U.S. News' Best Cruise Lines 2020
If you're interested in taking a cruise, and want to make sure you're booking the best ship, you've come to the right place. U.S. News & World Report has reviewed 176 cruise ships and 17 cruise lines to determine which ones are the best, making it easy to plan your next epic trip at sea.
Experts evaluated cruise ship quality, reputation among travelers, results from health assessments conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other factors, such as price class and itinerary offerings. The rankings are designed to help travelers select the best cruise by brand, region, traveler type and budget.
So which cruise lines come out on top? Here, we highlight the report's 2020 Best Cruise Lines, along with what real passengers think of them via the world's leading cruise review site, Cruise Critic.
Read on to see the winners.
No. 1 Luxury Cruise Line: Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking's name has been associated with world-class river cruising since it debuted in 1997. But when the company first introduced ocean-cruising ships in 2015, experts wondered if the company could hack it in a new setting.
They needn't have worried.
When the 930-passenger Viking Star set sail, cruise-lovers clamored to board the vessel. That early success has spawned an award-winning fleet of seafaring ships, including the Viking Sea, Viking Sky, Viking Sun, Viking Orion and Viking Jupiter.
So what makes Viking the best in luxury cruising? Every ship touts fine-dining restaurants, an infinity pool and a Nordic-inspired spa. Plus, each stateroom has a veranda (unheard of!).
Viking's ocean victory wasn't just bestowed upon it by U.S. News; "Travel + Leisure" named it the best large-ship ocean cruise line as well.
Why Luxury Cruisers Love Viking
Cruise Critic passengers love Viking Ocean Cruises, too; it has nearly 3,500 excellent reviews on the site. Sailers are particularly keen on the line's across-the-board excellent service and high-quality dining. And unlike on some ships, overcrowding is never an issue.
On CruiseCritic, cruiser Hubbells2 sings the line's praises: "I have been on multiple cruises but none with the level of service of Viking. The ship is beautiful, the staff constantly goes out of its way to do whatever they can. The public spaces are quiet, uncluttered and beautifully appointed. We never felt crowded and we could be with with as many other people as we wanted. Meals are delicious and huge portions."
No. 2 Luxury Cruise Line: Seabourn Cruise Line
Earning a Silver from U.S. News is the Seattle-based ultra-luxury line Seabourn. While it lost out to Viking for the top slot, the company has received nothing but accolades from critics and cruisers alike.
Providing an intimate cruise experience with only 45 to 60 passengers, Seabourn excels in providing excellent service and unique itineraries, including voyages to Arabia, the Great Barrier Reef and the Panama Canal.
On CruiseCritic, ActiveCruisers speaks for many in calling a Seabourn ship "over-the-top fabulous."
No. 3 Luxury Cruise Line: Crystal Cruises
Crystal Cruises was formed in Hong Kong, but once it was acquired and moved to Los Angeles, it introduced ships that went above and beyond in providing upscale services.
Offering big-ship amenities to more than 1,000 passengers, the line treats guests like VIPs. Staff will even press your clothing and help you pack and unpack your bags.
"Had very high expectations and happy to report the cruise exceeded expectations," says Johnskis.
No. 1 Cruise Line for the Money: Royal Caribbean International
Although Royal Caribbean has been sailing since the 1960s, it has really catapulted over the competition in the past decade, thanks in part to its new "bolder and bigger" ethos.
Launching its Oasis class of ships in 2009 and then going even further with its Quantum class, RCL has been a game-changer in the cruising industry. Accommodating more than 4,000 passengers, these ships feature attractions, restaurants and amenities no other cruise line can match, like bumper cars, surfing and skydiving — all on deck!
Best yet, you get it all at an amazing bang-for-your-buck price. At press time, 3-night cruises to the Bahamas were as low as $160 per person.
Why Budget Cruisers Love Royal Caribbean
Love for Royal Caribbean is very much evident on CruiseCritic, where 1,400 reviews give the line very good to excellent ratings. And many cruisers point out that it's easy to nab great deals.
Says @monikaj42, " We booked this cruise via a MLife cruise offer so we got a spectacular deal. Four gals, two ocean view balcony connecting staterooms. Harmony of the Seas met and exceeded our expectations. We had the most amazing time and can’t wait to book our next cruise."
No. 2 Cruise Line for the Money: Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Cruises earning Silver is not a shock — it is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean, the No. 1 pick. The line touts 12 ships sailing to more than 300 destinations and featuring more than 160 itineraries.
As the name suggests, Celebrity wants its guests to feel like A-listers. From its Michelin-starred, chef-prepared culinary experiences to its spa-like staterooms and two-to-one service ratio, it offers plenty to wow passengers.
