How to Decide the Best Cruises to Book in 2024

Cruises are a type of vacation many people enjoy, especially us. They allow for an all-inclusive trip where you can partake in your favorite activities on the ship and off, with selected excursions. But what is the best cruise for you?

Princess cruise ship docked in a port in Mexico with palm trees in front of it.

It's easy to indulge in gourmet cuisine that seems ever-flowing and never-ending and to enjoy ship amenities. We consider these things when planning a cruise and weighing the options. Here, we share other factors for you to consider to find the best cruises for you, like health and safety, ship-within-a-ship experiences, and even ports of call to factor into your decision.

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⚓️ Best Cruises to Book: Top Considerations

Different types of cruises vary in cost, from river cruises to mega-ship cruising to yacht cruising and beyond.

Ocean and river cruises, for example, have similarities yet differ in amenities and dining options. They tend to target different ages and types of travelers. Additionally, the ship size helps determine what ports they can stop at.

Maybe you cruised once and didn't like it, yet something has piqued your curiosity again. We truly believe there is a cruise for everyone! If you tried a huge ship and didn't love it, seek out small ship cruises. Or vice versa.

The ship size is one of the top considerations to start exploring the best cruise to book. That will also determine where you look for a cruise.

⚓️ Start Your Best Cruises Search by Size

We recommend trying different varieties of size cruise ships. Try a small or medium-sized ship if you took a cruise on a large ship in the past.

You can consider a cruise line with 500 passengers, for example (like Hurtigruten), or go even smaller, like 200-passenger river cruise ships (like Emerald Cruises). You can even go smaller and try yacht cruises!

We have included resources for you if you're unsure of what size cruise to book. Or, you can reach out to our preferred travel agents to have a conversation about it.

Mega-Cruise Ships

Larger ships, which are the most readily available and approachable for families and couples overall, have thousands of passengers. Sometimes, they have upwards of 1,000 to 4,000 guests depending on the cruise line and ship. And cruise lines seem to be outdoing themselves, making them bigger and larger every year.

Because of their size, mega ships often have sizeable fitness centers/gyms, big spas offering many treatments from massages to teeth-whitening, and multiple pools and hot tubs.

Here are our top three places to look for current prices and offerings if you're going to look up cruise vacations on big ships:

Small Ship Cruises

On the contrary, river and yacht cruises usually have one pool, max, and one or two spa treatment rooms. Some ships don't have a pool at all. Some cruise ships have gyms, while others don't. A good example is Emerald Cruises vs. Viking – Emerald Cruises river cruise ships have a gym and a pool, and Viking Longships do not have either.

A small cruise may be perfect for a couple traveling abroad, wanting to experience something special and more intimate. In this case, river cruises, barge cruises, and expedition cruises are the perfect cruises to consider. These cruises travel to unique destinations.

Take an eco-focused cruise to Alaska, a journey to Antarctica, or a river cruise to the wine region of Portugal on the Douro River.

But depending on your needs, desires, and preferences, often the favorable guest-to-crew ratio and intimacy of a small cruise is just what you need for your best cruise vacation.

When we sailed on Star Clipper, there was one small massage room on the top deck. But it was perfect, and the massage was incredibly affordable. It was just what we needed.

⚓️ Ports to Consider for the Best Cruises

Maybe you want to go to big ports, like in Barcelona, Spain, Marseille, France, or Nassau in the Bahamas. These are big cruise ports that larger ships go to. Or, say you want to go to small, lesser-known European destinations that only river cruise ships can dock at.

The ports you have in mind may inform your decision of the best cruises for you. Additionally, if you don't have a passport or want to stay very close to home in the United States, consider a closedloop cruise itinerary.

United States Embarkation Ports

One of the benefits of going on a cruise from the United States is that you can potentially drive to the port or quickly fly there from within the country. (Don’t forget to check if you need a passport if your cruise heads to other ports outside of the USA.)

US cruise ports are plentiful! There are dozens of ports over the coastal United States, from California and Florida to Maryland, New York, and South Carolina.

Five of the most popular ones that are all near major airports and highways are the cruise ports of:

All major cruise lines have a cruise leaving from one of the ports above.

