A cruise line for every type of traveler: How to choose the right one for you

No matter what kind of vacation you're planning, there's likely a cruise for you.

Whether you want to spend your trip kayaking and scuba diving or prefer to lounge on a sun deck sipping a cocktail, cruise lines have a wide range of offerings. But not every line or ship is right for every passenger.

Cruise brands have their own identities and areas of focus, and some lend themselves more to certain vacation types than others (amenities can also vary from ship to ship within the same line). Here's what to know:

Best cruise line for families

◾ Royal Caribbean International ships have an array of onboard offerings for kids and adults. For example, the line's most recent addition, Icon of the Seas, has been billed as the ultimate family vacation.

The vessel – the largest cruise ship in the world – has an entire neighborhood designed for young families, a large water park and activities ranging from a FlowRider surf simulator to Crown's Edge, where guests can walk more than 150 feet above the ocean. The line's Bahamas private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, offers plenty of thrills and places to chill, too.

Norwegian Cruise Line also offers a range of activities like free-fall dry slides, go-kart tracks, and high-caliber stage shows. Disney Cruise Line draws on a huge catalog of stories to bring magic to life on the water, with character appearances, themed dining and special events like Marvel Day at Sea.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Viva ship.
Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Viva ship.

Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises also cater to families, and Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are solid options for multigenerational travelers. Mainstream cruise lines generally have kids clubs that are included in the fare, as well.

Best cruise line for adventure and expeditions

Adventure seekers may want to consider expedition ships and lines that offer sailings to less common destinations such as Antarctica.

Aurora Expeditions offers a range of activity-centric itineraries, including Zodiac boat outings, kayaking, snowshoeing and more. Celebrity Cruises, meanwhile, has a vessel designed especially for the Galapagos Islands.

◾ Operators like HX (formerly Hurtigruten Expeditions), Lindblad Expeditions and Silversea Cruises also offer trips with a spirit of exploration at their core.

Best cruise line for letting loose

Virgin Voyages offers adults-only sailings and a unique onboard atmosphere with its immersive Scarlet Night celebration and innovative performances. There is also no main dining room or buffet, with a focus on a variety of different food and drinks instead.

▶◾ Guests can also find parties on other lines, such as Carnival. But the length of the sailing and the time of year play a role in a cruise's vibe. Spring break cruises, for instance, may be rowdier than times when school is in session.

◾ Parties can take different forms, too. Cunard Line, for example, hosts formal gala nights.

Best cruise for rest and relaxation

Upscale cruise lines can lend themselves to a more relaxed and pampering experience. Guests are less likely to encounter rock-climbing walls or ice-skating rinks but will find amenities like pools and carefully curated dining. The following operators are all in that category:


Regent Seven Seas Cruises


Oceania Cruises


The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

However, even on mainstream lines, guests can often get away from the bustle of the ship in onboard spas and adults-only areas. Luxe ship-within-a-ship concepts like Norwegian's The Haven or MSC's Yacht Club can also offer a more intimate, laid-back experience.

What should I pack for a cruise?: Here are 5 essential items to bring

Best lines for river cruising

River cruising tends to be small-scale and destination-focused.

▶◾ European river itineraries from lines like AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Viking often stop at a mix of marquee and less-visited ports, so guests aren't fighting crowds the whole time.

▶◾ In the U.S., American Cruise Lines offers a diverse selection of itineraries, from sailings on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to round-trip cruises from Washington, D.C. Viking also has a ship purpose-built for the Mississippi River.

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at ndiller@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The best cruise lines for families, expeditions and more