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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Norwegian Epic (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Norwegian Epic (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

8 Best Cruise Lines for Onboard Entertainment

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Norwegian Epic (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Norwegian Epic (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Melinda Crow
Cruise companies are working harder than ever to bring guests a wide variety of entertainment onboard, and much of it is digitally enhanced with the use of computer screens and eye-popping light shows. You’ll still find magicians, jugglers, and musical reviews, and rarely do we tire of a good poolside or atrium band, but there’s no doubt that competition between the cruise lines has improved the scale of onboard performances.

We scoured Cruise Critic reviews and the Cruise Critic Message Boards to find the best cruise lines and their best ships to sail if entertainment is a top priority for you. Our list of the best cruise lines for onboard entertainment includes not only the top cruise lines in the mainstream market, but also a couple of cruise lines that might surprise you with unexpected entertainment choices.

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1. Carnival Cruise Line: One of the Top Cruise Lines for Live Music and Comedy

Carnival Breeze Activity/Entertainment
Carnival Breeze Activity/Entertainment

Best Carnival Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide, with Carnival Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon leading the way

Why Carnival Is the Best in Entertainment: Carnival Cruise Line's "Fun Ships" are your best bet if you're looking for a variety of live music performances, elaborate and splashy production shows and top-rated comedy acts. Mardi Gras and Celebration feature new entertainment venues featuring top-level performers.

Carnival's music-driven Playlist Productions, found aboard more than half of the line's 25-ship fleet, uses LED screens and assorted special effects to enhance the singing and dancing on stage. Three to four different stage shows are performed aboard each Playlist Productions-equipped ship, with themes such as Motown and R&B and rock-inspired piano tunes.

Speaking of piano music, Carnival's piano bars are a popular musical attraction available fleetwide (especially for those who enjoy sing-alongs), and many ships feature live musical performances in casino bars and in the atrium.

If you prefer comedy to music, check out the nightly Punchliner Comedy Club fleetwide, which puts on early-evening family-friendly shows and later adults-only comedy sets. And don’t forget the Family Feud game show onboard, which is a guaranteed evening of laughs.

2. Norwegian Cruise Line: Best Cruises for Hit Theatrical Performances and Themed Music Cruises

"Jersey Boys" in Bliss Theater on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)
"Jersey Boys" in Bliss Theater on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Best Norwegian Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide, but especially Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss

Why NCL Cruises Are Tops in Entertainment: You don’t have to visit New York or London to experience some of the best theater performances. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) brings you top theatrical shows like Six and Choir of Man onboard its top cruise ships.

And don’t miss the sizzling Latin and ballroom dance team in "Burn the Floor" on select Norwegian ships. Want to rock to the music of the Beatles? Step into The Cavern Club on Norwegian Bliss, Epic, Encore and Joy.

Comedy lovers will find comedians performing on every ship in the fleet, but Norwegian Getaway and Escape feature a Headliners Comedy Club with performances by Levity Entertainment Group’s top performers.

Norwegian cruises also feature a host of game show entertainment, variety shows and, of course, musical production shows featuring the ship’s entertainers.

And which cruise line is the best for music themed cruises? Music lovers will find their favorite artists frequently playing on entertainment cruises staged by Sixthman Cruises onboard NCL ships.

These music themed cruises are known for turning the whole ship into a floating concert stage -- with all the guests having backstage passes because the performers are cruising right along with you.

3. Disney Cruise Line: Best Cruises for Entertaining the Kids

Tangled, The Musical performed on Disney Magic (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)
Tangled, The Musical performed on Disney Magic (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

Best Disney Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide, particularly on Disney Wish

Why Disney Cruises Are Tops in Entertainment: Disney Cruise Line is among the top cruise lines for families for a reason: The line knows how to entertain kids of all ages. After all, it benefits from the collected wisdom of the entire Disney corporation.

From big production shows to Disney character interactions with starstruck kids at breakfast and teatime, the line does its utmost to keep everyone happy on vacation.

Kids can start the day off right with character breakfasts -- or, later, afternoon teas -- where they can share a laugh with Goofy or a hug with Snow White. Come dinner time, several of the restaurants -- including Animator's Palate, Tiana's Place and Rapunzel's Royal Table -- offer mealtime shows as well.

At night, Disney film favorites are brought to life on shipboard stages in kid-friendly 45- to 60-minute Broadway-style performances. You'll find longtime favorites, such as "Beauty and the Beast," as well as new hits like "Frozen, a Musical Spectacular." Other production shows feature song highlights from a mix of favorite Disney movies.

More informal but no less fun: On one night each cruise, Disney launches an all-out deck party (either themed on pirates, "Star Wars," "Marvel" or the film "Frozen"), complete with an interactive musical show, dance parties and at-sea fireworks.

Adult cruisers are not forgotten onboard and can delight in newly-released Disney (and Marvel) movies on the big screen in the theater or pool deck, and enjoy adult-focused entertainment in the nightlife districts aboard all ships in the fleet.

