Where To? Cruising 101, Part 2a: Mainstream Cruise Lines

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In our last article of the Cruising 101 series, published in the Longmont Observer on September 28, 2019, we discovered one of the huge draws of cruising:  Being able to see many places on one vacation without having to pack and unpack.  We also explored where cruises can take you, from the Caribbean and Mexico to Europe, Asia, and even more exotic places. But picking a destination for that next special vacation is only the beginning.

Once you’ve picked a destination, you’ll find that, in many instances, there are several different cruise lines that can take you there.  In this issue, we’ll explore the variety of mainstream cruise lines and ships that are out there to see if one is a perfect fit for you. 

For an Inexpensive Vacation with Family and/or Friends

Royal Caribbean International is a contemporary cruise line that makes cruising accessible to the masses. Photo by Bill Beaver.
Royal Caribbean International is a contemporary cruise line that makes cruising accessible to the masses. Photo by Bill Beaver.

If an inexpensive vacation for the family or your group of friends is what you want, you might want to go with the contemporary line of cruises.  While all cruise lines offer seven-day cruises, the contemporary lines offer a large variety of shorter itineraries as well, making a cruise a little more accessible on smaller budget. They also tend to offer the largest vessels, and this accomplishes two things:  First, large ships result in volume pricing.  Second, the size of the ship allows them to offer something for everyone onboard, from great grandparents to toddlers. These companies, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian, and MSC, offer free children’s activities for children and teens three and up, along with varied activities on and offshore for the adults in their lives.

Our extended family took a Norwegian cruise when our children and their cousins were in preschool and elementary school, and my husband’s grandmother was in her eighties. That’s quite a range of ages, but there was truly something for everyone. We’d all start out with breakfast at the dining room, where we could order anything from cereal to a full-blown country breakfast. As soon as breakfast was over, the kids would rush off to Splash Academy, the program designed just for them. They played games, won prizes, went swimming, made crafts, went on adventures around the ship, and more. It wasn’t like we were leaving them with a babysitter. It was more like they were too busy to find time for us. Nowadays, there is even more for children and teens to do on these ships, from waterslides to trampolines, zip lines to climbing walls, Go-Kart tracks to laser tag, and the list goes on. 

Contemporary cruise lines like Carnival offer a myriad of fun things to do onboard. Photo provided with permission by Carnival.
Contemporary cruise lines like Carnival offer a myriad of fun things to do onboard. Photo provided with permission by Carnival.

On our cruise, while the kids were off and busy, their parents were free to go on excursions like hiking, kayaking, or fishing, while Grandma Diane usually went on a walking and shopping expedition of her own. And Great-Grandma Gladys would head to the special chair she had claimed in one of the quieter areas of the ship, where she would read books, watch the world go by, and nap the day away. 

We would gather for meals, where everyone would share the stories of their adventures. Our kids were well behaved at dinner time, and they tended to enjoy the evening shows with us as well, but sometimes they would get bored and wiggly. Today, programs like Royal Caribbean’s Family Time Dining will serve the young ones more quickly and then whisk them off to their evening Adventure Ocean activities if that’s what they (and you) prefer. While the kids are busy with their evening activities, you can get busy with yours, one of which might be to attend one of Royal Caribbean’s Broadway shows. Our favorite activities were dancing and watching the variety of evening shows, including everything from magicians to musicals.

If you are looking for a more elegant feel and you don’t mind hearing every announcement in several languages, go with MSC, whose ship décor and food is a little more European.   

Finally, if you or someone you want to cruise with is a first-time cruiser and doubtful about having a good time on a huge ship with thousands of other people, go with Carnival. They offer a Great Vacation Guarantee: If within the first 24 hours of your cruise, you discover that cruising is not for you, simply let them know. They will fly you home and refund your money.  What have you got to lose?

For a Little More Adult Focus, Without Neglecting the Kids

You may decide you want a cruise that is a little more adult-centered, without neglecting the kids and without too much added expense. For this, you will want to book with one of the premium line of cruises, including Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, or Disney. Yes, you read that right.  Disney Cruise Line, while still being very child-focused, is considered a premium line because of the price tag. Disney is surprisingly adult-friendly though, making it their goal to keep the kids happy and safe while giving their parents a wonderful, relaxing trip of a lifetime.

Celebrity is one of the premium cruise lines offer a step up in sophisticated design. Photo by Bill Beaver
Celebrity is one of the premium cruise lines offer a step up in sophisticated design. Photo by Bill Beaver

Like the contemporary cruise lines, premium lines also offer excellent children’s programs and are great for multi-generational cruising.  However, their adult amenities, services, entertainment, and dining experiences tend to be a little more, well, premium. You’re more likely to get a good steak in your dining room, for example. In fact, Celebrity’s steaks are juicy and delicious, even from the buffet line, and they’re offered every day. You’re also more likely to find a quiet place to get away from it all on these ships. Holland America, for example, appeals to people who enjoy a subdued evening atmosphere.

Premium cruises usually mean premium dining. Photo by Teri Beaver.
Premium cruises usually mean premium dining. Photo by Teri Beaver.

On premium ships, you can often upgrade to cabins with extra perks, such as special dining rooms, unlimited spa access, and more. Even the “regular” cabins on these ships tend to be a bit larger and more comfortable, and all areas of the ship tend to have a bit more sophistication in interior design. Customer service is a plus on these lines. Princess, in fact, is especially known for their staff’s personal connections with their guests.

If you want to cruise the Mediterranean, you'll have many more options on premium cruise lines like Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America.
If you want to cruise the Mediterranean, you’ll have many more options on premium cruise lines like Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America.

Finally, while the contemporary cruise lines tend to focus on less expensive destinations, such as the Caribbean and Mexico, with only a few ships heading to Alaska or Europe, premium lines can also take you almost anywhere you want to go in comfort and style. They even offer destinations like Australia, Asia, Galapagos, and the South Pacific. And if you want a longer trip, even around the world, these cruise lines are your ticket.

What’s Next?

Now you know about several of the mainstream cruise lines, but for the more refined tastes, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series:  Deluxe and Luxury Cruises.


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