There are literally hundreds of ships and lines now sailing our oceans and rivers. But which one is for you? Peter Lynch shows you how to decide.

There’s an old saying among travel agents: put someone new to cruising on the right ship, and you have a client for life. Put them on the wrong one, and they will never sail again.

But with more variety than ever, the task of finding the right experience and destination can appear near impossible.

They come in all shapes and sizes, from intimate barges for 12 to floating resorts (the world’s biggest ship has 5,000 cabins and is divided into precincts because it’s so big).

There are sailing ships like Star Clippers, adventure ships that go to the polar ice caps, fun ships with waterslides, racetracks and flight simulators, and luxury ships that offer private dining and exclusive excursions to castles, wineries and art galleries.

How do you choose? If you’re a first-timer, our advice would be to see a specialist travel agent.

They are trained to ask you a series of questions that will allow them to match your favourite experiences to the cruise line that is the closest fit.

But if you want to do it yourself, here’s our quick guide to help you sort out what’s on offer:


What was your favourite holiday?

Ask yourself which of your past holidays you enjoyed the most and why. Was it pampered luxury, a great destination, travelling with a small group or staying in a big resort? You can match any or all of those with the right cruise line. We’ve listed who offers what in our quick-match guide.


Who are you travelling with?

Next, who are you travelling with? Kids will love Royal Caribbean’s great amenities like iFly and a surfing pool, while Norwegian has a racetrack. Almost all have kids’ clubs, so you can relax. If, on the other hand, you’re travelling with your parents, the likes of Princess, Avalon and Scenic will take care of all of you. If you’re going with friends, you all get to enjoy a break without the hassles of cooking and cleaning on Oceania, Azamara and Princess. And if you are on your own, you can have as much or as little company as you like while enjoying the destinations and entertainment with Regent, Uniworld, Avalon, Azamara and Scenic.


Do you love food?

Love your food? There once was a time when cruise ships were associated with big buffets. There are still plenty of those – but most ships offer stylish and delicious specialty restaurants. Foodies will adore Oceania, which claims to have the best cuisine at sea and a cooking school on its ships. Regent has wonderful intimate fine-dining restaurants as well as a gorgeous main restaurant. Ponant serves great French dishes, and Avalon and Scenic produce wonderful regional fare on the rivers of Europe. There are several well-known chefs, including Jamie Oliver and Curtis Stone, behind the menus on board.


Are you adventurous?

If adventure is your thing, you have a world of choice, from trips to the polar regions with Hurtigruten to Ponant’s wonderfully relaxing three-masted sailing ship, expected in the Kimberley this year. Wildlife, amazing scenery and just plain fun can be had aboard the smaller expedition ships. This is where you get to tick off those bucket list items and see unforgettable scenery and wildlife.