Best Cruise Lines for 10 Types of Cruisers: Really?

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

An outside cruise article gets the scrutiny of the CruiseMates' Editor - Why only pros should pick ships!

I often receive unsolicited articles from writers, and sometimes companies offer us "free articles" with compelling and useful content, but with a link to their web sites. These companies pay professional writers well to create these articles, but these writers are not always experts in the field. When I received a cruise-specific article from a web site I like -- DealNews.com -- I had to write back and say, "I like the idea, but I don't care for the ship recommendations made by the author," blogger Jason Cochran.

First you'll see the article's recommendations, followed by my own comments and opinions. The article is called "The Best Cruise Lines for 10 Types of Cruisers," and I will mostly use the abbreviated version. To read the full article, follow the link above.

"I want to feel like I'm in Titanic" Sinking aside, the grand liner experience is one worth cherishing, and it lives on in just one brand: Cunard Line, which has been sailing since the 1830s.

I agree Cunard is the best line for that classic "Titanic feeling" -- i.e., the movie, not the ship -- but really on just one Cunard ship, The Queen Mary 2; and only on transatlantic crossings. QM2 is the only true ocean liner in existence, launched in 2004. On ocean crossings, the ship offers cardinal Titanic-style experiences -- like dancing to an 11-piece orchestra, accompanied by a crooner, on the Olympic-sized dance floor. Tuxedos are required.

But admirers of the actual Titanic should look into two chartered Titanic memorial cruises scheduled to sail to the exact spot where the ship now lies on the ocean floor. They depart on the 100th anniversary of that tragedy, April 14, 2012. The ships hosting the Titanic Memorial Cruises are the Balmoral, sailing from the U.K.; and the Azamara Journey, set to depart from New York. Both ships will also visit the Titanic graveyard and memorial in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I want to see Europe" Most of the major lines (including Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Disney) make summer forays into Europe, but my advice is to stick with ships that are on the smaller side.

This recommendation is far too vague -- but the actual recommendations in the longer article are just plain bad. Jason is correct that Royal Caribbean, Princess and Disney all provide cruises to Europe, but each offers a vastly different experience.

Royal Caribbean has many cruises designed to appeal to the local European market, that won't call at the places most Americans want to see. Take a Disney cruise in Europe only if you have kids that will be better off with onboard babysitting than shore tours. Of the three lines Jason mentions, Princess would be my choice, as I have had several wonderful Princess cruises in Europe.

Jason ultimately recommends "take the small ships in Europe," and I agree, but for vastly different reasons. In the longer article he says, "Europe's medieval back streets were not meant to handle the simultaneous disgorgement of thousands of American tourists, so smaller ships will yield more copacetic day trips."

However, the sights Americans want to see in Europe are in major cities like Rome, Florence, Nice and Monte Carlo. They already have millions of tourists, so it hardly matters what size vessel you arrive on. If you take smaller ships, you will see smaller ports that are less well known among Americans and big ships don't go there anyway.

A ship like Windstar's Wind Spirit will take you to ports like Cartagena, Almeira, Cadiz and Malaga, Spain, along with Portimao and Lisbon, Portugal. That's your entire cruise -- a lovely itinerary, but hardly one that "sees Europe." It sees just a tiny bit of Europe. Speaking to Windstar's CEO, Hans Birkholz, yesterday he agreed "We are a small specialty line for experienced cruises, these people have already "seen Europe."

Your best bets for mainstream lines are Princess, Holland America or Celebrity. If you want to take a small ship but not limit your visits to smaller ports, try Oceania Cruises or Azamara. Jason's recommendation of Costa for Americans who want to see Europe is the worst idea ever. The line's Europe-based ships cater to non-English speaking locals who want to go to sunny beaches, not the centers of European culture that Americans want to see. Bad choice, Jason.

"I wanna party!" Belly up to the casino bar on a Carnival ship, my friend. Most of the vessels in the Carnival fleet, while jammed with opportunities to drink and eat yourself into a stupor, are fairly indistinguishable from each other thanks to being dominated by long-time designer Joe Farcus.

Good choice. Carnival is my top recommendation for a "Fun Ship" cruise. But that statement about Joe Farcus designs only shows your inexperience, Mon frère. In fact, Farcus designed each Carnival ship to be highly individual and distinct from the others in the fleet. The same is not true of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, where ships in the same class are virtually indistinguishable from one another inside and out.

"I'm a foodie" Holland America offers a Culinary Arts Center program, where passengers can learn hands-on cooking skills and delve into the local cuisine of the ports they visit. Oceania Cruises' new ship, the Marina, has a Culinary Center with a similar experience, itself linked to Bon Appétit.