If you're gravitating towards the idea of a United States River Cruises, it will surely leave from a United States port. Some are even inland, like along the Mississippi River or Tennessee River.

International Cruise Ports

If you want to sail in other countries or even continents, when considering the best cruises, consider cruises that sail through Europe, Asia, or South America.

Great cruise itineraries sail the coast of places like Chile, Japan, and the UK. You usually have to start somewhere outside of the United States for this, though some cruises that start in the USA sail to Mexico and Central America.

A Central America cruise may stop in Panama (and even go through the Panama Canal), Costa Rica, or Belize. A popular Mexico port of call on the east coast is Cozumel, and Porto Vallarta is popular on the west coast.

As an example, we sailed on Celebrity Apex from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and we stopped at Belize City, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman. Another example was when we were able to go to three continents in eight days during a Celestyal Cruises vacation.

Picture of the water as you come into port at Grand Cayman.
Sailing into Grand Cayman Island with Celebrity Cruises

Destination Ports of Call

Suppose you are interested in a cruise that goes to a particular region of the United States, North America, or the world. In that case, you will want to search by destination or embarkation port.

Examples are:

  • For a cruise to Baja California (which sails into Mexico), leave Los Angeles.
  • Do you want to cruise to Alaska? Search for cruises that leave from Seattle, Washington.
  • If you want to sail to the Caribbean, you’ll likely depart from the Port of Miami, Tampa, or Fort Lauderdale. This is because they are all Florida ports.
  • Are you cruising to the Great Lakes? You’ll want to leave from the Midwest or Northeast, including Chicago and Boston.
  • If you want to sail to the Mediterranean, in Europe, search for a cruise that leaves from Barcelona, Spain.

⚓️ Best Cruise Lines to Consider

The best cruise lines are likely all names you’ve heard, even if you’ve never been on a cruise. However, if you’re starting to look into the world of cruising, some may be new to you!

Mega-Ship Cruise Lines to Look into for Your Next Cruise Vacation

Small Cruise Lines to Consider for Your Next Cruise

  • Emerald Cruises
  • Scenic
  • Alaskan Dream Cruises
  • Maple Leaf Adventures
  • American Queen Voyages
  • American Cruise Lines
  • AmaWaterways
  • European Waterways
  • Viking
  • Hurtigruten
  • Ponant
  • Linblad (including National Geographic cruises)
  • SeaDream Yacht Club
  • Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection
All-inclusive yacht charter ship, the Emerald Azzurra, in a rendering in the Red Sea, Adriatic or Mediterranean.
Image courtesy of Emerald Cruise

⚓️ Cruise Pricing

The search criteria on any cruise's or third-party cruise-booking website contains the categories we shared above. However, there are more factors for you when you determine the best cruise to book. Price is a result that pops up in search results, affecting which cruise you book for your next vacation.

Cruise prices will vary based on the following factors:

  • Length of the cruise.
  • Cruise destinations (or ports the cruise visits).
  • The season you’re sailing.
  • How many guests are in your cabin or stateroom. (Most cruise lines allow two adults and two children, maximum.) 
  • Category of stateroom you book: inside, outside view, balcony or suite, for instance.

For small cruise ships, the price may also vary depending on the supply and demand. This is true for larger cruise ships too (especially for seasonal demand) but with smaller cruise ships, the smaller the ship and the more in demand the cruise line or itinerary, the more money the cruise.

Read more about what's included with river cruises, in particular.

⚓️ Best CruiseS Prioritize Health and Safety

If you are concerned about the number of people on a cruise ship, we would argue that cruising is one of the safest ways to travel. This was true pre-pandemic and remains true now.

We have always appreciated the measures cruise lines take to ensure it is the safest way to travel.

This includes sanitization of the ship, cleaning all areas of the vessel, and the lengths they go to report these methods to the public. No other travel industry sector does so much, so publicly for its guests.

⚓️ Additional Factors to Consider When Deciding What Cruise Is for You

Other factors may influence your decision about what cruise you book, which you may not have previously considered. 

Deciding what amenities or bonuses you desire before booking your cruise is important. The following few sections will provide helpful tips when considering a cruise vacation.

