Tourists

Tourists walk beside Royal Caribbean's cruise ship Enchantment of the Seas after they arrive in Cozumel (Reuters/Gerardo Garcia)

Choosing the right cruise line can be a daunting task with the vast amount of operators vying for your attention.

It's important to match your style to the ship. For example, a single would have a dreadful time on a honeymoon cruise. Or, someone looking for a black tie event and fine wine would lose their mind on a ship meant for college spring break. If you are able to pick the right boat for you, cruises can be the perfect way to travel. Many cruise ships include a package deal of entertainment and food, so cruises are often very affordable options for getting away.

Here are six important factors to consider in choosing the perfect cruise ship from the destination to the atmosphere.

Destination

It's important to consider what destination and what activities you are looking for once you dock. Are you a beach lover? Then perhaps a Caribbean cruise is perfect for you. Carnival Cruise lines dominates the industry for Caribbean travel. For a complete 180 degrees, an Alaskan cruise through untouched wildlife may be more your pace. Princess Cruises and Holland America are the leaders among Alaskan cruises.

Another popular destination is the Mediterranean Sea, a place where many unique cultures converge. If you're considering a Mediterranean cruise, it's important to decide which area you want to focus on. Most cruise lines in the Mediterranean offer a Western, Eastern, or Greek Isle and Turkey tour. The Western tour often includes Spain, the French Rivera, Italy, and Tunisia, whereas the Eastern tour usually includes the Adriatic Coast, Greek Isles, Egypt, and Cyprus to name a few. Mediterranean cruises usually leave from either Barcelona, Civitavecchia (a port near Rome), or Venice.

Part of picking a destination is the time you want to spend away. Short cruises last about three days and can take passengers usually from Florida to the Bahamas and back. Longer tours are usually those in Europe or the Mediterranean, which last from one to two weeks.

Family-friendly cruise

If you're bringing children on a cruise, it's important to choose one with plenty of activities, child care, and a more casual setting. Disney Cruise Line is a leader in in this industry. Kids can enjoy the live shows and clubs created for each age group, while parents can enjoy the spas and lounges. Many of the other mass-market ships like Carnival, Caribbean, and Oasis of the Sea offer plenty of kid-friendly activities and water parks also.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere aboard cruise ships varies immensely from formal to casual and educational to spring break-style. Picking the right cruise atmosphere is essential to finding the perfect cruise. For a more formal experience, Cunard offers black tie events several times a week and caters to those who seek a more luxurious cruise experience. Many of the family-friendly and least expensive cruise lines are also among the most casual.

Many cruise lines offer educational programs for lifelong learners. One of these is Voyages to Antiquity, which has small 350-passenger ships with top notch guest lectures and excursions through history.  

Paul Gauguin cruise of the French Polynesia is perfect for the honeymooning couple, but may be dreadful for a single. On the other hand, Carnival Freedom, on the Carnival Cruise Line, is perfect for singles and those up until dawn. There are adult comedy shows, karaoke, and 22 bars aboard the ship.

The food

Foodies must be careful about which cruise they choose, as cruise food can often be mass cafeteria style. In general, the most expensive and luxurious tours are the ones where noted chefs and fine wines can be found. Crystal Cruises and Cunard are known for bringing high profile chefs on board to create your dream meal. For those hoping to learn how to make their own culinary creation, Eurodam, on Holland America, offers cooking demonstrations and classes on board.

Size of ship

The size of the ship is in important factor when deciding on a cruise line. Larger ships are often better for families as there is more entertainment and dining options. The larger ships are often those that are mass marketed, therefore often have the best price. Smaller ships are often more intimate. Some ships' staff will even greet you by name. One of the best features of a small ship is that they can dock at smaller, less touristy ports.

Price

Everything comes down to the price. In many cases, cruises can be an extremely affordable travel option for multi-destination travel. Prices can vary immensely: a four-day Caribbean cruises starts at $45 a night on large cruise ships like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. More luxurious options such as Crystal or Paul Gauguin will set you back over $300 a night for a week. On the top of the price scale are world tours. Crystal Cruises offers a 94-day world cruise through the Pacific Ocean, that will set you back over $50,000.

Check to see what's included in the price before booking. Often times certain restaurants or drinks can be left out of the price. Usually, the higher priced luxury cruises, such as Regent Seven Seas, are all inclusive for all restaurants and lounges aboard.

An important consideration in price is room location: oceanview verses interior. Those on a budget can score a cheaper room on the interior; however, they often feel like a pitch-black time warp. When booking a cruise, try to get the best room in your budget. Picking a lower deck room will avoid seasickness, as it rocks less. Also, try to get a room away from common areas, as they can be noisy.

Check out review sites such as Cruise Critic to get passenger reviews on individual ships and cruise lines. Then, it's all aboard on your next perfect cruise experience.