Large Ships (2,500 to 4,000 passengers)
12. Large Ship Line: Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival is all about good family fun at a reasonable price point. It has 25 ships that sail North America and Europe, with about half of them having a capacity ranging from 2,500 to 3,900 guests. Carnival is known for its fun upper decks that are akin to an amusement park at sea, with water slides, ropes courses, mini-golf, and attractions like SkyRide, where guests pedal a hanging vehicle around a suspended track.
Credit: MSC Cruises, Courtesy MSC Cruises
10. Large Ship Line: MSC Cruises
A number of ships in MSC’s fleet—namely those ships in the Musica and Fantasia classes—fall into the large cruise category, with most of its newer builds firmly taking a “bigger is better” stance. The eight vessels primarily sail in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, though they do offer itineraries in North and South America, Asia, and Northern Europe, too. These family-friendly ships skew toward the upscale side, and they’re known for their international crowds.
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Courtesy Royal Caribbean International
9. Large Ship Line: Royal Caribbean International
Though Royal Caribbean is perhaps best known for its mega-ships, it has quite a number of large ships, too—the 3,100-passenger Voyager-class ships, for instance, were once the world’s largest, until Royal Caribbean debuted the larger Freedom class. Both of these large classes had other firsts, too—Voyager of the Seas was the first ship to have an ice rink and a rock-climbing wall, while Freedom of the Seas introduced the first FlowRider surf simulator at sea.
Courtesy Norwegian Cruises
8. Large Ship Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
Things escalated quickly for Norwegian: The cruise line jumped from medium-size ships to mega-ships practically overnight (okay, over eight years), with just a few ships in its current fleet sized somewhere in between. But that’s all changed with Norwegian Prima, the first of six 3,300-passenger Prima-class ships, launched in August 2022. Some of its highlights include the fastest slides at sea (including the world’s first free-fall dry slide), a three-level go-kart racetrack, and a three-story theater that transforms into a nightclub after the evening’s show.
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Courtesy Holland America
7. Large Ship Line: Holland America Line
As its name indicates, Holland America is a cruise line that was established in 1873 to primarily ferry passengers, many of whom were emigrants, between the Netherlands and the United States. Of course, these days, the cruise line sails more broadly to more than 300 ports around the world on its 11 ships—and it’s highly regarded for its Alaska itineraries. While passengers can enjoy classic cruise activities like swimming, sports, and gambling, Holland America is particularly noted for its culinary and musical programs: it has a partnership with the TV show America’s Test Kitchen for cooking demonstrations and classes, a number of live music venues (including B.B. King’s Blues Club), and stage productions dedicated to the history of music on many of its ships. The latest addition to Holland America’s fleet is the Rotterdam, which first set sail in July 2021, with a capacity of 2,650 passengers.
6. Large Cruise Line: Costa Cruises
Italian cruise line Costa Cruises, which operates under parent company Carnival, has quite a history: It was founded in 1854 as a cargo shipping company, transporting olive oil and textiles around the world. Transferring to the leisure cruise side of the business in 1959, Costa now operates 10 ships that sail all over the world—its newer ships fall into the mega-ship category, but the majority carry between 2,800 and 3,700 passengers.
5. Large Ship Line: Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Cruises currently sails around the world with a fleet of 15 ships, ranging in size from its small Xpedition-class vessels, which carry 16 to 100 passengers, to its large 2,800- to 3,100-passenger Solstice class and 2,900-passenger Edge class, which debuted in late 2018 with Celebrity Edge. This edgy ship (pun intended) was designed to appeal to a non-cruising clientele with innovations like Eden, a three-story hybrid “experiential” restaurant, craft cocktail lounge, and performance venue; and Le Petit Chef at Le Grand Bistro, a dinner restaurant that features a 4D animation projected on your plate throughout your meal. Celebrity Edge was later joined by its sister ship Celebrity Apex in 2020 and Celebrity Beyond in 2022, with Celebrity Ascent expected to start sailing in late 2023.
4. Large Ship Line: Princess Cruises
Part of the Carnival family, Princess Cruises has a fun claim to fame—the TV show The Love Boat was set on its former Pacific Princess ship. If you’ve never seen an episode, you’re in luck, as one of the onboard TV channels airs reruns around the clock. But you won’t want to stay cooped up in your stateroom when you discover all the activities on board its 15 ships. Its special Seawitch craft beer program sees the cruise line partner with breweries around the world, while Discovery at SEA offers a series of activities based on TV shows from the Discovery, Inc. family of networks, including Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and the Science Channel. Princess Cruises’ newest ship, Discovery Princess, set sail in 2022, and two new Sphere-class ships, which will carry 4,300 passengers each, are due to launch in 2024 and 2025, respectively.
3. Large Ship Line: Cunard
For those longing for the romantic nostalgia of bygone transatlantic sailings, Cunard is your go-to. The legendary cruise line was established in 1840 and has had dozens of ships in its fleet, though today, there are just three active vessels: the Queen Mary 2, the world’s only true transatlantic ocean liner, designed specifically for ocean crossings, as well as the world’s only pet-friendly ship (dogs and cats are required to stay in the kennel, a designated playroom, and a specific walking deck); the Queen Elizabeth; and the Queen Victoria. Activities haven’t changed all that much in the last 180 years—there’s still a proper afternoon tea, black-tie dinners, and galas in the ballrooms. It’s quite like a step back in time, with all the modern safety measures, of course. Cunard’s next ship, the Queen Anne, is scheduled to set sail in 2024.
2. Large Ship Line: Disney Cruise Line
If there’s one thing Disney Cruise Line does well, it’s hospitality. The company has taken every lesson it’s learned from its parks and resort operations and implemented that into its five cruise ships, including the 4,000-passenger ships Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish, which launched in 2022. The ships are designed for families through and through—there are numerous themed activities every day, from meet-and-greets to full-blown parties with Disney characters—but there are plenty of adults-only areas that provide a respite from little ones. The fleet currently sails the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Bahamas (where they make port at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay), as well as Alaska, Canada, Europe, the Pacific Coast, and the Panama Canal. The next ship in the fleet will be Disney Treasure, set to debut in 2024.
1. Large Ship Line: Virgin Voyages
Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages made its long-awaited debut in October 2021 with the “Mermaiden” voyage of Scarlet Lady out of Miami. The 2,770-passenger ship is adults-only, and it promotes a sexy, party-hard atmosphere between its glitzy nightclub, risque live performances, and unusual amenities like a tattoo parlor. But it’s also a standout for its unique dining options, such as Korean barbecue restaurant Gunbae, where meals begin with a drinking game for the whole table. The cruise line’s second ship, Valiant Lady, made her debut in the Mediterranean in March 2022, and the third ship, Resilient Lady, launched in 2023. The fourth ship, Brilliant Lady, is still in the works.
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