Why Compare Cruise Lines?
You may have read in my previous post, Compare Cruise Lines – A Comprehensive Guide to Large Ships, that I am always being asked which is the best cruise for someone, which is not an easy question to answer simply! There are so many factors, and of course it comes down to personal opinion and what an individual is looking for from their holiday. I had a quick Google and couldn’t find a definitive comparison of all the cruise companies in any great detail, so figured I’d write one myself!
I’ve linked the website for each cruise line at the end of the review for more information and to view additional photos.
As I mentioned in my last post, there is no official star rating for cruise lines, unlike hotels. However, obviously each line has its own target market and brand values and they operate and market themselves to be at a specific level.
I’ll re-iterate here that that ratings I’m giving are what the cruise line classes themselves to be, it’s not public opinion which is obviously very subjective. It also isn’t directly related to what is included in the cruise fare either.
I’ve defined Large Ships as being 2,000 guests and above, Mid-Sized Ships as 400-1,999 and below 400 as Small Ships. Where there is a mix within the same company, I’ve put them in both categories.
Whilst destination can effect the guest profile quite significantly on the larger ships, its not so much the case with the mid-sized and boutique cruise lines, although you will obviously find mostly retirees on the World Cruises.
Ok, let’s start the reviews, listed alphabetically…
Guest Profile: Azamara guests are in the age range of 55+ but aimed at those who are active travellers, wanting to really experience the destination. They talk about ‘immersive’ cruises which are designed to pull the passengers into the culture of the cities, with home visits, unique shore excursions and local entertainment brought on board. All ships have had major refurbishments in the past couple of years in a modern but luxurious style. These are very comfortable ships with fantastic service and food. Bring an appropriate outfit for their ‘White Nights’.
Assumed star rating: 5
Capacity: 686 guests
Price bracket: High (at the cheaper end of the boutique cruise lines, great value considering the inclusions).
Inclusions: Food, alcohol (house brands), soft drinks, self-service laundry and gratuities. Also, an ‘Azamazing’ evening which will take guests to a unique venue for dinner/entertainment once per cruise. Additional inclusions for suite guests include internet package, butler service and specialty dining.
Highlights: These are beautiful small cruise ships for a refined, active guest who doesn’t want the glitz or formality of some other boutique cruise lines. They are also incredibly good value for money.
Drawbacks: The ships are the original R Class and although they have been renovated to a high standard, the cabins and bathrooms are still on the smaller side compared to the newer lines.
Destinations: These 3 ships get everywhere. They specialise in more overnight and late night stays than other cruises so guests can truly experience their destination around the clock. They don’t have a home port, and each itinerary follows on from the previous, so guests are able to book multiple sectors to fully explore a region.
Entertainment: There is a group of singers and dancers to entertain you with production shows, regular guest entertainers, live music in the lounges, enrichment classes, trivia, bingo…you won’t be bored!
Dining: Main restaurant, pool grill, buffet, cafe and room service are all included. Additional two specialty restaurants at a cost of approximately US$30pp. A new Vegan menu is also available for guests.
Shore Excursions: Many options, all charged, although they do provide complimentary shuttle buses into the nearest town.
Kids Allowed: Yes, although due to the target audience you’re unlikely to see many kids on board.
Casinos: Only available on Azamara Journey (recently removed from the other 2 ships)
Dress Code: Country Casual. You don’t need to bring anything formal for this cruise line.
WiFi: Charged, although some packages include it.
Age of Fleet: Azamara Quest 2000, Azamara Journey 2000, Azamara Pursuit 2001
Check out my post
CMV (Cruise & Maritime Voyages)
Guest Profile: Marketing themselves as a more traditional ‘home from home’ style cruise, with a high level of service and Country House design, half of their fleet are child-free and they certainly appeal to the older traveller. An English cruise line, all but one of their ships operate in sterling currency, with one ship now home porting in Australia and operating in AU$.
