Increasingly, we’re finding that the cruise itineraries we book for our clients aren’t just for big ship products. They’re for everything from river cruises to yacht voyages, from expedition sailings to adults-only cruises or themed voyages. Just 25 years ago, some 40 cruise ships sailed globally, but today there are more than 450 with 100 more ships launching within the next five years.
Part of that explosive growth is somewhat attributable to the fact that travelers are starting to key into the fact that river, ocean, yacht and expedition cruises have a lot more to offer than the stereotypical images of buffets, shuffleboard and belly flop competitions. Given the fast-paced growth of the industry and availability of a wide variety of travel styles and experiences, it can be hard to know which cruise line is the best fit for you. Well, lucky for you—we’re here to help!
Here’s our guide to all of our preferred cruise line travel partners. We’ve broken them down by contemporary, premium and luxury ocean cruises, river cruises, and yacht, small ship, boutique and expedition cruises—and all of these are our preferred travel partners. Keep in mind, there are other terrific companies out there, for sure, and we book them, as well. But these are the ones we recommend most to our clients, because Huckleberry Travel’s relationship with these companies gives us added amenities, an elevated level of service when we administer your booking, and preferred pricing.
Unless you absolutely hate the idea of having a great time on vacation, (and if that’s you, why the heck are you reading our website?) there’s a cruise experience for everyone! Here we go!
Contemporary Cruise Lines
Contemporary cruise lines are what most people probably think of when they think of going on a cruise. These lines usually offer lower fares while still providing a terrific experience. Food and a lot of entertainment options are included, but drinks, tips/gratuities, spa treatments and specialty dining are usually extra. They also are great for families with plenty of entertainment and programming for kids of all ages. Cabins will be smaller overall than on a premium or luxury line, and lines for dining and activities may be a bit longer. Some of these ships are truly floating cities, though—with waterslides, rock climbing walls, and even zip-lining and go-cart tracks available on some of these ships.
Carnival cruises are all about fun. In fact, that’s their motto: Choose Fun! The ships are big, and have lots of family-friendly activities onboard. Fares can be really affordable—we’ve seen fares for short cruises that are under $250 per passenger, and many longer cruises price out at well under $60 per person, per day. These vacations are a real value. And, since Carnival sails from so many ports, there’s probably a cruise leaving from a port that’s just a short drive from most Americans’ hometown. Keep in mind, however, that there may be additional charges once you’re on board. Carnival recently announced that they were discontinuing free room service, for example (that decision, apparently, has been put on hold). But if you’re looking for a party at sea, or an affordable family vacation option, Carnival is a really great choice.
MSC is probably the best cruise line you’ve never heard of. They’re essentially a European cruise line that’s only just starting to break into the North American market. They sail around the world, and though the fares would definitely put them in the “contemporary” category, our clients who’ve sailed on MSC describe their ships as classy and upgraded in style. And, if you’re interested in a vacation that’s got more inclusions, MSC offers fares that focus on wellness, with fitness and spa inclusions built into the fare. Or, you can opt for an elevated experience with a fare that includes a balcony cabin and included alcoholic beverages. You’ll have a great time on an MSC cruise, but keep in mind—if you’re not sailing out of a North American port, you’ll find the experience to be very European. And even when sailing the Caribbean, there are likely to be more passengers from Europe on your ship.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian places an emphasis on freestyle cruising—cruising your way. They allow their passengers to have the kind of experience that’s tailored to the individual, without the necessity of set dining schedules, for example. And since these ships are pretty big, and have all of the entertainment and activities that you could ever possibly imagine, there’s a lot to do (or not do) depending on your interests. One of their newest ships even has a go-cart track on the top deck! Norwegian also has cabins for solo travelers, with a common area where singles can mingle. And if you’re looking for an elevated experience on a ship that’s loaded with fun amenities, The Haven is Norwegian’s “ship within a ship,” where premium passengers can luxuriate with a bit more exclusivity and privacy.
