Every year, Travel + Leisure asks readers to rank their favorite cruise lines based on staterooms, food, activities, service, and value. Delivering on these characteristics is especially challenging for large-ship lines, which have capacities of more than 600 passengers, and can be as large as the No. 9-ranked Royal Caribbean's Oasis and the Allure of the Seas, each of which can carry up to 5,400 passengers.
But what a large ship can deliver is a seemingly endless variety of amenities and curated programs. And it's these features that are luring passengers: according to a recent Cruise Lines International Association report, the number of travelers that have been opting for a cruise trip has grown at an average rate of 7.6 percent annually over the past 10 years.
More travelers don't mean higher prices this year, thanks to the launch of new-build ships: 15 total in 2011. Discounting is likely in the wake of the January 2012 Costa Concordia incident off the coast of Tuscany. While it has rattled the nerves of some potential cruisers, the industry's overall record for safety remains strong. And there are concrete precautions you can take such as buying travel insurance (from a non-cruise owned company), checking Coast Guard vessel inspection reports, and reviewing the evacuation plans posted on the back of their cabin doors and the safety videos that run in most cabins.
Read on for the inside scoop on what's new and notable for the best large-ship cruise lines.
Cunard’s three legendary liners exude the Old World elegance reminiscent of cruising’s Golden Age. Several nods to tradition are on display on the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth: Art Deco chandeliers, inlaid-wood ballroom floors, outdoor courts for croquet and paddle tennis, and supper clubs hosted in Kew Gardens-inspired conservatories. See the rest of the Best Large-Ship Cruise Lines Photo: Courtesy of Cunard Line
On Disney’s four decked-out ships—which include the new 4,000-passenger Dream—you’ll find both kid- and adult-friendly amenities. To please the under-16 crowd, on the Dream there’s a 765-foot water slide and Broadway-style theater; a nightlife district (five bars and clubs on Deck 4) and a two-deck spa with a rainforest steam room are for adults only. See the rest of the Best Large-Ship Cruise Lines Photo: Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Oceania’s food and restaurant programs get top billing by T+L readers. On some sailings, travelers head out on guided market and wine tours in Barcelona and Athens, then return to the ship for cooking classes with guest chefs and dinner at the traditional Italian restaurant Toscana (there’s an outpost on all four ships), where travelers choose from a menu of artisanal olive oils—served in Versace china—for dipping fresh-baked bread. See the rest of the Best Large-Ship Cruise Lines Photo: Courtesy of Oceania Cruises
Regent offers an all-inclusive experience geared toward sophisticated travelers who are looking for luxury and value. Standout features on Regent’s all-suite ships include the Canyon Ranch Spa Clubs (for wellness treatments with Dead Sea salts and biodynamic honey) and Signatures, a Le Cordon Bleu-operated restaurant for French classics like foie gras terrine and Camembert quiche. See the rest of the Best Large-Ship Cruise Lines Photo: Michel Verdure / Courtesy Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The World’s Best Large Cruise Line winner for 16 years running, Crystal Cruises continues to get top marks for its exemplary service (there’s almost a 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio), onboard enrichment programs (Yamaha keyboard classes, Berlitz language lessons), and world-class cuisine (case in point: Nobu’s Silk Road restaurant and sushi bar). See the rest of the Best Large-Ship Cruise Lines Photo: Ian Schemper / Courtesy of Crystal Cruise Line
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