Assumed star rating: 3
Capacity: 800 – 1400
Price bracket: Budget
Inclusions: All meals, afternoon tea, late-night snacks, self-service tea and coffee
Highlights: As a budget cruise line you’re getting good value for your money. Being a small-mid size ship they can get into the smaller ports, meaning they have some great itineraries.
Drawbacks: Some of the ships are now the oldest still operating, which means defects seem to occur fairly regularly. They use the word ‘traditional’ a lot, so don’t expect anything very modern or high tech.
Destinations: These guys offer a lot of ports other cruise lines don’t venture into. Check out their itineraries to Africa, Greenland, the Amazon and West Indies. They tend to be longer itineraries than most other lines too, as they generally depart from the UK.
Entertainment: Evening shows, guest entertainers, live music in lounge, playing cards, relaxing in the bar, guest speakers, arts and crafts.
Dining: Main dining room and buffet included. One specialty restaurant (some ships have 2) at additional cost. Afternoon tea and late night snacks.
Shore Excursions: Offered at cost
Kids Allowed: Ship specific, 3 ships allow kids, 3 do not.
Dress Code: This is the cruise line for people who like to dress up! Two formal nights for cruises over 6 nights long, and the other evenings you will find guests pretty dressed up too. Casual is acceptable during the day, but swim wear is for the pool only, you’ll need to cover up when you leave the pool area.
WiFi: Yes, charged
Age of fleet: Astoria built 1948, Marco Polo 1965, Magellan 1985, Astor 1987, Columbus 1989, Vasco de Gama 1993
I shall be talking about their two ocean cruise ships here, not their river boats, expedition or yachts.
Guest Profile: This guest is definitely one who likes the finer things in life. They stay in the best hotels, like to dine in the top restaurants and expect only the best in customer service. They will naturally be well-dressed and they enjoy classic entertainment, musical theatre and string quartets. Generally retired, active and well-travelled, enjoy an educational experience. Mostly American, British, Australian, Canadian.
Assumed star rating: 6
Capacity: 848/980 guests
Price bracket: Premium
Inclusions: Wines, spirits, champagne, 24hr in-room dining, launderettes, gratuities, WiFi, on-demand movies
Highlights: These ships have far fewer passengers than similar sized ones with other cruise lines, so there is plenty of space for everyone. You won’t be stung with a bill at the end either as most things are already included in your fare.
Drawbacks: Umm…other than the price, there really isn’t much!
Destinations: There are only 2 ships in the ocean fleet, so although they get around much of the world, you will need to check that they are doing your chosen destination at a date which also works for you. They do regular World Cruises.
Entertainment: Broadway-style shows, guest entertainers, movies, enrichment programs, wine tasting, dance classes
Dining: For a medium-sized ship, you will not be short of dining options. Almost every type of cuisine is covered and offered at Michelin star quality. Asian, Italian, Japanese, Steak, casual, seafood…they have it all, included in the fare.
Shore Excursions: At cost, although there is a ‘You care, we care’ voluntourism program which guests can do complimentary, once per cruise. A shuttle is provided in most ports where the town isn’t walking distance.
Kids Allowed: Yes, and can often sail for free.
Dress Code: They’re fairly dressy here. Whilst they introduced a ‘Crystal Casual’ and ‘Optional Black Tie’ night, shorts and caps are not permitted and casual day wear is not permitted after 6pm. They will have a white night so bring an outfit appropriate for that too.
WiFi: Yes, included
Age of fleet: Crystal Symphony entered service in 1995, Crystal Serenity 2003.
Holland America (HAL)
Guest Profile: Originally a ferry between The Netherlands and the USA, fast-forward 146 years and they’re now a premium mid-size cruise line. HAL’s CEO says they don’t target a specific demographic, but more a ‘psychographic’ of people who enjoy exploring, good music and good food. In practice, whilst they are trying to appeal to a younger market, what you will actually find is an older crowd on board, over 60yrs. During the summer months they have some kids, but there are also cruises which are more 70-80yrs as the average.
