The 3 Best Cruises for Young Adults

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Young Passengers aboard royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas

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If you’ve never been on a cruise, you might be picturing the older demographic playing shuffleboard, eating dinner at 4:00, and talking about their investments. But you’d be wrong to think that.

Don’t overlook cruising if you’re looking for an exciting spring break adventure.

Modern cruise ships are an excellent vacation choice for young adults and college students. Cruising offers plenty of entertainment, thrills, and partying at an affordable price – even on a student’s budget.

Because not all cruises are the same, choosing the right cruise line can make or break your vacation.

So, what are the best cruises for young adults and college students?

From my experience as a young adult sailing on over a dozen cruises, I can tell you that Virgin Voyages is the best cruise line for young adults and college students. But if you are cruising on a budget, Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line are great choices.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about cruising as a young adult.

The Best Cruises for Young Adults and College Students

Belly flop competition on royal Caribbean's Majesty of the SeasPin

If you are looking for younger crowds and a party at sea, the best cruises for young adults are Virgin Voyages, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, P&O Cruises, and Holland America are popular but cater to an older demographic. Disney Cruise Line is a better cruise line for kids and families.

The cruise lines on our list draw in younger crowds and offer incredible nightlife and parties at sea. Their cruise ships consist of some of the world’s largest vessels with high-thrill activities young adults love.

1. Virgin Voyages

The bow of scarlet lady docked in Key West FloridaPin

Virgin Voyages is a unique adult-only cruise line purpose-built for young adults and millennials. The cruise line provides a laid-back atmosphere, incredible culinary experiences, and all-night parties.

Virgin Voyages is our pick for the best cruise line for young adults

When sailing on Scarlet Lady, I participated in a late-night call at Bimini, thrilling entertainment in the Red Room, and all-night parties in the ship’s nightclub, The Manor.

Virgin Voyages has a more laid-back atmosphere compared to other mainstream cruise lines. The atmosphere and demographic are better suited to young adults who’d rather have a party cruise than play shuffleboard.

Scarlet Night on Virgin Voyages. The pool deck is full of passengers and crew throwing a party under the starsPin

The cruise line works hard, creating an energetic atmosphere. And there are overtly sexual undertones throughout the cruise.

Virgin’s award-wining cruise ships contain several amenities suited to young adults, including

  • a tattoo parlor
  • pajama party
  • two pools
  • a poker room
  • Scarlet Night dance party.

Culinary experiences are a top priority for Virgin Voyages.

Virgin’s cruise ships don’t have a buffet or main dining room. Instead, passengers can choose from Virgin’s more than 20 onboard restaurants and eateries. Each restaurant presents a unique dining experience, with menus created by Michelin-starred chefs.

And their effort pays off.

The food on Scarlet Lady was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Not just the best food on a cruise ship, but anywhere.

The best part is that every restaurant is included in Virgin Voyages cruise fare.

So there are no hidden fees or upcharges.

Entertainment is another highlight for college students. The shows range from comedy to Cirque du Soleil-Esq acrobatics and everything in between. The nightly entertainment typically runs less than an hour, so you can return to partying without missing a beat.

At night, the Manor transforms into a two-story nightclub, where the party doesn’t stop until well into the morning.

The only downside is that Virgin Voyages cruises are more expensive than other cruise lines.

But the price is worth it when you consider that your Virgin Voyages cruise fare includes the following:

  • More than 20 restaurants and eateries
  • Onboard activities and entertainment
  • Fitness classes
  • Complimentary Virgin Voyages Wi-Fi
  • Gratuities
  • Water, coffee, tea, soda, and juice

In all, Virgin Voyages is our top pick for young adult cruisers.

2. Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas aerial view from the sidePin
(Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

A Royal Caribbean cruise is a choice for active young adults. Royal Caribbean’s fleet boasts some of the largest cruise ships in the world.

Their cruise ships offer plenty of high-thrill activities and entertainment options suited to young adult cruisers.

Royal Caribbean’s larger ships boast rock climbing walls, surfing simulators, zip lines, comedy shows, sky diving simulators, and more.

Additionally, Royal Caribbean offers low-cost cruise vacations perfect for students on a budget.

The cruise line offers plenty of short Bahamas itineraries. The short itineraries attract plenty of young cruisers, the right demographic for creating amazing late-night parties at sea.

Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay private island is another big draw for young travelers.

The private island offers an incredible experience that includes the following:

  • A water park
  • The tallest water slide in North America
  • White sand beaches
  • Complimentary lunch
  • A massive pool
  • Zip lines
  • A tethered hot air balloon
  • and more

Young people looking for the party scene will love Royal Caribbean’s bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues. Royal’s larger ship classes, the Oasis and Quantum-class ships, even have a bar with bionic bartenders.

3. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Magic Departing Miami cruise portPin

Carnival Cruise Line is one of the most popular cruise ships among younger travelers. The cruise line’s popularity stems from its focus on the “fun factor.”

As the name suggests, Carnival’s cruises truly feel like a festival at sea with pool parties, dance classes, international DJs, fitness classes, and more.

Carnival attracts a young demographic because of its incredibly low cruise fares.

The low cruise fares make Carnival an attractive choice for young adults. 

Plus, the younger demographic means you find some of the best parties on Carnival Cruise Line. The cruise line is known for its lively atmosphere and all-night parties.

Orange and yellow waterslides at the water park on Carnival BreezePin

Carnival is often known as the “fun cruise line” thanks to its programming of trivia, shows, outdoor activities, and live music.

The cruise line partners with celebrities like Guy Fieri and Shaquille O’Neal to offer unique dining spots.

One of Carnival’s most unique features is the craft brewery featured on some of their cruise ships, complete with their very own craft beers.

The one downside of cruising with Carnival is its popularity with young families. If you choose to spend your summer break on a Carnival cruise, it’s important to know that you will share the ship with many kids.

But if that doesn’t bother you, Carnival is one of the best cruise lines for your spring break vacation.

4. Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Prima aerial view while sailing in open oceanPin
(Photo Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Norwegian Cruise Line is another great option for young adults who like to party. NCL is a popular cruise line for young adults because of its laid-back atmosphere and late-night parties.

Norwegian Cruise Line is one of the best cruise lines for traveling solo.

Norwegian’s fleet of cruise ships offers plenty of solo cabins. The solo staterooms waive the single supplement, making your cruise much more affordable.

The studio cabins are 100-square-foot accommodations and provide access to the Studio Lounge, where you can meet other solo travelers. 

Don’t let the small cabin size scare you. With plenty of activities and entertainment on the ship, you won’t spend much time in your cabin.

Norwegian Encore go-kart track and outdoor laser tagPin
Norwegian Encore go-kart track and outdoor laser tag (Photo credit Norwegian Cruise Line)

NCL cruise ships offer

  • go-kart tracks
  • virtual reality game rooms
  • waterslides
  • dance clubs
  • rock climbing
  • casino
  • bowling
  • basketball
  • mini golf
  • and more

There’s no shortage of exciting games and activities for young adults.

In addition to their top-tier casinos, young travelers will love the White Hot Party, ice bar, and vibrant nightlife.

How to Pick the Best Cruise

When is the Best Time for College Students to Go on a Cruise?

The most critical factor determining the ship’s demographic is when you will set sail. As a rule of thumb, the best time of year for college students to go on a cruise is spring break, summer, or fall break.

As a general rule, you’ll find younger crowds and a better party atmosphere when school is out.

If you want to cruise with a younger crowd, booking a cruise during spring break or early summer is best. You will also find younger groups if you sail during late summer or Christmas break; however, you will share the ship with families and young children.

If you want to sail with younger crowds but not too young, stick with spring break or early summer sailings. Cruises that sail during these times are full of young adults and have a vibrant nightlife.

Shorter Cruises = Younger Crowds


Another critical factor is the length of your trip. The longer the cruise, the older the crowd.

Younger cruisers tend to take shorter cruise trips of 3-5 days to save money. In addition to being cheaper, booking a shorter cruise has the added benefit of greater flexibility in departure times.

Short cruises are great for college students looking to party and let loose with younger crowds. In recent years, cruise lines have made a big push into shorter cruises, and you can even find some of the new ships sailing with short itineraries. You can find plenty of quick sailing options that visit Mexico and the Bahamas.

Your Destination Matters

Don’t sail to Alaska or Antarctica if you want to party with a younger crowd. Alaskan, New England, and scenic river cruises appeal to older passengers who prefer a quiet and relaxing vacation.

In general, warm climates are where you will find the most vibrant nightlife and party atmosphere. Younger passengers gravitate towards the tropical climate, which offers drinks by the pool and beautiful beaches.

Bottom line: if you want to party with a younger crowd, book a sailing in a warm climate. Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexican cruises tend to have the youngest passengers.

Newer Ships Have More to Do

As a young adult, you’re probably not looking for a quiet getaway to read by the pool and shuffleboard on the top deck.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But if you’re looking for excitement and thrill, you’ll want to stick with newer cruise ships.

The newest and largest cruise ships offer more activities and amenities. Cruise lines are always trying to one-up each other. Newer cruise ships guarantee you’ll find more exciting activities better suited to younger cruisers.

Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Holland America are popular but cater to an older demographic.

How can I Stay Safe While Cruising?

