New to cruise? Get some advice on how to choose your first cruise line

Setting sail: a guide to choosing a cruise line and ship for your first cruise

“Are you serious? Cruises are for old people!” That was my response when my husband first suggested we go on a cruise. I don’t remember how he convinced me, but it was a decision that changed the way we travelled forever. And ever since our first Caribbean cruise in April 2008 on Explorer of the Seas, we have loved it.

Nowadays, people know that we cruise regularly and I am often asked: should I go on a cruise and how do I decide which ship to go on?

What you will find in this blog:
1) Why do you want to cruise?
2) What is most important for you?
3) Cruising with children? Want all the information in your language?
4) Compare costs and do not book too late
5) Make a decision
6) My recommendation for first time cruisers

Here are my tips from my experience of 32 cruises on the sea and rivers, along coastlines and with several days at sea. On small river boats with only 12 people on board and on large cruise ships with more than 3,000 passengers.

MSC World Europa docked
MSC World Europa docked

Cruise Ship Aria Amazon - Aqua Expeditions
Cruise Ship Aria Amazon – Aqua Expeditions

Cruising on a 3’500 passenger cruise ship such as MSC World Europa is quite a different experience than on a 30 people luxury river cruise such as Aria Amazon

1. Why do you want to cruise?

This is the first and most important question on the way to your decision. Want to find out more about that wonderful cruising feeling people are talking about? Do you like the idea of travelling without packing and unpacking? Or is it because you want to go to a destination that is easy to explore on a cruise, such as the Norwegian fjords or the Caribbean islands?

This question is important when choosing the right cruise line, destination and ship:

If it is the experience of a cruise in general, you could move on to question number 2.

If it is a specific destination, find out what are the most important places you would like to visit. For example, you may be looking for a Caribbean cruise and dream of swimming on the most beautiful beaches. So you’ll want to find out which are the typical destinations for cruises and which are not to be missed.

Or if you want to explore the Norwegian fjords: you should definitely choose a cruise that includes as many ports as possible and even the North Cape. Did you get the idea? Choose what is important first and search for the right cruise afterwards. It is not so easy at the beginning, when you do not have a general idea about where cruise lines go to and what to expect, but it is an important start.

To get a general idea of what is available, look at a cruise booking website that offers several cruise lines. For example,, Kuoni cruises for German-speaking countries or seascanner, cruisempapper or similar. They will never list all the cruise lines, but they will give you a general idea of what time of year the cruise ships will be sailing to what region.

At sea in South Africa
At sea in South Africa
Cruising Glacier Bay Alaska
Cruising Glacier Bay Alaska
Show on MSC World Europa
Show on MSC World Europa
Balcony on a Suite on Celebrity Edge
Balcony on a Suite on Celebrity Edge

Is the sea the destination you are interested in? Or the party ship and its shows?

2. What is most important for you on the ship

Question number 2 is designed to help you decide which cruise line, ship size and style is right for you.

Do you think of cruising as a wonderful sea trip with lots of fresh air, lazy days sitting on the deck and watching the sea? You might opt for a smaller ship that gives you the best “at sea” feeling. And most importantly in my opinion for this wish: check if there is a lower deck where you can walk around the ship on deck plans (not all ships have this).

Or do you want to have a great summer party? Choose one of the newer, larger ships with lots of wonderful things to do: Open-air spaces with multiple pool areas and bars, waterslides, surf simulators, sports courts, even ice rinks (Royal Carribean Cruise Line) or go-kart tracks (Norwegian Cruise Line). Opt for a Mediterranean cruise in the summer or a Caribbean cruise in the winter. Combine this with beach breaks ((LINK)) and the wonderful evening shows offered by the cruise lines, and you could have a truly amazing holiday.

Or maybe you don’t care about all that, but want to travel in style and enjoy a bit of luxury? Then I recommend you either look at smaller, more luxurious ships with less than 1,000 people on board (e.g. Azamara Cruises, Le Ponant, …). Or you could opt for a suite area within a larger ship (MSC Yacht Club) or my best tip for that: Celebrity Cruises.