Yes to Marina from Oceania Cruises. But Holland America, even with its onboard culinary demonstration centers, is rarely noted for its onboard cuisine -- especially compared to Seabourn, Crystal or the more affordable Celebrity. Even Carnival generally rates higher than Holland America for cuisine. I Like Holland America for plenty of other reasons, but Princess also boasts the same culinary centers, but Marina is the only choice, along with cuisine by Jacques Pepin, in the culinary center beyond the the demonstration chef every guests gets his own kitchen work-station. For would-be chefs, Marina is tops; regular gourmands should also consider Seabourn and Crystal.

"I don't want to cruise" Seabourn Cruise Line is an ultra-luxury line that separates itself from the hoi polo (sic). Two lines with a similar profile, but with slightly less tony standards, are Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises.

This implies that mainstream cruisers are not desirable company, a statement I take issue with. But the real question is, which cruise do you recommend for a person who doesn't find the idea of cruising appealing?

I disagree with the Seabourn suggestion completely. Seabourn boasts of its "yachtlike" experience and appeals to ardent cruisers first and foremost -- the type who will fly to Europe to catch a ship and still eat all their meals onboard. They love the quiet, small ships where there is virtually nothing to do but relax and talk to other Seabourn enthusiasts. The line generally has fewer ports and more sea days per cruise than the average mainstream cruise ship.

The Azamara and Oceania recommendations are correct. Both lines feature port-a-day itineraries so you are traveling, not just cruising. At night you enjoy fine dining and a great night's sleep to get ready for the next day's port experience.

"I don't want to fly far to cruise" People around Florida's East Coast and New York City have their pick of itineraries, but Carnival is the most conscientious about porting ships throughout the United States so that more passengers can drive to their vacations.

While it is true that Carnival offers cruises from 16 different U.S. and Canadian cities -- and Jason also mentions NCL, which has 11 "local" cruise departures -- he missed mentioning Royal Caribbean, which has departures from 15 North American home ports. And for the record, Galveston is more of a year-round cruise Mecca than New York these days.

"I'm traveling solo" The Norwegian Epic became the hero of the unwed in 2010 when it introduced a special category of single cabins for solo traveler.

Full agreement from me in citing Norwegian Epic as the best ship for singles, but it is solely because of the studio staterooms. But Jason goes on to compare Epic to Carnival ships like this: "Consider it Macy's to Carnival's Kmart." Really, Jason? Norwegian Epic, aside from the singles staterooms, has no distinct advantage in terms of service, décor or activities, over Carnival. Carnival ships have far more interesting décor and better food without the surcharges that NCL pushes in its specialty restaurants.

Norwegian Epic has great entertainment, but it can also be the most frustrating ship at sea when you want to see that entertainment. Carnival is a first class act for service and fun no matter which of its ships you choose. Calling Carnival a "K-Mart line" is an older and more disagreeable cliche than my grand-pappy's spit bucket.

"I have kids under 12" Perhaps unsurprisingly, Disney Cruise Line is the top choice, and the reason doesn't have as much do with the brand's characters as you might think.

Disney is the top choice if you have an unlimited budget, but don't overlook the kid's programs on Royal Caribbean with its 3-D DreamWorks Animation movies and characters like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda; or NCL with its Nickelodeon affiliation. These lines are generally more affordable and people with kids often have tighter budgets. Also, I agree Disney is #1 for kids under 12, but if you have older teens you just might be better off on Royal Caribbean or Carnival.

"My teen-agers get bored quickly" For active kids, there's Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. The line has worked hard to set itself apart as a high-adrenaline product.

Once again, I agree Royal Caribbean is best for active teens who like surfing and rock climbing, but don't overlook NCL or Carnival if your teen likes dancing, music and acting more like an adult.

"I'm not going with kids, but I want to be busy" Princess Cruises seems right for those who aren't in the mood to be overwhelmed by gimmicks, but want to retain a little of the mall-inspired extravagance that prevails in today's ships.

You want to be "busy?" Then Royal Caribbean is also great for adults with mini-golf, ice skating, comedy shows, etc. For onboard enrichment like lectures and lessons in computers, music, arts and photography, Crystal is a clear winner. For more sophisticated adult activities like lectures, drama and songwriting workshops -- and especially dining and dancing -- Cunard Line is the most enriching "adult" experience at sea.

There's nothing wrong with Princess, but it is a mainstream cruise experience in and you will not find nearly as much enrichment for adult minds as you will on Crystal or Cunard.

Thank you, Jason, for letting me pick you apart. Overall I will give you a "B" for your cruise savvy. While most of your recommendations were spot on, there were a few misses that didn't even hit the target let alone the bull's eye. Do feel free to respond, however. We will set up a forum for this article here.

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