As a longtime cruise writer, I’ve sailed on more than 170 ships over the course of nearly four decades. Cruise ships have changed so much since I first started sailing. They are more technologically advanced and more environmentally friendly. They sail faster and quieter and leave less of a footprint. Ships now can produce their water using onboard desalinization plants, and they are cutting their energy use and laying the groundwork for a move away from fossil fuels. They’re exploring new places beyond the Caribbean and Europe and Alaska, from the far reaches of the South Pacific to the west coast of Africa, the southern tip of South America, and the North Pole.
Other welcome developments in recent years include more reliable and faster Wi-Fi—meaning you can catch up on your work and stay connected with friends and family while on board (if you must)—and a greater variety of dining options, such as menus with vegan and plant-based selections. There are more cruise ships with family-friendly services, too, as well as those catering more to solo travelers with dedicated staterooms and social spaces.
Luxury cruise lines are working harder to compete with land-based resorts and boutique hotel properties in order to court first-time cruisers, and consequently are moving to more casual dress codes and emphasizing yacht-style features, with a greater focus on connecting more to the passing scenery with large windows and better viewing areas—reminding passengers of the undeniable benefits and convenience of traveling on a luxurious resort on water, where you only have to pack and unpack once as you sail to new destinations while admiring the ocean views along the way.
From long-standing icons that have maintained their unique style and character over the years, to newer ships that showcase modern amenities and innovative sustainability efforts, this is our list of the world’s best cruise ships—vessels that are the best in class when it comes to service, staterooms, public areas, and creating a beautiful, floating home away from home for seafaring travelers exploring the world.
1. Cunard’s “Queen Mary 2"
- Best for: Traditional cruising
- Suggested itinerary: 7-night transatlantic crossing, from $1,289 per person
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Venerable British line Cunard’s 2,705-passenger Queen Mary 2 is a real ocean liner, a vessel defined by its reinforced steel hull that can handle the Atlantic, which it crosses regularly on sailings between Southampton, U.K., and Brooklyn, New York. Being onboard feels like a special occasion, especially if you join the crowd in the ship’s chandeliered Queens Room ballroom, where passengers can dance to a live big band in a throwback to the golden era of travel. The ship operates in traditional style, meaning you dine based on your type of accommodation. At the high end, Princess and Queens Grill guests can access exclusive restaurants where they can order tableside preparations such as Dover sole. For the rest, the Art Deco–inspired main dining room, Britannia, with its soaring ceilings, staircase, and chandeliers, fulfills any fantasies you might have of glamorous ships of yore. Beyond the pomp and circumstance, you’ll find the best pub at sea, complete with darts tournaments, trivia competitions, and pub grub. Spend time in the massive ocean-view library, relax in the spa with a hydrotherapy pool, and sip at the champagne bar while listening to live jazz. Embrace the interesting talks hosted by historians and other fascinating lecturers—when you’re not walking around deck embracing the fact that in crossing a mighty sea you are part of a long and storied seafaring tradition.
Read our full review of sailing a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2.
2. Viking’s ocean ships
- Best for: Destination experiences
- Suggested itinerary: 14-night Viking Homelands itinerary between Bergen, Norway, and Stockholm, Sweden, from $6,999 per person
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When river cruise line Viking debuted its ocean ships with the 930-passenger Viking Star in 2015, it was with the goal of creating a better, value-packed cruise experience for adults aged 55 and up. Eight sister ships followed, all with the same profile of stunning Scandinavian decor, well-planned itineraries that linger in ports, and the promise of no nickel-and-diming. Everyone stays in a spacious veranda stateroom or suite; specialty restaurants, such as a fine Italian venue, and a chef’s tasting experience are complimentary, and so is the accompanying beer and wine. Live lectures and broadcasts of TED Talks encourage learning. Some of my favorite experiences on these well-oiled ships include Mamsen’s Café, which offers made-to-order Norwegian waffles with cheese; the two-deck Explorer Lounge with its forward-facing wall of glass for views, and cool nautical knickknacks on the shelves; and the gorgeous, light-filled, glass-enclosed Wintergarden with its pool and lounging areas. I could often be found indulging in the crab legs at the seafood bar at the World Café. Don’t miss the complimentary spa complete with a snow room and heated thalassotherapy pool. A shore excursion at every port is included in your cruise fare, and there are overnight port calls on many itineraries—sometimes even multiple overnights to maximize the destination experience. Passengers can choose additional excursions for an extra fee, such as exploring the culinary highlights of Gdánsk, Poland, or biking the streets of Oslo.
