The cruise ship categories
FOOD This seems to be based on likes / dislikes but Carnival seemed to come out on top. One vote was for Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) probably due to their amazing sushi restaurant and awesome chocolate buffet. My vote tips the scales over to Royal Caribbean with their 24 hr. bakery and the best cookies ever and terrific pizza til 3am. NCL lost a few points with our crowd for forcing Americans to actually act like adults and sit down for their food after 11pm - a sort of anti-grazing technique.
ENTERTAINMENT NCL wins hands down by unanimous vote. The cruise director was "inspirational" (and this out of the mouth of a 14 yr. old American boy) and the shows were simply professional.
VARIETY OF ACTIVITIES ONBOARD [rock climbing, ice skating, etc.) Royal Caribbean wins here, offering both of the aforementioned activities onboard.
MORE UPSCALE RC by a landslide, due to cost considerations and therefore fewer rowdy college kids shaking up the place.
SMOKERS I once took a non-smoking Carnival Cruise line - even the entire staff (mostly Italian) had to be non-smoking. Sadly, this was discontinued (turns out we also party less and purchase fewer drinks as well), but there is talk of reinstating this exceptional service (alas, not in Europe). On the Carnival line, my sister's neighbor sat out on his balcony smoking, with the smoke wafting into their downwind cabinet - they couldn't even sit outside as a result. Regardless, lower cost Carnival also attracted the greatest number of smokers.
MOVIES Carnival offered more movies by the pool on huge screens, with theater-style seating or the option of watching a movie while actually in the pool.
RESTAURANTS NCL was the decided winner over choice of restaurants and quality of food.
COMMON AREAS (mall-like, which, for Americans is a positive thing) Royal Caribbean
TABLE SERVICE (in general) Although the service is generally excellent on all sides, the boys (now 14 & 12) preferred NCL (they liked the quick plate clearing, which as one who lives in Europe, I find annoying). The parents preferred RC, as they didn't like the European-style restaurant service (read slow) on NCL. I'll side with the parents.
GEN'L ATMOSPHERE (laid back) Incredibly, it was the Europeans of NCL who once again won by a landslide.
According to the mom, the Cruise Director of NCL was the most professional on earth, who could make announcements and recount the wonders of the stopovers in 6 languages. British by birth and appalled by the numbers of abandoned animals he would come across on his journeys, he opened his own animal sanctuary near the Port of Genova (Genoa) and has now penned a book about his experiences, Stars, State rooms & Stowaways - the proceeds all going to his sanctuary www.hanalei-animal-sanctuary-onlus.com .
And while overall, the general consensus was that NCL provided the best cruise experience for all, that might be that they just disembarked. The only downside was the arrival in Venice, in which the Venetians offered "free" luggage service for all the cruise passengers, but after standing in a very long line, it turns out it's €5 per bag.
And not on the survey was of course - my favorites - revealing the tattoo per sq inch of skin covering (USA-Carnival Cruise Lines), and the speedo bathing suits per old man ratios (it's definitely a European thing so NCL gets the vote on that account).