Explore cruise lines
Every cruise line is different. Some sail enormous ships jam-packed with water slides and Vegas-style entertainment, while others deliver a more intimate onboard experience with onboard spas and gourmet cuisine. The vast majority of cruisers will end up sailing on a “mainstream” cruise line like Royal Caribbean or Carnival, but you should take the time to decide which type of cruise line fits your needs (and budget).
Mainstream cruise lines
Mainstream cruise lines cover a wide range of styles and preferences. Some attract die-hard partiers, others appeal to families, and a few even cater to those with a thirst for knowledge and exploration. What they do share in common is affordability, as fares typically range from $50-$150 per night. Entertainment, meals in the main dining room and buffet, and access to shipboard amenities like the pool are included, whereas speciality dining, soft drinks, alcohol and other services will cost extra.
Premium cruise lines
Premium cruise lines are geared towards passengers who like to relax and explore in comfort with a vibe that's typically more laid-back, easy-going and social. Expect a slightly older demographic than a mainstream line, plus higher-quality cuisine, superior cabins, and fares from roughly $150-$300 per night. Some premium lines also include alcohol and specialty dining in addition to entertainment and access to the main dining areas.
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Luxury cruise lines
Luxury cruise lines offer exquisite service, top-notch cuisine, and elegant accommodations. Fares cost at least $400 per night, although that price generally includes most onboard amenities like alcohol, dining, onboard classes, staff gratuities, and sometimes, your own personal butler. The most all-inclusive luxury lines even include flights and transfers to the airport.
River cruise lines
River cruise lines have smaller ships capable of sailing to inland ports beyond the reach of larger ocean-going vessels. Most river itineraries sail through America or Europe, although Asian river cruises are becoming increasingly popular. River cruises are more about the destination than the ship, so expect an older crowd with little onboard entertainment or after-hours socializing. Prices vary widely, but most river cruises will cost upwards of $250 per night, with lines often including dining, alcohol, gratuities, and even shore excursions.