Still, picking the perfect ship - like choosing the perfect love match - is tricky. Even if cruise lines seem similar at first, they all have their own perks and quirks. And even the same line can offer different experiences based on the age and size of a ship and the destination and time of year you're sailing.
Which line best matches your personality? Here's a cheat sheet to get you started. We recommend reading reviews, asking questions on our message boards and chatting with knowledgeable travel agents to further winnow down the choices.
Best for Romance
Windstar: Nothing says romance like a sunset sailaway … complete with billowing sails. Windstar's fleet of three intimate motor-sail-yachts offer luxurious touches (like L'Occitane toiletries and high thread-count bedding, personal service and fine dining) and port-intensive itineraries in honeymoon-worthy destinations in the Caribbean and Europe.
Paul Gauguin Cruises: The line's namesake ship sails in the idyllic South Pacific year-round. It's a favorite for romantic getaways, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations, perhaps due to itineraries stopping in remote islands and offering plenty of time to splash about in bathing suits or lie in the tropical sun. A second ship brings the romance to Europe and Caribbean.
Princess: The cruise line that owned the original Love Boat still clings to the notion that cruising is the ultimate in romance. While midsized and large ships might not be your idea of romance, Princess turns on the charm with alfresco balcony dinners for two, adults-only sun decks with spa-like atmospheres and several alternative dining venues perfect for date night.
Best for Seniors
Holland America: HAL's midsize ships appeal to mature travelers with their cruise traditions (afternoon tea, gentleman hosts, ballroom dancing), comfortable cabins and focus on enrichment with cooking and technology classes. In addition, its wide range of itineraries - from family-friendly one-week sailings to weeks-long exotic journeys and world cruises - appeal to retirees looking for multigenerational trips or long vacations to new places.
Cunard: Another great line for classic cruising, Cunard offers the only regular season of transatlantic crossings on its flagship Queen Mary 2, evoking the days of the great ocean liners. Onboard, you will be dressing up for formal dinners and ballroom dance parties, attending performances of well-regarded plays or jazz concerts, sipping Darjeeling and nibbling scones at afternoon tea, or playing lawn bowls on deck.
Best for Families with Little Kids
Disney: It's no surprise that Disney leads the pack for introducing the little ones to cruising. Its ships offer nurseries for babes as young as three months, themed playspaces for preschoolers and school-age kids, plenty of Disney character interaction (including dress-up princess teas and pirate parties), and cabins that cater to families with split baths (with tubs), extra berths, a room-diving curtain and childproof balcony locks.
Royal Caribbean: As Royal Caribbean rolls out toddler playspaces and nurseries with babysitting to more of its ships, it continues to solidify its reputation as one of the better family bets. The line has always been a leader with innovative kid programming and expansive youth facilities. Now partnerships with Barbie and Dreamworks are bringing the characters little ones love onboard with parties, parades and photo ops sure to please preschoolers and their parents.
Carnival: A kids' program that starts at age 2, onboard waterslides and aqua parks, and plenty of free, kid-appealing food options also makes Carnival a standout in the family department. Add in some of the largest standard cabins in the industry (plus family-specific staterooms), the interactive "Hasbro the Game Show, " lots of homeport sailings and affordable cruise fares, and the family vacation has just found a new destination.
Best for Families with Older Kids
Royal Caribbean: The line's tricked-out mega-ships are a hit with tweens and teens, offering everything from rock-climbing walls and onboard surfing to DJ classes, zip lines, high-energy shows and late-night free pizza. Teen clubs feature the latest in video games plus disco and lounge space.
Norwegian: Older kids will appreciate Norwegian's "Freestyle" approach - no set dining times or eating with strangers, no strict dress code (jeans are always acceptable) and plenty of choice for entertainment and food. Teen clubs offer gaming stations, exclusive parties, teen outings to see the Second City show onboard and late-night snacks. Plus, onboard facilities like video arcades, water parks, outdoor sports courts and cool musical venues and shows mean no one ever complains of being bored.
Carnival: The cruise line offers separate cool clubs for tweens and teens, and shore excursions just for 12- to 17-year-olds, chaperoned by the youth staff. Look for ships with outdoor movie screens, water parks with waterslides and soaker areas, ropes courses and mini-golf for all-day fun.
Best for Fitness Enthusiasts
Royal Caribbean: Boxing? Check. Ice skating? Got it. Surfing, rock climbing, basketball, jogging track and huge gyms with cardio machines, free weights and weight machines, and class space for Pilates, cycling and aerobics? It's all there. Add in active shore tours (kayaking, hiking and more) and plenty of space for dancing the night away, and you've got a fitness lover's dream cruise.