Cruising continues to grow as a popular form of travel, with an estimated 25.8 million people setting sail in 2017 according to Cruise Lines International Association. And passengers have more choices than ever; globally, there are more than 60 ocean, river and specialty cruise lines, each operating a fleet of ships and yachts sailing to over 1,000 ports of call around the globe.
To help make planning the perfect cruise vacation easier, we asked a panel of industry experts to nominate their favorite lines and ships in nine categories. For the past four weeks, our readers have been voting for their favorites, and the results are in.
Click on each category below to see the full list of winners:
Best Ocean Cruise Line: Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival's Fun Ships are popular with families — Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines
Whether you prefer long days at sea or ample time in diverse ports of call, megaships packed with features or intimate yachts, more restaurants than a resort or a single luxury dining room, there's a cruise line out there for you.
Carnival Cruise Line caters to families and casual cruisers with its fleet of "Fun Ships." On these big ship cruises, passengers have no excuse to feel bored; ships come equipped with water parks, glitzy casinos, live entertainment and a focus on diverse, casual dining, highlighted by a partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri to bring Guy's Burger Joint to the fleet. All of this comes at affordable price points.
Best Adventure Cruise Line: Adventure Canada
Adventure Canada's Ocean Endeavor in Newfoundland — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
If you think cruising is all about lounging on the lido deck, piña colada in hand, think again. With these 20 cruise companies, cruising becomes an adventure for active travelers, where exploring an exotic destination might involve kayaking through remote fjords, getting up close and personal with icebergs aboard a Zodiac or walking atop a glacier.
While Adventure Canada does indeed lead small ship adventures through the rivers, icy fjords and secluded waterways of Canada, this adventure cruise company also takes travelers to experience landscapes and cultures further afield to places like Scotland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
Best Boutique Cruise Line: Windstar Cruises
Windstar's luxury yachts have fewer than 310 guests each — Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises
Boutique cruise lines elevate your vacation experience with extras like small ships, attractive passenger-to-staff ratios, luxury amenities, unique onboard activities and excursions or all-inclusive fares.
With fewer than 310 guests per sailing, Windstar Cruises promises passengers a cruising experience free of lines and waiting. Since the six luxury yachts are smaller than a typical cruise ship, they can sail into small European villages, off-the-beaten-path harbors and hidden coves, giving guests the opportunity to visit both major capitals and smaller ports. Complimentary Destination Discovery Events introduce passengers to the local culture and cuisine of these special ports of call.
Best River Cruise Line: Viking River Cruises
This is Viking River Cruises' third win in a row — Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises
River cruising has been exploding in popularity in recent years, and it's easy to see why. You check in, unpack your bag and let your floating hotel take you on a journey of discovery down some of the world's great waterways, with experiential guided excursions along the way.
Founded in 1997, Viking River Cruises plies the waterways of Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt with its fleet of more than 60 vessels. While Viking has also launched an award-winning ocean cruise line, the company built its reputation in river cruising. These all-inclusive cruises feature outside staterooms, WiFi, wine and beer with meals, shore excursions in every port and Viking’s signature Culture Curriculum program.
Best Cruise Line for Millennials: Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival's value and entertainment score big points with millennial travelers — Photo courtesy of Carnival Corporation
While cruising has long been associated with an older demographic, cruise lines are wooing millennial travelers with adventurous onboard activities (think skydiving at sea) and shore excursions, high-tech amenities, diverse nightlife experiences and greater flexibility with onboard dining.
Carnival ships are packed with entertainment options and activities geared toward younger travelers, and the affordable price points add to the appeal for cruisers in their 20s and 30s.
Best Cruise Line for Solo Travelers: AmaWaterways
AmaWaterways offers special perks for solo travelers — Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways
Solo cruising is an excellent way for travelers to experience the world, meet new friends and indulge in a vacation on their own terms, with perks like single passenger staterooms, waived solo traveler surcharges, exclusive social spaces and singles-friendly activities.
AmaWaterways' solo traveler program, available on all cruises in Europe, Africa and Asia, includes specially-designed single passenger staterooms on the 164-passenger ships, an exclusive Welcome Cocktail Reception, an invitation to dine at the Captain's Table and seating with other solo travelers at the onboard restaurant.
Best Cruise Ship for Dining: Viking Sea
Even specialty restaurants are free aboard Viking Sea — Photo courtesy of Viking Ocean Cruises
Gone are the days when fixed seating meals in a single dining room are your only option aboard cruise ships. Modern cruisers enjoy their choice of several restaurants – over two dozen aboard some of the bigger megaships – cooking classes, creative menus and dishes created by some of the world's top chefs.
All meals are free of charge aboard Viking Sea, even at specialty restaurants. The star of the ship, Manfredi's, serves a menu of hearty Italian fare in a homey setting. The Chef's Table is themed to a different region of the world each night, while The World Cafe serves global specialties buffet-style. For an extra cost, guests can sign up for The Kitchen Table, part restaurant and part shore excursion into a local market to pick out ingredients for dinner.
Best Cruise Ship for Entertainment: Carnival Vista
Carnival Vista is packed with activities — Photo courtesy of Danny Lehman
These days, you'll be wishing for more long days at sea to explore all the myriad entertainment options on offer aboard cruise ships, from bowling or skydiving at sea to Broadway-style shows and stand-up comedy.
Fun takes many forms aboard Carnival's newest cruise ship, Carnival Vista. SportsSquare features a new attraction unique to Vista, SkyRide – a combination between a bicycle and a zip line. The Carnival Multiplex screens IMAX films, while a three-deck-tall main theater hosts multiple Playlist Productions on each sailing.
Best Cruise Ship for Families: Carnival Vista
Carnival Vista is a hit with kids — Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line
More and more families are turning to cruising when planning their vacations thanks to family friendly at-sea experiences (bumper cars, bowling and water parks to name a few), family cabins and kid-approved dining options.
Carnival elevated its already very family-friendly offerings with the debut of Carnival Vista, the newest ship in the line. Kids can ride a bike through the sky, go mini bowling or play ping pong at SportSquare, and the onboard water park is the largest in the fleet. Kids love the Cherry On Top candy store and ice cream counter, and parents will appreciate the Family Harbor staterooms equipped with board games, family movies and video games.
Congratulations to all these winning cruise lines and ships. Keep these lists handy next time you're planning a cruise vacation, and remember to visit 10Best.com daily to vote in more Readers' Choice contests.