Nearly everyone has a favorite cruise ship. In this chart, we outline the key distinctions among the 10 most popular cruise ships in the industry. Look for highlights of onboard accommodations, dining and entertainment, as well as ship itineraries. Don't have a favorite cruise ship just yet? Our picks just might inspire you to find the perfect vacation match.
Want more info about these top 10 cruise ships? Click on the vessel name below to read about ship highlights and find links to itineraries, a photo tour of the ship, a comprehensive expert review and hundreds of reader-submitted critiques.
The most popular cruise ships in Australia come in a variety of sizes and styles. In this chart, we look at the top 10 locally based ships, as rated in the thousands of reviews by Cruise Critic members.
For more information about these popular ships, click on the ship name to find out its point of difference, take a photo tour, and read reviews by our experts and past passengers.
A perennial favourite with Australians, Solstice has set the bar high since its launch in 2008. While its elegant design creates a spacious feel, the open-air top deck is a real talking point with its impressive Lawn Club, cabanas and picnics on the grass. The recently refurbished Solstice is based in Sydney for six months of the year.
Deployment: South Pacific, New Zealand, Great Barrier Reef and Australian capital cities, plus a repositioning cruise via Hawaii to and from Vancouver/Alaska (northern summer). Also offers two-night 'sampler' cruises roundtrip from Sydney.
- Aqua Class 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.
- 85 per cent of cabins have balconies.
- Each cabin includes a mini Mac computer for bookings, entertainment and internet.
- Deck Plans
- All food is found at the same end (aft) of the ship, with specialty restaurants grouped together on Deck 5.
- Free options include the two-level main dining room, a multi-cuisine buffet, a casual grill, and the spa cafe. On Deck 5, a bistro, club and four restaurants attract an extra charge and span a great range of cuisines, from Asian to European.
- Blu is exclusive to Aqua Class passengers, although other passengers can pay a US$5 surcharge (AU$6.86) and book on a space-available basis.
- All entertainment is found forward on the ship, including the theatre and Deck 4's Entertainment Court.
- The Lawn Club features a three-hole putting course, a bocce court and a hot glass show on a vast half-acre of manicured, living grass.
- The main pool is child-friendly, with a shallow family pool and a 'wet zone' where fountains jet up randomly.
Touted as 'Australia's biggest ship', Explorer takes the floating-resort concept to another level with ice skating, a surf simulator and 10 pools and hot tubs to choose from. Sheer variety and size means fussier travellers, group holidaymakers and families with teenagers will all find enough to keep them entertained.
Deployment: East Coast Australia, including Tasmania, South Pacific, and non-porting short 'sampler' cruises ex-Sydney; then via Hawaii to and from Seattle/Alaska/west-coast USA (northern summer).
- 1,001 cabins have views of the ocean, and 24 Panoramic Ocean View suites include wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows.
- All standard cabins include twin/queen convertible beds.
- As a change from fully interior cabins, 138 cabins instead face the gigantic Royal Promenade, with soundproofed windows to reduce noise.
- Deck Plans
- The three-level main formal dining room includes a grand staircase, velvet curtains and fibre optics.
- For an extra fee, try the retro chain-restaurant Johnny Rockets, or Izumi Japanese restaurant for hot-stone dining, as well as Italian and steakhouse options.
- Find Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's ice-cream on Deck 5.
- Walk along the Royal Promenade that feels more like a full-scale shopping centre; it's longer than a football field and wider than a three-lane highway.
- Catch movies at both the 3D theatre and outdoor screen.
- The rock climbing wall overlooks the ocean, for extra thrills.
With colour and patterns everywhere you look, cruising on Norwegian Jewel is anything but dull. Updated a few years ago, the ship kept its vast array of dining and entertainment options. The summer of 2017/18 will be Norwegian Cruise Line's first full season Down Under after a short season last year with Norwegian Star.
Deployment: Eastern, Southern and Northern Australia including Tasmania and Darwin; New Zealand itineraries ex Sydney; South Pacific; Komodo Island, Bali and Java in Indonesia; Asia, including Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan; Alaska ex Vancouver (northern summer).
- The Haven, the only "ship within a ship" concept on an Australia-based ship, is a luxury enclave of 16 cabins serviced by a 24-hour butler service, with a private sundeck and a dedicated concierge.
- There are several ways to link cabins to accommodate groups and families, up to a five-bedroom configuration.
- The vibrant, jewel-like colour scheme is continued throughout the ship's 1,188 cabins.
- Deck Plans
- There are four free dining rooms, dispersing passengers effectively between them.
- The Kids' Cafe, part of the Garden Cafe buffet restaurant, includes miniature seating and a special menu for families.
- Hungry passengers will enjoy the all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria.
- Deck 12 is where the swimming pools reside, from the main pool with waterslide, to the covered hot tubs, Sapphire Kids' Pool and the ever-important poolside bar.