Royal Caribbean has a lot to offer families, with an emphasis on excitement and adventure. Like nearly every cruise line, they’ve got on-board programs for kids and teens, but there’s so much more. Waterslides, pools, zip lines, rock climbing walls, surfing on the deck of the ship—the largest Royal Caribbean ships have just about everything. They’ve also got special programs that have been certified as Autism-friendly, for guests with kids on the spectrum. But even on some of their smaller ships, there’s plenty to recommend Royal Caribbean; we’ve seen sailings on Royal Caribbean to Cuba, with culturally-immersive excursions that come in at under $400 per person. These are all affordable family vacations with some exhilarating on-board activities.
Premium Cruise Lines
Offering an upgraded experience from the contemporary cruise lines, these cruise lines are more refined in almost every aspect: cabins will be a bit larger, food choices and quality greater, and a crew that aspires to anticipate its guests’ preferences and needs. It is usually also less busy on a premium cruise lines ship. Your fellow passengers will most likely be a bit more travelled than on a big party ship. In this category, you’ll find a pretty wide range of travel styles and inclusions. Some people think Princess straddles the line between Contemporary and Premium, whereas Azamara and Oceania are widely regarded as “upper premium”—with more inclusions and smaller ships than the other lines in this category.
Azamara Club Cruises
At Azamara, the small, club-like ships take you to ports where larger ships won’t fit, like in the heart of Marseille, Amalfi, and Crete, or even to the doorstep of Bangkok (while other large cruise lines dock a few hours away). And once you arrive, you’ll discover things in port you won’t find on other ships. Their focus on immersing guests in a destination means they spend more time in ports than any other cruise line, so that you have time to fully experience the culture, cuisine, scenery, and people of your destinations. This is an upper premium cruise line, meaning there are more inclusive amenities—such as standard spirits, international beers and wines, gratuities, and events. They put a special emphasis on their food program, as well as wellness and top-notch personal service.
One of the larger premium cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises is committed to offering the best in premium cruising, with stunning spaces on one of the youngest, most innovative fleets at sea. The food is terrific, with award-winning epicurean experiences with menus created by Celebrity's James Beard-featured executive chef. They promise elevated service, with a nearly 2:1 guest-to-staff ratio, and world-class accommodations, with restorative staterooms and luxurious suites showcasing a modern, forward-thinking design. The onboard entertainment and enrichment programs, range from Xbox to Zumba to Riedel comparative wine tasting courses to Billboard trivia games, not to mention live performances in the fleet's state-of-the-art theaters and nightclubs. And Celebrity has so many different itineraries—you can truly go anywhere, from small-ship Galápagos itineraries to Caribbean journeys on their newest, most innovative ship, the Celebrity Edge.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line created the blueprint for family cruising and continues to grow by attracting guests who say they would not have cruised if it had not been for the Disney brand. The Disney ships were designed with areas and activities that meet the unique vacation needs of every member of the family. Families can reconnect, adults can recharge their batteries and children can experience all Disney has to offer. From a theatre featuring live musical spectaculars to a luxurious spa for adults and nearly an entire deck dedicated to children’s activities, the Disney ships offer a unique vacation experience that every member of the family feels was created exclusively for them. Plus, you’ll always find the legendary service and attention to detail that Disney is famous for. Whether it’s sun and sand in the Caribbean, outdoor adventures in Alaska or experiencing the wonders of Europe, Disney Cruise Line offers an itinerary to suit every style. A favored stop on most Bahamian and Caribbean itineraries is Disney Castaway Cay, a private island paradise that is exclusive to Disney Cruise Line guests. This is where island adventures begin and memories are created that will last a lifetime.
With classic cruising style, Holland America has been regularly voted the best value in cruising, because of the level of service, style and amenities at a remarkably affordable price. For over 140 years, Holland America has been taking their guests to exotic destinations around the world, and they’ve been sailing to Alaska longer than just about anybody—for over 70 years! Their renowned international crew provides gracious, attentive service and they aspire to always remember your name, drink and any special requests. They have stylish, spacious, and comfortable mid-sized ships that are designed to carry fewer passengers. with more spacious and more comfortable accommodations. And Holland’s partnerships with America’s Test Kitchen, Oprah Winfrey and O Magazine, BB King’s and Lincoln Center provide really terrific onboard programming. Holland America tends to attract a more mature crowd, so while there are definitely kids programs available, the focus is more on the finer things that would interest the grown-ups.