Assumed star rating: 5
Capacity: Between 1,258 – 2,666 guests
Price bracket: Moderate to High
Inclusions: Not much more than your usual. They have recently introduced an ‘inclusive’ beverage package for approx $45 per day per person. The up sells are quite frequent and all specialty restaurants come at a charge.
Highlights: These are classy ships with great live music and destination intense itineraries. The level of service is always high and comfort is a priority. Specialty restaurants also highly commended.
Drawbacks: Don’t expect to be partying late into the night, it will be a ghost town by 11pm. Not many activities outside of the live music and food/wine demos.
Destinations: HAL are small enough to get into some of the smaller ports and they really utilise this. Cruises are longer, a little more off the beaten path, and some of the ships have their own zodiacs to explore further into harder to reach destinations.
Entertainment: Whilst they do have a few production shows, its not their strength. They seem to be more focused on their live music, which is fabulous, and in many lounges/bars. They also have regular Guest Entertainers in the main theatre. You will also find cookery classes, wine tasting and some lectures.
Dining: Main dining room (traditional and any time dining), buffet and room service as standard. In addition to this you have the Dive grill to order burgers etc, they’ll give you a buzzer and you can relax until your food is ready when they buzz you to collect. Canaletto is the Italian specialty restaurant which has a cover charge (approx $10 at time of writing), Pinnacle Grill is the steak restaurant, at approx $30pp.
Shore Excursions: They offer some great excursions, where everything is arranged for you (aimed maybe at the lesser well travelled guest), all at a cost.
Kids Allowed: Yes, but you won’t see many and reviews of the kid’s club are mixed…
Casinos: Yes, this will be the liveliest place at night
Dress Code: Casual during the day, smarter in the evenings, particularly in the main dining room and specialty restaurants. They have formal nights which they call ‘Gala Nights’ requiring ‘Gala Attire’, but this is optional if you don’t use the main restaurants.
WiFi: Yes, at cost
Age of fleet: They currently have 14 ships, built between 1993 – 2018
Guest Profile: Oceania sits a little below Regent and Silverseas in this boutique category, from a pricing perspective, and identifying itself as the more relaxed cruise line, with a ‘country club’ feel. The target market is still similar to its boutique line sisters, mostly early/active retirees who enjoy a high level of service and want to learn about their destinations. Solo travellers are welcomed, and smokers should note that they provide very little smoking areas on board.
Assumed star rating: 5
Capacity: Regatta, Insignia, Nautica, Sirena 684 guests / Marina, Riviera 1250 guests
Price bracket: High – Premium
Inclusions: All dining including specialty restaurants, specialty teas and coffees, sparkling and still water, soft drinks, airfares and internet. Alcohol is not included but can be purchased in a value package.
Highlights: Food is a real focus for this cruise line and the offering is fantastic. The ships are great for guests who don’t like having to dress up in the evenings and prefer a more relaxed feel on board, whilst still retaining a high level of luxury.
Drawbacks: It’s a shame they don’t have the inclusions of most other cruise lines at this level, although that would be how they keep the price point down. Check what you’re actually getting, as alcohol, shore excursions and even internet may not be included in your fare, depending on the deal you get at the time of booking.
Destinations: Their award-winning itineraries span most of the globe, with the small ships getting into the best city ports. Late night departures and overnight stays. They also offer regular world-cruises of up to 6 months.
Entertainment: Expect cookery classes, art classes, lectures, croquet, paddle tennis and card games during the day, and by night discover lounges and bars with live music, production shows by the resident vocalists, guest entertainers or enjoy a jazz night or dance in the nightclub.
Dining: A real focus, and all complimentary. Choose from the Grand Dining Room, American favourites in the Terrace Cafe, or one of the specialty restaurants; Toscana’s Italian, Polo Grill’s Steakhouse, Red Ginger’s Asian or French flavours from Jacques.