Travel Agent Kickbacks and Perks

If you book a cruise with a travel agent, there is the potential to get an onboard stateroom credit to use on the ship. Many people use the credit for things like cocktails, dining reservations, or spa treatments.

Animated map on a blue background.

Ready to Book Your Cruise or INquire?

Use our preferred travel advisors, Bolds Travel, Because…

  • They take away the hassle of travel planning: time spent on the phone with the cruise line could be time you spend doing other things.
  • You don't pay them a dime: their service is free (this is because they get paid by the cruise line or destination).
  • Their experience: They have decades of experience and attention to detail.

Loyalty Programs

If you’re the type of person who likes to be rewarded for loyalty, consider cruise lines that reward repeat cruisers. 

For example, Disney Cruise Line has its “Castaway Club,” and Princess has its Captain’s Circle. Some enrollment is automatic after your first cruise, and others you have to sign up for.

Ship-within-a-Ship Cruises

The ship-within-a-ship cruise category is for cruisers who want a large ship’s amenities, activities, and entertainment but the exclusive treatment of smaller cruises.

These are clubs, of sorts, within a cruise you book before you reserve a suite, for instance, with access to a concierge level. In addition, you’ll gain privileged access to private pools, restaurants, and services like a butler 24/7.

Ship-within-a-ship cruises will cost you a little more than another category room, of course. But that’s because of the added services you’re receiving with it. 

For example, Norwegian Cruise Line has The Haven, and Princess has its MedallionClass. One of our favorites is The Retreat with Celebrity Cruises, where guests get perks like eating at Luminae and have access to suite perks, including in-room workout gear if you sign up for an AquaSuite.

Woman on a swing in The Retreat pool on Celebrity Apex cruise ship.
Enjoying The Retreat pool on Celebrity Apex

Private Islands

Some cruise lines have private islands that are cool to visit. Only the cruise line’s ships will visit them.

For example, Royal Caribbean’s Caribbean itineraries go to their island, CocoCay. Disney Cruise Line’s Caribbean sailings go to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. 

These islands have been developed with cruiser vacationers in mind. So they’re complete with memorable excursion adventures, waterslides, rides (like zip lines), bars, restaurants, and more.

Disney-character painted anchors in the sand with lush foliage behind them on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, for the best cruises to take this year.

Family Friendliness

Some cruise lines are more friendly towards multi-generational groups. 

Disney Cruise Line has repeatedly been voted the best cruise line for families, which is not a surprise to anyone! Other cruise lines aren’t necessarily known for their “youthful” activities. Rather than wave pools and rock climbing, they focus on fine dining and casinos.

More children and families will be on cruises when kids’ school breaks occur, regardless of the cruise line. This is expected during spring break, summer break, and winter break.

There are things to keep in mind to determine if a cruise is a right fit for your family, especially if you have young kids:

  • Onboard activities, like laser tag, go-karts, ice skating, and more.
  • If there is childcare onboard, including what ages it covers. Onboard childcare means that you can check your kids into a “babysitter” service. They can be supervised and play with other children their age while you enjoy the cruise as adults only for a few hours. Some cruise lines require additional payment for this service.
  • Bathtubs: It may seem like a silly thing to consider, but if you have a young toddler who doesn’t bathe in a shower and you need a tub for bath time at night, you will want to check to see what the bathroom situation is in the cabins before you book. Some cruises have cabins with standing showers only, and others have tubs too.
  • Kids sail free: Sometimes, to entice you to book a particular cruise, a company will have promotions for “kids sail free,” as long as two paying adults are in the cabin.

Culinary Cruises

One of the cool things about cruise lines in the past few years is their focus on culinary experiences.

Various cruise lines, from big to small, focus on Epicurean experiences. If you're a gourmand and seek vacations entailing special food experiences, look for notable sailings featuring celebrity chefs or special menus.

For example, Emerald Cruises and Scenic have featured cruises with Bravo celebrity chefs onboard.

⚓️ The Future Of Cruising is Bright, No Matter the Best Cruise for You

No matter the year, cruising is on a constant upward trend, with more people wanting to go on cruises each year. That is why the future of cruising is bright, with new ships being introduced every year.

Going on one of the best cruises will only feed your desire to keep on cruising!

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