Oceania is another “upper premium” cruise line, with more inclusions than other lines in this category including free included airfare on every voyage. Their mid-size, elegant ships cater to just 684 or 1,250 guests. Oceania is a favorite of foodies, boasting the finest cuisine at sea, served in a variety of distinctive open-seating restaurants at no extra additional charge, and a gourmet culinary program created by world-renowned Chef Jacques Pépin. Their port-intensive itineraries feature more overnight visits and extended evening port stays than you’ll find elsewhere. The ambiance is “country club-casual”; tuxedos and gowns are never required. Oceania has the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, the only hands-on cooking school at sea, as well as the acclaimed Canyon Ranch SpaClub. They have an extraordinarily high staff-to-guest ratio, to ensure exemplary personalized service. And their fleet is the youngest fleet in premium-class cruising with 85% of accommodations featuring private verandas.
Princess is now the third-largest cruise line in the world, with more than 150 cruise itineraries lasting from as few as three and as many as 114 days, visiting hundreds of ports-of-call around the world. Princess aims to provide it all—with great family activities, innovative technology onboard, mesmerizing entertainment, delicious dining and romance—this is the original Love Boat, after all. Princess has award-winning itineraries, and is consistently rated the best cruise line to Alaska and through the Panama Canal. Their Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries win raves, as well, and to Canada and New England, you’ll find some incredible journeys. Huckleberry Travel has a group rate for an Alaska itinerary this summer, and we’re escorting a group to Greenland in 2020, so if you’re looking for a way to experience one of these legendary cruises, you should give us a call! We love Princess!
Our newest preferred cruise line partner, Virgin Voyages, is set to launch next year, and the experience on their first ship—the Scarlet Lady—promises to be different than any other cruise line. There’s a lot included in these adults-only sailings—free wi-fi, complimentary fitness classes, no up-charges for specialty dining and no gratuities, for example. But there’s one thing you won’t find on board—a buffet. You’ll still have to pay extra for alcohol and shore excursions. Still, the product is as innovative as the design of the ship. We’re excited to experience one of these cruises once they actually start sailing, but in the meantime, they’re open for booking, so if you’d like to get in on the ground floor (or more appropriately—the first wave), let us know, and we’ll hook you up!
Luxury Cruise Lines
If you’re looking for a step-up from a premium cruise experience, this is the right category for you. Excellent food and service are the trademarks of these lines, and alcoholic beverages, gratuities and shore excursions are often included. Some lines include even more than all that! The space-to-guest ratio will be high and the staff-to-guest ratio will probably be no more than 1 to 2. The ships are smaller and cruises longer and more exotic (smaller ships also can dock in ports where bigger ship cannot). If you’re looking for beer pong and giant water slides, look elsewhere. These lines are refined and classy, to say the least.
Crystal Ocean Cruises
Savvy travelers the world over continue to recognize Crystal Cruises as the World's Best, more than any other cruise line in history. Come aboard and bask in spaciously elegant interiors, revel in acclaimed six-star service and dine on cuisine of Michelin-level envy. Beyond Crystal's renowned hospitality, the ships themselves uniquely define the Crystal Experience. Welcoming far fewer guests than ships of similar size, each hosts a variety of stunning public spaces from grand to intimate, and dedicated venues for fitness, enrichment, gaming and more. With active adventure and scholarly insight, more than 2,000 Crystal Adventures allow you to customize your time ashore to personal interests, from bucket-list thrills to complimentary voluntourism excursions. An unmatched roster of inclusive amenities and services ensures your every want has already been considered, from fine wines, champagne and premium spirits to pre-paid gratuities, unlimited Wi-Fi and 24-hour room service. In fact, with so much included on a Crystal Cruise, you might not be paying that much more than you’d spend on a premium cruise line, once you add on the extra charges on lines like Princess or Celebrity.
