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.