With cruising on the rise in Australia and a whole lot of top cruise lines basing ships from Sydney and other ports around the country, there are scores of Aussies taking to the water for the first time. That initial cruise holiday is a magical time, and has produced many a die-hard cruise fan Down Under and indeed, across the world.
However, first impressions are important - so it's a good idea to put in a little research as a first-time cruiser to pick the right ship, line and itinerary to make your first time as perfect as you had always dreamed it would be.
The vast majority of cruises are wonderful, but they are not all the same. There are several things to take into account to maximise your enjoyment, including:
- Who are you travelling with? You might want a family-friendly ship, or something peaceful, romantic and suited to couples - or a party atmosphere for a bunch of friends on holiday together!
- How do you like to spend your time? There are ships and lines that are suited to active holidaymakers, and those which are better for utter relaxation.
- What's your vibe? Casual and laidback, or do you like elegant surroundings and a chance to dress for dinner when on holiday?
Here are some of the best cruise lines for first-time cruisers, with a rundown of their strengths, weaknesses and highlights, to help you decide which is right for you. Happy planning!
1 . P&O Cruises: great for families and affordability
P&O Cruises Australia, not to be confused with sister company P&O Cruises UK, is an entirely Aussie-focused line. It caters to our tastes well, with a laidback and family-friendly onboard atmosphere, plenty of opportunity for fun in the sun, clean modern design and little touches like vegemite on the breakfast buffet, good flat whites and local beers.
It is also a no-frills line which is easy on the wallet while providing all the staples of the classic and beloved cruise experience: meals both formal and casual included, specialty restaurant options, pools, evening shows, organised activities, extensive kids programs, plenty of bar options, and of course tropical itineraries to take you away from it all. Affordability is an important aspect of cruising for many people, and P&O makes it even more accessible - a bonus for many first timers who want to give it a go without investing too much at the outset. It's one of the best cruise lines for bargain hunters!
Choose P&O if: You want value for money, and to try a cruise holiday without spending heaps. Their 3- and 4- night itineraries are great for this! Also consider P&O Australia if you are bringing your brood, and want a laid-back holiday for everyone to enjoy.
2 . Princess Cruises: Romantic for couples
Princess Cruises offers a wide range of cruises from Australia, with ships based here both seasonally and year-round. They offer a great mid-range product, and are known for elegant ships and great service. They do welcome children onboard, but couples are fond of the line for a slightly more peaceful environment and their wonderful adults-only spaces called "The Sanctuary."
Princess also has a little bit of sophistication that sets it apart from some other mainstream lines, and a reputation for romance that began with their ships being the setting for filming the popular "Love Boat" TV series of the seventies and eighties. Cruisers can go a little traditional with set-seating dining, or take advantage of the more flexible Anytime Dining. The ships are well-equipped with activities, entertainment and all the components of a wonderful cruise holiday.
Choose Princess if: you are looking for a classic cruise experience with a little something extra, or if you and your partner want a romantic and relaxing getaway.
3 . Carnival Cruise Line: Activities galore
Carnival calls its fleet the "Fun Ships," and ensures they live up to the name. It's one of the best cruise lines for those who like to be on the go and entertained, and as such is great for kids, friend groups - anyone, really! The Australian-based ships have been fitted out for extra fun in the sun, with exciting "Green Thunder" waterslides. Kids programs are also a focus, extending the enjoyment to the little ones.
Well-priced and packed with things to do, Carnival is a great choice for busy bee first-time cruisers. They also have a focus on choice in dining, and onboard the Carnival Spirit for example passengers will find two extra casual dining outlets recently added - a Mexican taqueria and gourmet burger bar by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, both included in the cruise fare. In the evenings, beyond the usual onboard entertainment, there is a strong nightlife in a variety of bars.
Choose Carnival if: You like to actively participate in fun! Families, couples, groups - it's a great and affordable line for anyone, with plenty to do, see, eat and drink.
4 . Royal Caribbean: Focused on fun and family
With a top-notch kids program and plenty of features designed to be enjoyed by all ages together, Royal Caribbean is known as a top cruise line for anyone travelling with multiple generations - especially those with teens or older children who can make the most of what's available. They also offer good options for family accommodation. Their ships are almost over-the-top with extravagant decor and entertainment, bringing a sense of whimsical fun, and are often considered a step above some other mainstream lines in quality of food, service and other areas.