3. Virgin Voyages’ ”Scarlet Lady”
- Best for: Fun adult time
- Suggested itinerary: 4-night cruise from Miami to Key West and Bimini, from $619 per person
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In October 2021, a fun-loving girlfriend and I boarded the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, which had just launched, wondering what playful billionaire Richard Branson could possibly bring to cruising that was new. The answer was adult fun. Virgin Voyages, Branson’s relatively new adults-only cruise endeavor, has a three-ship fleet that consists of Scarlet Lady and sister ships Valiant Lady and Resilient Lady and is reserved for those aged 18 and up who are willing to indulge in a bit of cheekiness. Passengers (Virgin refers to them as “sailors”) can grab a scoop at the Lick Me ‘Till ice cream shop and be pampered by a crew who are encouraged to show off their piercings, tattoos, dyed hair, and unique personal style. You can get your own ink and piercings at the onboard tattoo parlor. Expect dance parties with circus and diva performers and lots of day drinking. Another fun feature? You can shake your phone while using the ship’s app to request a bottle of champagne delivered to you anywhere on the ship. Dining is complimentary at restaurants including a Korean BBQ spot complete with drinking games, and a chef’s-gone-wild venue where dishes may arrive smoking or popping. Virgin encourages donations to marine conservation, sources sustainable seafood, and bans most single-use plastics; plus, heat from the ship’s engines generates some electricity (decreasing fuel demand).
Here’s our full review of sailing with Virgin Voyages.
4. Silverseas Cruises’ “Silver Nova”
- Best for: Ultra-luxurious pampering
- Suggested itinerary: 7-night Alaska cruise, between Seward, Alaska, and Vancouver, Canada, from $6,300 per person
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Silversea’s fleet of sleek, Euro-designed ships exude luxury with their refined decor and butlers and attentive crew who deliver next-level pampering. With the new 728-passenger Silver Nova, Silversea created more spaces featuring ocean views, adding more glass windows and an ocean-facing main pool and dining room. On this stunning vessel, relax on a cushy lounge chair at the pool—which, rather than being placed in the center of the ship (the standard location on cruise ships), is off to one side so that everyone can enjoy maximum views. Get the best seat in the house at the outdoor bar or grill restaurant, also designed for prime ocean viewing. The ship’s stunning three-story atrium showcases the sea through a massive wall of glass, offering views from various levels, including from the champagne bar, the coffee shop, or a classy club chair in the Dolce Vita bar. Even the ship’s glass elevators face the sea. On the classy Silver Nova, you’ll find Silversea favorites such as an expanded SALT (Sea and Land Taste) program, which allows you to eat, sip, and learn about local flavors in the destinations you are visiting; passengers might sample Croatian wines in the Adriatic, for instance. On the sustainability front, Silver Nova is groundbreaking: It’s equipped with a large-scale hybrid power source, which combines hydrogen fuel cells, batteries, and dual engines that run on liquified natural gas.
5. Seabourn’s “Seabourn Ovation”
- Best for: Sophisticated design
- Suggested itinerary: 10-day “Mediterranean Overture” cruise, from Barcelona to Rome, from $5,881 per person
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Noted hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany had yachts in mind when he designed Seabourn’s ultra-luxe, 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation, as well as sister ships Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Odyssey. He likes to describe the ships as “sexy,” for their smooth corners and tactile fabrics. The ships have an at-home quality—if you happen to live in an art-filled modern mansion. Ovation’s collection comprises some 1,600 artworks from 120 emerging artists meant to serve as “windows to the world’s different climate zones, its flora, fauna, and habitat, and … impressions of the world we encounter as we travel,” according to Seabourn. Guests stay in oceanfront suites with walk-in closets and marble bathrooms, and if you spring for a Wintergarden suite, you get a glass-enclosed solarium with a soaking tub. The main pool is a plush lounging spot, but a floor above you may retreat to the Retreat, where you can rent a fancy cabana and have a private attendant deliver complimentary champagne and caviar and whatever else you’re craving. Among other culinary delights is excellent gelato made onboard. Some guests like to dress up onboard, while others would rather focus on relaxing in comfortable clothing. For those focused on the latter, a partnership with wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil, includes such experiences as a chakra-balancing crystal sound bath..