View from the pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise ship Pearl with live dj in the backgroundPin
Mardi Gras WaterWorks (Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line)

Regardless of where your cruise takes you, it is always important to keep safe while traveling. These simple tips can help you avoid trouble and stay safe:

Use your safe – Cabins come with a safe. Use it. Keeping electronic devices, jewelry, money, documents, and passports in the safe is always a good idea to protect yourself from theft.

Don’t drink excessively – Alcohol is a major factor in safety incidents aboard cruise ships. Be mindful of your limits, and pace yourself. There is plenty of alcohol on board, and it can be easy to get carried away. And never accept any drinks from a stranger.

Keep on top of handwashing – Use the hand sanitizer provided in the ship’s dining areas. Norovirus is a common issue on cruise ships, and with thousands of passengers sharing a confined space, it is easy for germs to spread.

Book the sponsored excursions – You’ll save money by booking shore excursions independently, but booking through your cruise line is always safer. The sponsored excursions cruise lines offer are vetted and insured to ensure the safety of you and your fellow passengers. Your safety is worth the price, even if it costs a few extra bucks.

Keep track of time – Pay close attention to the arrival and departure times when you are in port. They are not suggestions, and your ship will leave without you. We recommend arriving at your ship 30 minutes before the last call to avoid missing the boat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cruise Fares All-Inclusive?

Cruise lines include many basic amenities in the base fare, but cruises are not all-inclusive. Your cruise fare typically includes meals in the main dining room and buffet, onboard entertainment, activities, and cabin accommodations.

The cruise fare generally doesn’t include specialty restaurants, Wi-Fi, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, spa treatments, and shore excursions. It is good to see what’s included with your base fare and ensure you budget for the extra costs before booking your cruise.

Can I Drink Onboard the Cruise?

Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Princess, require passengers to be 21 to consume alcohol while onboard the ship. Norwegian Cruise Line allows passengers between the ages of 18 to 20 to consume alcohol while in international waters, provided they are traveling with a parent or guardian who signs a consent form at the front desk.

Don’t think you can fool the onboard bartenders.
You will make all purchases through your cruise card when onboard the ship. If you attempt to sneak past the bartenders, they’ll flag you for trying to drink while underage. Cruise lines reserve the right to disembark passengers who get caught purchasing drinks for underage guests.

Tip: You can save money if your cruise line allows you to bring alcohol on the cruise ship.

What are the Bars and Nightclubs Like on a Cruise Ship?

You will be happy to know that cruise ships have active nightlife onboard. Whether you prefer a sports bar, dancing by the pool, or a karaoke bar, you will likely find it aboard your ship.

In addition to bars and lounges, most cruise ships have nightclubs full of partygoers dancing and singing well into the night. These elaborate clubs have insane light and sound systems and incredible dance parties hosted by scratch DJs.

Can I Gamble at the Cruise Casino?

Most cruise lines allow passengers over 18 to gamble at their onboard casinos. Remember that some older ships, and all Disney ships, don’t have a casino. But if you are sailing on a new vessel, you won’t need to worry, as most cruise ships have casinos full of slot machines, table games, and scheduled poker tournaments.

Tip: Cruise ship casinos have lower odds than your standard Vegas casino. For example, blackjack on a ship pays 6 to 5 compared to the standard 3 to 2 payout.

Can I Smoke Onboard the Ship?

Rules regarding smoking have become increasingly restrictive. All cruise lines prohibit smoking in cabins, and most don’t allow it on balconies. That said, you can smoke on a cruise ship in smoking areas on the outdoor decks, and many permit smoking in the casino.

Is there Internet on the Ship?

While at sea, the only internet connection is by satellite. To avoid roaming charges on your cruise, look into your cruise ship’s Wi-Fi package.
In the past, cruise ships were notorious for having slow, expensive, and unreliable internet connections.

Today, passengers can find fast internet connections on modern cruise ships. Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Carnival have all made great efforts to speed up their internet connections, but it still won’t be as fast as you are used to, but it will get the job done.

What is the Best Way to Book a Cruise?

There are many ways to book a cruise, including through the cruise line’s website, online, or through a travel agent. Although it’s easier to book online, you should consider using a travel agent, especially if this is your first cruise.

Booking a cruise is not as straightforward as booking a resort. A travel agent can help you find a cruise that fits your budget, not to mention they can get access to deals and group rates that you can’t find online. Travel agents get paid a commission through the cruise line and usually don’t charge you to book using their service.

Article by

Marcello De Lio


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  1. Great article. Appreciate the info. As a grandmother reading ideas about cruises for my 2 graduating granddaughters, I am concerned with details about safety, etc. Thanks for recommendations!

    • I’m glad you found the article helpful! Although it’s impossible to be 100% safe, cruise ships are generally safe places for travel. And cruise ship security is always available if you have any concerns.