Gras:

  • Carnival's most spacious and elaborate cabins to-date.

  • Family Harbor Staterooms and Suites offer more living space.

  • Cloud 9 Suites for those who want a relaxed vibe and extension of the Cloud 9 spa experience.

Coolest Things to Do on Mardi Gras:

  • New drinking options include RedFrog Tiki Bar and Brass Magnolia Jazz Club.

  • Ride BOLT, the first and only roller coaster at sea.

  • Take part in game shows or grab a seat at the comedy clubs and full-blown productions.


4. Anthem of the Seas: Mega-Ship Action in a Slightly Smaller Package

(Photo: Cruise Critic)
Anthem of the Seas bumper cars

Anthem of the Seas may not be the newest of Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships, but it is a beautiful example of what Quantum-class ships do best. Expect an activity-packed home base from which to explore the world by sea. Anthem of the Seas is a popular step up to mega-ship status for lovers of smaller ships, avoiding that lost-in-the-crowd feeling of the larger Royal Caribbean Oasis Class ships.

Deployment: Bahamas and Caribbean from Bayonne, New Jersey; Canary Islands, Mediterranean and Northern Europe from London (Southampton).

Dining Highlights on Anthem of the Seas:

  • A variety of free and for-fee options offers something for every taste.

  • Easy to miss options like in the Brass & Bock pub or at Cafe Two70.

  • Get your retro diner fix at the only Johnny Rockets on a Quantum Class ship.

Sleeping on Anthem of the Seas:

  • Cabins are compact but cozy, with lots of storage space.

  • Solo cabins are not charged a single supplement.

  • Amazing forward-facing ocean view rooms.

Coolest Things to Do on Anthem of the Seas:

  • Lounge options like Music Hall and Vintages Wine Bar.

  • Amazing high-tech light, sound and graphic shows in Two70.

  • Bumper cars, games and daily indoor activities at the Seaplex.


5. Norwegian Joy: Dining Options Galore plus NCL's Signature Entertainment

Norwegian Joy's Deck Pool Area (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Norwegian Joy's Deck Pool Area (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Norwegian Joy is part of Norwegian Cruise Line's iconic Breakaway Class, but has a distinct personality of its own. Cruisers looking for a traditional Norwegian (NCL) experience will not be disappointed, thanks to the inclusion of the line’s hallmarks like the French-inspired Le Bistro, Cagney’s Steakhouse, and plenty of entertainment and activities for all ages. Just keep in mind that, despite the wealth of excellent specialty dining and activities like go-karts, VR games and laser tag, NCL price tags are less inclusive and most of these features will cost extra.

Deployment: Caribbean and Bahamas from Miami; Canada and New England from New York (Manhattan) and Quebec; Bermuda from New York; Mexico, Central America and Panama Canal from Los Angeles and Miami.

Dining Highlights on Norwegian Joy:

  • Extensive breakfast buffets catering to all tastes plus great main dining room menus and service.

  • Authentic Texas barbecue at Q Texas Smokehouse.

  • Sample a huge array of international and foodie fare at numerous specialty restaurants.

Sleeping on Norwegian Joy:

  • Concierge-class rooms come with big bathrooms, exclusive breakfast dining, and priority boarding.

  • The Haven Suites offer a luxury ship-within-a-ship concept (including a private Haven-only restaurant).

  • Dedicated family rooms are available across most cabin categories.

Coolest Things to Do on Norwegian Joy:

  • Check out the virtual reality playroom and games.

  • Typical for Norwegian, entertainment is major ("Footloose" is the Broadway show on Norwegian Joy)

  • The District Brewhouse offers over 70 different beers for microbrewery-at-sea vibes.


6. Discovery Princess: Refined and Relaxed for Lovers of Classic Cruise Style

Discovery Princess in Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Discovery Princess in Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Discovery Princess is the final ship in the Princess Royal Class. The design will be familiar to past Princess guests, with a large central atrium, a handful of complimentary eateries and a nice balance of specialty restaurants. The vibe is classic and relaxed, but the look is modern. With 753 balcony cabins and a great selection of suites to choose from, this is a ship that is focused on getting you to your destination in comfort and class over offering a too-long list of attractions. Since this ship tours Alaska for half of the year, it’s a formula that works. Even the main dining rooms on Discovery Princess are named for Alaska’s top cruise ports: Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.