6. Ponant’s “Le Commandant Charcot”
- Best for: Eco-friendly features
- Suggested itinerary: 12-night “The St. Lawrence River in the Heart of the Boreal Winter” cruise, from $24,210 per person
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One of the world’s most luxurious icebreakers is also one of the most eco-friendly ships afloat. French line Ponant’s 245-passenger Le Commandant Charcot is a hybrid electric ship that can sail for up to eight hours emissions-free, as it takes guests to destinations such as Greenland and the North Pole and, new in 2025, Quebec in winter. The other energy sources are liquified natural gas and low-sulfur gas oil, together cutting carbon emissions by 25 percent compared to more conventional ship fuel. Guests onboard are treated to fine French cuisine (Alain Ducasse is the culinary adviser) and wine, as well as plush cabins and suites with balconies or terraces. They can watch icebergs and polar bears passing by from the serenity of the heated pools on the sides of the ship that are heated by recycled energy from the ship’s propulsion. Inside, there’s another heated pool and a spa with a snow room and sauna, where therapists serve up massages using natural and eco-friendly products. Scientists are on board conducting research and discussing topics such as climate change. Zodiac-boat exploration led by naturalists gets you close to both ice and wildlife. There’s also the opportunity for polar kayaking, ice fishing, dogsledding, and snowshoeing, depending on the destination.
7. Windstar’s “Wind Surf”
- Best for: A sailing experience
- Suggested itinerary: 7-night “Beach Fun & Sun: A Remote Caribbean Getaway,” roundtrip from St. Maarten, from $2,199 per person
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The world’s largest sailing ship is a dream come true for those who appreciate the sight of 26,881 square feet of Dacron unfurling and catching wind. The 342-passenger, 525-foot Wind Surf delivers a sense of pride, especially when you’re in port and you point to your ship’s five masts, to envious sighs of your new friends. Windstar delivers luxury in a relaxed, friendly fashion, and that includes getting close to the sea on kayaks and stand-up paddleboards launched from the ship’s watersports platform—that is, when you’re not swimming out to the vessel’s water trampoline. Dancing under the stars on deck will appeal to those looking for romance; hanging out with the officers on the bridge is a must for sailing fans. The cuisine shines, which is not surprising since Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation. Visiting chefs come on board, and local product is featured. I suggest accompanying the head chef as they gather ingredients at local markets. At the spa, choose treatments inspired by cruising regions. The ship is slated for a two-part redesign of public spaces in 2024 and suite updates in 2026, which will likely make a good thing even better.
8. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ ”Seven Seas Splendor”
- Best for: Over-the-top luxury
- Suggested itinerary: 10-night cruise from Athens to Monte Carlo, from $8,599 per person
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For lovers of glitz and glamor, Regent Seven Seas Cruises won’t disappoint with its self-proclaimed “world’s most luxurious ship,” the 750-passenger all-suite Seven Seas Splendor, and similarly promoted sister ships, the Seven Seas Explorer and the new Seven Seas Grandeur. On Splendor you’ll find crystal and glass chandeliers aplenty, an extensive art collection, and enough Carrara marble to fill a football field and then some. Care is shown in the details. Sit in a silk-covered chair in the elegant Chartreuse dining room, where a tuxedo-clad waiter will serve a truffle-enhanced tart and you can imagine yourself in a grand hotel in Paris. Enter the Prime 7 steakhouse, where at the bar you’ll pass art pieces by Joan Miró and Picasso. Much on Splendor is completely over-the-top. The leathers are butter soft, the carpets and velvet details as plush as can be. In your suite, enjoy some alone time with an extravagant meal accompanied by champagne, served course by course on a white tablecloth on your private veranda. Want more? For about $11,000 per night, the top-end, 4,443-square-foot Regent Suite comes with a $200,000 horsehair bed, a Steinway grand piano, and its own spa.
