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Pacific Explorer vs. Pacific Dawn
Pacific Explorer vs. Pacific Dawn
Compare: 10 Most Popular Cruise Ships
Majestic Princess

Compare: 10 Most Popular Cruise Ships

Compare: 10 Most Popular Cruise Ships
Majestic Princess
Carla Grossetti
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Nearly everyone has a favourite cruise ship and if you don’t have one yet, this list might inspire you to find the perfect match.

How did we choose the top 10? It’s simply based on how many visits each ship has received in Australia on the Cruise Critic website over the past year.

For more information about these popular ships, click on the vessel name, view the photo gallery, and read reviews by our experts and hundreds of past passengers.

1. Pacific Explorer

Pacific Explorer

Pacific Explorer is the flagship of P&O Cruises' Australian fleet -- at least until Pacific Adventure arrives in 2020. It has catapulted to the top of the list, where it has remained almost all year, garnering positive reviews for its modern refurbishment, great bars and restaurants, a fun burlesque show and lots of outdoor activities.

The genteel sport of lawn bowls has been reinvented onboard Pacific Explorer, thanks to the addition of a pop-up bar, sunbeds and a green with ocean views. Explorer also has two dedicated adults-only areas -- both with plunge pools -- as well as two larger pools, which are usually commandeered by kids, plus side-by-side dual waterslides.

Pacific Explorer is currently homeported in Sydney and will call Brisbane home in 2020. 

Deployment: East Coast of Australia, South Pacific.  

    • A total of 20 interconnecting cabins are ideal for families.
    • The penthouse suites on Decks 9 and 10 include a spa bath and luxurious king-size bed.
    • There are 354 balcony cabins with a floor area of 13.7 sq. m plus a balcony of 3.2 sq. m.
    • Pacific Explorer has five types of cabins: insides, outsides, balconies, minisuites and suites.
    • Pacific Explorer has 12 free food options.
    • For a fee, enjoy a degustation dinner at A Taste of Salt, the Chef's Table curated by Luke Mangan.
    • Dine in a curtained-off section of Waterfront Restaurant before enjoying the Love Riot burlesque act.
    • Melbourne's Johnny Di Francesco's pizza was once awarded world's best. Get a slice at 400 Gradi on Deck 8.
    • Pacific Explorer has two adults-only areas, both with plunge pools.
    • You can channel Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean by "Walking the Plank".
    • Practise your backhand draw while playing lawn bowls on the ship's pristine bowling green.
    • Elbow wannabe crooners out of the way and hog the mic singing karaoke at the Explorer Hotel.

2. Ovation of the Seas

Ovation of the Seas

Ovation of the Seas is the biggest cruise ship in Australia, although it’s only based here for half the year. Innovative features include the exhilarating RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator and the North Star capsule, which provides passengers with a bird's-eye view of the ship from 90 metres above sea level. Ovation also has bumper cars, trapeze classes and a world-class entertainment line-up.

The ship sets the bar high with everything from its futuristic spaces to diverse dining experiences. It also stands out for its stylish accommodation and the fact that 75 percent of its cabins have balconies (while some inside cabins have virtual balconies). 

