Here’s where the rudder hits the road: It’s time to choose the ship that will be your home away from home on vacation. We’ll start with the cruise lines you know even if you’ve never set foot on one. They’re the ones with the catchy TV spots, glossy magazine spreads, and omnipresent website banner ads that make cruises seem like sheer paradise and for many people, they really are.

Today’s mainstream ships are part theme park, part shopping mall, and part faux downtown entertainment and dining district, all packaged in a sleek hull with an oceanview resort perched on top. The biggest are really big: 14 stories tall, 1,000 feet long, with cabin space for between 2,000 and 5,000-plus passengers and a couple of thousand crewmembers. Most of the mainstream lines have spent the past 15 years pumping billions into ever-newer, bigger, and fancier ships. The newer the ship, the more whoopee you can expect: open-air boardwalk districts, bowling alleys, water parks, ice-skating rinks, outdoor movie theaters, surfing machines, giant spas, rock-climbing walls, full-size basketball courts, and virtual-reality golf, plus classics like hot tubs, theaters, water slides, and bars, bars, bars.

The ships featured in this chapter vary in size, age, and amenities, but they share the common thread of having scads of activities and entertainment. And that includes Azamara (see p. 108 ) a line that might have just as easily been in our Luxury chapter.


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