9. Explora Journeys’ ”Explora I”
- Best for: Multigenerational cruising
- Suggested itinerary: 7-night cruise between Athens and Venice, from $4,462 per person
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Explora Journeys is a new luxury cruise line that launched its first ship, Explora I, in 2023. The ship carries up to 900 guests, but the cruise line plans to limit guests to 700 because the biggest luxury here is space on a vessel that bills itself as a resort experience at sea. The food at the four restaurants and at arguably the best marketplace and buffet at sea is divine (unsurprising, since French Master Chef Franck Garanger, who previously headed cuisine for Oceania Cruises, is cooking here with a big budget, delivering treats such as a spoonful of caviar on your breakfast eggs). Complimentary Moët & Chandon flows freely. The contemporary Italian design is sleek and gorgeous: Large cabins all have balconies, and over-the-top ocean residences (suites) have outdoor whirlpools. Aside from those, the four swimming pools and assorted hot tubs mean you can always find a quiet lounging spot. Big-ship features include a pickleball court and a casino. The big difference here is a push to welcome multigenerational families onboard. Unusual for a luxury cruise product is the staffed kids club where the counselors speak multiple languages as they lead activities focused on ocean conservation—when the kids aren’t playing pool or other games. Connecting suites make it easy for families to have more space, too.
Here’s our full review of sailing on the Explora I.
10. Silversea Cruises’ “Silver Origin”
Silversea Cruises’ 100-passenger Silver Origin delivers luxury in the remote Galapagos National Park, where you can catch spectacular views while soaking in a hot tub as your butler serves champagne. Beyond sizable suites and butler service for all is an experienced team of naturalists who make sure you don’t miss the sight of blue-footed boobies, sea lions, iguanas, sea turtles, and myriad other creatures in this nature wonderland. Visitors to the park may only go onshore, snorkel, or kayak when accompanied by a park-certified naturalist guide—with one guide to every 16 travelers. The ship was built specifically for the Galapagos, with the luxurious decor subtly befitting the destination and showcasing local art and artifacts. Passengers eat exceptionally good ceviche and international cuisine overseen by an enthusiastic Ecuadorian chef. You may enjoy the vistas from a cushy club chair in the ocean-view library while perusing a book about Darwin. A top-deck platform provides undisturbed views of the night sky and perhaps volcanic activity. And you’re on a ship designed to hover over delicate seabeds without disturbing the marine life you’ve come to see.
Read our full review of sailing on the Silver Origin.
11. Lindblad Expeditions’ ”National Geographic Resolution”
- Best for: Remote exploration
- Suggested itinerary: 13-night “Journey to Antarctica,” from $16,020 per person
- Book now
Lindblad Expeditions has always prided itself on soft-adventure exploration, destination expertise, and education, including a long-time partnership with National Geographic. On the 138-passenger polar exploration ship National Geographic Resolution and its sister ship, National Geographic Endurance, the company has made an extra effort to make passengers very comfortable on their remote adventures. All accommodations have ocean views, and many have balconies equipped with hammocks for relaxing. Care was taken with the polar-inspired art collection, which creatively documents climate change and includes a soundscape and installations, such as art created with recycled plastic bags in the reception area. The ship has an inverted X-bow (the farthest point of the bow is situated at the bottom of the vessel rather than at the top) for improved performance and a quieter, more fuel-efficient ride. Two infinity-edge hot tubs and the spa’s two ocean-view saunas are the perfect spots for warming up after exploring polar regions on inflatable Zodiacs boats or kayaks, cross-country skis, or snowshoes, accompanied by the experienced naturalist team. Nat Geo experts provide photo advice, and historians and marine biologists host onboard lectures. Enjoy such sustainable dining experiences as a Zero-Waste chef’s table. Another unusual experience: Guests can sleep overnight in a top-deck glass igloo to admire the polar landscape.
Read our full review of sailing on the National Geographic Resolution.