Shore Excursions: Not included on the whole, although you can purchase packages to reduce the cost
Kids Allowed: Not encouraged, there are no facilities for children.
Dress Code: Country casual, no need to pack that tux or cocktail dress.
WiFi: Depends on the package you purchase at time of booking. Some fares have internet included, but not all, so check the details.
Age of fleet:
Regent Seven Seas
Guest Profile: Often considered the ultimate in the boutique cruise line market, Regent Seven Seas is the line for guests seeking exceptional service and the highest quality of everything. The price obviously matches, but it is justified with what they deliver. This is an all-suite cruise line, with everything included, from specialty restaurants to alcohol and even shore excursions. Guests are mostly active retirees, lots of solo travellers, and from personal experience, predominantly American.
Assumed star rating: 6 star
Capacity: Voyager, Mariner 700 guests / Splendor, Explorer 750 / Navigator 490
Price bracket: Premium
Inclusions: All food, alcohol (even your stateroom mini bar will be stocked with your favourites), and shore excursions.
Highlights: These are beautiful ships, with large comfortable balcony suites. The food quality is fantastic and every need is catered for. I loved how room service was set up like you were in a restaurant, a really special way to enjoy a private dinner or breakfast on the balcony. The top end suites come with private car and driver in every port, unlimited in-suite spa amenities and restaurant reservations.
Drawbacks: There aren’t many. Maybe that the spaces are so luxurious that you never felt able to completely relax, and for some the dress code could be off-putting.
Destinations: The five ships cover most of the world, with late night departures and overnight stays. They can also get into the smaller city ports which makes transport much easier.
Entertainment: Surprisingly, for a small ship there are a few options. You can choose from the nightclub to more intimate bars and lounges, small-scale broadway-style shows to guest entertainers and live music. Or you can relax in the library or the terrace area at the back of the ship, which I really enjoyed. Days are filled with trivia, games, enjoying the spa or pool or attending a lecture or wine-tasting event.
Dining: The main dining room is beautiful and we found the food quality to be superb. It was a nice touch for the ladies to be personally escorted to the tables by a waiter. There are several other restaurants to choose from (around five, ship-dependent) and snacks are available all day from the coffee connection. A buffet restaurant is also available and pool grill for guests wanting a more casual meal. In-room dining in available 24hr.
Shore Excursions: Yes, included
Kids Allowed: Yes, but they are not really catered for, no kids clubs or babysitting services provided and spa area for 16 and over only.
Dress Code: Casual permitted until 6pm, then elegant or formal is required. They have a couple of formal nights per cruise, depending on the length, and ballgowns/cocktail dresses and tuxes/black ties will need to be worn.
WiFi: Yes, included.
Age of fleet: Navigator 1999, Voyager 2003, Mariner 2001, Explorer 2016, Splendor 2020
Worried about getting seasick? Check out my post:
Seabourn Cruise Line
Guest Profile: An older, well-travelled guest who enjoys a more formal style of cruising and doesn’t like signing drink bills! These beautifully elegant ships come with an almost 1:1 crew to guest ratio and they aim to exceed your every need and ‘surprise and delight’ regularly. The suites are large and offer even more space and amenities than most.
Assumed star rating: 5
Capacity: 450-532 guests
Price bracket: Premium
Inclusions: This is a fully-inclusive cruise line, including premium brand spirits, internet, all dining options and gratuities. Tipping is not required. Your suite mini-bar will be stocked with your favourite brands and your personal butler is on hand to host guests should you wish to entertain in your room.
Highlights: The inclusions are great in that you never have to worry about picking up a bill anywhere. The spacious cabins are stylish and food is exquisite.
Drawbacks: Having to dress up every night isn’t for everyone, plus it massively increases your baggage if you’re on board for any decent amount of time! I also found them to feel a little ‘closed-in’ as there are few big open spaces on the ship.
