Best (and Worst) Cruise Line Based on Traveler Reviews

Whether you're looking to invest in a cruise line or go on a cruise, the following information should be of interest to you. If you're an investor, then there's a good chance that you have heard of Glassdoor.com -- a site that allows employees to leave anonymous reviews of their company. Cruiseline.com is just as important for investors, but in a different way.

Tens of thousands of travelers rate and review their cruise line experiences on Cruiseline.com. All of these reviews are verified, meaning that all reviewers have gone on the cruise they're reviewing. Most importantly, with the growth of social media, word of mouth is more important than ever before. Every experience plays a potentially significant role toward the future growth, or lack of growth, for a cruise line.

The cruise lines being looked at are Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL  ) , Carnival (NYSE: CCL  ) , Norwegian Cruise Line (NASDAQ: NCLH  ) , and Walt Disney's  (NYSE: DIS  )  Disney Cruise Line. The scores you find below might surprise you.

Royal Caribbean

Travelers rated Royal Caribbean a 3.9 of 5.0, a relatively high score. This score is based on 10,952 reviews. Therefore, these results can be trusted. Below is a breakdown for how travelers scored Royal Caribbean:

5 Stars: 3,723

4 Stars: 3,823

3 Stars: 2,635

2 Stars: 478

1 Star: 293

The majority of Royal Caribbean guests rated their experience 4 Stars, but a 5-star rating took a close second. The biggest positives mentioned for Royal Caribbean include beautiful ships, an attentive staff, excellent food, and great entertainment. Negatives were difficult to find, but repetitive entertainment and crowded restaurant seating on Independence of the Seas were mentioned more than once. However, travelers appeared to be pleased with Royal Caribbean overall.

Royal Caribbean enjoyed stock appreciation of 33% over the past year, which appears to be justifiable. Based on traveler ratings and reviews, continued success is possible, despite Royal Caribbean trading at 149 times earnings.

Royal Caribbean is a winner, but it's not the highest-rated cruise line. The big winner will be revealed soon, but first let's take a look at another popular cruise line.

Carnival

Travelers rated Carnival a 3.6 of 5.0. This is higher than many travelers might expect. And it's based on 16,253 reviews. Therefore, you can trust it. Below is a breakdown of how travelers score Carnival:

5 Stars: 4,101

4 Stars: 5,431

3 Stars: 4,724

2 Stars: 1,157

1 Star: 840

The majority of Carnival guests rated their experience 4 Stars. Despite being in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past few years, most Carnival guests appeared to be at least somewhat pleased with their experiences. The biggest negative was that some guests who sailed on Carnival in earlier years now feel as though they're treated more as a number than someone special, and that the crews don't possess as much fun spirit as in the past. This could relate to built-in gratuities, but that's just speculation. 

Carnival is trading at just 29 times earnings. And despite all the negative press, it has seen stock appreciation of 10% over the past year. Based on traveler ratings and reviews -- the best indicator of long-term success -- Carnival should remain a decent investment and cruise line option, as in not the best but not to be underestimated either. 

The results for the next cruise line probably won't surprise you.

Disney

Travelers rated Disney Cruise Line a 4.5 of 5.0, based on 571 reviews. There aren't as many reviews for Disney Cruise Line because it doesn't have as many ships as its peers. Below is a breakdown of how travelers score Disney Cruise Line:

5 Stars: 364

4 Stars: 131

3 Stars: 55

2 Stars: 9

1 Star: 12

The majority of Disney Cruise Line guests rated their experience 5 Stars. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Numerous travelers expressed having the greatest vacation of their lives. The food, spaciousness, entertainment, and Castaway Cay all received praise. But what stands out most is that many Disney Cruise Line guests report being treated like celebrities from the time they stepped on board.

This is yet more proof that Disney is one of the most well-run companies in the world. It's currently trading at 22 times earnings, and its stock appreciation of 44% over the past year has made its investors happy.

