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The 6 best cruise lines for girlfriend getaways

May 23, 2022
11 min read
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If you’re scouting for a vacation to take with your best gal pals where you can get pampered, barhop and dine at fun, eclectic restaurants — without unpacking your suitcase multiple times or driving a car — sailing on a cruise ship checks off all the boxes.

This super-flexible vacation option takes the stress out of satisfying a mix of personalities and travel styles, so that you arrive on embarkation day ready to unwind and still adore your besties at week’s end. If needed, everyone can do their own thing during the day and still come together for dinner and evening entertainment.

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Nightlife options — not to mention wellness perks like an onboard spa, yoga classes and poolside naps — are never far from your cabin. A friend who wants to stay out late or retire to bed early won’t cramp the group’s style. Adventurous eaters and picky palates can easily be satisfied at various onboard restaurants with extensive menus, and your wine-loving pal can load up on Napa cabs while you chat up mixologists behind the bar or taste-test craft beers.

But not all cruise lines are girlfriend getaway-friendly, particularly if attending academic lectures at night or leaving each port by 4 p.m. is not your jam.

Here are the six best cruise lines for girlfriend getaways and why they will take your next ladies' night out to the next level.

Virgin Voyages

(Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages)

Even before new cruise line Virgin Voyages set sail in August 2021, Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson had already hooked party-minded travelers through his private-island retreat (Necker Island), boutique hotels and Virgin Atlantic airline. The line’s two (soon to be three) ships take that spirit to heart: Both emulate a “superyacht” vibe with an adults-only clientele.

If your group is on a budget, opt for the Insider cabin, with the beds in an L shape, creating an instant spot to host happy-hour drinks or late-night chit-chat with friends from other cabins. Two other beds are in bunks above.

Book a suite if you're feeling flush because you'll get room to spread out and not get on each other’s nerves, whether you choose the 2,147-square-foot Massive Suite with a private hot tub on the terrace or the smallest, 352-square-foot Seriously Suite. Terraces are wide enough for a swing chair and, on some, two chaise lounges; access to a members-only outdoor space hosting pre-dinner cocktails is also included.

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Related: First impressions of Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady from a cruise newbie

Twenty dining venues focus on casual eats like Korean barbecue and Mexican, and a partnership with the Bar Lab and Cocktail Cartel crafts swoon-worthy drinks for your gals-only bar crawl. Instead of classic Broadway show tunes, entertainment includes “Never Sleep Alone,” a late-night cabaret show, and the kind of rock and funk in the clubs that you’d expect from the founder of a record label.

Speaking of dancing, pack your terrycloth shorts and headband; ‘80s-themed VHS Workout classes are an aerobic time warp perfect for a group activity. Or, consider getting inked with matching tattoos at Squid Ink, the onboard tattoo parlor.

Itineraries reject 9-to-5 port days in favor of late nights so you can experience dinner or nightlife in port. The 1,408-passenger Scarlet Lady sails out of Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico, for four or five nights (the perfect length for hanging with your BFFs) in the Caribbean and the Bahamas (including a stop at the cruise line’s private beach club on Bimini, which hosts yoga classes and a beach bonfire). Identical twin Valiant Lady traverses the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter.

Celebrity Cruises

(Photo courtesy of the All-Inclusive Project/Celebrity Cruises)

With social media star Capt. Kate McCue and a supporting cast of female officers at the helm on select ships, Celebrity Cruises will match your need for female empowerment with its own. The cruise line appeals to women travelers who crave a foodie and cultured vibe more than families in search of an arcade or zip line.

By day, gather at the adults-only Solarium where an indoor pool (in a covered area marked by skylights) is true bliss when you want to sip pina coladas and giggle with your girlfriends. Book AquaClass cabins that connect you with a spa concierge to arrange your spa day and provide access to a thermal suite where you can all de-stress once you’ve ditched the office for vacation. Energetic friends can sample fitness classes ranging from Zumba to yoga; some ships even offer Peloton bikes.

Related: The ultimate guide to Celebrity Cruises ships and itineraries

If your ladies love their vino, bond at one of the cruise line’s workshops in food-and-wine pairing or blending your own wine. Or skip class for a party; gather the gals for at least one toast at the alfresco Sunset Bar pre-dinner, then bounce among Celebrity’s bars and lounges for people-watching and dancing after dark.

Dining options range from the whimsical to the elegant. Gawk at Le Petit Chef’s innovative plating and 3D table animation, and hold on to your hats at the Magic Carpet Restaurant (an open-air space that hangs over the side of the ship). Dress up for a night out at Raw on 5 or Le Voyage by Daniel Boulud (on Celebrity Beyond, the cruise line’s newest ship).

Whether your group wants shore excursions the likes of rugged adventures in Alaska, beach-bathing in the Caribbean or village-hopping in the Mediterranean, Celebrity Cruises’ itineraries cover it all.

