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Compare: 10 Most Popular Cruise Ships
Compare: 10 Most Popular Cruise Ships

Compare: 8 Most Popular Cruise Ships

Nearly everyone has a favorite cruise ship. In this chart, we outline the key distinctions among the 8 most popular cruise ships in the industry. Look for highlights of onboard accommodations, dining and entertainment, as well as ship itineraries. Don't have a favorite cruise ship just yet? Our picks just might inspire you to find the perfect vacation match.

Want more info about these top 8 cruise ships? Click on the vessel name below to read about ship highlights and find links to itineraries, a photo tour of the ship, a comprehensive expert review and hundreds of reader-submitted critiques.

Updated April 12, 2019

1. Harmony of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

It's hard to miss Harmony of the Seas' standout feature -- a pair of purple slides cascading down the back of the ship -- but the Ultimate Abyss isn't this Royal Caribbean ship's only claim to fame. Harmony provides an Oasis-class experience (different "neighborhoods," adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities and high-class entertainment), as well as a taste of the line's Quantum class, with robotic bartenders at the Bionic Bar and a family-style dinner at Jamie's Italian.

Deployment: Year-round Caribbean cruises out of Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

  • Cabins are compact but cozy, with lots of storage space.
  • Solo cabins do not bear a single supplement.
  • Family Presidential Suite can accommodate 14 people.
  • A variety of free and for-fee options offers something for every taste.
  • Wonderland serves up whimsical cuisine using molecular gastronomy.
  • Johnny Rockets is a great, free alternative for breakfast.
  • "Grease" production show brings the Broadway original to life.
  • Escape room makes for a fun, challenging group activity.
  • Outdoor entertainment includes water slides, zipline and surf simulators.

Photo Tour of Harmony of the Seas

2. Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista (Photo: Carnival)

Carnival Vista epitomizes the line's "Fun Ship" moniker. It offers the most variety of restaurants, bars, entertainment and outdoor fun of any Carnival ship (alongside its newer sister, Carnival Horizon). There's even an exclusive Havana area with a pool, hot tubs and bar available during the day to those staying in Cabana cabins. (A separate, Cuba-themed Havana Bar is open to all passengers, day and night.)

Deployment: Year-round Caribbean cruises from Miami and Galveston.

  • All cabins are capable of fitting two to five people.
  • Family Harbor cabins include a private lounge and free group babysitting.
  • Cloud 9 Spa cabins come with spa freebies.
  • Bonsai Sushi serves some of the best rolls and sashimi at sea.
  • Staples such as Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina.
  • DIY pasta bar for lunch at Cucina del Capitano.
  • Outdoor recreation includes sky-high bike and ropes course.
  • RedFrog Pub & Brewery offers craft beer, tours and tastings.
  • IMAX theater, perfect for rainy days and lazy nights

Photo Tour of Carnival Vista

3. Norwegian Escape

Norwegian Escape

The first ship in Norwegian's massive Breakaway Plus class, Norwegian Escape is an ideal choice for people who want high-quality entertainment and variety. The 4,200-passenger ship features two Broadway-style shows, 28 bars and restaurants and a handful of recreational activities -- including one of the scariest water slides at sea.

Deployment: Caribbean cruises from Miami; Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Canada/New England cruises from New York.

  • Cabins boast a contemporary, sophisticated design.
  • Variety of categories include family, spa and solo.
  • The fleet's largest suite-only enclave, The Haven.
  • Alfresco dining offered in The Waterfront.
  • Traditional Spanish tapas served at Pincho.
  • Norwegian staples like Cagney's and Teppanyaki.
  • The District Brew House is a beer lover's dream.
  • Largest ropes course at sea.
  • Spice H2O turns into an outdoor nightclub.

Photo Tour of Norwegian Escape

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4. Anthem of the Seas

Anthem of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

The innovative, 4,180-passenger Anthem of the Seas is all about the wow factor, with attractions like a skydiving simulator and a London Eye-style glass pod that rises over the pool deck. Tech-savvy cruisers also will love the ship's fast Wi-Fi, the ability to make onboard bookings via tablets and apps, and RFID bracelets for cabin access and on-ship purchases. The look is classy and modern, and cruisers are spoiled for choice in dining, accommodations and sea day fun.

Deployment: Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean and Canada/New England cruises from Bayonne.

  • 75 percent of cabins have balconies.
  • Inside rooms feature "virtual balconies" with ocean views.
  • Choice of suite types, all with extra perks and exclusive dining room.
  • Jamie's Italian offers family-style dinner in a colorful space.
  • Find macarons, petits-fours and chocolates galore at La Patisserie.
  • Vegetarian dishes and healthy options are indicated on menus.
  • SeaPlex offers bumper cars, roller skating and trapeze lessons.
  • Hit shows "We Will Rock You" and high-tech "Spectra's Cabaret".
  • Gorgeous adults-only Solarium with cascading pools.