- A specialised teen hangout, Club Underground, is good news for families with older children.
- The outdoor sports complex includes courts to play volleyball, tennis, basketball and more.
After its refurbishment in 2014, Carnival Legend is now home to Green Thunder -- the fastest, steepest waterslide at sea -- on top of 167 square metres of playground and a Dr Seuss show. Families will literally be like kids in a candy store (at the Cherry on Top lolly shop, in fact).
Deployment: Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific and Honolulu; departs from Sydney.
- Good interior cabins, enhanced by clever lighting and a feeling of space.
- 80 per cent of the 1,062 cabins are outside, and 80 per cent of those have balconies.
- 106 cabins have connecting doors to form 53 family interconnected cabins.
- Deck Plans
- During the day, the Taste Bar serves up little tasting portions of dishes to be served in the main restaurant that evening, for free.
- Pizza and ice-cream is served 24 hours a day for free from the buffet restaurant.
- The Long Lunch at Sea concept serves up fresh seafood, including lobster and crab, for an extra fee on sea days.
- The kids' SplashZone area on the top deck is well placed a few stairs away from the adults-only Serenity Retreat deck area (complete with bar).
- The top deck also holds Green Thunder waterslide, which starts with a heart-stopping freefall section before the ride curves round 65km/hour bends.
- The two-level entertainment lounge hosts shows such as family favourite Hasbro the Game Show, as well as music-based original productions featuring Motown hits or 80s glam rock.
Refurbished in mid-2015, Spirit is no shrinking violet. In among the Egyptian-themed show lounge and Shanghai-style piano bar, the ship has been thoroughly 'Aussified' with extra upgrades -- from local power points, to familiar beers and barista-made coffee.
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.
- For families and groups, 84 cabins interconnect to make 42 sets of different connected combinations of balcony cabins, quads, doubles, etc.
- Vista suites overlook the ship's wake at the ship's stern, via great wraparound balconies.
- Deck Plans
- Among the seven dining options are a buffet, Taste Bar, Mexican cantina, burger joint, barbecue and room service.
- The two-storey Empire Restaurant offers over-the-top decor and all-singing, all-dancing waiter most nights.
- The vintage-themed Alchemy Bar allows passengers to dream up their own cocktails.
- The daily entertainment schedule is non-stop, offering everything from multiple trivia tournaments to family-friendly scavenger hunts.
- Just like sister ship Carnival Legend, Carnival Spirit features the adrenaline-pumping Green Thunder waterslide, as well as kids' SplashZone and water play areas, and the adults-only Serenity deck.
- Karaoke happens nightly in the piano bar, while a Melbourne Mug 'horse race' is a cute point of difference in the casino.
Similar to its fleet-mate Explorer of the Seas, Voyager underwent a comprehensive refit in 2014 and offers ice skating, rock climbing and 3D movies. The 3,114-passenger vessel also has life-size LED-screen 'virtual balconies' in its interior cabins, so you can see a video-supplied view of the outdoors.
Deployment: East-coast and northern Australia, South Pacific, New Zealand, all ex Sydney or Perth, and non-porting short 'sampler' cruises ex Sydney and Hong Kong; then Asia, including Taiwan, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, ex-Hong Kong.
- Accommodation options include Promenade-facing cabins and Panoramic Ocean View cabins.
- The 1,557 cabins break down into 939 with an ocean view and 618 interiors. Of the ocean view cabins, 707 have balconies.
- The 24 Panoramic Ocean View rooms measure about 26m2, making them spacious enough for families.
- Deck Plans
- Dining options are similar to fleet-mate Explorer.
- The three-level main restaurant is opera-themed, complete with grand staircase, crystal chandelier and ornate opera costumes.
- Izumi Japanese eatery is situated in the former games room, giving it a full wall of floor-to-ceiling windows for gorgeous views.
- The ship's DreamWorks Experience sees popular characters from movies such as Shrek or Kung Fu Panda dine with kids, meet and greet passengers, and hold parades in the Promenade.
- Voyager was the original ship to have a surf simulator and ocean-facing rock climbing wall.
- The large Vitality Spa offers more than 100 treatments, even acupuncture.
Light-filled, glassy and classy, mid-sized Radiance makes the most of the sunlight with a nine-storey central atrium and floor-to-ceiling windows -- half of its exterior is glass, in fact -- while 12 outside elevators make simply changing decks a beautiful adventure when you're out at sea.
Deployment: Around Australia including Tasmania, New Zealand, South Pacific, generally ex-Sydney (some Perth); then via Hawaii to and from Vancouver/Alaska (northern summer).
- Family cabins can sleep six thanks to convertible twin/queen beds, bunks and sofa beds.
- Book the Royal Suite for your own baby grand piano and wet bar.
- Of 1,071 cabins (825 as outside cabins), 577 have balconies.
