24-7 party people, pay attention: These lines pride themselves on nonstop entertainment and do all they can to ensure a good time is had by all.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The pursuit of good times informs every aspect of the cruising experience on “The Fun Ships.” Don’t be surprised if your maitre’d belts out show tunes at dinner, your hubby wins the hairy-chest contest at the pool, and the bar you hang out in is a dead ringer for one in Vegas. This is the largest of the lines, so expect your fellow passengers to come from all walks of life: You’ll meet seniors, bachelorette groups, families and singles.
Prices:This brand specializes in three- and four-day itineraries, which are naturally less expensive. Occasionally, prices drop as low as $40/day, per person, though you’ll usually pay double that for the cheapest cabins.
Destinations: Carnival goes to all the classic destinations: the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Mexican Riviera, Alaska, Canada/New England and even, of late, Europe. But it has the most cruises in the Caribbean. Because Carnival uses a number of home ports around the U.S., you’re more likely to be able to drive to the nearest port, which is a money-saver.
Food: “Portions are huge, and there’s a lot of pressure to eat, eat, eat on Carnival,” says Rich Tucker. Sherry Laskin concurs. “They have these gorgeous-looking cocktails, and their food portions are very generous,” she says. “There’s this whole ethos of throwing caution to the wind.” Even at the buffets, she says, folks tend to overload because the plates are larger than on other cruise lines. “They’re the size of trays!” The good news is, Carnival’s healthy menu offerings have gotten more creative in recent years, and Laskin suggests this low-cal treat: “They have a wonderful coffee bar. Just be sure to order the nonfat creamer and the sugar-free syrups.”
Fitness: Carnival sponsors deck walks for charity, and the new Carnival Magic has stepped up the adrenaline quotient with a dedicated sports deck (Sport Square), which includes the first ropes course at sea, a definite boon for fitness nuts. The other ships don’t offer such perks, but the gyms range from 12,000 to nearly 28,000 square feet and offer enough equipment to please self-starters who want to sweat. But Laskin warns that classes fill up fast. “Check the schedule when you board and sign up immediately, or you may not get into the ones you want,” she says.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Personality: The Anti-Cruise
This is the line for people who worry that they won’t like cruises. NCL has jettisoned most of the traditional trappings of the genre, so there are no formal nights, no assigned seating at meals and top-notch onboard entertainment. NCL pioneered the “freestyle dining” concept, meaning cruisers have a huge number of choices when it comes to dining. As on Carnival, a party atmosphere and loud, constant music are the norm—but for nonconformist fun-seekers, it’s ideal.
Prices: NCL and Carnival duke it out for competitive prices at the budget end of the spectrum (prices have dropped as low as $40/day per person, at times). NCL’s newest ship, the Norwegian Epic, contains several dozen “studio” cabins set aside for solo travelers. This is a terrific innovation: It means solo travelers can sail without having to pay the dreaded singles supplement, which usually comes to an additional 150 to 200 percent of the cost of the cruise. (Studio cabins will also be added to future NCL ships.)
Destinations: Hawaii, New England/Canada, the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada, as well as the Mexican Riviera. NCL also has dozens of sailings from home ports in the U.S. to the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Like Carnival, it offers a number of short cruises and about 45 a year in Europe.
Food: Do choices translate to better options for dieters? Yes and not always. The scuttlebutt is that food in the included dining room is deliberately sub par, a strategy to push more cruisers toward the specialty restaurants (which cost extra). Your ship might have a sushi bar, but in other seemingly healthy eateries, like the Teppanyaki restaurant and Cagney’s Steakhouse, food comes doused in oil or butter. A bright spot on NCL is the buffets, which revolve around chef stations where the food is freshly prepared in front of you.
Fitness: The Epic has the largest spa/gym area at sea and some unusual machines (like a Pilates Gravity Reformer) and classes (like kettlebell workouts) that you won’t find on other lines. And all ships’ gyms are open 24 hours. On the negative side, some of the gyms on the older ships aren’t as spacious as they could be, note Laskin and Tucker, so there can be a wait for equipment.