Just like any other kind of lodging, cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes, from basic no-frills accommodations to luxurious yachts. I find it easier to discuss cruising when you think of them in five main categories.
- Mainstream- These are the mega-size cruise ships, perfect for families and cruisers who look forward to the activities on board. Cruisers can choose from a wide range of cabin sizes, and the amenities improve as the cabin rate increases. Special rates lure consumers as low as $60/person per day for the inside cabins on the bottom deck. Examples include Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.
- Premium – Premium cruise lines generally cater to an older, more discerning passenger, seeking personal service, gourmet cuisine and larger staterooms. Ship sizes are larger and this category also includes the tall-mast sailing vessels such as the Clipper and Windstar lines. The lowest rates will start at $150/person per day. Azamara, Celebrity, Cunard, and Oceania are examples of this cruise ship category.
- Luxury – These ships tend to be much smaller and they sail the most diverse itineraries. Naturally, these ships feature high-end dining where the wine is included with dinner, butler service, and amenities of a five-star hotel. Cruise rates will start at $400/person per day, and then the sky is the limit! Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea are all luxury cruise lines.
4. Expedition – Adventure-seeking travelers are drawn to itineraries and destinations like Antarctica and the Galapagos. Amenities and accommodations (with corresponding prices) range from basic to luxurious. Abercrombie & Kent are famous for their luxury adventure travel programs. A few other companies include Cruceros Australis, Lindblad Expeditions, and Quark.
5. River Ships – This burgeoning category is quickly becoming the preferred way to cruise for those who want to visit several countries, but not have to change hotels. Designed to navigate shallow rivers, the average river ship will hold about 200 passengers. There are itineraries on every great river in the world, including the Amazon, Nile, Yangtze, Mississippi, and a plethora of European waterways. Rates start at $300/person per day and usually include all the shore excursions, airport transfers and wine with dinner. Examples: AMAWaterways, Avalon, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises.
Keep in mind that rates can swing dramatically depending on the season…and that the advertised cost of a cruise is only part of the expense. Cruise rates rarely include airfare, airport transfers, shore excursions, gratuities, cocktails or beer, wine and soda. Plus Mainstream cruise lines also have an extra fee to dine in specialty restaurants.