Disney is all about delivering the best entertainment experience possible, and cruise ships are no exception. This Disney mind-set is one of the reasons the company has been such a consistent winner through the years. This trend should continue.

The following results might surprise you.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line has grown at a rapid 8.07% on the top line over the past year. That's impressive, but based on traveler ratings, this trend might not be sustainable. 

Travelers rated Norwegian Cruise Line a 3.4 of 5.0, making it the lowest-scoring cruise line on this list. This score is based on 7,007 ratings. Below is a breakdown of how travelers score Norwegian Cruise Line:

5 Stars: 1,321

4 Stars: 2,037

3 Stars: 2,193

2 Stars: 737

1 Star: 719

The majority of Norwegian Cruise Line guests rate their experience 3 Stars. Many travelers appreciated the nightlife, but aside from Norwegian Pearl, numerous travelers complained about the quality of the food. Note: travelers raved about the food on Norwegian Pearl. Norwegian Jewel received the most complaints in regards to food.

Norwegian Cruise Line's subpar traveler rating is concerning, especially for a company trading at 108 times earnings. Based on traveler experiences, Norwegian Cruise Line's ability to meet high expectations over the long haul is in doubt. 

The bottom line
If you're going to invest in a cruise line, then you might want to consider Royal Caribbean or Disney. Of course, Disney offers a lot more than an investment in a cruise line, but this diversification should be looked at as a positive. If you want to invest strictly in a cruise line, then Royal Caribbean should be the best long-term option. A high multiple could lead to rapid downside moves in the stock price, but Royal Caribbean appears to be a long-term winner. 

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Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (31)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 5:56 PM, jmv715 wrote:

    Did ya give any thought to converting those stats to percentages so that you could actually compare the different lines? Just a suggestion.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 6:10 PM, garsny wrote:

    I have been on 14 cruises. My worst one has been Norwegian.The food, service and clientele are below par.

    My favorites are Holland America and Celebrity. The food and service are very good. I guess all have gone down, because of costs.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 6:49 PM, aimpointvw wrote:

    It appears the author isn't aware that both Carnival and Royal Caribbean are holding companies, and they each operate many different cruise lines.

    Carnival Corporation, for instance, operates 10 different cruise lines, including Carnival Cruises, Holland America, Princess Cruises, and Cunard.

    Holland America scoring a 3.9, Princess a 3.8, and Cunard a 3.8

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 6:58 PM, holo89 wrote:

    I am still waiting for NCL's response after 5 emails:

    I recently booked a NCL Panama cruise and was surprised to find I was charged over 37.5% in taxes. Port charges are already included in the price of cruise($999). Upon my insistence, the agent gave me the breakdown of the following:

    Customs $.04

    Dockage $7.50

    Harbor Dues $30.17

    Head Tax $69.53

    HMF $2.00

    Immigration $2.00

    IRS $3.00

    IUF $7.00

    Line Handling $7.92

    Pilotage $10.03

    PPF $5.50

    Security $6.39

    Steve Dooring Tax $22.15

    Terminal $4.17

    Tonage $191.65

    Tugs $5.54

    I see only 2 are taxes. Could you tell me if the rest are really taxes? How does $191.65 tonage fit into the catagory of taxes? Thanks for your reply.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 11:48 PM, hiawan wrote:

    I was on the Norwegian Pearl last year and thought the food was 100 times better than the Carnival cruise we went on this year. The quality of the room, entertainment, staff, people on the ship was also much better than Carnival.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 8:41 AM, Duano16 wrote:

    Someone needs to explain to the author what the word "majority" means. It means more than 50% of the total, and not the category that received the most votes. Is anyone proofreading these articles?

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 9:03 AM, jfelano wrote:

    I have been on 5 cruises with Carnival and loved everyone, despite always booking an older ship with a cheaper cruise.

