Cruise ship Entertainment

'Rock of Ages' on Norwegian Cruise Line."Mamma Mia!." "Rock of Ages." The Second City comedy shows. Dinner theater with high-tech twists. These diverse entertainment options used to be hallmarks of land vacations - until enterprising cruise lines brought them to the high seas.

While some cruise lines stick to the old entertainment standards, such as musical revues and poolside bands, others have taken entertainment to another level by offering unique and creative shows and spaces. They provide multiple entertainment options for every kind of cruise traveler, whether that's rock concerts, aerial shows, big-name lecturers, Minnie Mouse meet 'n' greets or Julliard performances.

Who are these trendsetters? They run the gamut from lines with mega-ships (especially the newer additions to Norwegian and Royal Caribbean's fleets) that can fit multiple performance venues onboard to more upscale lines like Cunard that aim for high-end enrichment and sophisticated evening pastimes. And while we tip our hat to a few small-ship lines, in general, extra onboard space paves the way for entertainment innovation.

Our top lines for onboard entertainment combine longstanding entertainment favorites with some impressive trendsetting. For more on the trends themselves, see our story, 9 Trends in Cruise Ship Evening Entertainment.

The 'Villains Tonight' show on Disney Magic and Disney Dream.Carnival Cruise Line

Best Ships: Fleetwide, with Carnival Breeze, Carnival Freedom and Carnival Vista leading the way

Why: Carnival'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. The line is constantly tweaking or adding to its entertainment options, and its ongoing fleetwide "Fun Ship 2.0" initiative has brought enhanced comedy shows, live concerts and superior DJs onboard.

Production Shows: Carnival has long used the latest technology to pull off lavish shows onboard, but its music-driven Playlist Productions, found aboard Carnival Freedom, Carnival Breeze and more than half of the line's 24-ship fleet, takes Carnival's entertainment offerings to the next level.'We Will Rock You' on Anthem of the Seas. Using LED screens on stage and assorted special effects, four different hourlong stage shows are performed aboard each Playlist Productions-equipped ship, with a dozen stage shows total offered fleetwide, including "Getaway Island, " with wow-factor 3D effects; "80s to the Max, " channeling the era of questionable style and big hair; "Motor City, " paying tribute to Motown and R&B; and "88 Keys: The Rock and Roll Piano Show, " showcasing the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John and Billy Joel, along with other rock-inspired piano tunes. Carnival Vista will also host brand-new Playlist shows, though details have yet to be released.

Dinner and a Show: Carnival is well known for its singing and dancing waiters in the main dining rooms. They perform everything from old standards to Bollywood hits while parading by the dining tables and grooving on top of serving stations. Mealtime serenades are taken to even greater heights at Cucina del Capitano, an Italian eatery found on select ships, where dining room staff sing alongside a giant Chianti bottle on wheels.

The planetarium on Queen Mary 2.Live Music: Daytime chillin' includes solo guitarists in the RedFrog Pubs on several ships and on lido decks throughout the fleet. (You'll feel like you're at a beachside watering hole.). At night, passengers can groove to themed bands ('80s, Woodstock, etc.) at the RedFrog Pub or elsewhere on the ship. If cover bands won't cut it, consider booking one of the line's 2014-debuted Carnival Live Concert Series cruises (spanning numerous itineraries and ships), which host ticketed shipboard concerts while vessels are docked in port (in Cozumel, Mexico; Nassau, Bahamas; and St. Thomas, USVI). They feature acts like Boston, Lionel Richie and Heart. While not technically live music, it's also worth noting that in partnership with DJ Irie (the official DJ of the Miami Heat), all Carnival DJs graduate from a first-of-its-kind DJ Academy at Sea, dubbed Spin'iversity, so you can be sure the nightclubs and deck parties are pumpin'.

Comedy: At night, check out the Punchliner Comedy Club fleetwide, putting on early-evening family-friendly shows and later adults-only comedy sets. George Lopez is Carnival's "curator of comedy" and helps hand-select comedic onboard talent, with acts that have included Happy Cole, Nery Saenz and Billy D. Washington.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Best Ships: Fleetwide, but especially Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Escape

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