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Published: Mar 23, 2023 16 min read

Cruising is one of the most popular ways to take a vacation, and for good reason. Cruises offer a huge variety of amenities for every member of the family, and they let travelers experience some of the world’s finest vacation destinations — all from the comfort of the ship.

Cruise passengers are eager to get back on the water as the industry recovers from the pandemic, especially now that most cruise lines are back to regular operations. Some cruises do require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test prior to embarkations, so be sure to check those requirements before you book.

To help you make the best choice for your next vacation, here are Money’s picks for the five best cruise lines of 2023.

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Best Cruise Lines Reviews

  • Many short cruises for low fares
  • Lots of activities for kids and adults
  • Fun, exciting atmosphere
  • Not the best if you seek a quiet, laid back experience
  • Some activities and excursions cost extra
  • Larger ships can feel crowded

Why we chose it: Carnival offers short, affordable cruises to tropical destinations like the Caribbean and Mexico.

Carnival’s low fares and fun amenities make it a popular choice for those looking for a quick, affordable cruise (although it also offers longer trips to Europe, Australia and more). Its ships cater to travelers looking for an entertaining, exciting getaway — with an emphasis on pools, waterslides, mini-golf and karaoke, plus comedy shows, casino games and nightclubs for adults.

Those who are watching their spending closely should be careful, though. Extras like shore excursions and souvenirs can add up quickly, as can certain on-board activities. Carnival also offers all-inclusive rates that will help avoid any surprise expenses, but travelers should of course be prepared to spend more up front.

Disney Cruise Line
  • Highly regarded by customers
  • Multiple dining and entertainment options included in fare
  • Pricier than other mainstream cruise options
  • Families can dominate, despite adult-only spaces

Why we chose it: Disney received the highest overall average rating from customers on, and its staff and service were also ranked highly.

Disney is famous for its attention to detail and focus on the guest experience in its theme parks, and those attributes extend to its cruises, too. Families will enjoy meet-and-greets with Disney characters, themed restaurants, and a slew of onboard activities and entertainment. Staterooms are also family friendly, with storage that’s designed to accommodate multiple guests.

For those staying in certain room tiers, a concierge team is available to help travelers with special requests and booking excursions. And while Disney cruises primarily cater to families, they aren’t just for kids. The ships offer nightclubs, bars and adult-only pools and dining, too, as well as special activities and clubs for teens.

  • High-end amenities and services in a regular ship
  • Access to the ample features of a major cruise ship
  • Can be very pricey
  • Travelers could face a language barrier on some European trips

Why we chose it: MSC’s Yacht Club gives travelers an exclusive experience without sacrificing all the options that come with a large, mainstream cruise.

Cruisers who seek an ultimate luxury experience must typically take a trip with boutique, small-ship cruise lines such as Seabourn that have relatively few crowd-pleasing attractions. For a premium fare, MSC’s Yacht Club offers what’s called a “ship-within-a-ship” experience — a dedicated VIP enclave on a larger cruise ship that gives guests the best of both worlds.

Yacht Club guests get 24-hour butler service and their own dedicated concierge, plus a premium drink and internet package. They also enjoy complimentary access to the ship’s spa as well as other perks like a luggage packing and unpacking service and priority check-in and check-out. MSC is a European cruise line that offers itineraries in the Caribbean as well as to popular destinations in Europe like the Mediterranean and Norway.

Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Dedicated cabins and activities for single travelers
  • All the amenities of a major cruise
  • Single cabins are often small and located on the interior of the ship

Why we chose it: Norwegian was a pioneer in solo staterooms, and continues to have more options for single travelers than many other cruise lines.

Norwegian’s solo staterooms make it possible for single travelers, or those who prefer not to share cabins with friends or family, to book their own room without paying twice the fare (since most cruise rates are calculated for double occupancy cabins). These cabins are generally located in the interior of the ship, so be aware that they might not have windows or balconies. Solo travelers have the option to book a regular stateroom, but they’ll generally have to pay the two-person fare.

Single cruisers on Norwegian have access to a dedicated lounge and meetups where they can mingle with other travelers, too. That’s not to mention all the regular activities and excursions Norwegian offers, from rock climbing and bowling to spa treatments to boxing classes.

  • Diverse range of activities for cruisers of all ages
  • Wide variety of destinations
  • Less expensive than a Disney cruise
  • The larger ships can feel crowded

Why we chose it: All types of travelers, from kids to teens to adults to seniors, will find something fun to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise — and without breaking the bank.