But fear not: You won't have to pay exorbitant prices for the pampering. "When my wife received an online ad for a 12-day Greek Island cruise for under $2,100 we couldn't pass it up," says JohnL20, highlighting the excellent deals you'll find through this line.
No. 3 Cruise Line for the Money: Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line is renowned for its "free-styling cruising." In the past, cruise lines set schedules, enforced dress codes and required passengers to dine with the same group. Then Norwegian came along and defied the status quo, doing away with fixed dining times, easing dress codes and adding more onboard activities to make cruising fun again. This means travelers get cruise freedom at a cost that won't require dipping into anyone's college fund.
When the cruise line added its Breakaway and Epic classes, it joined RCL and Carnival in providing mega-ships with nearly 4,000-passenger sailings. The line recently launched its Free At Sea program to give cruisers up to five free amenities while at sea, such as an open bar, shore excursions, specialty dining and Wi-Fi — offering savings of up to $2,900.
Gardene70 calls Norwegian a "small ship experience at modest prices."
No. 1 Cruise Line in the Caribbean: Disney Cruise Line
Disney didn't just take over central Florida, it has taken over the entire Caribbean. Not only can you embark on adventures to the region's exciting eastern and western islands, but the line always stops at Castaway Cay, its own private island in the Bahamas.
Here, two family beaches with water spots and a quiet adults-only beach with cocktails help passengers get rid of their sea legs. There are bicycles, kid adventures, boat tours, sea-life encounters and more, all with a Disney spin.
DCL even offers a cruise from New York to help northerners get to Castaway Cay and Disney World with ease, providing packages and the transportation needed to take guests to both. Actually, that is pat of the allure of Disney — they think of and take care of everything.
Why Caribbean Cruisers Love Disney
One fear non-Disney cruisers have is that the ships will be all about kids or feel like theme parks. But CruiseCritic reviewers, who love Disney more than any other line, are quick to dispel this myth.
Says kschlotthauer64: "At first I was a little apprehensive with it being a Disney Cruise. I didn't want it to be like a Disney Park and I didn't want it to be too 'kiddish.' As soon as we walked on the ship all those fears went away. It was truly magical. I was beaming from Mickey Mouse ear to ear the whole time. I told my wife 'Wow, Disney spared NO expense on this ship.' It was very Disney all the way, which I found was a great thing."
No. 2 Cruise Line in the Caribbean: Royal Caribbean
The Caribbean is the most popular cruise destination in the world and as such is littered with cruise lines. With its array of onboard amenities and its moderate pricing structure, RCL is an obvious choice for making the list of top lines in the region.
With "Caribbean" in its name, RCL is an expert at cruising these blue seas and providing the best ports of call and itineraries. It even has its own private Caribbean island with beaches and a water park to enjoy.
"The amenities, activities and enjoyable fun locations throughout the ship are truly something to behold and be enjoyed by vacationers of any age," says Rocd.
No. 3 Cruise Line in the Caribbean: Seabourn
Seabourn appears on U.S. News' list again, impressing cruisers who use its upscale small ships to peruse the palm tree-lined islands of the Caribbean.
The line sails from St. Maarten to explore the Caribbean with just 462 passengers — much smaller than most ships these days.
"We selected this cruise because we wanted a more intimate cruise experience. This was our first yacht-style cruise and it won’t be our last," says GGS.
No. 1 Cruise Line for Couples: Viking
Viking doesn't just nail luxury cruises; it's also the best line for couples to enjoy, be it for a honeymoon, anniversary or just-because trip.
Why? For one thing, there are absolutely no children allowed. That's right: Passengers under the age of 18 are not permitted to sail. There are no kids' clubs, no character breakfasts, no splashing in the pool and hot tubs...a couple's dream. (Especially parents who want a child-free vacation.)
The newest ship, the Viking Jupiter, features nine decks with dining, a spa, a theater, a sports deck, lounges and multiple pools, which can be experienced while sailing the British Isles, Mediterranean, Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea and South America. Alternatively, a transatlantic cruise travels between Barcelona and Buenos Aires.
Why Couples Love Viking
Surprise, surprise: The no-kids philosophy really resonates with travelers.
Says maco92264: "We chose this cruise primarily for one reason, no young kids, no casinos, no water slides, no discos. Viking is about 1st class cruising without the carnival atmosphere so many of the big ships are into these days. The ship was perfect. If you like a circus then maybe another cruise line is best for you. If you like perfection on a ship that is spotless without all the circus atmosphere then Viking is definitely for you as it was for us."
No. 2 Cruise Line for Couples: Seabourn
There isn't anything better for romance than receiving 5-star service and pampering, so it's no surprise that Seabourn landed on this best-of list too.