4. Royal Caribbean International: Best Cruise Line for Multiple Entertainment Options

Empress of the Seas Activity/Entertainment
Empress of the Seas Activity/Entertainment

Best Royal Caribbean Ships for Entertainment: Ships in Voyager Class, Freedom Class, Quantum Class and Oasis Class

Why Royal Caribbean Cruises Are Tops in Entertainment: Royal Caribbean has long been at the forefront of innovative cruise ship entertainment, introducing unique offerings never seen at sea on its new ships over the years. It's the first (and only) line to offer ice skating shows in an onboard rink (on select ships) and water-based acrobatic shows in a pool-based stage area (on Oasis-class ships).

Plus, it's brought Broadway (or London West End) to the high seas with shows like "Momma Mia" (Allure of the Seas), "Grease," (Independence of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas) and "Hairspray" (Symphony of the Seas).

On Anthem of the Seas and other Quantum Class ships, the expansive Two70 entertainment venue -- a multimedia theater that combines virtual concerts, robotics, aerial shows and video projection -- provides technology-enhanced spectacles like "Spectra's Cabaret."

For comedy lovers, Allure of the Seas' Comedy LIVE venue hosts two headliner comedians with sets inspired by NYC's stand-up clubs, while The Attic on Harmony and Symphony of the Seas offers late-night comedy shows for adults.

Royal Caribbean also does adult game-show style shows that rank it as one of the best cruise lines for adults. Love and Marriage and Battle of the Sexes are rowdy and hilarious, while Quest is quite possibly the wildest interactive cruise ship entertainment afloat.

5. Cunard: Exceptional Entertainment Onboard One of the World’s Finest Cruise Lines

Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Activity/Entertainment
Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Activity/Entertainment

Best Cunard Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide, but particularly Queen Mary 2

Why Cunard Is Tops for Entertainment: Cunard takes a more upper-crust approach to entertainment and succeeds with some unique offerings. Think symphony performances and harpists in the Atrium.

Cunard’s most noteworthy entertainment appears onboard select sailings known as Event Voyages. These include a range of options, from ballet to The Beatles.

Also worth noting is Queen Mary 2's planetarium, the setting for several space shows produced in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, narrated by the likes of Tom Hanks and Robert Redford.

6. Holland America: Best Cruise Ships for Classical Music and Jazz Onboard

Koningsdam Activity/Entertainment
Koningsdam Activity/Entertainment

Best Holland America Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide, but particularly Rotterdam, Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam

Why Holland America Is Tops for Entertainment: Holland America upped its entertainment game with a trio of impressive partnerships that bring world-class entertainment to its Music Walk complex on every night of every sailing on select ships.

The shows include classical music in conjunction with Lincoln Center Stage and Memphis-style blues courtesy of B.B. King's Blues Club. Plus, passengers can enjoy popular hits played by dueling pianos, thanks to a partnership with Billboard.

The cruise line has made great use of technology on its newest ships to bring the quality of its theater productions up a notch. The two-story World Stage has a 270-degree LED projection screen that lends energy and light to stage shows.

7. Princess Cruises: Best Cruises for Broadway Shows and Musical Productions

Grand Princess Activity/Entertainment
Grand Princess Activity/Entertainment

Best Princess Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide

Why Princess Is Tops for Entertainment: Princess Cruises partnered with Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning composer Stephen Schwartz -- known for his Tony-nominated scores of such as "Wicked," "Pippin" and "Godspell" to create production shows exclusively for the cruise line.

One of Schwartz’s productions -- "The Secret Silk" -- uses life-size puppetry from the famed Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The original show, “Magic to Do,” features song, dance and special effects for a Broadway-style theatrical experience.

All Princess ships feature "The Voice of the Ocean," an at-sea version of "The Voice'' TV show, in which passengers audition to compete in an end-of-sailing grand finale; you'll even find the iconic rotating chairs at this officially licensed show. Also on all ships are guest acts that might include comedians, magicians and live music acts.

8. Virgin Voyages: One of the Best Cruise Lines for Adults Seeking Club-Style Entertainment

Scarlet Lady Virgin N E W
Scarlet Lady Virgin N E W

Best Virgin Ships for Entertainment: Fleetwide: Scarlet Lady, Valiant Lady, Resilient Lady and Brilliant Lady

Why Virgin Is Tops for Entertainment: Virgin Voyages will soon have four ships in its not-so-cruise-like fleet of ships. If you think you wouldn’t enjoy a cruise, Virgin Voyages wants to change your mind, and the cruise line’s anti-cruise approach applies to entertainment onboard along with everything else.

For starters, Jennifer Lopez is Chief Entertainment and Lifestyle Officer for Virgin Voyages. That should tell you a lot about the entertainment you’ll find onboard a Virgin cruise ship. It will be rowdy, it will be fun, and it may sometimes be controversial. It will always be adult entertainment because everyone onboard is over the age of 18.

While there is a main theater on each ship that features a variety of programming, the best entertainment onboard a Virgin ship comes in the form of pop-up performances throughout the sailing, blended with the club-like atmosphere of the entire ship.

Updated April 24, 2023

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