Mainstream Lines

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These are the cruise lines you know even if you've never set foot on one. They're the ones with the catchy TV spots, glossy magazine spreads, and omnipresent website banner ads that make cruises seem like sheer paradise -- and for many people, they really are.

Today's mainstream ships are part theme park, part shopping mall, part gym, and part faux downtown entertainment and dining district, all packaged in a sleek hull with an oceanview resort perched on top. The biggest are really big: 14 stories tall, 1,000 feet long, with cabin space for between 2,000 and 5,000-plus passengers and a couple of thousand crewmembers. Most of the mainstream lines have spent the past 10 years pumping billions into ever-newer, bigger, and fancier ships, and the intense competition means they're constantly trying to outdo each other with entertainment and activities. The newer the ship, the more whoopee you can expect: open-air boardwalk districts, bowling alleys, water parks, ice-skating rinks, outdoor movie theaters, surfing machines, giant spas, rock-climbing walls, full-size basketball courts, and virtual-reality golf, plus classics like hot tubs, theaters, water slides, and bars, bars, bars. The action is just outside your cabin door, though if you crave some downtime, there's always your private balcony or some quiet lounge that's deserted while everybody else is living it up.

Overall the atmosphere is very social and active, especially on warm-weather cruises in the Caribbean, The Bahamas, Bermuda, and Mexico, which tend to draw the youngest mix of fun-loving, like-to-party passengers (lots of 20s, 30s, and 40s). Itineraries in Alaska and New England tend to draw a mellower crowd, mostly in their 50s and up.

The more elegant and refined of the lines are commonly referred to as premium, a notch up in the sophistication department from others that are described as mass-market. Quality-wise, they're all more similar than they are different, especially in regard to dining and entertainment. Ditto for lines such as Azamara and Oceania (and half the Holland America fleet), whose midsize ships are almost a throwback to the days before supersizing. Though these lines' vessels are tiny compared with the Royal Caribbeans, Carnivals, and Princesses of the world, they're in this group because they offer well-rounded cruises for a diverse mix of passengers.

Dress Codes -- Aboard most lines in this guide, most nights are designated as casual, "dressy casual," or semiformal, with one or two being formal or "formal optional." But, these days, those are more suggestions than rules, and in any case, most ships these days have at least one casual dining venue open every night in case you just can't face dressing up at all.

Note: Cruise lines have been graded on a curve that compares them only with the other mainstream lines.

The Lines

LineEnjoyment
Factor
DiningActivitiesChildren's
Program
EntertainmentServiceOverall
Value
Azamara Club Cruises 5 4 4 0 4 5 5
Carnival Cruise Lines 4 3 3 4 3 3 4
Celebrity Cruises 5 4 4 3 3 5 5
Costa Cruises 3 2 4 2 3 2 3
Cunard 5 4 5 5 4 4 5
Disney Cruise Line 4 3 3 5 5 3 4
Holland America Line 4 4 3 2 4 5 5
MSC Cruises 3 3 3 3 3 2 4
Norwegian Cruise Line 5 4 4 4 5 4 5
Oceania Cruises 4 4 2 0 3 4 4
Princess Cruises 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Royal Caribbean International 5 4 5 4 5 4 5
Rating Key: 5=Outstanding 4=Excellent 3=Good 2=Fair 1=Poor 0=Unavailable

The Ships

ShipsCruise LineCabin
Comfort & Amenities
Ship
Cleanliness & Maintainence
Public
Comfort/Space
DecorGym
& Spa Facilities
Children's
Facilities
Journey Azamara Club Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 0
Quest Azamara Club Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 0
Dream Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 4.5 4.5
Conquest Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.5
Freedom Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.5
Glory Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.5
Liberty Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.5
Splendor Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.5
Valor Carnival Cruise Lines 4.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.5
Destiny Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.0
Triumph Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.0
Victory Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 4.0
Ecstasy Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Elation Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Fantasy Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Fascination Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Imagination Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Inspiration Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Paradise Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Sensation Carnival Cruise Lines 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.5 4.0
Pride Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Legend Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Miracle Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Spirit Carnival Cruise Lines 5.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Century Celebrity Cruises 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Mercury Celebrity Cruises 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Constellation Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Infinity Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Millenium Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Summit Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Eclipse Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Equinox Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Silhouette Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Solstice Celebrity Cruises 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Atlantica Costa Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Mediterranea Costa Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Queen Mary 2 Cunard 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.5 5.0
Queen Victoria Cunard 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.0
Magic Disney Cruise Line 5.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 3.0 5.0
Wonder Disney Cruise Line 5.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 3.0 5.0
Amsterdam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.0
Rotterdam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.0
Volendam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.0
Zaandam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 3.0
Eurodam Holland America Line 5.0 5.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Nieuw Amsterdam Holland America Line 5.0 5.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Maasdam Holland America Line 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Ryndam Holland America Line 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Statendam Holland America Line 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Veendam Holland America Line 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
Noordam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.5 3.0
Oosterdam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.5 3.0
Westerdam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.5 3.0
Zuiderdam Holland America Line 4.5 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.5 3.0
Poesia MSC Cruises 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.5 4.5 4.0
Dawn Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Jade Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Gem Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Sky Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5
Sun Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5
Spirit Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Star Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Jewel Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Pearl Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0
Pride of America Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Epic Norwegian Cruise Line 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 5.0 5.0
Regatta Oceania Cruises 4.0 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 0
Coral Princess Princess Cruises 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 4.0
Island Princess Princess Cruises 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 4.0
Diamond Princess Princess Cruises 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.5 5.0
Sapphire Princess Princess Cruises 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.5 5.0
Caribbean Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Crown Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Emerald Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Sea Princess Princess Cruises 4.0 4.0 5.0 5.0 4.0 4.0
Ruby Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Star Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Golden Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Grand Princess Cruises 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.0 4.5 4.0
Freedom of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0
Independence of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0
Liberty of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 4.5 4.0 5.0 5.0
Majesty of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 3.0 3.5 3.0 4.0
Monarch of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 3.0 3.5 3.0 4.0
Allure of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.5 5.0 5.0
Oasis of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.5 5.0 5.0 4.5 5.0 5.0
Brilliance of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Jewel of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Radiance of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Serenade of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.0
Enchantment of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 4.0
Grandeur of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 4.0
Legend of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 4.0
Rhapsody of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 4.0
Splendor of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 4.0
Vision of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 3.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 4.0
Adventure of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0
Explorer of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0
Mariner of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0
Navigator of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0
Voyager of the Seas Royal Caribbean International 4.0 4.0 5.0 4.0 5.0 5.0
Rating Key: 5=Outstanding 4=Excellent 3=Good 2=Fair 1=Poor 0=Unavailable