Congratulations on the decision to take your first cruise! Deciding where to go and which cruise line will take you there are your first steps toward a successful cruise vacation.
The best cruises for first-time cruisers are the ones that match your vacation dreams with the amenities, activities and ambiance a cruise line actually offers.
Imagine your frustration if you were dreaming of a cruise with loads of nightlife — buzzy bars, live entertainment and gambling — but ended up on a ship with none of those options.
Or what if the romantic cruise you imagined turned out to be overrun with hoards of children? You have to book with the right cruise line to have an amazing first cruise.
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The good news is that there’s a cruise to suit almost any vacation style — the trick is finding your best match.
Here, we list the best cruises for first-timers based on your travel personality. If you still need help understanding the differences among the many cruise lines, brush up on the basics with our first-time cruise guides:
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Royal Caribbean: Best overall first-time cruise line
Cruising with kids? This line has ships loaded with waterparks, sports and games, and expansive kids clubs to make family travel a breeze.
Looking for more food choices than you can try on a single cruise? Not a problem. Casino? Check. A pool for adults only? Check. Affordable interior-facing cabins and also extravagant suites with butler service? Check.
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The key to a successful cruise with Royal Caribbean is to decide if you want a big ship experience or a monster big ship experience.
The smallest ships in the fleet (Vision and Radiance classes) are still large ships but with a slower, slightly more adult-friendly onboard pace. While you’ll still find children of all ages on the smaller ships, there’s more for kids (and anyone, really) to do on the biggest, newest ships.
Look for Voyager-, Freedom-, Quantum- or Oasis-class ships for attractions like ice rinks, bumper cars and water slides.
The best first cruise on Royal Caribbean
You cannot go wrong by cruising out of the most popular ports on the line’s most popular ships.
Choose a weeklong Eastern or Western Caribbean sailing from Florida on Harmony, Symphony, Wonder or Oasis of the Seas – some of the biggest ships in the world.
You’ll sail to places like Jamaica, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Mexico, where you can enjoy beaches, shopping and watersports, with a bit of culture thrown in along the way.
If you’re looking for a no-expenses beach day or to splurge on an epic water park, choose a cruise that visits Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island.
Viking: Best first-time cruise for retirees
If you’re retired or fall into the 55+ age group and are looking for an adults-only, highly inclusive cruise designed to immerse you in the destination, Viking has you covered. Choose from a traditional ocean cruise, a river cruise in Europe or on the Mississippi, or an expedition-style cruise to remote areas of the world.
Viking makes it easy for first-timers, starting with the booking process. The line can assist you with flights, transfers to and from the ship, pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, and excursions in port that take you to the most popular attractions or introduce you to off-the-beaten-path experiences you’d have a hard time finding on your own.
The ships fall just short of true luxury, offering comfortable cabins, multiple food options included in your fare and exciting itineraries you may not find on other lines.
Top Viking cruises for first-timers
For a first Viking River cruise in Europe, you can’t go wrong with the Danube. The line operates a variety of eight-day segments along the river, allowing you to start or finish in such cities as Amsterdam, Vienna, Budapest or Bucharest.
Immersive shore experiences include tours of historic palaces and castles, wine tastings, bike and e-bike city tours and cooking classes.
If ocean cruising appeals to you, first-time cruisers can cruise almost anywhere on the globe with Viking. A good first choice is a Mediterranean cruise that allows you to see such iconic cities as Athens, Rome, Barcelona or even Venice.
Viking’s ocean-going ships are almost identical to one another, so you can focus on where you want to go without worrying whether you are picking the right ship. Each one has a range of balcony staterooms and suites designed with your comfort in mind.
For the adventurous, a Viking Expedition ship can take you to both poles in comfort onboard one of the line’s two purpose-built expedition ships: Polaris and Octantis.
If you are going to give expedition cruising a try for the first time, you may be thinking of a bucket-list-busting cruise to Antarctica. Both Viking ships offer 13- or 15-day adventures between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina that include zodiac landings on the White Continent.
Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Viking cruise ship
Carnival Cruise Line: Best first-time cruise for budget travelers
For those dreaming of a first cruise that’s affordable and packs in a high value for every dollar spent, my top pick would be Carnival Cruise Line.
The food is good (with many fee-free venues), the entertainment is lively, and the itineraries are designed to get you to cruising hotspots you may have thought you couldn’t afford to visit.
Carnival is a big-ship line with lots of choices of cabins, from windowless interior cabins to suites. Cruise fares start below $50 per person per night and include unlimited food in numerous venues, basic nonalcoholic drinks and onboard entertainment.
Additional costs include staff gratuities, port fees and taxes, and transportation to and from the port. Beyond that, you can spend a lot or a little on extra-fee restaurants, soda and alcohol, shore excursions, spa treatments and souvenirs.
Top picks for a first cruise with Carnival
A short, three- to five-night cruise to the Bahamas, Mexico or the Caribbean from the port nearest home gives you enough time on board to enjoy the ship itself and one or two ports without spending a fortune.
You’ll rack up bonus savings if you pick a cruise that includes Half Moon Cay (Carnival’s private island) or Grand Turk because the beach and some beach activities are free of charge without paying an excursion fee as you do at other destinations.
Runner-up for first-time budget cruisers
I’d put MSC Cruises as a close second for the budget-conscious cruiser who lives in Florida or New York and can drive to the port.
MSC has fun mainstream ships with low-cost base fares, but they don’t have departure ports scattered around the country the way Carnival does. The line has its own private island, Ocean Cay, that also offers free access to multiple beaches and a complimentary lunch barbecue.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Best first cruise for solo cruisers
Norwegian Cruise Line is a strong leader in the solo cruising market with a good selection of studio cabins for one across much of its fleet.
Better yet, booking a solo cabin on the ships that have them (look for Breakaway- and Prima-class ships) gives you access to a singles’ lounge area where solo travelers can hang out, meet other singles or grab a cup of coffee. The line has a broad range of itineraries that make it easy for solos to explore the globe.
Related: Great singles cruises to book and meet fascinating people
The best solo cruise option for first-timers
How about a nine- or ten-day cruise in Northern Europe? I can’t think of a better way to explore the British Isles, Belgium, Germany or even Greenland and Iceland as a solo traveler than from a cruise ship.
Cruising takes the stress out of traveling alone. You only unpack once, are surrounded by other friendly travelers throughout your trip, and have excursion options in every port if you don’t feel like wandering the cities by yourself.
Runner-up for first-time solo cruisers
Solo cruisers considering a river cruise should seek out AmaWaterways. The river line offers low single supplements on select balcony staterooms and all window-only staterooms in Europe and Egypt, as well as no single supplement on single-occupancy French balcony staterooms on select European voyages.
Disney Cruise Line: Best first cruise for families
Disney Cruise Line brings the magic of Disney on board its fleet of ships, which have plenty to offer kids of all ages, along with some nice amenities for grownups. Thoughtful touches, such as onboard launderettes and split bathrooms with tubs, make cruising with kids easier than on other mainstream lines.
While base cruise fares are higher than on most big ships, Disney Cruise Line includes soft drinks and room service, while other family-friendly lines do not.
It also offers a higher level of service. Expect Disney-style entertainment throughout the ship, including character experiences, first-run movies and live shows. Adults-only pools, restaurants, hangouts and beaches on the line’s private island provide a welcome respite from the kiddos (whether you’ve brought your own or are enjoying a grownup getaway).
Best Disney cruise for first-time cruising families
Short three- or four-night cruises from Port Canaveral are the perfect way for families to give cruising a try. These itineraries combine easily with a visit to the Orlando theme parks.
The cruise typically includes a stop at Castaway Cay, the line’s private island in the Bahamas, giving the whole gang a beach day to decompress after the sometimes-hectic pace of the parks.
Silversea Cruises: Best luxury cruise for first-timers
Silversea Cruises packs your cruise with luxury touches, including butler service for every suite, lavish spa facilities and gourmet dining. With all-inclusive fares, your only additional charges might be spa treatments, ultra-premium drinks or private shore excursions.
