For newbies to cruising, the most confusing question is which ship to try. (They can be hard to tell apart!) So how do you choose? We’ve got the answers:
Best For: People who hate being bored after dark.
Highlights: Board the Norwegian Breakaway in New York — sailing to Bermuda or the Bahamas — and you'll find an atmosphere as lively as Times Square, complete with Broadway shows and clubs and enough entertainment to keep you occupied for a week. Dance in your seat to the rowdy, Tony Award-nominated musical “Rock of Ages,” watch the sultry moves of unfairly attractive dancers in the show “Burn the Floor,” and be amazed by circus acts at the “Cirque Dreams” dinner theater show. Plan on spending time in the excellent comedy and blues clubs, too — just don't miss the '80s deck party, complete with fireworks.
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 Miami, 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.
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.
Best For: People who worry that a cruise is too expensive.
Highlights: Think of Carnival Cruise Lines as the Target store of cruising, with many aisles to explore. Try the Carnival Dream out of New Orleans, and swoosh down water slides, see first-rate comedians, and catch a flick at the poolside theater on deck.
Best For: Travelers who fear crowds.
Highlights: The small ships operated by Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic take you to the far corners of the world. You won't encounter the roar of the crowds; instead, listen to a cacophony of jungle sounds while kayaking down the Amazon or commune with giant penguins in Antarctica. New to the fleet, this ship takes cruisers to the South Pacific, Borneo and Indonesia, southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Naturalists and other experts affiliated with National Geographic are onboard, but not all the activities are educational or even serious — there’s also snorkeling equipment and Zodiac watercraft.
Cruises: See National Geographic's website for details.
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 Forseti — in Bordeaux, France, 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.
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.