Deployment: Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

    • Royal Suite Class offers three tiers of accommodations, based on suite categories: Sea, Sky and Star.
    • Ovation has nine suite categories: Royal Loft Suite, Owner's Loft Suite, Grand Loft Suite, Sky Loft Suite, Owner's Suite, Grand Suite, Grand Suite with Large Balcony, Junior Suite with Large Balcony and Junior Suite. All have living rooms with sofas that convert into double beds.
    • Junior Suite amenities include: a Royal Caribbean classic bathrobe, pillow-top mattress, in-room coffee/tea service, BioEnergy bathroom amenities, dedicated check-in line, priority boarding.
    • The Grand Loft Suite extends over two floors and has a private 20 sq. m. balcony, dining and living area. It accommodates up to four guests.
    • Windjammer Marketplace invites passengers to travel the world, one plate at a time, sampling everything from fresh panini to pasta, soup and sandwiches.
    • Indulge in sushi, rolled fresh to order, at Izumi, the Asian-inspired eatery.
    • The SeaPlex Dog House is the first-ever food truck at sea and the place for a fast, casual bite.
    • Wind, Ice, Fire, Water, Earth and Dreams are waiting to be discovered at Wonderland via a feast of small or shareable fantasies.
    • Step into the North Star, a capsule that ascends some 90 metres above sea level and offers a sky-high vantage point over the high seas.
    • Grab your surfboard and 'hang 10' on perfect rideable waves on the 12-metre-long FlowRider.
    • Feel what it's like to fly within the ground-breaking RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator.
    • Join the Royal Caribbean's #adventuresquad and climb 12 metres above deck on the signature Rock Climbing Wall.
    • Enjoy a perfectly mixed cocktail made by robotic bartenders at the Bionic Bar.

3. Majestic Princess

Majestic Princess

Majestic Princess is the newest and largest Princess Cruises ship ever to sail in Australia and New Zealand. Majestic could be described as international, given its French, Italian, American, Taiwanese and Aussie touches.

The ship, launched in 2017, is in showroom condition with first-class amenities such as the SeaWalk, a glass walkway that extends over the ocean; the adults-only Hollywood Pool Club and Conservatory; a laser shooting range; and Watercolor Fantasy, a dancing fountain of neon lights and music. A sprawling piazza is at the heart of the Majestic Princess and features a 24-hour cafe, dinky bars and a whopping 1,000 sq. m. of designer shopping in the multi-storey atrium.

The ship, which took out the Editors' Pick Awards for Best New Ship in 2018, sails from six homeports: Sydney, Perth (Fremantle), Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland.

Deployment: Australia, Asia, NZ, South Pacific.

    • The majority of Majestic Princess staterooms have 220 to 230 sq. m. balconies.
    • There are 1,780 staterooms in 38 categories, 38 of which are wheelchair-accessible.
    • Balcony Suites range from 40 to 140 sq. m., including the balcony space.
    • There are 200 connecting cabins, ideal for multi-generational groups.
    • Those who prefer table service are catered to in the three main dining rooms: Symphony, Concerto and Allegro.
    • Enjoy Cantonese classics at Harmony Chinese Restaurant; the menu was designed by chef Richard Chen, whose restaurant Wing Lei was the first Chinese establishment in the U.S. to be awarded a Michelin star.
    • The fine dining menu at La Mer was conceived by Emmanuel Renaut, chef of three-Michelin Star restaurant Flocons de Sel in the French Alps.
    • Gong Cha Cafe is dedicated to the popular Asian treat known as bubble tea.
    • Every seat in the house at the Princess Theater has a perfect view of the stage.
    • See waltzes and water fountains choreographed to music at the Fountain Pool Bar.
    • Enjoy melodies and martinis at Crooners Bar or belt out a few corny classics at Sing on the Sea karaoke.
    • Stroll around Seawalk, the walkway that extends 8.5 metres beyond the edge of the ship.

4. Celebrity Solstice

Celebrity Solstice (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)

Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice has been a favourite since it was deployed to Sydney in 2012 to operate summer cruises. Australians love its elegant design, which gives it a spacious feel, and top-quality dining. The open-air top deck is a real talking point because of its impressive Lawn Club, which is dotted with cute, comfortable cabanas and perfect for picnics on the crayon-green grass. The 216 solar panels that contribute to the ship's electrical grid are also a hot topic on the ship and rather apt given its name is inspired by 'el sol' (the sun). 

Celebrity’s trademark "modern luxury" is evident in everything from the chaise lounges on the pool deck to the sophisticated Japanese sushi restaurant, chic cabins and outdoor movie screen.

The recently refurbished Celebrity Solstice is based in Sydney for six months of the year. It also offers two-night sampler cruises.