My husband and I have taken every first-time cruisers we cruised with on Celebrity cruises. Because that cruise line has style. Nice designed ships, really good food, good evening programmes and activities and they do not feel overcrowded. ((LINK BLOG)). Ok, if your budget is not limited, you could even opt for MS Europa, Silversea, Explora or similar. But these are expensive trips. I still dream about it…

Sydney Opera House view from Cruise Ship
Sydney Opera House view from Cruise Ship
Voyager of the seas on the way to Nagasaki
Voyager of the seas on the way to Nagasaki
Kajaking the Amazon river
Kajaking the Amazon river
Leaving the port of Dammam
Leaving the port of Dammam

3. Cruising with children? Or do you want all the information in your own language?

If you’re cruising with children, do you want them to play with other children and understand their language? Or how many options there are for them. For example, most of the larger, family-friendly ships have kids’ clubs based on age groups. Or there is Disney Cruise Line, where characters walk around and entertain children, etc. Opt for a family-friendly cruise line, but be aware, within the main holiday-time and lots of families on a ship it might get quite busy. Therefore avoid that combination, if you want a quieter cruise.

Language, international flair and food variety vary greatly from cruise line to cruise line. For example, if you are cruising in the Mediterranean, this is what you might expect: Depending on which port the ship starts from, there will be more people from that country and the rest, in my experience, depends on the cruise line:

  • Royal Carribean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruises: Many English speaking guests from UK, Ireland, USA or people who love an international flair, American-style food
  • MSC: Many guests from countries around the Mediterranean.
  • Mein Schiff and Aida: Many guests from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, German-style food

The difference is small, but if you like talking in your language, meeting people from your country or eating your favourite food, you should consider it. I have found that I like the international flair the most. But why, I have no idea…

Sweets on Celebrity Edge
Sweets on Celebrity Edge
Salad on Celebrity Edge
Salad on Celebrity Edge

You like steak, burger and American inspired food? Or do you want to eat Sauerkraut and Sausages? The food varies in different cruise lines…

4. Compare costs and do not book too late:

You should take this into account when calculating the cost of a cruise, but be aware that it varies from cruise line to cruise line, so check in advance:

  • Meals and some drinks are included (all-inclusive, that is a big advantage when travelling with teenage kids)
  • Meals in speciality restaurants cost extra
  • Wine and alcoholic beverages are sometimes included or extra; you can buy packages (but only if you drink a lot)
  • Wifi is often not included, at it is still expensive and not so stable depending on the itinerary
  • There are gratuities for the crew, which may or may not be included
  •  Cruise lines that advertise in Europe usually offer packages that include drinks, free Wi-Fi, tips or speciality restaurants, because people like that (it is different than in the US), and it is most of the time worth opting for that offers
  •  Inside and outside cabins are the cheapest, but consider whether you really want to stay in a cabin where you cannot open a window or even see outside. Balcony cabins are my favourite as they are not too expensive, but the balcony is a real treat.

If it is too cheap, be careful. For example, a Mediterranean cruise for 7 days for only 600 euros per person, including all meals and drinks? I would not recommend it.

If you do not like the movement of the ship, book a cabin on a lower deck midships where you will feel the rock and roll the least. And try Mediterranean or Caribbean first, mostly not rocky at all…

Time: Time: If you want to choose your preferred sailing date, itinerary, etc., book well in advance, especially newer ships or itineraries that only sail twice a year are sold out early, meaning several months in advance.

Deck 7 on Grand Princess
Deck 7 on Grand Princess

5. Make a decision

I know you want a recommendation. That is difficult without knowing your expectations, and even then. But check all these questions and find the cruise line that suits you:

  • Time of the year
  • Destination
  • Most important experience: cruise itinerary, sea-feeling or fun ship
  • Language, food style and feeling
  • Facilities onboard: a big fitness-center, vast pool areas, a large thermal spa and wellness area, good food options, wide variety of entertainment
Norwegian Jade thermal spa
Norwegian Jade thermal spa
At sea in South Africa
At sea in South Africa

6. My recommendation for first-time cruisers:

Best summer destinations: Mediterranean for a summer beach holiday, Norwegian Fjords or Iceland for nature

Best winter destinations: A Caribbean cruise from Miami (as it is easy to get there), an orient cruise from Dubai or Abu Dhabi

Ships with most attractions onboard: Norwegian Cruise or Royal Caribbean for fun ships (the newer ones have the most attractions on board)

Language, food and feeling: for me it is Celebrity Cruises or the smaller Royal Caribbean Ships

Not jet decided? Ask your travel agency, go to youtube and watch videos (there is one of every ship) or ask your friends.

After your first cruise, you will know: Either you love cruising and will go again and again, or you’re not a cruiser at all.

Greetings from Yvonne

Don’t forget: if you book a cruise, have a plan for every port you visit. Find out more and get my insider tips here:

Read more

Or find out more about me: about Yve

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