Part floating hotel, part bottomless buffet, part portholed tour guide, cruise ships may be the hardest workers in the travel biz. To find the best, we compiled surveys of cabins, food, and more from industry sources Cruise Line, Cruise Critic, CruiseCompete, and Allthingscruise.com, as well as from our sister magazine Travel + Leisure. Then we looked for where fares held steady or declined in recent years. We even checked with the CDC for the cleanest lines.
No doubt about it: A Crystal Cruise is a splurge. Rates on seven-night trips average around $7,700 per person. But that’s a relative bargain for this luxury line, with the average fare down 6% between 2014 and 2015. What do you get for your money? A true all-inclusive experience (no fees for food or beverages, or gratuities, for instance) and an almost two-to-one staff-guest ratio. Crystal ships are also more intimate, with about 500 rooms, compared with 2,000 for the mega-lines. And you can find deals—if you plan well ahead. Book before April 29 for travel in 2017 and you can land a seven-day Caribbean trip for $2,050.
It was a Princess ship that starred in the ’70s TV series The Love Boat, and the line has been a mainstream favorite ever since. With weeklong trips hovering in the $2,200 per person range since 2013, Princess gets high marks from cruisers for its rooms and food. Some Princess ships hold more than 3,500 passengers, but the line is known for some cozy innovations, such as its “movie under the stars” on the top deck (ice cream, popcorn, and blankets included).
tip: Book in the new year
While you can luck into a last-minute deal anytime, cruise lines are eager to fill their ships, so many offer early-bird incentives. Look for cabin discounts, free upgrades, deals on drinks, and excursion packages.