Deployment: South Pacific, New Zealand, the Great Barrier Reef and Australian capital cities, plus a repositioning cruise via Hawaii to and from Vancouver/Alaska.

    • AquaClass cabins include upgraded room amenities and services, a health-conscious room-service menu, as well as free access to spa facilities and a spa concierge.
    • Eighty-five percent of cabins onboard Celebrity Solstice have balconies.
    • Each cabin includes a mini Apple computer for bookings, entertainment and Internet usage, which is interfaced with a large LCD flat-screen TV.
    • Celebrity Suite cabins have a luxurious layout featuring floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, living room with sectional sofa, lounge seating and a surround sound entertainment system.
    • All eateries are found at the aft end of the ship, with specialty restaurants grouped together on Deck 5.
    • Free options include the two-level main dining room, a buffet-style spread of international cuisine, a casual grill for burger fiends and a spa cafe serving light and lean spa-style cuisine.
    • A bistro, club and four restaurants on Deck 5 attract an extra charge for cuisine ranging from pan-Asian to contemporary European.
    • Suite passengers have access to Luminae for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Suite passengers can book on a space-available basis at Blu, which is exclusive to those staying in AquaClass cabins.
    • All entertainment is of a high standard in the theatre and around Deck 4's Entertainment Court.
    • The Lawn Club features a three-hole putting course and bocce court on a vast swathe of manicured grass.
    • The main pool is child-friendly, with a shallow family pool and "wet zone" where fountains spurt up randomly. There is also an indoor solarium pool.
    • Passengers can watch master glassblowers practising their art.
    • Martini Bar waiters perform masterful mixology feats to the delight of the crowd.

5. Carnival Spirit

Carnival Spirit (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Spirit is known for its fun crew, family-friendliness and carefree vibe onboard. Refurbished in 2018, the ship doesn't take itself too seriously and offers everything from hairy chest competitions to risqué jokes in the Comedy Club each night.  Despite the Egyptian-themed show lounge and Shanghai-style piano bar, the ship has a distinctly Aussie accent with Australian power points, local wines and beers, and barista-made specialty coffee.

Carnival Spirit is paradise at sea for multi-generational families as children are kept happy in the pool or kids' clubs, while adults have an 18+ Serenity Retreat to escape to. The free poolside eateries and restaurants exceed expectations for a mass-market ship. Don’t miss the steakhouse, the main dining room and the sushi.

Deployment: East Coast Australia, including Tasmania, South Pacific and non-porting sampler cruises, all departing Sydney year-round.

    • About two-thirds of cabins have a balcony.
    • There are 84 cabins that inter-connect to make 42 sets of different connected combinations of balcony cabins, quads, doubles -- perfect for families and groups.
    • The Vista suites overlook the ship's wake at the stern and have wonderful wraparound balconies.
    • Carnival Spirit has 1,062 cabins; almost 75 percent are outside cabins, meaning they have ocean views through a picture window or a private balcony.
    • There are 682 balcony cabins including 50 suites, amounting to about two-thirds of all accommodation.
    • Get your pinkie finger ready for cups of tea alongside tiered trays of petite cakes, house-made pastries and club sandwiches during the slightly bonkers Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
    • Enjoy pepperoni pizza delivered straight to your door 24 hours a day or curate your own progressive feast from the buffet to the burger bar, Taste bar and barbecue joint.
    • Build your own taco at BlueIguana Cantina and then top with lettuce, salsa verde, lime juice and slather on hot sauce, to taste.
    • The Chef's Table degustation on Carnival Spirit is intricate and exclusive, giving groups of 12 VIPs a window into the kitchen.
    • The roster of entertainment is non-stop, with 45-plus daily activities including trivia tournaments, family-friendly scavenger hunts and Broadway-style productions.
    • Carnival Spirit features the adrenaline-pumping Green Thunder waterslide, as well as the kids' SplashZone with wading pools and water play areas.
    • Score a pod on the port or starboard side of the adults-only Serenity deck for lounging, reading and relaxation, cocktail in hand.
    • Karaoke is a nightly occurrence in the piano bar, while the Melbourne Mug "horse race" is a popular point of difference in the casino.

