Budget: Under three stars. There really are no budget cruise lines serving the North American Market right now. A budget cruise line is one where all the ships are old, and have not been recently upgraded. In reality, while there were such cruise lines working over a decade ago, they have all given way to competition from the current assortment of well-maintained older mainstream cruise ships.
Mainstream: Costa, MSC, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, Royal Caribbean. Three to four-1/2 stars. A mainstream ship may be an older ship sailing in a fleet with a lot of other similar ships, or it may be the older ship within a fleet of newer ships. These cruise lines may range from three stars: (the oldest, most run down ships of the mainstream cruise lines generally only offering three to five day cruises which fall into the "bargain cruise" category), to four 1/2 Stars which are are the newest, cream of the crop ships operated by the named mainstream cruise lines.
Premium Cruise Lines: Holland America, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, Cunard Britannia-class. The Lower Premium ships may be three-1/2 stars (the oldest, ships of the premium cruise lines) to Upper Premium five-star ships such as the very impressive Celebrity Solstice class which were first inreoduced in 2010.
Upscale Cruise Lines: Azamara, Oceania Cruises, Windstar. This relatively new group of cruise lines generally come in at four to five stars. They are small, very destination oriented and similar to luxury ships except in a few key differences; they are not inclusive for alcohol or gratuities and tend to be very focused on destinations.
While most of these ships were built in the 1990s, the exceptions are the brand new Riviera and Marina, operated by Oceania Cruises. These two brand new ships are just amazingly good with excellent gourmet cuisine, very comfortable accomodations and onboard exoeriences that rival any other cruise line. These are the ships rated highest of all for value.
Lately, these are among the most popular cruise lines as they represent a similar style to luxury cruise lines but with a much better value proposition. They tend to feature very good food, gourmet in the case of Oceania, and very comfortable cabins although they may be small for a luxury cruiser. These ships are for non-cruisers who want to see the world in comfort with nice rooms and excellent food, but who do not care about the shipboard activities, trivia games, children's programs, etc. These ships tend to rate at four-1/2 to five stars - and rate the highest in terms of value for your money.
Luxury Ships: Cunard Queens-class, Crystal, Silversea, Regent, Seabourn. Lower Luxury ships may be rated the lowest at Four-1/2 stars for the oldest, smallest and least maintained of the luxury ships in the cruise lines named just above. The best of the Upper Luxury ships come in at Five 1/2 stars - the best you can get. Luxury ships are as nice as cruise ships can get with excellent service and gourmet cuisine. They include alcohol and gratuities in the cruise fare, and some (Regent) even include pe-cruise hotels and shore excursions. But they are pricey. These are the ships for the people who want the best at any cost.SHIP'S STARS: (five stars plus) A cruise where the cabins are well designed, comfortable, well-stocked, everything works correctly. The cuisine is that of a top restaurant in any major city. The service rarely skips a beat, almost anticipating every need, and when something is asked for it is provided almost immediately without excuse or delay. These ships tend to be far more expensive (luxury category) (five stars) These ships are usually run by luxury cruise lines, or premium cruise lines, and while they they have wonderful service and amenities, there may be some inconsistency in delivery. Close to perfect, but not quite. (four stars plus) This ship, on average, is in very good physical conditions with good service and cuisine, and it has some nicer unique elements such as very beautiful decor or top-flight entertainment or enrichment programming. (four stars) A good cruise experience; usually had at a great price. The ship may hold a lot of passengers, with many sports and children's activities. It is meant for families and a typical mainstream cruise experience, not for travel aficionados. (three stars plus) The ship is older, and though it belongs to to a mainstream cruise line and has probably been recently refurbished. You are likely to encounter less than great food or servcie while on board but will also have pleasant surprises in the same area. However, if you have low expectations and get it for a great price, it is possible to be very happy with this cruise. (three stars) This is a cheap cruise, and you are probably going to wish you had spent a little more money. Yes, you saved a bundle, but you spent too much time waiting in line, not sleeping well, sending back food, or looking at bland surroundings in your dated decor cabin. (two stars) Budget prices shouldn't even tempt you to take this ship. Food and service are poor, the ship needs a lot of work and the fitness center may be comprised of one treadmill where you have to duck your head. (one star) We're glad to say we've yet to sail on a ship this bad!
Remember that these are objective ratings, and that stars have very little to do with COST! You may love a budget ship if all you want is to travel in comfort and rarely leave your cabin.
VALUE RATING: Also known as "Bang for the Buck!" to CruiseMates - the VALUE RATING is the thing. Did you get more than what you expected for the price? Then that is a great deal and we are happy for you. Anyone can rate a ship, but finding a value on a ship is a different story.
Cruises come in many different price ranges, but do you always get what you pay for? This "Bang for your Buck" rating compares what you get against what it costs. Rated from one to five dollar signs, the greater the number of dollar signs the bigger the "Bang for the Buck" value this ship generally offers.