If you’re old enough to remember the 70s and 80s (or the re-runs in the 90s) you remember that immortal song sung by Jack Jones for Aaron Spelling’s “The Love Boat”. For a total of 250 episodes we imagined being welcomed on board for a cruise on the Pacific Princess.

The cruise industry is the fastest growing category in the leisure travel market and has been growing about 7% per year since since the 1980s. Much of that is driven by the two largest cruise line holding companies in the world, Carnival Corporation & plc and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, who together own about 75% of the global market.

So, where do people cruise you ask? The top 3 destinations are led by the Caribbean with over 33%, followed by the Mediterranean and the rest of the European continent. Together these destinations account for almost two thirds of cruises.

So, now that the stats are out of the way and I’ve helped you out of the dream that going on a cruise is a new travel experience or anything massively special, lets have a look at the options.

Big ships, No frills

Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas, cruise

Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas

The majority of cruise ships fall into this category. Some are that big you could loose your kids in them and hopefully not see them for the duration of your voyage (kidding!) All joking aside, these ships cater to every need and budget as you’d expect.

Most likely you won’t even experience most of what the ship has to offer since you only spend your early evening, night and early morning there – your days are spent on-shore at a different destination almost daily. That’s the beauty about cruising. Another great thing about these cruises is that there really is not dress code to get hung up by, although showing up in your budgy smugglers at breakfast is a bit frowned upon.

Because there are so many itineraries for these large ships, it also brings the cost down. Do your research before just booking one since there is a lot to choose from. Talk to a friend who’s been on a few cruises and can advise you on what to look out for and be careful of.

Be careful of the time of year that you want to go, especially to popular destinations. Avoid cruises during times of US Spring Break, big school holiday periods or festive seasons. They tend to turn into booze cruises and that’s fun for some, but to a lot of us, that’s not a holiday.

Some suggestions:

More frills, still big ships

Holland America Line Eurodam, cruise

Holland America Line Eurodam

If you want to up your game a little bit, but still want to get that big cruise ship feel, the ships and itineraries from these premium class cruise lines are for you. They generally go to similar places like the big ships with no frills – Eastern Caribbean, Mediterranean, Australia/New Zealand and the like, but the amenities on board are a bit more upscale and you’re probably going to have to dress up a little bit more for dinner.

Play a bit of golf, go to the 5-star day spa or sip cocktails at the adults only cocktail bar, you get the idea. The staterooms are also generally a little bit more luxury and with balconies (not like you’re really going to use those though).

Some suggestions:

Large and Luxury

Cunard RMS Queen Mary 2, cruise

Cunard RMS Queen Mary 2

There aren’t really any ships to rival the RMS Queen Mary 2, the last of the true transatlantic ocean liners, operated by Cunard. Opulent, decadent and with an air of yesteryear, guests transport themselves back into an age where ocean travel was a necessity to travel long distances. Nowadays, everyone travels in first class, unlike they did 100 years ago.

Be ready to bring an extensive wardrobe and to dine in style every night. The voyage to take is the Westbound Transatlantic Crossing taking you from Southampton to New York in 7 nights. Interested? Book here.

Luxury, intimate ships and exotic destinations

Compagnie du Ponant L'Austral, cruise

Compagnie du Ponant L’Austral

As you would imagine, life onboard one of the ships from any of the cruise lines that offer luxury, intimate cruises is pretty good. Most offer an all-inclusive voyage, unlike your standard cruise ships were you still have to pay for drinks, certain restaurants and the like. And when I say all-inclusive, I mean all-inclusive.

Although intimate is a relative term, some of the smaller vessels only have about 130 cabins and probably have more staff onboard than they carry guests giving you almost a yacht-like experience. Of course you pay for that kind of service, but the smaller size of the ships also allows them to go to destinations most of the gigantic ships will never be able to go which adds to their unique experience (and draining your bank account).

Some suggestions:

Expedition style

National Geographic Orion, cruise

National Geographic Orion

Lindblad Expeditions & National Geographic teamed up for expedition style cruises if that’s your thing. Frightfully expensive, but I’m sure more than worth it, these intimate cruises take you to places very few have gone, regardless of cruising. Fancy a voyage to the Galapagos Islands? Maybe Patagonia or the Arctic is more your thing?

Most of these cruises are not for the faint hearted and you need to be an active person to enjoy them. Don’t confuse these cruises with big boat cruises through the Caribbean with big buffets and balcony suites. Most of the ships are small, max 150 guests, but mostly a 100 or less and have experts like photographers, marine biologists, historians, and naturalists on board.

Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions can be found here.

I’m only just scratching the surface on cruise holidays in this article. Keep an eye out for future, more in-depth articles on this subject and other holidays. In the mean time, check out some of the article travel articles on Steele + Martin:

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