With classic British service, Cunard has the only true ocean liner sailing today. Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2 has 15 restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a Royal Court Theatre, a casino, Canyon Ranch SpaClub, a 3D cinema, Illuminations -- a full-scale planetarium, and the largest dance floor at sea. Remastered in 2016, she showcases redesigned staterooms and Grill Suites, updated décor and additional dining options. The uxurious Queen Victoria, recently refit in June of 2017, offers upgraded staterooms, enhanced Princess Grill and Queens Grill Suites, an expanded sun deck and a new Chart Room. Fans of the Queen Victoria often remark on her unusual coziness. Because, while she is every inch a grand ship in terms of size and décor, she has a particularly warm and intimate feeling throughout. The youngest Queen in the Cunard line, the Queen Elizabeth, provides a journey into the heyday of Hollywood glamour evoked by her elegant wood finishes, gleaming chandeliers, marble flooring and other decorative touches. Guests enjoy her lavish lounges, open deck spaces and some of the best restaurants at sea. All Cunard guests enjoy gourmet dining, world-class entertainment, and exceptional White Star Service the moment they arrive. With Cunard, guests are reinvigorated as they encounter new surprising pursuits, people and places. Experience true luxury at sea on board Cunard’s world-renowned Queens — just sit back, relax and get ready to sail beyond expectations.
Regent Seven Seas
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the world's most inclusive luxury experience with a four-ship fleet that visits more than 450 destinations around the world. The cruise line’s fares include all-suite accommodations, roundtrip business-class air on intercontinental flights from U.S. and Canada, the largest collection of free, unlimited shore excursions, unlimited internet access, highly personalized service, exquisite cuisine, fine wines and spirits, prepaid gratuities, ground transfers and one-night, pre-cruise hotel package for guests staying in Concierge-level suites and higher. Each spacious suite boasts residential touches such as a spacious sitting area, marble and stone bath, walk-in closet and complimentary in-suite mini-bar. Plus 98% of suites feature a private balcony. Guests may dine whenever, wherever and with whomever they choose in any up to five open-seating restaurants. Only Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers free unlimited shore excursions. These shore excursions are the heart of every destination, allowing guests to experience the history, culture and cuisine of the exciting ports of call visited with knowledgeable local guides and comfortable transportation.
Seabourn pioneered small-ship, ultra-luxury cruising, and continues to represent the pinnacle of that unique style of travel. Its fleet of intimate, all-suite ships, carrying between 450 and 600 guests each, sail to the world’s most desirable destinations at their peak seasons where larger ships cannot follow. Seabourn’s intimate ships with no more than 300 ocean-view suites, many with balconies or verandahs, provide an uncrowded and sociable atmosphere. Intuitive staff share's a genuine passion to serve and please guests and tips are neither required nor expected. You’ll have complimentary fine wines and open bars throughout your voyage and complimentary champagne and in-suite bar stocked to your request. You’ll dine where, when, and with whom you wish, with never an added charge for award-winning gourmet cuisine as fine as the best restaurants ashore.
When Viking—most known for river cruising—ventured into ocean cruising, they created a true luxury product, with lots of included value, like one complimentary shore excursion in each port-of-call, included beer, wine and soda, free wi-fi, and the best options for al fresco dining at sea. They boast a small ship experience with large ship value, and, honestly, we believe it! So do travelers. These cruises fill up fast, and loyalists to their river cruises have been quick to join Viking out on the high seas. Viking is expanding their ocean cruise offerings, launching new ships and going to new ports of call every year. And, they’re one of our preferred luxury cruise partners, so if you’d like to take advantage of all of the value of a Viking ocean cruise, let us know!
You might think of river cruises as staid, boring trips down the Rhine or Danube, full of geriatric travelers who just want to watch Europe float by them as they drift down the river. Well, you’re wrong about all of that. There are river cruises operating all around the world, and on every continent except Antarctica. Itineraries are often active, adventurous and immersive, and a couple of these companies also have ocean or specialty cruise offerings. So, here’s a look at some of our preferred river cruise partners.
An AmaWaterways river cruise is about more than the destination – it’s the journey. WIth European river cruises, including many wine-themed departures, Asia river cruises, and Africa river cruises, you can see the world in luxury and comfort. AMA is probably the most luxurious of any river cruise company. Included in the fares of our river cruises are shore excursions in every port of call; all dining on board (including The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant); fine wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; internet access and Wi-Fi; and bicycles that you can use to explore on your own or join our guided bike tours. If you want to go straight to the top of the luxury river cruise market—you should be on AMA Waterways.
