The Best Cruise Lines & Ships For 2020 - Members' Choice Awards

royal caribbean best ships lines 2020
Symphony of the Seas - Photo by Royal Caribbean

Last year, we received over 30,000 verified cruise reviews from members. We crunched the numbers from this treasure trove of data to give you a comprehensive list of cruise lines and ships that should be on your radar in 2020.

Best Overall Cruise Lines

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Oasis, Allure, and Harmony of the Seas - Photo by Royal Caribbean
  1. Royal Caribbean International - 4.17
  2. Carnival Cruise Line - 4.11
  3. Celebrity Cruises - 4.02
  4. Norwegian Cruise Line - 3.91
  5. Princess Cruises - 3.89

From 2015 to 2018, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity were in fierce competition for the top honors of our annual awards. Last year, Royal Caribbean finally overtook the spot after three straight years of dominance by Celebrity. Royal’s victory was propelled by the consistently excellent performance of their Oasis-class ships, including the outstanding review scores from their newest ship, Symphony of the Seas. Not much changed this year, with Royal Caribbean ships making up four of the top five highest-rated ships by our members.

And yet, arguably the biggest story of last year was not Royal Caribbean’s victory (which we figured would happen eventually), but Carnival’s dramatic surge into second place in a category traditionally dominated by lines with a significantly higher price point. Often considered a budget line for casual, laidback fun, Carnival showed that last year’s finish was no fluke with a repeat performance again in 2020. While Carnival seems to be coming into its own as a top competitor, Norwegian also made a surge into the top 5, ousting Disney from the pack for the first time ever. 


Best Overall Cruise Ships

royal caribbean boardwalk symphony of the seas slide
The Boardwalk neighborhood on Symphony of the Seas - Photo by Royal Caribbean
  1. Symphony of the Seas - 4.33
  2. Allure of the Seas - 4.27
  3. Harmony of the Seas - 4.26
  4. Carnival Horizon - 4.24
  5. Navigator of the Seas - 4.19

Royal Caribbean’s dominance was obvious as it claimed four of the top five ships in all of cruising. Last year, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas bucked the trend of newer ships underperforming for their first few years of operations as they iron out the kinks of day-to-day operations. In doing so, it became the first ship to win the Best Ship AND the Best New Ship categories. We wondered if a sophomore slump was on the way, but Symphony showed no signs of backsliding and delivered another amazing performance to take home the gold. 

While Symphony and Allure grabbing the first- and second-place spots was a repeat from last year, the other top finishers were all newcomers. The traditional stalwarts of the Carnival fleet, Carnival Dream and Carnival Breeze, fell out of the top five but were replaced by a new powerhouse, Carnival Horizon. And in a completely unexpected turn, Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, which we never would have guessed would finish in the top 10 ships (let alone the top 5), had an absolutely stellar year and snuck into fifth-place.


Best Lines for Ship Quality

celebrity edge solarium pool best line ship quality
The Solarium on Celebrity Edge - Photo by Celebrity Cruises
  1. Celebrity Cruises - 4.50
  2. Royal Caribbean International - 4.40
  3. Princess Cruises - 4.37
  4. Holland America Line - 4.35
  5. MSC Cruises - 4.18

This category aims to answer a very simple question: Which line makes the nicest ships? While you can never fully remove the human element from the equation (a good crew will keep a ship clean and well maintained), it’s interesting to see which lines our members think has the best hand at ship design. Despite winning the category last year, Disney was once again noticeably absent from the top finishers. Celebrity ships are known for outstanding design (case in point, the top-deck Lawn Club with half an acre of real grass), so their move from second into the first place spot was no surprise. Royal Caribbean claimed second-place thanks to fantastic performances by its newer ships, and MSC made an appearance thanks to high design ratings of newer ships like Seaview, Seaside, and Meraviglia.


Best Ships For Ship Quality

royal caribbean symphony of the seas best ship quality
Symphony of the Seas - Photo by Royal Caribbean
  1. Symphony of the Seas - 4.71
  2. Allure of the Seas - 4.67
  3. Harmony of the Seas - 4.66
  4. Nieuw Statendam - 4.63
  5. Celebrity Edge - 4.61

This category is a new inclusion in the awards, and the first thing that popped out was the overlap between the best ships overall. Did simply having a great time on the ship make our members more likely to love the ship itself, or is solid design and layout the key ingredient for a great experience? For huge ships like Symphony, Allure, and Harmony, it’s arguable that great design is more crucial than ever for avoiding crowds and making ship navigation easier. Newer ships also dominated this category, which makes sense considering they can build upon past design successes and failures while showing less wear and tear.

Interestingly enough, despite Royal ships finishing 1-2-3, Celebrity still won the category overall, even though Edge was the only ship that made the top for Ship Quality. This implies that even though Royal’s newest offerings have outstanding design, the rest of their fleet has fallen behind. Meanwhile, Celebrity ships have solid quality fleetwide, even in their older vessels thanks to their revitalization program, the Celebrity Revolution.

Lines considered: Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean.

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