I’ve Been on Over 145 Cruises—These Are My Favorites
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You can definitely trust the cruise recommendations of a man who has taken approximately 145 sailings, had countless days at sea, and has visited more than 33 countries.
The background of my cruise obsession
I was introduced to cruising as a young kid because my father worked for a cruise line. While traveling with my family, cruising became a love of mine, and those early experiences were the inspiration for my desire to explore more of the world by cruise ships.
As an adult, my love of cruising didn’t wane, but paying for those trips became my responsibility, so I started with cheaper sailings. Even for a weekend, getting on a ship was a default vacation (I’m a South Florida native). I also began trying different lines and went to new places around the world. During this time, I gained a greater appreciation for the hard-working people in this complex industry, which further extended my love of cruising. I even worked for a cruise line for a few months when I was 19 or 20.
On May 5, 2011, my girlfriend and I got engaged on Oceania Marina. We took a Mediterranean cruise with my family and were invited to the bridge as we sailed into the San Marco basin, approaching Venice, with the Grand Canal ahead of us—a picturesque place for such an occasion. Thankfully, she loves to cruise as much as I do, and we have now been on about 40 cruises together.
And how did this lead to starting a blog?
One day, six or seven years ago, I went out to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale and opened up the live-streaming app Periscope to share a video of cruise ships leaving the port. I thought it would be fun. People in the app had a lot of questions about ships and cruising and I loved answering them in real-time. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that the next day I did it again, and viewers asked what my website was. Well, eventually, when people keep asking about a website, you start one. That’s how CruiseHabit.com came about. I work full-time, but I get quite a bit of time off in my industry. I plan my schedule ahead of time, so on holidays like Thanksgiving, I have more days to travel. I also work remotely from hotels, airports, and yes, cruise ships.
Courtesy Billy Hirsch
Oceania Regatta is a smaller ship by today’s standards, and between the size and uncrowded spaces, it feels like you’re in someone’s lovely home…which happens to be a ship. But it still offers plenty of public spaces to enjoy the onboard entertainment or take in a nice view. There are several fantastic restaurants, but the ship’s not so large that you feel like you’re on a conventional cruise ship.
The Norway (operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines) will always hold a special place in my heart because I sailed on it as a child many times. Formerly named The France, it was a converted ocean liner, and one of the largest ships of the time. In fact, it was the first ship to dock in deeper water and send tenders (smaller boats) to shore. This situation was unique then and lives on today, as at least one of those boats is still operational at Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.
Celebrity Edge represents a wonderful evolution of cruising in terms of design and entertainment. Celebrity Cruises knows how to time events and can flow and disperse people throughout the decks, so you don’t feel like that many people are on board. The staterooms are also incredible with Infinite Verandas—rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, where you can roll down the top half, lean out, and turn part of your room into a balcony. I’ve been on this ship about five or six times, but I’m definitely ready to check out the two new ships in this class, the Celebrity Apex, and Celebrity Beyond, when it’s launched. Here are some other cool hidden features on cruise ships.
Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis Class Ships
These ships are the largest in the industry, and I like them, but not only for their high-energy activities like the FlowRider or rock-climbing walls. What I admire are the ship’s designs and the science behind them. It’s hard to wrap your head around how they conceptualize these mega-ships with thousands of people on board. These types of ships are also successful at attracting new cruisers in that they’re similar to resorts with amusement parks. My mother was used to cruising small ships with luxurious accommodations, but in September 2017 I persuaded her to try Symphony of the Seas (an Oasis class ship).
Queen Elizabeth 2
This type of ship doesn’t really exist anymore. The QE2 was part of the time when ocean liners were more about function—to get to a destination, but it was absolutely the finest way to do that. Imagine all of the lavishness of the Titanic (if it hadn’t hit the iceberg, of course). In fact, a Cunard ad from the days when ocean liners reigned supreme coined the now-common phrase, “Getting there is half the fun.” I had the pleasure of sailing the Queen Elizabeth 2 multiple times. Its last voyage was in November 2008, but that wasn’t the end of its life. It’s now a floating hotel in Dubai.
Courtey Billy Hirsch
Cruising through the Norwegian fjords is a different experience in several ways. If you looked at this part of the world on a map, it would appear a desolate tundra, but the scenery is gorgeous, and it’s impossible to know quite where to look. The cities in this region are simultaneously modern and yet feel like a storybook. They’re beautiful to walk through in the summer, with incredible culture and charming people. It’s the perfect place for a Gemini, according to this zodiac cruising guide.
This is one of my favorite destinations because it’s extremely relaxed—there’s no pressure to see and do it all. I love the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, and each one is distinct. Curacao is very Dutch. The island has gorgeous beaches and canals as well as unique bridges. It’s a slow-paced place, and the architecture looks like Amsterdam. Curacao reminds me of the Netherlands, but with pastel-colored buildings. Bonaire is rustic and offers excellent diving without taking a boat out to a reef. Aruba is a resort town with beautiful beaches, a unique, desert-like landscape, and brands familiar to Americans. There’s a reason it’s the most visited Caribbean island.