We love Avalon Waterways as much as our clients do. Avalon has pioneered the “Active Discovery” river cruises, so that you can go beyond generic, basic sightseeing and really experience a destination. Want to visit a working apricot orchard in the Wachau Valley, and meeting the farmer who runs it? How about a lesson in conducting an orchestra? Run into town with the ship’s chef, to see what he’s picking up for the next day’s meal? All of that is standard on an Avalon river cruise. Plus, they’ve reengineered their rooms so that all beds face the window, with panoramic balconies, so that when you open the floor-to-ceiling glass, your entire room becomes a balcony with a stellar view. Book one of these with us, and join our growing roster of clients who are Avalon converts.
Crystal River Cruises
Crystal River Cruises has reimagined luxury river cruising across Europe with an extraordinary attention to detail. Life on board flows to the rhythm of the rivers, an invitation to immerse yourself in the culture, history and wonder of legendary lands. This is river cruising at its finest, with butler service for every suite, superb cuisine and unrivaled social spaces. Service is friendly and uncompromising, and enrichment both aboard and ashore provides authentic insight into each destination. With multiple overnights and extended stays in port, customize your time ashore with the Crystal Collection of curated destination experiences, both inclusive and optional in every destination, as well as a complimentary Signature Event. An exceptional standard of all-inclusive amenities and services elevates the comfortable luxury aboard each ship, from spirits and wines and all gratuities aboard and ashore to complimentary Wi-Fi, eBikes, shore experiences, airport transfers and more.
Viking River Cruises
You’ve probably seen the ads, so you know that Viking has long been the leader in river cruising. These cruises are classically-styled river cruise experiences, sailing all of Europe’s great rivers, as well as river cruises in Asia and Egypt. With a free shore excursion at each stop, free wi-fi, onboard enrichment experiences and performances, visits to UNESCO world heritage sites, and destination-focused dining, these are the epitome of classic river cruises. It’s a great cruise at a great value. Viking has some river cruises in places where other companies simply don’t go—like their Russian cruises, or a luxury river cruise on the Nile in Egypt.
Specialty Cruise Lines
There are plenty of cruise lines that occupy a special niche that can provide an unparalleled experience on the water. Some are small ships. Some are yachts. Some are especially adventurous. But each of these cruise companies really breaks the mold when it comes to cruise travel.
American Cruise Line
An American river cruise company? Well, that and more. American Cruise Lines is all-American, featuring U.S. based itineraries, American-made ships and all-American crews. Aboard new riverboats and small ships, American Cruise Lines offers unique itineraries along the magnificent East Coast, Pacific Northwest and the Mississippi River. Guests are treated to five star dining, personalized service, nightly entertainment and enriching lectures by onboard naturalists and historians who share their knowledge and passion for history and culture, and enhance the cruising experience. 70 percent of American Cruise Lines' staterooms have balconies, with newer ships featuring an even higher percentage of staterooms with balconies. Whether you want to cruise the Puget Sound, have a small-ship Alaska experience or cruise on an old steamboat paddle-wheeler, American Cruise Lines has a journey for you.
Blount Small Ship Adventures
Blount runs small ship cruises in North and Central America, including Great Lakes cruises, intercoastal waterway trips up the east coast, Chesapeake Bay, the Erie Canal, New England and Canada, Belize and Guatamala and the Panama Canal. Their ships are engineered to allow them to sail in as little as seven feet of water, which enables them to go places that other cruises can’t even think about going. And, since they’re not going to well-worn cruise ports, you’re really able to experience destinations like a local does. It’s a casual, relaxed style of small-ship cruising, and guests are even invited to bring their own bottles (cocktail mixers are available at the bar)!