Silversea also offers a door-to-door program that makes luxury cruising especially easy for first-timers. Your cruise arrangements will include private car service from your home to the airport, flights, pre- and post-cruise hotel stays and transportation between the airport, hotel and/or cruise port.
Related: 5 best Silversea Cruises destinations
Top pick for a first luxury cruise on Silversea
Because Silversea literally cruises the world, you can let your imagination roam, but I’d recommend starting with a cruise to Alaska. The line offers seven-night one-way itineraries or 14-night round-trip routes that take you to the glaciers and popular ports, such as the Gold Rush town of Skagway and the capital city of Juneau.
Most Alaska excursions are included in your Silversea luxury cruise fare. You’ll pay extra for helicopter or seaplane adventures, as well as private excursions. However, group hikes, bikes, kayak trips, culinary excursions and wildlife watching are included in every port.
Celebrity Cruises: Best first cruise for romance
Among the upscale big-ship lines, Celebrity Cruises is tops in the romance arena. There’s definitely a more adult passenger base on Celebrity than on its sister line, Royal Caribbean, with Celebrity ships focusing attention on adult entertainment and activities.
Dining as a couple is easy, with plenty of tables for two in the main dining room. Specialty restaurants make every night feel like date night, and what’s more romantic than a bar named Eden?
On some ships, you can rent a cozy alcove on deck, where the two of you can relax for the day while a steward serves chilled fruit skewers and snacks from a special food and drink menu.
Cabins and suites across the fleet will tempt you to stay in rather than go out. Celebrity’s innovative infinite veranda affords a bit more space and privacy than a typical cruise ship balcony while still letting couples enjoy the ocean breezes and views.
Top pick for the most romantic Celebrity cruise
Celebrity makes it easy to take a romantic cruise almost anywhere in the world, with cruises to 79 countries to choose from.
Weeklong cruises to Alaska or the Mexican Riviera are as romantic as you want to make them. But tops on my list of romantic Celebrity cruises would be a 10- or 11-night sailing that includes the Greek Islands. The ports are dreamy, with plenty of opportunities for strolls along cobblestone streets, sailing excursions or beach afternoons spent sipping Ouzitos (a Greek mojito made with Ouzo). Plus, the sunsets are almost guaranteed to impress.
Related: The 5 best cruise lines for romance
Windstar Cruises: Best first cruise for foodies
If you want your first cruise to revolve around fabulous food and dining experiences, look at Windstar Cruises. The line operates two classes of ships: Three are small cruise ships and three are motorized sailing yachts.
The specialty restaurants on board either class are included in the cruise fare, with only a small number of extra-fee menu items (like a 40-ounce tomahawk ribeye served in the Candles steakhouse). Food throughout the ship is high quality, influenced by James Beard Foundation-affiliated chefs and served by expert waitstaff.
Related: Cruise ship restaurant nirvana: The 9 best meals you can have at sea
Windstar is known for its deck barbeques held one night onboard each cruise. The crew arranges a massive buffet on deck with local items included when possible. Itineraries in Tahiti and the Caribbean also include an island beach picnic.
The line also offers, at no additional charge, a shopping-with-the-chef adventure in some ports. Imagine perusing the aisles of a tiny cheese market in Sicily with the ship’s chef. Or maybe you’d like to sample olive oils with the chef in Greece.
Best Windstar foodie cruises for first-timers
If all of the above doesn’t fire up your travel tastebuds, Windstar partners with the James Beard Foundation each year to bring chefs on board specific culinary cruises where you can attend cooking classes and market tours, enjoy meals designed by the chefs and get to know these culinary stars.
Choose sailings in the Caribbean, Mediterranean or Asia, depending on which flavors speak to you.
The best thing about cruising is that you can find ships and itineraries to fit all travel needs and styles.
Whether you’re a 60-year-old looking for an active adventure or a family wanting to spend a week playing together, there’s a cruise for you. You can opt for a budget-friendly beach break, a luxurious jaunt around the world or something in between.
To ensure the best first-time cruise, spend time researching to find your match among the cruise lines, then choose an itinerary to the destination that fits your interest and budget.
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