    The food is always subpar, but what do you expect when you can cruise 5 day's from Miami to Bahama's for $179 per person, I can eat more than $179 in food in 5 day's. And no that's not an inside cabin, that's a double porthole cabin. I spend most of the day on the shore anyways so it's really just a place to sleep and eat.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 9:47 AM, meade78 wrote:

    We took our first ever cruise on Disney in 2008. Immediately upon our return, we bought our first position in DIS at about $20/sh based upon our experience. It's been one of our better investments, to say the least. We'll be taking our 11th cruise with them this spring.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 12:08 PM, RatchetOriginal wrote:

    Best overall is ( in order)

    Princess

    Holland American

    Royal Caribbean

    Worst is Celebrity

    In a class all by itself and is excellent is Viking RIver Cruises.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 4:29 PM, mohacsy wrote:

    Hey mead 78;

    I may be ignorant, but you are writing codes that the ordinary person does not understand. What is "position DIS at $20/sh based upon your experience"?

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 6:04 PM, farazq wrote:

    Thanks for mentioning our site.

    Just so everyone knows where the author's data came from, see all of our reviews for each cruise line here: http://cruiseline.com/cruiseline/best

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2014, at 9:01 AM, DonCat91 wrote:

    I've been on two cruises with NCL. Last year I was on the EPIC, that ship was amazing and the food was really good. However, a few weeks ago Jan 5-12th, I was on the PEARL and in comparison to the EPIC, it was horrible. On top of that, I thought the food was utterly disgusting and almost felt starved for the week I was on it. But I can't compare their services with other cruise lines since i've only cruised with NCL

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2014, at 9:23 AM, servererror1 wrote:

    @holo89. I was in the business for 10 years. Port charges are port charges....They are admittedly padded for more profit for the cruise lines. There's no way to avoid them-they all do it. Anyone who claims they don't charge them...I can assure you they're in there somewhere. If you don't like paying them, don't cruise.

    We used to describe CCL's food as upscale Denny's. Carnival makes their money off the watered down booze they serve, which is why they attract the raucous lowlife crowd. PARTY!!

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2014, at 10:00 AM, Ducks wrote:

    In November 2013 my husband and I took our first cruise on the Carnival Inspiration, Los Angeles, CA. It was a total disaster! This ship must have been in warm waters, not 1 cabin onboard has heat! We were cold out there in the Pacific, people wore bathrobes for warmth. I thought people gained weight on cruises, oh not this one! I worked in a hospital 10 years and would eat that food before eating what was on that ship! I kept looking for the midnight buffet, oh it was pizza and ice cream. We had a bit of rough weather, I went for the Saltine type crackers, not even eatable, they were sooo stale, had to ask to get lettuce restocked at the salad buffet, that took over 5 minutes, and so forth. We will take another cruise, but not on Carnival, although we have been told that our cruise was not typical of Carnival, there are other lines that cruise the Western Caribbean.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2014, at 2:03 PM, lisaredd wrote:

    We have been on 11 cruises, and are going on our 12 for the first time on Princess this year. But of the 4 different cruise lines we have been on, my favorite has to be Royal Carribean!! Especiall the Oasis of the sea!! Even though I have really enjoyed Carnival, I have to say Celebrity exceeds them in quality. But my least favorite would have to be Norwegian. sorry! I am excited about going on Crown Princess, we shall see if they will exceed our expectations!

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2014, at 4:19 PM, ciaobella9 wrote:

    10 cruises. worst cruise, Holland America, New Year's Eve. Best cruise all around, R.C Mariner of the Seas. Also we seem to have the most fun on Royal Caribbean ships. Princess is just o.k. LOVE CRUISING!

  • Report this Comment On February 19, 2014, at 1:10 PM, amckenny wrote:

    Duano16 - I too believe they meant "plurality" rather than "majority". However, I suggest that most people don't know this word. So they used a technically incorrect word that would get the message across to the average reader rather than a technically correct term that would confuse the average reader. Incorrect, yes... but understandable.

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