The 7 Best Ships for First-Time Cruisers

best ships for first cruise
Carnival Dream's water park is just one of the many onboard activities to entertain first-time cruisers. - Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines

For newbies looking to take their first cruise, the most confusing question is which ship to try. They can be hard to tell apart at first glance, but trust us, the experiences on board different ships and lines are vastly different. So how do you choose the best cruise ship for your very first cruise? It depends on what you're looking for, but here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Norwegian Escape

best cruise line for first time cruisers

Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Best For: People who hate being bored after dark.

Highlights: Board the Norwegian Escape and you'll find an atmosphere as lively as New York’s Times Square — complete with Broadway shows and as fun as Miami’s South Beach —with clubs and enough entertainment to keep you occupied for a week. Travel back to the days of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats in the Tony Award-winning musical “After Midnight,” relive the 80’s in the one-of-a-kind John Hughes-inspired musical “Brat Pack Live,” or lift a glass to Wine Lovers the Musical. Plan on spending time in the excellent comedy club and Piano Bar, too.

 

2. Celebrity Reflection

best ship for new cruisers

Photo by Celebrity Cruises

Best For: Anyone who is concerned about gaining weight on vacation.

Highlights: Willpower is one thing, but do a Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Reflection out of Ft Lauderdale, and you can focus on getting more fit, not less. Book an AquaClass spa cabin or suite, and your accommodations come with complimentary access to the soothing thermal suite in the spa and dining at the health-focused Blu restaurant. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub also has state-of-the-art fitness equipment and a full menu of exercise classes, including Zumba. When you want a snack, head to the poolside AquaSpa Café for a healthy cookie or a kale salad.

 

3. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

first time cruise ships

Photo by Royal Caribbean

Best For: Those who fear claustrophobia.

Highlights: Cruise on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, the largest ship in the world, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Caribbean, and you may forget you're on a ship altogether. Practically the size of a small town, this vessel is even divided into neighborhoods with a promenade running down the center lined with shops. Stay active on the ice-skating rink, FlowRider simulated surf machines, zip line, and rock climbing wall, just to mention a few of the activities.

 

4. Carnival Vista

best ship for new cruisers

Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines

Best For: People who worry that a cruise is too expensive.

Highlights: Think of Carnival Cruise Line as the Target store of cruising: affordable prices, excellent service and a fun experience. Try the Carnival Vista, Carnival’s largest ship so far, out of Miami or Galveston, and swoosh down water slides, see first-rate comedians, and catch a flick at the first IMAX theater at sea. 

 

5. Carnival Liberty 

first time cruise ship

Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

Best For: Travelers who want to sample cruising.

Highlights: Three- and four-night cruises are a great way to dip your toe into the cruising waters and find out if it’s a good vacation option for you and your family. Though many first-time cruisers choose a short cruise, cruise lines rarely assign their best ships with all the bells and whistles to the shorter itineraries. While the Carnival Liberty isn’t the newest or biggest ship in the fleet, it’s one of the largest ships sailing 3 and 4 night cruises from Florida, and it’s been upgraded with Carnival’s FunShip 2.0 amenities including Guy’s Burger Joint, Blue Iguana Cantina and the RedFrog Rum Bar.  

 

6. Viking Herja

viking herja rhine new cruiser best

Photo by Viking River Cruises

Best For: People who worry about seasickness.

Highlights: Being on a big ship is not like being on Uncle Joe's motorboat. Chances are the seas will be fairly calm, and you'll be fine. But another option is a cruise on tranquil European rivers to see inland sights. Small ships such as Viking River Cruises' longships, including the Viking Herja, are akin to floating hotels. You visit a different town or city every day, often docking right in the city center so you can walk off the ship and go exploring. Shipboard, the atmosphere is casual and convivial, the world slowly floating by as you watch from the sundeck or your own private balcony. Shore excursions and wine and beer with dinner are included in your cruise fare.

 

7. Disney Fantasy

disney fantasy best ship first time

Photo by Disney Cruise Line

Best For: Families who want a vacation designed for kids.

Highlights: The mainstream cruise lines all cater to families, but the best in terms of family programming is Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Fantasy — as well as the other are three ships in the fleet — is a floating extension of the theme parks, complete with a thrilling water coaster, excellent original show productions, Disney movies (screened the same day at sea as on land) and, of course, frequent appearances by Disney characters, including princes and princesses. The kids' programming is top-notch, and there are plenty of things for adults to do, too — including hanging out at night in hip clubs and during the day in a lavish spa. Cabins and even meals are designed with families in mind. Adults can also indulge at some of the best specialty restaurants at sea.

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