Crystal Yacht Cruises
Luxuriously modern and stylishly nautical, the all-suite Crystal Esprit enchants with the promise of customized discovery in iconic yachting destinations from the Dalmatian Coast and Greek Isles to the Seychelles and West Indies. Crystal Esprit is an elegant enclave of gorgeous interiors and inviting social spaces, with a staff of 90 catering to just 62 guests in 31 butler-serviced suites. Unhampered by crowds or lines, she's much like a private club with a relaxed and unregimented ambience. Curated itineraries complement the yachting experience, often island- or port-hopping to multiple locales in a single day, or remaining at anchor in gorgeous harbors by night. Enjoy your choice of active and cultural Complimentary Crystal Adventures in nearly every port. A generous roster of all-inclusive amenities and services enhances the easy elegance aboard Crystal Esprit, from unlimited fine wines and spirits, all gratuities shipboard and shoreside to unlimited Wi-Fi and an open invitation to jump in and swim, snorkel, kayak and more from the yacht's marina platform.
G Adventures Marine
G Adventures is one of our favorite companies when it comes to all types of adventure travel—from exhilarating treking and multi-sport activities, to local living experiences like staying on a working organic farm. So, they’re not a cruise company, per se, but their Marine program covers all aspects of ship-borne travel, from nature-focused adventures in the Galápagos and the polar regions to sailing trips in Thailand, the Maldives, and Europe. Get to the places you’d otherwise miss and get closer to the things that make them worth visiting than you ever dreamed possible on one of these trips—the epitome of authentic travel experiences. Plus, with their partnerships with National Geographic Journeys and Planterra, you’re guaranteed to have a vacation on the water that’s not only culturally immersive, but also environmentally responsible.
Hurtigruten runs incredible journeys up and down the Norwegian coast, in the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as small-ship polar expedition cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic regions. If you want to go very far north, or very far south, you should especially try these incredible itineraries. Iceland or Alaska in the north. The Falklands and South Georgia in the South. These boats will get you there, and without thousands of other travelers along for the journey, your experience will be truly special, as well as comfortable. We sailed on Hurtigruten through the fjords of Norway a couple of years ago, and it was a fabulous experience. These cruise experiences are anything but cookie-cutter. Let us know if you want to try one on for size!
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Paul Gauguin Cruises operates the 5+-star cruise ship m/s Paul Gauguin, the longest continuously-operating luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific. Paul Gauguin offers a deluxe cruise experience tailored to the unparalleled wonders of Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific. Onboard, you’ll find all ocean-view accommodations, with all shipboard gratuities included. Complimentary beverages including soft drinks, hot beverages and select wines and spirits are also included. Dining is single open-seating dining. Dinner in La Veranda Restaurant features the cuisine of Jean-Pierre Vigato, two-star Michelin chef of Restaurant Apicius in Paris. The ship offers complimentary exclusive Private Retreats with a private beach in Bora Bora and a full day call at their private island, Motu Mahana, on most voyages. Intimately sized, and boasting a crew to guest ratio of 1 to 1.5, you’ll find complimentary water sports and dive masters for optional dive programs and certification onboard the ship. There’s no better way to experience French Polynesia and the South Pacific than on one of these cruises.
Windstar Cruises operates a six-ship fleet of small sailing and all-suite ships visiting 170 ports throughout Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, the Panama Canal, sailing year-round in Tahiti and the South Pacific, and adding newly announced Alaska, Canada, New England, Asia and Arabia. The boutique cruise line is the Official Cruise Line of the James Beard Foundation, and the small ships are known for offering an intimate private yacht-style experience, unique itineraries, and exclusive access to the world’s best small ports and hidden harbors. On board, guests also experience the extraordinary. No crowds, no formal nights, no lines, just a casually elegant vibe and friendly atmosphere. No matter what destination beckons, the local flavor of the culture is deliciously captured when dining onboard a Windstar ship. Fresh, local ingredients — often selected by the ship’s chef on a trip to the local market — along with seasonal produce and culinary ingenuity, go into each perfectly presented dish made to guests’ liking.
So, maybe after reading all of this, you’re still overwhelmed by the options available to you when choosing a cruise. Well, we’ve got relationships with all of these companies, and we’ve taken the time to familiarize ourselves with the details that make a difference. Sure, you can go online and look for a “deal,” but a deal isn’t really a bargain if you wind up being unhappy on vacation. Plus that—we’ve got access to all of these lines’ advertised promotions, but often some exclusive amenities and pricing that you can only get from us! Let us help you figure out how to match you with the perfect cruise vacation. We’re here to help!