Carnival Cruise Line

(Photo by Lorraine Boogich/Getty Images)

Carnival Cruise Line’s three-day weekend cruises are ideal for gal pals without a ton of vacation time or money to spare. If you don’t want to bother with airports, you can likely find a cruise departing from a port within driving distance of your hometown. Save even more by bunking three or four to a cabin, though you might want to splurge on a couple of cabins so you won’t all be sharing one bathroom.

What Carnival Cruise Line does best is cater to a variety of people. You can enjoy casual dining by celebrity chefs (including Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken, Guy Fieri’s Guy’s Burger Joint and Emeril Lagasse’s Emeril’s Bistro 1396), sample sushi or Italian fare, or choose fine dining at The Chef’s Table or steakhouse.

Related: The ultimate guide to Carnival Cruise Line

If your crew is into it, you can line dance, race down waterslides and holler out music trivia answers on the pool deck. Or, perhaps you’d rather walk past that wet madness to the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, a sweet spot for catching up on girl talk in a completely chill environment — no shrieking kids allowed.

When you’re ready for a late night out, you’ll find Carnival offers an impressive bar lineup. Sip fruity drinks at the poolside RedFrog Tiki Bar or join the Mega Deck Party on the Lido Deck.

Norwegian Cruise Line

(Photo by Danny Lehman/Norwegian Cruise Line)

If dancing the conga line on the Lido deck, jamming at a Glow Party or working it at a retro-themed disco are your ideas of a good time, Norwegian Cruise Line ships could be your group’s utopia.

Whether you want to spend a relaxing sea day on the ship getting manis and pedis in the spa or escape the crowds at Vibe Beach Club (on select ships), you have plenty of opportunities to hang with the girls. These ships offer plenty of daytime onboard options drenched with adrenaline, from zipping down a waterslide to an indoor cycling class.

Related: The ultimate guide to Norwegian Cruise Line

Stay up late to see shows like "Kinky Boots," "Footloose" or "Jersey Boys" (Broadway quality and included in your fare) and find your onboard crush among the cast of "The Choir of Man." Afterward, reconnect at your choice of 20-plus bars or lounges, pouring everything from bubbles to martinis. Each watering hole has a distinct theme, including the Skyy Vodka Ice Bar, entirely constructed from ice.

Norwegian Cruise Line sails the world, including Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and Hawaii (see four islands in a week, whew!). If you’re seeking the beach, look for weekend sailings to the Bahamas from Florida or longer five- to seven-night itineraries to Mexico, Caribbean and Central America from the East and West coasts.

Margaritaville at Sea

(Rendering courtesy of Margaritaville at Sea)

Margaritaville at Sea exclusively sails two-night trips between the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, and Freeport in the Bahamas, so it’s easy to narrow in on dates that jive with your girlfriends’ conflicting schedules. If you want more hang time, tack on a few nights in a Grand Bahama Island hotel, coordinated by the cruise line.

The 659-cabin Paradise takes its maiden voyage in mid-May after a Jimmy Buffett-themed rebrand. Grab your salt shaker and make a beeline for the aptly named 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar, the Sunset Bar or the Euphoria Lounge for the first of many margaritas. Or, meet up in the casino to play the slots. The ship also hosts a theater, fitness center and spa to fill in your calendar of fun.

And, yes, you can sing your heart out to Buffett songs. Just show up at “Jimmy’s Ship Show,” a musical written by Buffett and performed on board. You can also order a cheeseburger in paradise at LandShark Bar & Grill, a concept borrowed from Margaritaville Resorts. Other dining venues include a coffee and pastry shop, steak and seafood joint, pizzeria and the prerequisite buffet.

Wake up to a day of fun in the Bahamian sun before you re-board the ship to do it all over again on the way home.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay beach. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

If you can’t decide on anything as a group, pick a ship that lacks nothing in terms of things to do. This way everyone is happy. Royal Caribbean’s five Oasis-class ships (Oasis, Allure, Harmony, Symphony and Wonder of the Seas) are solid options because they’re the largest passenger vessels at sea. This means lots of choices.

You can dine at a different restaurant every night (and still not try them all), check out a Broadway show, then barhop from one deck to the next by way of the elevating Rising Tide Bar. Foodie friends can load up on calories at gourmet venues such as Wonderland and 150 Central Park, while the health-conscious can sip smoothies for lunch at the Vitality Cafe.

Related: The ultimate guide to Royal Caribbean

Or, cheer on the bravest of your bunch as she soars along the ship’s zip line, climbs the multideck rock wall or attempts to hang 10 on the FlowRider surf simulator. You can all bring your heart rates back down with treatments at the spa or a thermal suite detox.

If you’re looking for a beach vacay, set your sights on a Caribbean or Bahamas itinerary; some short sailings won’t even cost you that much PTO. In fact, at Royal Caribbean’s private island — Perfect Day at CocoCay — you might want to go all-out and book a floating cabana where you can properly catch up away from the kids and crowds.

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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.