6. Explorer Dream

Explorer Dream (Image: Dream Cruise Line)

New to Australia for the 2019/20 summer season, Dream Cruises’ Explorer Dream was rechristened in April after a US$56 million (AU$82 million) upgrade. The third in the Dream Cruises' fleet, it’s the fastest cruise ship in Asia. It’s also a fast-mover on Cruise Critic, coming from nowhere to the number-six spot, which means there is massive interest from local cruisers before it has even arrived.

What sets Explorer Dream apart is its spacious cabins, the crew-to-guest ratio (1:1.7), The Palace luxury enclave and the Crystal Life Spa, renowned for its reflexology treatments. Diverse dining options also add appeal: you can sample everything from street food in a hawker hub to Alaskan king crabs at Seafood Grill by Mark Best.

Shopaholics will appreciate the addition of Dream Boutiques, a 390 sq. m. international duty-free retail space. The Parthenon pool deck is another attractive proposition: bask in the sunshine by day or dance the night away near the stage and mega LED screen. Kids will love corkscrewing down Caesar's Slide.

In October, the 1,856-passenger ship is set to relocate from Shanghai to Sydney via Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. Explorer Dream will homeport in Sydney and Auckland for the summer and then in March 2020, it returns to Asia via Northern Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, ending in Hong Kong.

Deployment: East Coast Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Asia.

    • Explorer Dream has 926 cabins including Interior Staterooms, Ocean-view Staterooms, Balcony Staterooms, Palace Suites, Palace Deluxe Suites, Palace Penthouse and Palace Villa.
    • The private balcony staterooms feature "dream beds" with fancy Frette linens, sumptuous bedding and high-quality mattresses, and the option of a double sofa bed. There is also ample space for relaxation.
    • The Palace is the luxury suite complex onboard: it features two Palace Villas and a series of spacious suites. Exclusive privileges include 24-hour butler service, a premium beverage package, specialty dining, Wi-Fi and a private outdoor pool deck.
    • Alaskan king crabs and Sydney rock oysters are just a few of the standout items on the menu at Seafood Grill by Mark Best, one of Australia's most acclaimed chefs.
    • Seafood Grill will also include a Champagne Brunch with an Aussie accent: think Vegemite on sourdough or tropical fruits with finger lime.
    • East meets West at the elegant Dream Dining Room, which offers a mix of Asian and international flavours in a lavish setting.
    • Blue Lagoon is a hub for hawker food that is open 24 hours a day. Expect authentic Asian street food and international classics.
    • Catch Voyage of a Lover's Dream, the first in a series of Dream Cruises' signature Broadway-style shows in the opulent Zodiac Theatre.
    • The main attraction on the top deck is the Roman-themed Parthenon Pool deck. Bask in the sun by day or dance the night away to live music under the stars during a Dream Night party.
    • Get in the zone in the Esc Experience Lab, where you can play Doomsday Survival from the confines of a virtual prison designed using augmented reality technology.
    • The Crystal Life Spa includes Western and Asian treatments. We recommend booking a treatment in the Reflexology Lounge, which looks out over the sea.

7. Pacific Aria

Pacific Aria

P&O’s Pacific Aria completed a 12-day dry dock in 2018 and its features and furnishings -- such as the new-look Dome venue -- are oh-so stylish. The entire ship now looks more contemporary with soft lighting and a nautical theme of dark blue and white hues.

The swish pool deck, glam restaurants and atmospheric bars all add to the ship's upscale vibes. Most of the major changes are evident in the ship's 16 dining venues. It also has wonderful entertainment options ranging from comedy shows to Bootcamp at Sea to whiskey and wine tastings. Pacific Aria sails from its homeport of Auckland.