- Deck Plans
- Free options include the main dining room, room service, two cafes and custom hot dogs; for an extra fee, choose from a signature steakhouse, plus Italian, Brazilian, Mexican and Japanese eateries.
- Look out for sommelier-picked wines presented in the main dining room at a 30 per cent discount off the bottle price.
- Gourmet passengers should try the intimate Chef's Table experience.
- Rock climbing, mini-golf and basketball keep the pace up.
- New-release movies are shown on the outdoor 20m2 poolside movie screen.
- The new Royal Babies and Tots nursery gives more options to families with younger kids (6-36 months, extra fee); playgroups and a nappy/baby food pre-order service are also helpful.
The biggest cruise ship ever to call Melbourne its home port, as of summer 2015, Golden Princess offers its 2,600 passengers 10 eateries, four pools, nine whirlpools and three show lounges.
Deployment: Around Australia, including Tasmania, New Zealand, South Pacific, PNG, all ex-Melbourne or Sydney; Asia, including China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Bali; Hawaii and Alaska/west-coast USA (northern summer)
- Of its 1,316 cabins, 736 have balconies.
- There are six sizes of suites, from mini to grand, and the two family suites, which can each accommodate 10 people.
- Mini-suites offer two televisions, pull-out sofas, bathrobes and bathtubs.
- Deck Plans
- 'Anytime dining' frees passengers from timed dining sittings at the two main dining rooms, Bernini and Donatello; traditional dual sittings are still used in the third dining room, Canaletto.
- The Ultimate Balcony Dinner, for an extra fee, delivers a personal butler, photographer and top-shelf gourmet fare, served on your cabin balcony.
- 'Wine flights' at Vines Wine Bar allow you to taste their best, along with tapas and sushi dishes.
- The ScholarShip@Sea Program brings experts aboard to lecture on special topics and destinations.
- The ship includes great choices for teenage cruisers, from a teen-only sun deck to an indoor hang-out space.
- Deck 5 Piazza provides a central space surrounded by art, the library, a wine bar and internet cafe.
Spending the other half of the year in Asia, Diamond Princess' decor and clientele lean toward the exotic. Japanese baths, a nine-hole putting course, cigar lounge, Movies Under the Stars, an adults-only Sanctuary and mostly free dining options add to the ship's laidback feel.
Deployment: Year-round cruising through Asia, home-porting in Singapore, Tokyo's Port of Yokohama and Kobe, Japan, while visiting Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and as far as eastern Russia. Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific from summer 2017-18.
- Choose from interior, oceanview, mini-suites, suites or family suites.
- 75 per cent of all outside cabins have a private balcony.
- Look for Japanese additions in the bathrooms -- even a toilet seat warmer.
- Deck Plans
- There are five main dining rooms offering the same menu plus specialty items unique to each. A buffet restaurant, pizzeria, patisserie and ice-cream bar are all free, as is room service.
- Three restaurants -- an Italian, a steakhouse and a sushi restaurant -- attract an extra fee.
- Many dishes in the main dining areas are small to cater to Japanese tastes. Order a few and enjoy a tasting plate experience.
- Karaoke and trivia feature heavily, as well as dancing and music.
- Movies Under the Stars (free) operates every night and includes blankets and popcorn.
- Izumi Japanese Bath is unique to Diamond Princess; as per tradition, the indoor areas are clothing-free and single-gender, while outdoor areas are unisex and clothed. Don't miss the waterfall massages.
With that classic navy-blue hull, museum-piece art collection, plus a quiet entertainment program of cooking demonstrations, backgammon and daily afternoon tea, Noordam offers classic, old-world cruising. Its smaller size makes it cosy and intimate, especially for returning passengers.
Deployment: East-coast and southern Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific, generally departing Sydney or Auckland; then via Hawaii to and from Vancouver/Alaska/west-coast USA (northern summer).
- You'll find interior, oceanview and verandah cabins, plus Signature suites and Neptune suites; 497 of the 986 cabins have balconies.
- There are no dedicated family cabins, but Neptune suites sleep up to four, with twin/king convertible beds and a sofa bed.
- Neptune suites also include an in-suite espresso machine, floral corsages/boutonnieres for the first formal night aboard, and complimentary mimosa cocktails with in-room breakfast.
- Deck Plans
- Don't miss the generous afternoon tea, with Indonesian, Royal Dutch and Cupcake themed teas served once each per sailing.
- The free mid-ship pool area burger 'take-out' bar serves up to 700 burgers every day
- Other free options include the main dining room, cafe, buffet and room service. A grill, Italian eatery and a once-per-cruise pop-up from New York legend Le Cirque attract extra fees.
- Meet the chefs with cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Centre show kitchen, then boogie to the blues when it converts to the B.B. King Blues Club.
- Tour the precious pieces of Noordam's art collection via a self-guided iPod tour.
- New, dynamic and movable LED screens in the main entertainment lounge bring contemporary flair to performances.
--By Jac Taylor, Cruise Critic contributor
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