Royal Caribbean’s wide range of activities and amenities include something for everyone, from waterslides and ziplines to dance classes to movie nights. The ships even offer babysitting services so grownups can have a night out at a restaurant, nightclub or show. Royal Caribbean’s ships sail to a wide variety of destinations, from shorter trips to the Caribbean and Mexico to longer vacations to Alaska, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.

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A Guide to Cruise Lines

Before you buy a cruise, you’ll be well-served by understanding how these vacations work, what is and isn’t included in the fare and what it might cost to insure your trip in case the worst were to happen. In addition, it’s helpful to understand the types of cruises and cabins, and how best to choose among them.

How does a cruise vacation work

Cruising is a popular vacation option for millions of travelers around the world in large part because of its convenience. Travelers stay in one room for the entire trip while the boat travels from port to port. Cruisers enjoy lots of amenities like restaurants, shows and water activities on board, and they also have the option to disembark and sightsee or participate in excursions when the ship docks.

What’s typically included in a cruise fare

In general, the price you pay for a cruise includes:

  • Your cabin
  • Meals in one or more dining areas on the ship
  • Certain nonalcoholic beverages
  • Some on-ship entertainment like movies on the deck and some kids programming
  • Access to some amenities like pools and the fitness center

The other perks included in your cruise fare will depend on how much you pay; many larger cruise lines offer multiple tiers of fares. The lowest tier will be the cheapest, but you should expect to pay out of pocket for extras like drinks, certain restaurant meals and activities and excursions once you’re on board. Higher fare tiers include more amenities but are significantly more expensive. Some luxury cruises only offer all-inclusive fares.

What's usually not included in a cruise package

In general, cruise fares – especially less expensive ones – do not include:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Excursions to shore
  • Specialty restaurants outside of the main dining areas
  • Spa treatments
  • Gratuities for staff

Types of Cruises

Cruises are not one-size-fits-all vacations. Instead, many different types of itineraries suit many different types of travelers. Here are a few of the most common:

Mainstream ocean cruises

These are some of the most popular itineraries because of their accessibility, affordability and wide variety of activities. The ships tend to be large – some can carry more than 6,000 passengers – and are packed with amenities. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian fall into this category.

Premium cruises

These cruises are a step up from those on mainstream ocean liners, and so tend to cater to a slightly older crowd. They typically boast more sophisticated amenities, too, like art collections and educational classes on sea days. Princess Cruises and Oceania are premium cruise brands.

Luxury cruises

Luxury cruises tend to be smaller, with more staff per guest and more deluxe amenities. It goes without saying that they are significantly more expensive than a mainstream cruise. Azamara and Windstar are two examples of luxury brands.

River cruises

While most cruises are on the ocean, some lines (like Viking) offer trips in smaller vessels that cruise along rivers. These tend to be quieter and attract an older clientele compared to a mainstream ocean cruise.

How much is cruise travel insurance?

You can expect to spend a hundred dollars or more to take out insurance on a typical cruise. That cost can be money well-spent given the financial risks to such a voyage. The hazards range from the need to cancel at the last minute for an unexpected emergency to requiring medical care or even medical evacuation – neither of which will be covered by your health insurance when you’re in foreign waters. Then there’s the fact a cruise may involve potentially injurious activities such as scuba diving.

Before you take out a policy, though, check how you may already be covered. Depending on when and why you have to cancel a trip in advance, you might be refunded some or all of the trip’s cost by the cruise line – getting COVID often triggers a full refund, for example. Also, credit cards, especially travel cards, may offer certain trip protection.

If you do decide to buy, policies are available from either the cruise line or from third-party insurers such as Allianz and Squaremouth.

How to choose the right cruise ship cabin

The cabin choices on a large cruise ship can be dizzying. Your budget can help narrow your options. The more you can see from your room, and the greater the access to outside, as a rule, the more you will pay. That's why interior windowless cabins tend to be the least expensive option, and those with spacious ocean-view balconies the priciest.

Stomach health is also a consideration. The lower and more central you are in the ship, the less the roll – and the lower your chance of motion sickness. You’ll also want to consider a cabin’s proximity to onboard amenities. If you plan to spend a lot of time in pools and on sun decks, a quick commute to those from your cabin may be desirable. (Conversely, if quietness is a priority, you may want to avoid busy, noisy areas such as those.)

As with hotel rooms, bigger cabins naturally tend to be pricier, as does adding trip perks. These extras can range from early ship boarding and exclusive happy hours to such cabin luxuries as an in-room bar, yoga mats and an on-call concierge.