Deployment: South Pacific Islands, NZ, East Coast of Australia, Papua New Guinea.

    • There are 630 cabins, including one penthouse with a balcony, 28 suites, 120 balcony cabins, 129 interior cabins and 352 ocean-view cabins.
    • One of the major benefits of sailing with Pacific Aria is that cabins tend to be larger than on most other ships based in Australia.
    • Adjoining cabins with a connecting door are available in interior, ocean-view and balcony categories in quad-quad (groups of eight); twin-quad (groups of six), triple-triple (groups of six) and twin-twin (groups of four).
    • Australian three-point plugs are fitted in all rooms, which are serviced and cleaned twice a day.
    • The Pantry is P&O's alternative to a buffet featuring different food outlets that present like a high-end shopping mall food court with a Nordic vibe.
    • It's possible to eat entirely for free on Pacific Aria when you dine at eateries such as The Pantry, Waterfront, Dragon Lady and Angelo's.
    • Experience an unforgettable dining experience at Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, who was the first Australian celebrity chef at sea.
    • Discover one of the best cups of specialty coffee at sea at Charlie's Bar, delivered by a team of well-trained baristas.
    • Pacific Aria features Australia's first cellar door at sea, showcasing award-winning Glandore Estate Wines, as well as wine masterclasses and seminars.
    • P&O Edge Adventure Park is Australia's largest adventure park at sea and it's where you can go zip-lining, rock climbing or Walk the Plank.
    • Kick back and put your feet up at The Oasis, an adults-only retreat replete with sunbeds, spa tubs, a swimming pool and dedicated bar.

8. Radiance of the Seas

Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Light-filled, glassy and classy, Royal Caribbean’s Radiance makes the most of the sunlight with a nine-storey central atrium and floor-to-ceiling windows. The midsized ship's soaring views are due to the fact that half the exterior is glass, which makes the act of changing decks at sea -- in one of nine guest elevators -- a scenic adventure.

Enjoy soaking in one of the Solarium's hot tubs, watching a movie under the stars or sampling top-notch food and wine. Radiance of the Seas will be based in Sydney from October 2019 and then moves to Brisbane for 2020/2021.

Deployment: South Pacific, New Zealand, Asia and Hawaii.

    • Book the Royal Suite and channel Elton John with your own baby grand piano.
    • Of 1,071 cabins (825 are outside cabins), 578 have balconies and the ship is equipped to accommodate those with special needs.
    • If you're bringing a baby, the ship will provide a cot at no charge and some baby supplies can be pre-ordered and delivered to your stateroom.
    • There are a few cabins that can accommodate six people and a few suites that accommodate up to eight.
    • Free options include the main dining room, room service, casual cafes and hot dogs.
    • Room service is available 24/7 for those who want to stay in their PJs and have breakfast, lunch, dinner or an afternoon snack delivered to their door.
    • Budding gourmands should book the intimate Chef's Table experience.
    • Climb 12 metres above sea level on the ship's signature rock climbing wall; play nine holes of mini-golf; or shoot hoops on the basketball court.
    • Bunker down with blankets in front of the outdoor 20 sq. m. poolside movie screen, where new-release films are shown.
    • The new Royal Babies and Tots nursery gives more options to families with younger kids (aged six to 36 months). Interactive playgroup sessions are complimentary and the child must be accompanied by an adult; drop-off options are also available.

9. Pacific Dawn

Pacific Dawn

Brisbane-based Pacific Dawn was refurbished in February 2017 and is looking better than ever. The ship is aimed at people who enjoy a fun-filled cruise at an affordable price: it features two waterslides, a kid-friendly waterpark, diverse dining venues, a teens' virtual-reality experience, and contemporary bars and communal spaces throughout the ship.

Based in Brisbane, this ship is almost always full of Australians with the occasional New Zealander thrown into the mix. Pacific Dawn is very much family-oriented but also caters to a range of age groups, from toddlers to empty-nesters as well as fit and active retirees.

