Are you organising your first-ever cruise, trying to wade through the many options available – from cruise companies, itineraries and sea-going vessels – while figuring out the type of cruise you want, the amount of time you have available and your budget? It needn’t be an overwhelming experience. The following simple guide can help you determine whether a cruise line’s personality is compatible with your needs.

Cruises for first-timers

P&O Cruises

Refurbishments in recent years, as well as new menus, celebrity chef restaurants and an array of itineraries has solidified P&O Cruises’ mantle as number one choice. The five-ship fleet has departures from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Fremantle and Adelaide so most Australians don’t need to pay for flights to board a cruise.

Royal Caribbean International

Best for families with tweens and teens, this cruise line introduced the world to rock-climbing walls and followed up with ice-skating rinks, surf simulator machines, slides, bumper cars, sky-diving tunnels and glass domes that transport passengers via a crane-like arm high above the waves. Australia-based Ovation of the Seas comes with bumper cars, skydiving and the North Star observation capsule.

Carnival Cruise Line

Best for families with small children, there are mini waterslides, character breakfasts, fun food and activities galore in the kids’ clubs. There are also towel-animal making classes, while kids and parents can also share the fun of Hasbro, The Game Show, where board games are played out on the theatre stage. Carnival also has five age-specific kids’ clubs for children from three to 15.

Princess Cruises

If relaxation is your thing, this big ship cruise line, with almost 20 vessels in the fleet – five of which are based in Australia – offers plenty of itinerary choices. An annual world cruise departing from Sydney and Auckland is also operated by Princess. The bigger ships in the fleet have great facilities including multiple pools, several main dining rooms, exceptional specialty restaurants and outdoor movie screens.

Celebrity Cruises

Indulgence and luxury seekers needn’t go any further than this premium cruise line. Interiors and furnishings are elegant, and the ambience is sophisticated. Celebrity also stands out for its varied dining choices (French, Italian, Asian and more) in beautifully decorated restaurants with great service. Things liven up at night, especially during shows in the theatre, deck parties and at the Martini Bar where waiters perform mixology feats.

Holland America Line

Best for mature travellers, this veteran cruise line has teak wrap-around promenade decks, dedicated cinemas, stylish afternoon teas and cooking classes held in the Culinary Arts School. The 15-strong fleet includes the latest ship, Koningsdam, which takes 2,560 passengers. Cruisers tend to be older on the line’s longer itineraries, but lively nights are assured with a piano bar, excellent live music, and B.B. King’s Blues Club on five of the ships.

Azamara Club Cruises

Best for singles and solo travellers, Azamara’s two identical vessels, Quest and Journey, carry just 700 passengers each, which makes mingling easier. Single fares are 125 per cent of the double-cabin fare (meaning one passenger only pays one quarter of the second person’s fare when occupying a double or twin cabin), and sometimes the line has “no single supplement” promotions on selected itineraries.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Best for entertainment enthusiasts, Norwegian ships offer musical revues, comedy and improv shows, live music and guest performers. Cruisers can experience Broadway musicals such as Rock of Ages, After Midnight or Million Dollar Quartet; and music by duelling pianists and blues bands. Throw in plenty of bars, discos, bowling and Wii.

Oceania Cruises

Best for foodies, Oceania Cruises has one of the largest collections of speciality restaurants – on its newer ships Marina, Riviera and Sirena – all of which are included in the cruise fare. They include Toscana serving Italian cuisine, the Polo Grill steakhouse, Red Ginger serving Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese fare and the signature French restaurant Jacques, whose menus have been designed by renowned French chef Jacques Pepin.

Windstar Cruises

Best for romantics, Windstar’s three original sleek white yachts with billowing sails take passengers for a voyage around the Caribbean, the Amalfi Coast and the Tahiti islands. The motorised yachts have teak decks, cabins with portholes and plenty of space to relax in a deck chair. For dining, there are two restaurants serving excellent food. The line also has three 212-passenger ships, which suit those who love spacious cabins and private balconies.

Lindblad Expeditions

Best for adventurers, the expedition line, founded 50 years ago by Eric-Lars Lindblad, works in partnership with National Geographic. Its ships (and chartered vessels) explore the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in-between. The company operates Zodiacs for shore landings and carries a highly experienced expedition team of scientists and historians.

Cunard Line

Best for enrichment seekers, Cunard and its trio of Queens ooze culture, inviting onboard such luminaries as NASA astronauts, polar explorers and experts on journalism, climate change, politics and national security. Passengers can also indulge in cultural pursuits with book clubs, ballroom dancing, West End-style theatre, a planetarium (on Queen Mary 2 only) and learning the art of acting with Royal Academy of Dramatic Art members.