Destinations: As most of the boutique lines, they specialise in longer stays and overnights, and the smaller ships can access the best ports. These ships don’t home port anywhere and each itinerary changes, so guests can stay on for multiple sectors to really explore a region thoroughly.
Entertainment: These ships are about relaxation, so you won’t find many activities as per some of the other ships. Enjoy the pool or spa, read a book on your balcony or in a lounge, have a game of putting or take in a lecture. Evening entertainment includes live music, a night under the stars, the musical production of ‘an evening with Sir Tim Rice’ or trying your luck in the casino.
Dining: All dining is complimentary and operates open seating. Choose from the main dining room, a sushi venue, The Colonnade casual restaurant which is buffet or optional table service, The Patio for a casual lunch of pizza and grilled specialties during the day, or dine under the stars at night, or The Grill by Thomas Keller, a Michelin-starred chef offering American iconic dishes such as lobster thermidor.
Shore Excursions: These are not included but they do have an extensive program with unique and immersive experiences
Kids Allowed: Yes, but there are no facilities for them regarding kid’s clubs and babysitting services.
Dress Code: Guests enjoy dressing up most evenings in black tie, so ensure you pack appropriately for this cruise line.
WiFi: Yes, complimentary.
Age of fleet: Seabourn Odyssey 2009, Seabourn Sojourn 2010, Seabourn Quest 2011, Seabourn Encore 2016, Seabourn Ovation 2018
Guest Profile: There are 11 ships in the Silversea fleet, with the smallest yacht having just 50 cabins, and the largest having 304. The fleet consists of small luxury cruise ships and expedition yachts with the experience a little different on each. Expect white-glove service on these ships, and be prepared to dress accordingly. These guests have a thirst for knowledge, are well-travelled but continue to seek more, and like a more traditional luxury experience. An older guest who enjoys the finer things in life, predominantly American but with a good mix of British and Australian and some other nationalities.
Assumed star rating: 5
Capacity: From 100 to 600 guests, the smaller ships being the expedition vessels.
Price bracket: Premium
Inclusions: Every suite has its own Butler, premium spirits, select wines and specialty coffees are included. Your suite mini-bar will be kept stocked with your favourite drinks too. Gratuities are included and for the expedition cruises you will also have zodiac tours and small-group excursions included.
Highlights: The butler who makes your reservations for you, the 9-pillow menu and the choice of aromatherapy oils you can have your suite scented with are a good start!
Drawbacks: There isn’t all that much to do during the day, so if you’re an active person, consider this, especially if you’re selecting an itinerary with a lot of sea days.
Destinations: Silversea claims to sail to more places than any other cruise line, at 900 ports across all 7 continents. The expedition ships offer some fabulous itineraries to Greenland, the Arctic and the Galapagos.
Entertainment: Activities are of the intellectual variety, including language classes, lectures, golf instruction and wine pairings. Enjoy the pool or a spa treatment or relax in one of the lounges. By night, enjoy a production show in the Show Lounge, or watch a guest entertainer or perhaps take in the live music in one of the bars or watch a movie in bed.
Dining: The Restaurant is the main dining venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open seating for you to dine when you desire. La Terazza is a casual outdoor venue offering a buffet breakfast and lunch and transforms into an Italian by night. The Grill has burgers and salads at lunch and in the evening guests can cook their own steaks over a hot lava stone. Japanese and Asian are also offered, with some variances between each ship. La Champagne is the premium restaurant, not to be missed. In room dining can also be arranged with your Butler bringing you each course as if in the restaurant or choose something more casual from the room service menu.
Shore Excursions: An extensive program, but not included. They can even arrange a completely bespoke excursion for you for $100 fee if booked in advance. Excursions on the expedition ships are included.
Kids Allowed: Yes, but there are no specific facilities for them. The number of families on board increases over holiday periods.