Deployment: East Coast of Australia, Southern Coast of Australia, South Pacific and Asia.

    • All cabins include bedside tables, work desk, shower with a shampoo dispenser, safe, hair dryer, telephone, table and lounge chair and an unstocked fridge as well as TVs of varying sizes.
    • There are 436 ocean-view cabins, 178 interior cabins, 134 balcony cabins and 14 suites. Standard outside cabins, located across seven decks, measure 17.6 sq. m. with either picture windows or portholes. They sleep between two and four with a queen-sized bed that can be configured as twins, and one or two pull-down or pop-up beds.
    • The decor is Nordic nautical: blue-and-white carpet, cream-coloured curtains and off-white walls adorned with artwork.
    • Dining options on Pacific Dawn have also had an overhaul, with eight food-court-style outlets in The Pantry replacing the traditional cruise ship buffet and serving everything from tacos to soups and salads.
    • Passengers who are already familiar with The Pantry will notice the new Mediterranean outlet, Nic & Toni's, on Pacific Dawn.
    • At the rear of The Pantry, the a la carte seafood restaurant, Shell & Bones, opens every evening for dinner.
    • Satisfy your sweet tooth at the New Zealand Ice Cream Parlour, where you can choose between ice cream, milkshakes, thickshakes and sundaes.
    • There are more than 60 daily activities on offer, from deck games to dance classes and whisky and wine tastings.
    • Those into relaxation, health and wellness can do laps on the exercise track, attend wellness seminars, join an Evolve fitness class or indulge in a therapeutic treatment at the Elemis at Sea Spa.
    • Pacific Dawn has the two longest waterslides on an Australian-based ship, with each stretching more than 80 metres.
    • Entertainment runs from acoustic duos to DJS, to the Marquee Theatre for shows such as Seven, a musical based on the Seven Deadly Sins and Let's Misbehave, set in the 1930s.

10. Ruby Princess

Ruby Princess (Photo: Princess)

Ruby Princess kicks off Princess Cruises’ largest-ever Australian and New Zealand season on October 23, 2019. To make it to the top 10 most visited ships on Cruise Critic means it’s getting a lot of interest from curious cruisers before it has even arrived.

For starters, the 3,080-passenger ship will be using the line’s new OceanMedallion technology, designed to make each passenger's cruise more personalised. In addition, Ruby includes "classic Princess" highlights such as revamped dining and entertainment options. For more inspiration, check out these 10 reasons why Australians will love Ruby Princess.

Deployment: Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Queensland, Sydney, New Zealand. 

    • A two-bedroom family suite is perfect for large groups as it includes two bathrooms and sleeping arrangements that accommodate up to eight people.
    • Luxurious perks await those who have booked a Mini-Suite in Club Class; VIP touches such as dedicated waitstaff and premium dining benefits are included.
    • Being able to look out over the ruffled ocean is one of the highlights of a cruise. Do this from the comfort of your Ocean-View Room, which includes a picture window or porthole.
    • Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone recently received a Michelin star for his L.A. restaurant, Maude. Head to Share to experience Stone's innovative approach to fine dining.
    • Street tacos featuring chipotle-lime chicken, fries loaded with chili cheese and a burger with caramelised kimchi are just some of The Salty Dog Grill signature dishes by chef Ernesto Uchimura.
    • It's hard to go past popcorn shrimp and Bayou-style boiled crawfish at the Crab Shack, which sings with spice and Southern Louisiana. Get those elbows in the air and tuck in.
    • Magic To Do is the newest show to headline in the Princess Theater. The Broadway musical was written by Stephen Schwartz, the award-winning composer of Wicked.
    • Channel your inner diva and compete in Voice of the Ocean, Princess Cruises' spinoff version of The Voice.
    • Chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Don't mind if I do. As for that option of a chocolate spa treatment? We reckon it's inspired.

Updated March 25, 2021

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