How to choose your cruise

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

It’s among the most popular ways to vacation these days - and I totally get it. There’s something so relaxing about a cruise!

Once the domain of the wealthy, marked by strictly observed classes of service, a cruise vacation now offers something for just about everyone. Looking for a traditional Caribbean itinerary experience with a formal night and midnight buffet? There’s a cruise line for that. Several, actually. Looking for a more active shipboard experience with state-of-the-art workout facilities and lots of active shore excursions for your days in port? There’s a cruise line for that, too. 

According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the popularity of a cruise vacation isn’t a new phenomenon. We've seen high double-digit growth over the past eight years, from 17.8 million cruisers in 2009 to an estimated 25.8 million departures for 2017.   

I mean, 25.8 million people can’t be wrong. Right?

[RELATED: How to find the right room on a cruise ship]U

So, now it’s official - you’re going on a cruise. But which cruise line is the one for you? Popular cruise website Cruise Critic likens choosing your cruise to speed dating: “You can’t take all day getting to know someone, but you need to figure out whether your personalities match.”

An excellent observation, Cruise Critic. I couldn’t agree more.

With that in mind, here is my take on six of the most popular “mass market” cruise lines - meaning they have lots of ships and go lots of places - and some things to consider when planning your cruise vacation.

[RELATED: Set sail from San Diego!]

Carnival -- Glitzy and glamorous, these ships aren’t known as “Vegas on the water” for nothing. Carnival’s staterooms tend to be larger on average than the other major cruise lines, and while the “Fun Ships” aren’t as upscale as some lines, they are indeed “fun,” with larger than industry average casinos, lots of bars and clubs, along with elaborate pools and areas for kids and teens. One thing that has always struck me about Carnival - they treat teenagers like gold. And, if you think about it, why not? They look at them as their next generation of Fun Ship cruisers.

Celebrity - -Sleek and sophisticated, Celebrity’s ships and service style appeal to experienced cruisers. Although you’ll find families onboard, with their emphasis on fine dining and a low-key style of entertainment, Celebrity primarily caters to adults looking for a premium cruise experience.

Holland America -- Consistency is the hallmark of this upscale cruise line, featuring ships of similar size and design. You know what you’re going to get with this line - excellent service, good food, and a traditional cruise experience. Passengers for this line tend to skew a bit older, but that may be a factor of their itineraries (they are one of the most recommended lines for Alaska) as much as anything else. Lots of brand loyalty here. A terrific line for multi-generational trips such as family reunions.

Norwegian -- The originator of “freestyle” cruising, Norwegian Cruise Line has long been an innovator in the industry. With one of the newest fleets in the industry, NCL pretty much lets you design your own cruise experience from beginning to end. Don’t want to dress up? The time-honored cruise tradition of a “formal night” is totally optional here. Stylish ships appeal to cruisers of all ages and the onboard entertainment is top-notch.

Princess -- The original "The Love Boat" cruise line, Princess maintains its reputation as a traditional, upscale line with a variety of ship styles and sizes. Terrific service pairs nicely with creative dining options, adding to the appeal of a line catering to singles, couples and families. Another line inspiring devotion among their passengers, Princess is also a go-to cruise line for family reunions or groups with a wide variety of ages.

Royal Caribbean -- This is the rare line that attempts -- and succeeds -- to be all things to all people. With a fleet of ships ranging from what is considered small these days (2,000 passengers) to the new floating resorts of their trend-setting Oasis Class ships, serving upward of 6,000 passengers, Royal Caribbean handles both well. Home to the largest fitness facilities afloat, and featuring a wide variety of shore excursions, from relaxing to high octane. Not relegated to the traditional cruising style of “if it’s Tuesday, it must be time for the midnight buffet” - although, it’s offered, if you want it - on a Royal Caribbean ship you’ll find ice skating rinks, laser tag, surfing, zip lining, Broadway shows and much more. 

[MORE: Travel blog]


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