Deployment: Alaska from Seattle; Hawaii and Mexico from Los Angeles.

Dining Highlights on Discovery Princess:

  • This is an elegant ship and dining options match, including an excellent steakhouse and Italian spot (both of which do cost extra)

  • Yes, there are two places to get pizza (as well as numerous other free-food spots).

  • Room service is entirely free -- not even a service charge is added.

Sleeping on Discovery Princess:

  • Premium Mini Suites are the go-to for more space.

  • Discovery Princess has a total of 40 adjoining rooms for families.

  • Cruise in style in one of two 1,500-square-foot Sky Suites.

Coolest Things to Do on Discovery Princess:

  • For a ship this size, an amazing seven hot tubs keeps things toasty after your Alaska excursions.

  • Adults have their own pool on Deck 17.

  • Convivial vibe at all restaurants, bars and entertainment spots at night make it easy to meet and mingle.


7. Holland America Koningsdam: Great Food and Just Enough Bells and Whistles

Koningsdam (Photo: Holland America)
Koningsdam (Photo: Holland America)

Holland America Koningsdam led the way for two more Pinnacle Class ships, now Holland America’s largest ships in the fleet. It features long-time Holland America (HAL) favorites like the Pinnacle Grill steakhouse and Canaletto featuring Italian fare. Art and classic decor have always been front and center on the line’s ships, giving it an upmarket vibe. It's one of the most high-tech ships in HAL's fleet and the farm-to-table dining onboard shouldn't be missed.

Deployment: Alaska from Seattle, Vancouver, and Anchorage; Hawaii, South Pacific, and Mexico from San Diego.

Dining Highlights on Holland America Koningsdam:

  • The Lido Market is a legitimately great breakfast and lunch buffet, with cuisine from around the globe.

  • Farm-to-table dining at the open-kitchen Culinary Arts Center (where there's also an unlimited wine option).

  • If you're craving steaks, it's hard to top HAL's Pinnacle Grill -- reservations are a must.

Sleeping on Holland America Koningsdam:

  • With 13 cabin types, and many variations within those, there’s something for everyone.

  • 12 solo cabins offer accommodations without a single supplement.

  • Family Oceanview cabins have up to 231 square feet of space.

Coolest Things to Do on Holland America Koningsdam:

  • Expect beer, wine, whiskey and martini tastings.

  • Cooking classes are an essential part of the activity list.

  • Daytime fun regardless of the weather is possible thanks to a retractable roof over the Lido Pool.


8. Mariner of the Seas: A Wallet-Friendly Caribbean Stalwart

Mariner of the Seas in Labadee (Photo/Kyle Valenta)
Mariner of the Seas in Labadee (Photo/Kyle Valenta)

Mariner of the Seas serves as the grand finale of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager Class. The entire class changed what cruisers expect from a mega ship: A multitude of choices for everything from rooms to food as well as a ship packed with stuff to do. The ship underwent extensive renovations to public areas in 2018, with additions including Playmakers Sports Bar and massive twin water slides called The Perfect Storm. It's also one of the most budget-friendly ships in the Royal Caribbean line and its short itineraries make it a popular Caribbean option.

Deployment: Caribbean and Bahamas from Port Canaveral

Eating on Mariner of the Seas:

  • Don’t overlook the Campfire Cookie in Playmakers.

  • The popular Hibachi at Izumi is open for lively, awe-inspiring and funny dinners.

  • Johnny Rockets shakes are the ticket to a chill afternoon onboard.

Sleeping on Mariner of the Seas:

  • Check out the Spacious Oceanview and Ultra Spacious Oceanview rooms on decks 7, 8, 9 and 12.

  • Junior Suites are a perfect option for gaining lots of space to unwind without busting your budget.

  • Beds are, quite simply, excellent and on par with a high-end hotel.

Fun on Mariner of the Seas:

  • Playmakers is the hot spot for sports lovers.

  • Schooner's is the place to be for trivia and piano sing-alongs. It's busy and boisterous almost every night.

  • The ice skating show is an absolute highlight (just be sure to book tickets -- they're free).

How was this article?

Get special cruise deals, expert advice, insider tips and more.By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

© 1995—2024, The Independent Traveler, Inc.