Dress Code: There are 3 dress codes, casual, informal and formal. Casual is ‘country club’ style for during the day, but jackets are still required at night outside of the casual dining venues. Informal means ‘tie optional’ but jacket required, and formal is black tie/cocktail dress.
WiFi: Yes, complimentary
Age of fleet: Silver Cloud 1994, Silver Wind 1995, Silver Shadow 2000, Silver Whisper 2001, Silver Spirit 2009, Silver Muse 2017. Expedition fleet: Silver Explorer 1989, Silver Galapagos 1990, Silver Discoverer 1989
Viking Ocean Cruises
Guest Profile: An active older traveller seeking adventure and to immerse themselves into their destination. Enjoys learning and participating in round-table discussions, lectures etc. Singles and couples, predominantly American but with a growing British and Australian population.
Assumed star rating: 5
Capacity: 930 guests
Price bracket: High – Premium
Inclusions: Viking is great value with the inclusions they offer. All meals, including 2 specialty restaurants and 24hr in-room dining, wine and beer served with lunch and dinner, one shore excursion per port, shuttle buses into towns too far to walk from port, tea/coffee/sodas and WiFi throughout the ship.
Highlights: This is an incredibly comfortable ship in relaxing neutral colours throughout. It has a homely feel with fur throws and cushions, electric fire places, and it never feels crowded. Service is also fantastic with some of the friendliest crew at sea. Because of all the inclusions, you won’t be ‘up sold’ to or come away with an unexpected bill. I especially love returning from a chilly day in port to be greeted at the gangway with mulled wine or delicious hot chocolate! Plus, no kids is a big bonus for me.
Drawbacks: This isn’t a ship with lots of physical activities, aside from mini golf and boules/croquet. If you’re someone who enjoys the casino, you won’t find this on board either (although this could be seen as a pro not a con!).
Destinations: Their strength is the Baltics where they first began with their river cruises, so expect to have the best port locations in this region, however, they also cover most of the world, and with the smaller sized vessels they can do the scenic narrow canals and lesser travelled cities. They offer lots of overnight stays in major ports and also do World Cruises.
Entertainment: They have three broadway-style production shows per cruise, plus guest entertainers in the Star Theatre. In addition, they will have various events in the atrium including the cast and Cruise Director. Trivia is daily, as are lectures and TedTalks. You will also find cookery demonstrations, jewellery presentations, wine tasting events, port talks and dance classes. In the evening there is always live music in the lounges and bars, and Torshavn will continue for guests wanting to dance into the night. ‘Liar’s Club’ is always a great evening of laughs too!
Dining: Main Dining Room (any time seating), Buffet, Pool Grill (which does various international foods several evenings, and a steak/lobster or fish and chips night), snacks at the Viking Bar open all day, 24hr in-room dining, Mamsen’s for a late breakfast/pancakes, afternoon snacks and late night bites, as well as two complimentary specialty restaurants, Chef’s Table and Manfredis. There is also a daily complimentary Afternoon Tea in the Wintergarden with live music.
Shore Excursions: One complimentary excursion offered in most ports, plus complimentary shuttle bus into ports not walking distance. Additional excursions offered at cost are unique and immersive, such as numerous opportunities to visit a local person’s home for afternoon tea to discover how they live and their local customs – particularly fascinating in Russia.
Kids Allowed: No
Dress Code: Country casual, don’t bring that tux or ball gown!
WiFi: Yes, complimentary
Age of fleet: These are some of the newest ships at sea, with the oldest only built in 2015. Several more being built over the next 10 years too, currently the fleet has 6 ships.
Compare Cruise Lines – Overview
So, that’s my wrap on the mid-sized cruise lines. I hope you found it interesting and helpful. As mentioned in my previous post, each ship within the same cruise line can make a difference to your experience, so definitely do your homework when making a booking to ensure that the specific ship has all the facilities you require.
What are your thoughts? Have you cruised with these companies and can offer me any more insights? I always love to hear your feedback!
Thanks for reading – see you next time!