Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
Garden Villa Bath, Norwegian Star
By Editor, CruiseCritic.com
updated 3/30/2005 2:25:31 PM ET 2005-03-30T19:25:31

What are the most important factors to take into consideration when planning your first cruise? Want to travel in luxury? What about meals, spa services, and the size of the ship? Are you taking the entire family? The options can be overwhelming - here are Cruise Critic’s selections for the ten best ships for first-timers.

1.Voyager/Explorer/
Adventure/Navigator/
Mariner of the Seas
(Royal Caribbean)
First-time cruisers will find the world at their fingertips aboard these mega-ships, which offer everything from a 30-foot-high rock climbing wall and in-line skating rink to fantastic burgers and hot fudge sundaes dished out at Johnny Rockets.

2. Grand/Golden/Star/Caribbean Princess
(Princess Cruises)
These sisters are big, and filled with appealing public spaces, including graceful three-deck atriums and open decks with colorful mosaic-tiled pools and whirlpools. Their charm and abundant activity programs appeal to both first-time cruisers and seasoned veterans as seagoing resorts that are a cut above the mass market competition. Even better: Princess has embraced, particularly on these mega-ships, its "Personal Choice Dining" program, which offers the choice of a flexible eating routine (dining where and with whom, not to mention when) you want -- or that of cruising's more traditional set-seating dining.

3. Mariner/Navigator/Voyager
(Radisson Seven Seas Cruises)
These all-suite ships, all launched since 2000, are most definitely luxury-oriented -- and we loved that -- but we also loved the lack of onboard regimentation and the feeling that we were staying at a gorgeous floating hotel. Most if not all suites have private verandahs, all dining is open-seating, and the ships are small enough (about 700 passengers) to feel intimate.

4. Zuiderdamand Oosterdam
(Holland America)
Oosterdam, like Zuiderdam, offers a terrific blend of HAL's classic features -- with some fresh contemporary twists. Such as? These ships, the first two in Holland America's Vista class series, have first-ever-for-HAL features like the Windstar Cafe, a gourmet coffee bar, the Greenhouse Spa's indoor hydrotherapy pool and The Pinnacle Grill (a Northwest-themed alternative restaurant).


5. Radiance/Brilliance/Serenade of the Seas
(Royal Caribbean)
These ships straddle the size-o-meter -- they're big (and new) enough for lots of contemporary amenities (plenty of cabins with verandahs, a coffee bar and a fabulous pool-solarium area) along with some of the line's classic features (we note, in particular, its alternative restaurants -- Chops Grille and Positano's -- as well as the divine Schooner Bar).

6. Infinity/Constellation/Summit/Millennium
(Celebrity)
These ships, the newest in the Celebrity fleet, aim to provide an uber-upscale cruise experience - on a moderate traveler's budget. Among the highlights? A two-story library, retro ocean liner-themed alternative restaurant, all-glass seaview elevators, Concierge Class staterooms (with extra services) and the AquaSpa, featuring a thalassotherapy pool.

7. Carnival Victory/Carnival Conquest/Carnival Glory
(Carnival)
If your choice is between cruising or Vegas, check out these megaships in the Carnival fleet. The atmosphere onboard is exuberant -- each ship has a different theme that's carried out in unique ways throughout its public rooms. Entertainment, particularly in the evenings, is geared for sociably-minded travelers; and there's plenty of options, whatever your interests.

8. Norwegian Star/Sunand Norwegian Dawn
(Norwegian Cruise Line)
Norwegian's newest ships incorporate "Freestyle Cruising," meaning first-time cruisers can enjoy the unregimented lifestyle of dining whenever and wherever they please, plus other freedom-full features. These ships feature 9 or 10 alternative restaurants, 12 lounges, special enrichment rooms, outstanding spas and spacious staterooms, including two private Garden Villas on the Star. These ships also offer another unique-to-mass-market-cruising option: flexible embarkation, similar to that of hotel checkout procedures, which eliminates the need to wait, en masse, with hordes to debark.

9. Disney Magic/Wonder
(Disney)
Disney blends the traditional elegance of a vintage ocean liner with a kid-friendly environment, making these ships great choices for first-time family cruising. Although the ships lack a disco and casino, parents can enjoy Beat Street, an evening entertainment district with clubs offering country music and karaoke, cigars and cognac, and comedy, and Paolo's, an adults-only alternative restaurant. While the ships are slightly different, decor-wise, the real choice comes down to length: Disney Magic sails seven night itineraries, while Disney Wonder offers three- and four-night trips.

10. Carnival Spirit/Pride/Legend/Miracle
(Carnival)
Carnival's Spirit-class ships, which, size-wise, fall in the middle of the fleet (between its mid-sized vessels and mega-ships) and offer a great blend of features from both. These ships introduce some crowd-pleasing firsts for Carnival, including an alternative supper-club style restaurant. Other features include a wedding chapel, with stained-glass windows and a central aisle available for weddings and other ceremonies.

Cruise Critic, which launched in 1995, is a comprehensive cruise vacation planning guide providing objective cruise ship reviews, cruise line profiles, destination content on 125+ worldwide ports, cruise bargains, tips, industry news, and cruise message boards.

Cruise Critic has been honored by the Society of American Travel Writers with its Lowell Thomas Award and was recently named in Travel + Leisure's "Best 35 Travel Sites" list.

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