Every cruise expert gets these questions "what is the best cruise line?" "What is the best cruise you have ever taken?" or "Who has the best cruises to ..." in reference to a particular location.
As often as I hear these questions, I never have an easy answer. Why? The best cruise for anyone is a matter of taste, timing and always a good dose of luck - in that order. The best cruise for me might be a dud for you, or the other way around.
This "best cruise" conundrum causes me a great deal of concern. Is it my place to tell anyone what I think is the best cruise line or best cruise ship? No, I believe my job is to tell you the factual information I have gathered about any given cruise line or ship first, and to weigh that against a global consensus of opinion by most cruisers on what qualifies as the "best cruise" in any given category.
In the long run, the "best cruise" question is still always a personal one. My best cruise experiences must be seen in the context of my personal taste. In the same vein, I can only tell you what I think is the best cruise for you when I know your personal preferences.
Should Cost Affect the Best Cruise Question?
The best cruises are the ones you enjoy the most. But is the price of the cruise a factor in how much you enjoy it, or is cost a separate consideration? It is simpler, and in my mind more realistic, to assume that price is always a factor. In reality, no one ever makes a cruise decision without knowing up front how much it will cost. Money is a fundamental and often primary consideration when choosing a cruise.
Yet, much like the old television show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," people always still want to know, "What is the best cruise line?" So when people ask in that context, I assume they mean that price is not a factor.
What is the Best Cruise Line Ever?
If cost is not a factor then I might answer "Crystal offers the best cruises in the world." Certainly, I would say that more than most, a greater percentage of people I meet who have sailed on Crystal rave about it rather than criticize it. But Crystal is also is not as "cost-inclusive" as many other luxury cruise lines, so it is probably the most expensive major cruise line in the world. At this point you must consider whether "inclusiveness" is a factor in choosing the best cruise for you.
Crystal charges additionally for alcohol and gratuities, which makes them unique in their price category as a "luxury" cruise line. Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas are also considered top of the line luxury cruise lines -- yet they include all tips and beverages in the price of the cruise.
Meanwhile, I mentioned Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas. Along with all-inclusive drinks and gratuity policies these lines offer some of the best food and service at sea. They are generally smaller, which leads to greater socializing with fellow passengers and better access to tour guides, onboard experts and even faster room service. One of my best cruises ever was to Egypt on Silversea Cruises. The attention to detail, especially during the shore excursions, was just phenomenal. Add to that a wonderful butler serving dinner in our suite with unlimited champagne and caviar all included in the price of the cruise and it is just hard to imagine anything better. I have not sailed on Seabourn or Regent recently, but I am sure the results would be equally amazing.
Are the Best Cruises All-inclusive?
When you weigh the difference between Crystal and the all-inclusive lines, you have to ask yourself "would I have limited myself based on the cost of the champagne or caviar I was consuming, and would that have made it less fun?" In truth, you can only say Crystal is the best cruise line if money is never a concern. In reality, any cruise experience is based upon your ability to spend enough to enjoy it and perceived value is often a factor in your satisfaction with your cruise.
With all of this, you can see why it is so hard to say which cruise line is the best. If cost is not a factor then Crystal may be the obvious choice, assuming you like luxury ships that are physically larger in comparison, do not drink much and would always tip no whether you were expected to or not.
"Best Cruise" Depends on Your Comfort Level
Cunard is also considered a luxury cruise line for their top category of suites, the Queen's and Princess Grill categories, yet they also charge separately for drinks and tips. They also have something of a "class-system" onboard where most of the passengers do not get the premium food and service they offer to the top tier suites. Every cruise line has top suites onboard, including Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean, so how could I possibly say Cunard is the best cruise line when in many ways they are modeled on average cruise ships?
Well, I have sailed on Queen Mary 2 and I would have to say their transatlantic cruise was one of the best cruises I have ever taken, whether I was in a luxury suite or not. It is simply a thrilling cruise experience with wonderful ambiance and onboard activities.
But saying "money is not a factor" eliminates 99% of the cruising population. To most of us the best cruise experience includes a comfort level with the amount of money we are spending. If you feel drinks, shore excursions, alternative restaurants and added services are priced too high then you are limited in your ability to enjoy that cruise.
Therefore all of the questions introduced in the first paragraph are subject to your personal comfort zone. What is the best cruise I have ever taken? In fact, I cannot answer because I have taken so many that I have enjoyed for different reasons.
What is the best cruise you have ever taken?