The 6 best cruise lines for young adults

Travelers between the ages of 18 and 25 often get overlooked on cruises. They are too old for the teen clubs, even if they are still in high school at 18, but may be too young to drink at the onboard bars. Many cruise lines forget that 20-somethings still want to meet their onboard peers in group settings arranged by the cruise line — especially if they’re traveling with older family members with different vacation interests.

The best cruise lines for young adults often have meetups that allow them to make friends quickly on the first night; have a cool, laid-back vibe in adults-only areas that they can finally access after graduating from the kids clubs; and have some sense of adventure built into the itinerary.

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Young adult cruisers can find a party around every corner on Carnival Cruise Line or adventures off the ship with Royal Caribbean International. Even solo cruisers will find cabins on Norwegian Cruise Line that are designed just for them, with communal spaces ideal for making friends.

Here, we list the six best cruise lines for young adults ages 18 to 25. Plus, we outline a few key things you should know when picking a cruise line, especially if you are younger than 21 (or traveling with someone who is).

3 things young adult cruisers need to know

Booking restrictions

Some cruise lines do have restrictions for travelers looking to book a sailing if they are younger than 21. For instance, Royal Caribbean sets the minimum age to sail unaccompanied by an adult on cruises from North America at 21. (You only need to be 18 years old to sail from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.)

Before booking with any cruise line, you’ll want to check the minimum age requirement of the cruise line to be sure you or someone in your group meets the requirements.

Related: 10 mistakes to avoid when booking your cruise

Drinking age on cruises

On most sailings from the U.S., guests must be at least 21 years old to drink alcohol on the ship. One exception to this rule is Margaritaville at Sea, which allows guests who are 18 to drink once the ship is in international waters or on Grand Bahama Island.

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If you’re sailing from a country that allows legal drinking at 18, as many European countries do, check the drinking policy for those who are younger than 21 for that particular sailing or cruise line before booking. For example, Disney Cruise Line allows 18- to 20-year-olds to consume alcohol on closed-loop sailings departing from any European country. Parents or guardians just need to sign a consent form.

Be warned, though, that consuming or even buying alcohol for those younger than 21 is a serious offense that can lead to forced debarkation on sailings that say the age for drinking is 21 and older.

Cruise line alcohol policies

Cruise lines generally frown on bringing your own alcohol on board, limiting bottles and charging corkage fees. Check your specific cruise line’s policies because they are all different.

For example, Disney Cruise Line allows those who are at least 21 to bring two bottles of wine or six beers onto the ship with them in a carry-on bag on embarkation day and again at each port of call. Carnival Cruise Line allows cruisers 21 and older to bring one bottle of unopened wine per person on board in their carry-on luggage on embarkation day only.

If you decide to try to sneak on more alcohol than allowed, security can confiscate and discard it. Most cruise lines will open bottles of water, mouthwash and other clear liquids to confirm it’s not contraband alcohol.

Related: Can I bring alcohol on a cruise ship? A line-by-line guide

OK, enough of the rules and regulations. Here are our favorite cruise lines for young adults.

Best cruise line for a party: Carnival Cruise Line


Carnival Cruise Line is known for its lively atmosphere and party vibes. Sailings on Carnival are among the most affordable, which can benefit young adults looking for a fun vacation on a budget.

Along with fun fast-casual dining spots from celebrities like Guy Fieri and Shaquille O’Neal, Carnival’s so-called “Fun Ships” have an abundance of shows, trivia challenges and outdoor activities that appeal to younger cruisers. On Carnival ships, those 18 and older can gamble in the onboard casino but cannot order drinks at the many themed bars unless they’re at least 21 years old.

Carnival doesn’t typically offer planned events for cruisers ages 18 to 25. Travelers looking to meet similarly aged travelers can connect with shipmates on Facebook groups dedicated to their sailing and arrange an unofficial meetup with other young adults on board. Active shore excursions, the fitness center and the hot tub on the adults-only sun deck are great places to look for peers during a cruise.

Related: A beginner’s guide to picking a cruise line

Best cruise line for young adult meetups: Disney Cruise Line


Even though Disney Cruise Line is known as the family cruise line, young adults may be on board because they have younger siblings or their family enjoys visiting Disney parks. Cruisers who have aged out of Vibe, the teen club for 14- to 17-year-olds, will find their own “secret” onboard club known as the 1820 Society.

Cruisers ages 18 to 20 who want to participate in the planned activities can see all the available happenings on the Disney Cruise Line app once they’re on the ship. Young adults should attend the first meetup, which is where introductions and icebreaker games happen. Throughout the cruise and even on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, meetups and activities are scheduled for the age group.

Another plus for young adults is that Disney only requires guests to be 18 years old to sail unaccompanied. That means you and your friends don’t need a parent chaperone for a weekend cruise filled with late-night dance parties in the District and brunch at the adults-only Palo restaurant.