This is the best destination if you want to pack the most in a short period. You’ll spend most of your time off the ship in places like Rome, Monaco, and Venice. One of my favorite stops was Kotor, Montenegro. I knew nothing of the country, and it was not one of the A-list ports, but I wanted to explore as much as I could. When people ask what ship they should book for this itinerary, it’s one of the cruises where I tell them the choice of ship isn’t as crucial since you’re not on board much of the time.
Cunard offers such an incredible experience for this cruise, and it’s like no other crossing. I’m not formal, but I’m happy to put on a suit on Cunard because it’s such a unique way to cruise. I appreciate the serenity, enrichment activities, and just staring out at the water. In this way, it’s a cliché that the ships are the destination, but it’s true on a crossing from the East Coast to Europe. There’s always something new to do while on board with the shows, dining experiences, opportunities to hear experts lecturing, and just taking time to relax. While I hope so, I wonder if this type of experience will be around much longer.
I especially enjoyed visiting Juneau. One highlight is Mount Roberts because you dock at the port, just steps away from the tramway. Most of the time you need to go far from the port to avoid the tourists, but not here. You walk 50 feet to the cable car and then have beautiful views of the port on the way to the top of the mountain. At the top, there’s a nature center, where you can grab information on the local flora and fauna. If you like to hike, there’s so much nature to enjoy along the many trails. Each one is prettier than the one before it, and our short walk ended up being four or five miles long. At the end of any hike on Mount Roberts, you can stop for a local beer at the bar and restaurant near the top of the tramway. If you don’t like to hike, there’s plenty to do in town, like visiting historic sites, the capital, or taking trips to see the glaciers.
Favorite ships for entertainment
Courtesy Billy Hirsch
The first show I saw in the theater on MSC’s Seaside left me gobsmacked. There wasn’t a cohesive storyline, but instead a demonstration of some of the most talented performers I’d seen on a stage. The Zimbabwe Olympic gymnastics team performed jaw-dropping acrobatic routines, and some singers could belt so powerfully that they didn’t even need their amplification. The costuming was unique and fun without seeming cheesy, and it was all in front of a vibrant and high-tech background that changed depending on the scene.
The Edge has an unconventional venue called Eden. It’s a bar, cafe, restaurant, lounge, and performance space. With tall windows wrapping 270 degrees around the room, live plants on the walls, and a relaxed yet whimsical feeling, it’s a great space. Pre-pandemic, it hosted a show called Revelation in which a large cast all took on their own unique, quirky personas in a dreamlike, woodland story. There were also acrobatics, aerialists, and musicians (including a sitarist). The performers danced and explored the space, with well-curated music and sound effects, complemented with lights of purple and green. The performance area was in the center of the lounge, with guests seated and standing all around them. It was one of the most unique cruise amenities I’ve experienced.
Favorite ships for culinary options
Courtesy Billy Hirsch
Norwegian Cruise Line
NCL does the best job with the widest variety of dining options for contemporary lines, especially with their freestyle cruising. These aren’t specialty restaurants—it’s much more laid back, like strolling through a a neighborhood with great dining options. Carnival also does an excellent job catering to younger people, which might account for part of why it was voted the most reliable cruise line in 2020. Their Bluelguana Cantina has amazing burritos.
In the premium category, Celebrity Edge is excellent. There are four distinct restaurants with different menus, but all with a level of quality that a high-end restaurant would offer. The aesthetics are also different between the four—nothing like the big dining hall you see on some large ships.
Holland America Line
Holland America Line (HAL) wins for the best desserts in a buffet, with better quality and more selections than you’d get in a restaurant. Even the no sugar added options taste great!
Oceania’s attention to every detail on every single plate is incredible. There’s no upcharge for specialty restaurants on this small-ship, upper-premium line, and there’s great variety. I also appreciate that they purchase local ingredients while in port, like fresh fish in Alaska and the Mediterranean. It does make a difference.
Favorite ships for the bar scene
Courtesy Billy Hirsch
Eden on Celebrity Edge
The bar is usually the first place I go when I step on board a ship. My top pick is Eden on Celebrity Edge. It’s a unique atmosphere, as I mentioned above, where you can work, eat, drink, or even do yoga. The space is at the end of the ship and it’s a great place to meet and mingle. At nighttime, it has neat lighting and offers an extensive whiskey selection and cocktails made with fresh herbs from the plants growing in the space.
British Pubs on RCCL
My second choice is the British pub on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s ships. The pubs have different names depending on the ship, but I always enjoy the guitar player singing songs. It’s also a great place to stop by for a nightcap before turning in for the evening.
Next, check out these hacks to make your cruise experience flawless.