Tips for selecting the best cruise for you

Here are some key considerations when choosing a cruise.

Your budget

Cruises of seven days or more are popular, but those of three to five nights naturally tend to be less expensive. Also, as our picks reflect, certain cruise lines tend to be more or less pricey than others.

How you prefer to spend your time

Ideally, the activities and amenities on a cruise should align with your interests. If you're a cruiser who likes spending a lot of time onboard, rather than in port, on-board daytime activities such as sports may be especially important to you. In addition, you may be more satisfied than most with an itinerary that has more days at sea than in port.

Destination and ports of call

Where the cruise begins and its ports of call are, of course, paramount considerations. If you plan to tack a land vacation onto your cruise, opt for a destination where you may want to stay for a while – or use as a springboard to further travel. And research the ports in which the ship will stop along the way, to see how much those stopovers are of interest.

Ship size

The largest cruise ships accommodate 5,000 passengers or more. While bigger vessels typically boast the most varied amenities and activities, their size can also lead to a noisier and more frenetic experience. Depending on your priorities, a smaller ship with a more relaxed vibe may suit you better, even if it lacks the pizzazz of a big boat.

Time of year

A commitment to cruising within a certain season will limit your choices of destination. In tropical regions, summer and fall can bring hurricanes. In many popular European cruise destinations, such as the Mediterranean, winter seas can bring choppier conditions – and of course cooler temperatures.

Food quality and choices

Some people care less about the food quality and variety on board a cruise ship. But if those attributes matter a lot to you, research the available dining options, along with user reviews of how timely and satisfying the meals were.

Cruises FAQ

Here are a number of frequently asked questions and issues around taking a cruise.

Do cruise lines require vaccination?


As concerns about the pandemic have receded, the related medical requirements to take cruises have been relaxed. As a rule now, you need not be vaccinated to board a boat on a major cruise line.

However, since vaccination regulations remain at certain international destinations, some cruises may still require cruisers to be vaccinated in order to depart or disembark at those ports. Also, passengers who are not vaccinated may be required to submit a negative COVID test taken within a few days of beginning their cruise. (A few companies still require that even vaccinated passengers be tested for longer cruises.)

What are the best cruise lines?

We believe the picks we outline above represent excellent choices, based on their price, policies, customer satisfaction record and more. Rather than rank these choices from best to worst, we've called them out according to their key distinction. The best cruise line for a particular individual or group varies according to their preferences, budget and more.

Are pets allowed on cruises?


In short, no. There are exceptions for service animals, which many cruise lines allow. But the furry companion must perform specific tasks for its owner, such as guiding to assist in overcoming sight-impairment. Pets who provide only emotional support are not allowed.

Just want your pal along for company? Your only choice might be the Cunard line's pricey Queen Elizabeth 2. Your dog or cat can be carried on-board (in a kennel) for a charge (on top of your own fare) of between $800 and $1,600, depending on its size and species.

How We Chose the Best Cruise Lines

To compile our list, Money editorial staff independently evaluated twelve cruise lines. We only evaluated major lines with trips that depart from the United States – hence, we excluded such companies as Virgin Voyages, Cunard, Azamara and Silversea Cruises.

We considered prices; the number of ships in each fleet; the flexibility to serve specific traveler types, such as families and singles; and the types of itineraries offered by each company. We used customer satisfaction data from several sources, including, to inform our decision. We also considered ship inspection data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We made our picks with the understanding that no single cruise is the best choice for every type or traveler or every type of trip — each cruise line has strengths and weaknesses, and our aim is to highlight the strengths that differentiate the winners.

Summary of Money’s Best Cruises of 2023

The ideal cruise for you may, of course, depend heavily on what you can afford to spend. But even if your budget is hefty, your choice should be driven by your preferences and priorities.

If a low tab for the trip is paramount, and you don’t mind a somewhat hectic and crowded experience, Carnival is our top choice. If, on the other hand, you’re prepared to pay a little more for a great experience, Disney has a track record for high satisfaction, and not only for families.

A luxury cruise needn’t necessarily be on a small boat affiliated with a boutique cruise line. MSC offers a luxe experience within big and well-equipped boats that offer crowd-pleasing touches. Traveling alone? Norwegian is the best bet, thanks to its one-person cabins and singles activities. At the other extreme, Royal Caribbean’s dizzying range of activities and attractions makes them best for families, since every member should be able to find a suitable diversion.