First time travelers often agonize over the selection of an appropriate cruise line. They know that each line has a unique culture and environment, and that each line markets to a particular demographic. The problem is, potential cruisers often do not know how they will select the line that best meets their expectations in terms of ambience, activities, and environment.
Some "how to" books suggest that you pick up cruise brochures from the various lines and compare the photographs within the brochures. The theory is that cruise lines select and use photographs to market their cruises on the basis of how well they depict what the cruiser might find on an average day aboard ship. Of course, chances are that you might be looking at a staged scene with models.
Some years ago, I published a "Motorist's Guide to Cruising" (take a look in the index) that compared each line to something that the average cruiser might understand: I described each cruise line in terms of the automobile that it best corresponded to. I got some interesting replies from readers on that one!
The truth is that selecting and enjoying a cruise is a highly subjective activity, and that the advice you receive from supposed experts may not help you make the right choice. If you don't have a friend that you trust to advise you, who has already cruised previously, then you might be interested in hearing what each cruise line says about itself. (After all, they do want to make sure that you enjoy your cruise, and therefore they tend to market themselves in a fairly authentic way, targeting the right audience and presenting the right information to ensure that your cruise is 'as advertised.')
I visited the Cruise Line International Association web site and downloaded the comments that each of the major lines uses to describe itself. While I was at it, I also used CLIA's resources to present you with an up to date (through February, 2001) listing of the ships now sailing for each of the 10 major lines. Here's what the lines say about themselves:
Carnival says: "Carnival's "Fun Ships" offer a cruise experience so vibrant that it appeals to a broad cross-section of people from a variety of ages and backgrounds."
Translation: vibrant means "round the clock activities for the terminally energetic." The Fun Ships are for the young and the young at heart, and focus heavily on party activities. If you own more than one pair of dancing shoes, this is the line for you!
Carnival's ships (which generally have larger than average cabins):
Celebrity says: "Celebrity Cruises appeals largely to adults 35 and older, primarily U.S. residents, but increasingly, Canadian, European and Latin American residents. Most guests have household incomes of USD $75,000 and up."
Translation: this is for the older sophisticate with a fair amount of disposable income - i.e., comfortable but not wealthy. Leave the kiddies at home and bring your ball gown.
Costa says: "Costa appeals to honeymooners, families and seniors. The Caribbean cruisers are 35+ with a household income of $75,000+; European cruise travelers are 35+ with a household income of $100,000, college educated, well-traveled and more destination oriented."
Translation: Costa is an Italian cruise line designed for a fairly wide spectrum of cruisers. If you enjoy European ambience, don't mind kids, and aren't expecting to play alcohol chug games, you will enjoy this line.
Crystal says: "Our guests are primarily 35+ with a median age of 64. Most are married, upscale, discriminating travelers. Approximately 85 percent are from the United States and Canada and 15 percent are international, sophisticated travelers."
Translation: Bring your wallet and your best manners. Crystal has been rated the best large-ship cruise line by a number of travel magazines for years. This is for the older, sophisticated traveler used to the best.
Cunard says: "Cunard caters to sophisticated, well-traveled clientele who are experienced cruisers and accustomed to five-star service."
Translation: yeah, like Crystal said. Sophisticated, upscale, expensive (though some deals are possible depending on the sailing). The QE2 still sails regular transatlantic sailings during summer months - perfect for the incurable airplanophobic.
Disney says: "Disney Cruise Line ships were designed with specific areas and activities to entertain and delight adults, families and children, creating the ultimate vacation experience that every member of the family thinks is just for them."
Translation: the ultimate family-oriented cruise line. Bring Goofy along (if your husband will come), pack up the kidlets, and have a family-friendly cruise with loads of children's activities.
Holland America says: "Holland America customers seek luxury, comfort and predictability, but not regimentation in their cruises. They are business owners, senior executives or professionals who appreciate the five-star service provided by an Indonesian and Filipino service staff."
Translation: for the mature crowd, people who enjoy understated elegance, a solid value ("predictability"), and quieter activities.
Holland America's ships:
Norwegian says: "NCL attracts a diverse market of vacationers that includes families, active singles, young professionals, and special interest and incentive groups. NCL is a mainstream cruise line appealing to a broad audience of all ages."
Translation: we like everybody, we aren't marketing to a particular age or group, and we are trying to offer a middle-of-the road, solid value to our customers.
Princess says: "Princess Cruises carries a wide spectrum of passengers including young couples, families and seniors. They are generally experienced travelers who expect quality and flexibility."
Translation: Another middle-of-the road line serving a diverse clientele with a wide age spectrum. Expect to see some older travelers. Italian food predominates. The Love Boat, for those who remember that forgettable show with Gavin McLeod. I liked him better on Mary Tyler Moore.
Royal Caribbean says: "Royal Caribbean typically appeals to couples and singles in their 30s to 50s, as well as family vacationers. Guests are active travelers looking for an affordable, cost-effective vacation that's fun, relaxing and refined."
Translation: we are for the younger set, welcome families, and try to offer good value. My personal favorite in this range.
That's it for the ten major lines. I will try to summarize some of the more exotic lines in a later column. With so many ships and lines to choose from, if you can't find one that you like, either you aren't trying or you can't be pleased. If it's the former, try harder. If it's the latter, try Seabourn.
Brent Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children.
Brent has written many SeaLetter columns on such subjects as sea-going language, cruising with kids and cruise etiquette. To find all of Brent's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.
Brent is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Brent@sealetter.com.
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