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Professional travel writers, magazine editors, and travelers are the best sources for feedback about cruises. Based on the scores of cruise reviews that we found, several cruise lines and ships stand out for the all-around quality of the cruise experience.
Overall Experience.The best judge of a good cruise is the feeling you carry with you once you get home, and whether you'd recommend the experience to a friend. Cruise reviews at Cruise Critic consistently rank Carnival cruises above average for overall experience; indeed, Carnival Cruise Lines was named the editors' pick for best budget-friendly cruising in 2010. Thousands of cruise reviews posted by travelers on the site agree, hailing the variety of activities, family options, and the quality and cleanliness of Carnival Cruise Lines ships. And the line is still receiving satisfactory reports despite the recent tragic accident involving the Costa Concordia, which is owned by Carnival Corporation, Carnival Cruise Lines' parent company. Porthole Cruise Magazine readers named Carnival Cruise Lines "best value for the money" in the publication's 2011 Readers' Choice Awards.
Norwegian Cruise Line won a Readers' Choice Award for best short duration cruises, such as those offered on Norwegian Sky, one of our top picks. This particular ship sails out of Miami to the Bahamas, and cruise reviews say the short voyages are filled with hours of partying or relaxing (your choice), friendly passengers, and good service. Our other best choice, Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, also earns enthusiastic endorsements in travelers' cruise reviews. More than 100 cruise reviews posted on Orbitz highly rank the vessel's four-night Bahamas cruise for ship quality and overall experience. The passenger reviewers range in age from 20-somethings to 65-plus, and their enthusiastic comments are indicative of the cruise's ability to appeal to a wide audience.
Cruise reviews for MSC ships tend toward the ho-hum. Expert travel sites such as Fodor's point out that this Italian line has a distinctly European feel, with announcements made in multiple languages and entertainment and activity options that may not thrill American passengers. Travelers' assessments posted on Cruise Reviews are divided, even when discussing their experience on the same ship, and less than enthusiastic overall. Passengers generally talk up the value price and cleanliness of the ships but many complain about lackluster food, boring entertainment, mandatory service charges, high-priced drinks, and personnel who don't always speak English or accommodate requests.
We also checked out Voyages of Discovery because it tacks in a different direction. This line operates two relatively small ships that sail worldwide, many for weeks at a time, and feature speakers with deep knowledge about the cruising region. Cruise reviews written by passengers are all over the map. Older/retired travelers tend to give it higher marks, as do those who say they like intimate cruises in order to make new friends. But cruise reviews also say these no-frills ships aren't for everyone. They report the decor is plain, the food is average, and the entertainment is disappointing. Still, some travelers commenting on Cruise Critic are willing to make sacrifices for the affordable and leisurely trips to destinations like the South Pacific, the Baltics, and Northern Europe, and to hear related educational lectures along the way.
Cruises Accommodations.Cruise cabins or staterooms rarely compare to hotel rooms because of their below-average size and basic bathrooms and in some cases, lack of exterior windows. Still, some accommodations stand out for all-around quality. Cruise reviews give Carnival Liberty cabins high marks for their relative spaciousness, pleasant decor, and beds that open into larger sizes. Cruise reviews rank Voyages of Discovery above average for cabin size and storage space, a plus because these cruises tend to be much longer than most. On Expedia, travelers' cruise reviews give Norwegian Cruise Line four out of five stars for the quality of the staterooms, noting that they're clean and relatively spacious. And despite low marks in categories such as food, MSC Opera is well rated in cruise reviews on Cruise Critic for the cleanliness and size of its cabins.
Don't Bother Cheap Cruises
MSC Opera Cruises
Several of MSC's ships, including the Poesia, Magnifica, Melody and Fantasia, do one-way repositioning cruises at rock-bottom prices. But hidden fees are travelers' biggest complaint (tea, coffee, and bottled water cost extra at some meals), along with grumbles about sub-par food and limited hours at the pool and restaurants. Passenger capacity: between 1,500 and 3,000 (depending on ship). Read more »
Celebrity Cruises Review
Holland America Cruises Review
Voyages of Discovery Cruises Review
MSC Opera Cruises Review
Carnival Cruises Review
Norwegian Sky Cruises Review
Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas Cruise Review
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