Photo Tour of Anthem of the Seas

5. Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Rocking a New York theme, Norwegian Breakaway very well might be the ship that never sleeps, with all the activities on offer. The 4,028-passenger ship is jampacked with restaurants and entertainment options -- including a rock 'n' roll bar and a special musical just for wine lovers -- and prides itself on freestyle dining, which means there are no set dining times or seat assignments.

Deployment: Caribbean cruises from New Orleans, Miami and Orlando; Europe cruises from Copenhagen.

  • Energy-efficient cabins require key cards to operate lighting and power.
  • Haven suites get private courtyard with a small pool, exclusive lounge and restaurant.
  • No-supplement solo cabins have private lounge access.
  • Many restaurants offer alfresco dining.
  • Free options include supper club, noodle bar and grill.
  • Cirque Dreams and Dinner show is family-friendly.
  • Popular shows include "Rock of Ages" and "Burn the Floor".
  • At night, enjoy live jazz, comedy, dueling piano players and theme parties.
  • Top-deck attractions like rock climbing, water slides and ropes course.

Photo Tour of Norwegian Breakaway

6. Allure of the Seas

Allure of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

The 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas builds on the blueprint introduced by its Royal Caribbean sister, Oasis of the Seas (and now found on Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas). The ship features attractions like ziplining and a handmade wooden carousel, but Allure has its own twists, including a Brazilian churrascaria and the Broadway show "Mamma Mia!"

Deployment: Year-round Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

  • 20-plus cabin categories ranging from insides to suites.
  • Cabin TVs let cruisers book tours, order room service and more.
  • Top-end rooms include lofts, two-bedroom suites overlooking the AquaTheater.
  • 20-plus dining options, both free and for a fee.
  • First-ever "food truck" at sea serves hot dogs and sausages.
  • Alternative venues: Japanese, Italian, steakhouse, Mexican.
  • Coney Island-style Boardwalk with a carousel. 
  • Outdoor AquaTheater for daredevil diving shows.
  • "Beach" and "sports" pools, plus H2O Zone for kids.

Photo Tour of Allure of the Seas

7. Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Epic (Photo: Norwegian)

Fit for every type of traveler -- couples, solos, families and groups alike -- Norwegian Epic offers a variety of activities day and night, from cooling off with the largest bowl slide at sea to dining in the midst of an acrobatic performance at the Cirque Dreams & Dinner show. When you need an escape, head to the adults-only, Ibiza-inspired sun deck, where plenty of lounge chairs and a refreshing pool await.

Deployment: Caribbean and Bahamas cruises from Orlando and San Juan; Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona and Rome.

  • Every outside cabin has a balcony.
  • Two-deck complex for solo travelers.
  • Unique design with separate rooms for sink and toilet.
  • Great Outdoors alfresco restaurant serves world cuisine for free.
  • Asian food lovers can dine at four free and for-fee options.
  • Intimate specialty restaurants are perfect for date nights.
  • Full-sized, three-lane bowling alley beckons competitive cruisers.
  • Splash Golf (nine holes with water jets) is perfect for families.
  • Beatles-themed bar offers great beer and live music.

Photo Tour of Norwegian Epic

8. Liberty of the Seas

Liberty of the Seas

Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas might not be one of the biggest ships in the fleet, but it offers no shortage of activities. In fact, it's home to a slew of features not found on most -- if any -- other ships, including a cupcake eatery, kids-only Splashaway Bay water park and one of the most thrilling water slides at sea. Don't worry: You'll still get to enjoy Royal Caribbean staples like the FlowRider surf simulator, rock climbing wall and Perfect Storm pair of high-speed water slides -- as well as dining favorites like Giovanni's Table and Chops Grille.

Deployment: Year-round Caribbean cruises from Galveston.

  • Select interior cabins offer views of the Royal Promenade.
  • Family-friendly options in each category offer more beds and storage space.
  • One Presidential Family Suites sleeps up to 14.
  • Burgers and shakes at Johnny Rockets make for tasty casual eats.
  • Cupcake Cupboard satisfies any sweet tooth (and offers decorating classes).
  • Specialty Mexican restaurant Sabor serves tableside guacamole.
  • Thrilling Tidal Wave is the only boomerang-style slide at sea.
  • Main street-style Royal Promenade is lined with bars, eateries and shops.
  • Ice skating rink theater puts on jaw-dropping shows.

Photo Tour of Liberty of the Seas

Popular on Cruise Critic

Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
What to Pack for a Cruise: A Beginner's Guide
There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea. Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets. The now savvy seafarer follows this packing rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated cabin storage space. Following that advice is getting easier because, for the most part, cruising has become a more casual vacation with relaxed dress codes. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags, it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.
8 Best Luxury Cruise Ships
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.