Related: 5 reasons why Disney cruises aren’t just for kids

Best cruise line for young foodies: Celebrity Cruises

Specialty cocktail at Eden on Celebrity Edge. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Young adult cruisers who get excited about international cuisine and craft cocktails will enjoy Celebrity Cruises, especially its newest Edge-class ships. The line is a good choice for multigenerational trips, especially as its fares might be beyond a 20-something’s budget.

Celebrity Edge, Apex, Beyond and the upcoming Ascent are filled with hip venues, such as Craft Social with its dozens of boutique beers and Eden with its innovative, nature-themed cocktails. If you want to feel the ocean breeze on your face while sipping a martini, head to the Rooftop Garden, where greenery, plush loungers and ocean views will keep you coming back throughout your cruise.

Dining at the many onboard restaurants is also a treat, with venues specializing in sushi, backyard barbecue, French bistro classics and handmade Italian pasta. If your budget doesn’t allow for specialty dining, you won’t get menu fatigue with four main dining rooms included in the fare. Each restaurant is themed around a different country’s cuisine, including Greek, French, Italian and new American.

Related: 5 reasons you should splurge on a cruise ship specialty restaurant

Best cruise line for quick sailings: Royal Caribbean

Floating Cabana on Perfect Day at CocoCay. TIM AYLEN/ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Young adults may struggle to take time off from work or school to do a weeklong cruise. With Royal Caribbean, travelers in their late teens and 20s can take part in two- to five-night sailings from the U.S. or Europe that have affordable rates. Even better, some of the line’s largest and attraction-laden ships sail these shorter itineraries, so you won’t have a chance to be bored.

Cruises from Florida often go to Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, which adds even more value to the cruise by adding a hassle-free beach day into the destination mix. On the island, lunch is free and you can use your shipboard beverage package to cover your drinks. Plus, the inviting pool and many beaches are great places to hang out and enjoy the water. You must pay extra to ride CocoCay’s many waterslides, zip line or tethered hot air balloon.

On board the ships, young adults can meet others at the sports court for a pickup game of basketball or pickleball. The nightclubs and lounges are fun spots to dance and sing with new friends. The minimum age to sail without an older adult in the cabin for cruises departing from North America is 21.

Best cruise line for an adults-only atmosphere: Virgin Voyages

Solo Sea View cabin on Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady cruise ship. VIRGIN VOYAGES

Young adults looking for a kid-free vacation should check out Virgin Voyages, an adults-only cruise line where the minimum age to book is 18. Gratuities, Wi-Fi and sassy group workouts are included in the fare. Each of the three (soon to be four) ships have many restaurants, such as Pink Agave for Mexican and Gunbae for Korean barbecue, all of which are fee-free.

At sea, guests ages 18 and older can enjoy an alcoholic beverage, but while docked in any U.S. port, the minimum drinking age on board is 21.

One of the most exciting moments of every Virgin Voyages sailing is Scarlet Night, when the entire ship is decked out in red thanks to added red lights and red crew outfits. Guests are encouraged to don their crimson best and attend a late-night dance party on the pool deck.

Adventurous passengers can get matching ink with their besties at the onboard tattoo shop or attend a risque show at night. This is definitely a cruise to take with your partner or peers, not your parents.

Related: An expert cruiser’s first impressions of Scarlet Lady

Best cruise line for young adults traveling solo: Norwegian Cruise Line


Solo travelers are often overlooked and, frankly, outpriced on many cruises. With single supplement charges, solo cruisers pay the same total price for a room as two people sharing a cabin.

Norwegian Cruise Line changed the game with its Studio cabins. These 100-square-foot inside rooms are designed for one, so travelers won’t be paying extra. Studio guests also get access to the Studio Lounge, a communal gathering space with big-screen TVs, drinks and snacks. Not all NCL ships offer solo cabins; studios are available on multiple ships, including Norwegian Escape, Epic, Encore, the new Norwegian Prima and the upcoming Norwegian Viva.

On board, cruisers will find plenty of fast-casual and table-service dining options, including one of our favorite food halls at sea, Indulge Food Hall on Norwegian Prima and Viva. Active young adults will enjoy the go-kart tracks, virtual reality game rooms, waterslides and lively dance clubs found on many of Norwegian’s newest ships. If you prefer to relax with a book and enjoy the ocean breeze, you can do that, too.

Bottom line

Whether on a family trip with younger siblings or older parents, a party cruise with friends or a relaxing escape with your significant other, young adults can find ships that speak their language. We recommend these six lines for 18- to 25-year-olds, but even on other ships, a good attitude and an adventurous spirit will go a long way toward making a trip you didn’t choose extra fun. Young adults can find plenty that appeals to them on most cruises — with or without mom and dad.

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