Types of Cruises: Northstar’s Cruise Classification System

The Northstar Travel Cruise Classification System serves as an objective and independent evaluation system to help travelers, travel buyers and industry professionals distinguish different types of cruises. From luxury ocean expeditions to boutique river sails, our methodology considers multiple ship and cruise itinerary factors, ranging from (but not limited to) vessel size and capacity, ports of call, room amenities, dining, on-board activities and experiences, and levels of service.

The result is our uniquely tiered rating system that places water-based travel within one of 6 unique types of cruise categorizations. Used in our numerous travel publications, the Cruise Classification System stands alone as a completely objective and independent evaluation system with a worldwide application for travel professionals.

Luxury Cruise

With ships featuring five-star service, exquisite dining options and the world’s most exclusive destinations, you’ll likely question whether you ever want to return to land! Luxury cruise lines offer guests the highest levels of personalized service and the most magnificent accommodations available on the sea.

So, what makes a cruise line luxury? From exotic ports of call to complimentary shore excursions, here are just some of the things that separate these elite cruise lines from the others:

•Exceptional, individualized service

•Five-star guest accommodations and premium suites

•Luxury itineraries and entertainment

•State-of-the-art services aboard the ship (including spa, fitness, nightlife)

•Premium amenities (Wi-Fi, 24 hr. room service, butler service)

•Gourmet dining venues with master chefs 

Premium Cruise

A premium cruise line offers its guests the next generation of ocean cruises and water-based travel without the hefty price tag of its luxury counterpart. This type of cruise is ideal for the five-star-minded traveler with a four-star-range budget.

While a luxury-class cruise line offers all the amenities of a luxury resort at sea, the premium class still features outstanding amenities, fine dining options, and personalized attention – but at a fraction of the cost. Some of the things you can expect to find on a premium cruise ship include:

•Outstanding service

•Accommodations like four-star hotels (think private balconies)

•Elevated shore excursion options

•Updated spa and fitness facilities

•Extensive onboard activities

•Live entertainment, children's programming, nightlife


Mainstream Cruise

Mainstream doesn't mean "cheap", it simply means "value". This category of cruises often includes lines synonymous with the industry itself, and feature up-to-date accommodations, fine dining option, and plenty of activities – each at a portion of the cost of higher-end options.

Value, convenience, and fun for the whole family. These are the superlatives that easily define our mainstream-class of cruising. Each offers guests a wonderful experience that won’t bust your budget. Here's what you can expect to find on these ships:

• Moderate pricing and value-conscious packages and optional add-one

• Clean and efficient accommodations

• Itineraries with plenty of shore excursion options

•A variety of entertainment options

Expedition Cruise

Expedition cruises provide unique and enriching experiences by carrying passengers to areas of the planet often reachable only by water. Venturing into Amazon jungles or breaking through Arctic ice, they offer glimpses of spectacular scenery. Depending on your destination, you can expect close-up views of fjords, mountains, islands, glaciers, or wildlife.

Expedition and cultural ships vary greatly in size and offerings. Their accommodations and services range from limited to luxurious. When selecting a cruise, you can decide whether your priority is to see the world in style – with excellent dining and experienced guides – or simply to have an adventure aboard a modest vessel with basic bed and board. Considerations include the following:

•Levels of service

•Size and comfort of accommodations

•Quality of dining experience

•Inclusion of Equipment (Zodiacs; underwater cameras or monitor)

•Offered excursions, amenities and destinations

•Knowledge of guides and lecturers

Specialty Cruise

Specialty lines offer the greatest variety of cruising experiences. Their ships are designed to take travelers up rivers, down canals, or along coastal waterways. Some are masted yachts —magnificent to behold and richly appointed — and others are humble ferries that provide work-a-day transportation from one body of land to the next.

River and canal ships, including barges, provide a leisurely and intimate way of seeing towns and countryside. Coastal ships are smaller than their mega cousins and can slip into scenic harbors and bays. Masted ships range in size from schooners to 600-ft vessels with computer-monitored sails. Ferries and cargo ships may take vehicles as well as passengers aboard and are often the cruise ships of choice for backpackers and independent travelers. Some variables to consider:

•Levels of service

•Dining options

•Size and comfort of accommodations

•Amenities (bicycles; whirlpool)

•Length of stay in ports

River Cruise

River cruising offers travelers a more relaxing and immersive form of water-born travel where you can expect to enjoy ever-changing scenery along the banks of waterways such as lakes, inland rivers, and intracoastal waterways; often stopping at multiple ports along the way. A smaller subset of the overall cruise industry, river cruising continues to grow in popularity each year.

River cruises usually offer a more exclusive cruising option for travelers, with smaller vessels and overall capacities, meaning a more intimate setting with staff focused on each guest.

With access to narrow ports and shallow waterways, river cruising often presents a unique sailing option for travelers who love to experience new cultures, visit historical sites, and relax in cruise luxury. Some things to expect on a river cruise:

•Smaller, more intimate setting

•Scenic sailing through destinations like the European countryside

•Cultural-based excursions

•Often all-inclusive style service and pricing packages

•Various itinerary lengths

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