Along with all the usual cruise activities like crafts, dance classes, karaoke, bingo, deck games and fun sports competitions, Royal Caribbean ships are full of fun features like mini golf, rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks and in their larger ships, surf simulators, bumper cars and skydiving simulators! This means passengers will never have reason to be bored.
Choose Royal Caribbean if: You are looking for a cruise with plenty of options to keep you and your family or group busy, and an overall stepped-up experience.
5 . Celebrity Cruises: Luxury for leisure lovers
Celebrity Cruises is a great first cruise option for someone who knows that they prefer the finer things in life. While not a full-blown luxury line (and without the price tag that comes with those), it is a premium holiday product, elegant and with an exclusive air. They are one of the best large-ship cruise lines for personal service, sophisticated dining and top-notch spa facilities. Their ships also offer some very plush accommodations in the higher suite categories, and spacious, well-furnished cabins even in the lower ones.
This line keeps things low-key and classy - so it's not for those seeking boisterous fun! Children are welcome and catered for, but the demographic tends more towards older couples and groups. Think upscale, but with all the hallmarks of a relaxing cruise holiday. Foodies will also enjoy the culinary delights of a Celebrity cruise!
Choose Celebrity if: You like good food, plush surroundings and other little luxuries while you're on holiday - and are willing to splash out a little for them!
6 . Cunard Cruises: Nautical tradition
Anyone who is attracted to the idea of cruising because they love being at sea and everything that comes with that would do well to opt for a Cunard cruise. This line has a long and storied maritime history, and retains a sense of heritage as well as many traditions which hark back to the glory days of ocean liner travel. It's a bit glamorous and a little bit luxurious - the perfect holiday combo. The line does not have ships based in Australia, but their globetrotting trio of Queens are frequent visitors so it's easy to get onboard with a little forward planning - or travel north for one of their iconic transatlantic crossings! Their "White Star" service is a hallmark and a highlight for many passengers.
Little touches during the cruise, as well as distinguished and understated decor and furnishings and a bit of formality in the dress code, are what evoke the ocean travel heyday on Cunard itineraries. Afternoon teas, ballrooms and ballroom dancing, attentive service, seamanship and navigation courses as part of the educational offerings and other little details make for a memorable experience. The line also has the remnants of a class system onboard, with passengers assigned main dining restaurants according to the category of cabin they booked.
Choose Cunard if: You enjoy a bit of the glamour and luxury of traditional ocean travel. It's pricier than more mainstream cruise lines but worth it for those who enjoy the atmosphere.
7 . Captain Cook Cruises Fiji: Intimate, unique and immersive
A small-ship cruise through the Fijian islands is an unforgettable holiday, especially one with Captain Cook Cruises Fiji. If you aren't sure about the idea of a typical oceangoing cruise on a big ship, you can still give cruising a go with this different style of getaway at sea. It is an immersive experience, with plenty of interaction with the crew, the locals, and the gorgeous environment of Fiji. Their range of itineraries take place on the 130-passenger Reef Endeavour, and offer fantastic cultural experiences onboard and onshore, fresh tropical locally-sourced food, and a destination focus. Beach lovers will really enjoy these cruises which allow plenty of quality sand time, and much fewer time restrictions.
Highlights of a Captain Cook Fiji cruise line include kayaking, snorkelling and diving (this is the best line for watersports), village visits and other local encounters, traditional songs, dancing and other fun entertainment like hermit crab racing or crew fashion shows, glass-bottomed boat trips. The casual atmosphere and camaraderie of this style of cruise is what makes it truly special, and it's perfect for someone who wants a water-based holiday without the usual trappings of a mainstream line. There are some programs for children under 10, but the line is not recommended for the very young ones - older children who can enjoy many of the same activities as the adults will get the most out of it!
Choose Captain Cook Cruises Fiji if: You want to connect with your destination and your fellow cruisers and get in some relaxing time on the beach. This is a great cruise line for someone who doesn't think they'd fit in with the typical cruise crowd.
Do you have a better idea of which might be the best cruise line for your first time? Browse these and a whole range of other cruises from Australia with Cruise Sale Finder and you could soon be joining the many Aussies who have fallen in love with this holiday style.