Romance is even the basis of some itineraries, such as the Romance of the Rivieras Mediterranean cruise aboard Seabourn's Encore from Barcelona to St. Tropez to Rome.
"All that we could wish...and more," says metta7.
No. 3 Cruise Line for Couples: Crystal
Luxury lines seem to go hand-in-hand with couples cruises (surely splurging on the best is a great way to increase the romance!), so it makes sense that Crystal takes more honors in this category. Romance is even the focus of special excursions through the Riviera and along the Rhine.
One note though: Some cruisers note that Crystal is best suited to older couples.
No. 1 Cruise Line for Families: Disney
Was there any doubt that Disney would prevail in this category? Of course the company that created theme parks so beloved that people travel from around the world to enjoy them would know how to show families a good time.
When Disney entered the cruise world in 1998 with the Disney Magic, it hoped to do on water what it does on land so well. And it certainly succeeded.
DCL keeps it fleet small to ensure first-rate accommodations, entertainment, dining and fun. Disney Magic is still sailing, along with Disney Fantasy, Disney Wonder and Disney Dream.
Babies as young as 6 months are welcome aboard, where nurseries, kids' clubs, tween lounges and teen discos give kids their space and a chance to meet new friends. Families enjoy kid-friendly (and Disney-themed) entertainment, meals, events and parties, and often pair Caribbean cruises with an excursion to Walt Disney World.
Why Families Love Disney
Ninety-eight percent of CruiseCritic reviews classify Disney Cruises as family-friendly, with the majority of ratings in the very good and excellent categories.
"We loved pretty much everything about the cruise we went on," says bt0510. "We were a little worried, thinking, how much better can it be over Royal Caribbean. The price was more than double what we could have done on RCI, but our daughter really wanted to go on a Disney cruise, so we gave it a shot. Well, the saying, you get what you pay for, totally fits in this situation. We absolutely loved it...and are already planning another. That should speak for itself!"
No. 2 Cruise Line for Families: Royal Caribbean
Kids need toys, activities and entertainment to have a good time when traveling, and RCL offers all of the above in abundance. Kid-specific fun includes a teen disco, science lab, arcade, and baby and tot play areas that stay open into the night.
Adds Captain Cris, "I chose this cruise because of how fun I viewed the activities on board and also the destinations. Royal Caribbean did very much deliver a wow."
No. 3 Cruise Line for Families: Carnival Cruise Line
Long known for its fun ships (its name is Carnival, after all!), this U.S.-based line had to rebuild its reputation after competitors began mimicking the "fun" concept and too many guests started using its ships solely to party.
With low-priced fares, plenty of Caribbean sailings and more kid-friendly amenities, Carnival has secured its place once again as a leader in fun cruises. Camp Carnival, which offers camp-style activities to kids age 2-11, is particularly appealing. (And it's free to boot!)
As mreagleye puts it, "The legend continues."
No. 1 Cruise Line in the Mediterranean: Seabourn
The very same service and small-ship experience found on Seabourn's Caribbean cruises can be enjoyed in the Mediterranean as well. So in this category, too, the luxury cruise line continues its reign as one of the best.
One unique aspect of a Seabourn cruise is that it's all-inclusive, which surprisingly most cruises are not. While dipping in and out of European ports, guests enjoy intimate ships, outstanding service and the chance to visit hidden harbors as part of the line's curated voyages to places large ships cannot sail.
Seabourn is also an official partner of UNESCO World Heritage and provides tours to sites while donating a portion of proceeds to conservation efforts.
Why Mediterranean Cruisers Love Seabourn
Expect to be spoiled aboard Seabourn cruises, say many reviewers.
In fact, Cindrz1973 says she won't ever be able to ever enjoy another cruise line after her latest trip with Seabourn: "My husband and I just returned from 7-nights aboard the Seabourn Odyssey ship. We have been going on cruises for the past 20 years, and have been on virtually every cruise line...spoiled by Seabourn!"
No. 2 Cruise Line in the Mediterranean: Crystal
Here comes Crystal again, landing in yet another best-of category, this time for stealing the show with its Mediterranean cruises. Visit 13 countries and 90 ports through the line's luxurious collection of itineraries — and get pampered while doing it.
"Everything was pristine," says Shoeman1 of his 20th cruise with Crystal, finding the Mediterranean cruise "better than ever."
No. 3 Cruise Line in the Mediterranean: Viking
Perhaps the only reason Viking didn't get the gold in the Mediterranean category is because its cruises in the area are relatively new. Still, there are nearly 40 itineraries in the Med, and the cruise line is clearly doing something right.
"We chose this cruise because it gave us just a 'taste' of so many different countries traveling the coastlines of Spain, France, Italy, Islands of Greece, Croatia and back to Italy," says Debmo1961.