The Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks Awards have been chosen by Cruise Critic’s team of cruise editors based on the lines and ships they feel best represent excellence in each of the designated categories. Awards announced December 2012.
The fifth and final ship in the game-changing Solstice class, it takes what for many was already a perfect design to a new level, with a brand new suite complete with outside shower, new spa accommodations, and a games area with interactive electronic board games. The only downside to this class of ship? There won’t be another one.
It’s true that when you are at this level, there isn’t a great deal of difference when it comes to suite square footage and the amount of free Champagne it’s possible to physically drink. Where Regent stands above the rest is in its extraordinary value proposition -- everything -- tips, drinks, specialty restaurants and even first-rate shore excursions -- is included.
P&O Cruises has blazed a trail in making its ships appealing to everyone. Whether it’s big-ship family cruising on Ventura and Azura; or the sophisticated surrounds of adults-only Adonia and Arcadia; or its wide range of short break cruises across the channel or round the UK; or using stars -- including celebrity chefs and wine experts -- the line is adept at tempting people onboard.
Thomson is squarely aimed at budget-conscious families, with a host of kid-friendly features. Thomson’s Kidzone and Island Cruises’ Palmy, for kids aged three upwards, feature everything from storytelling to team challenges and mini discos; child-sized portions in restaurants; kids’ fares applicable up to age 16; and no cabin supplements for kids. It also helps that all tips are included.
The line makes a virtue of its traditional British atmosphere onboard, but there’s nothing traditional about the sheer range and number of places it visits – the Amazon, the Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, Cuba, St Petersburg, Barbados, Round-Britain, West Africa, The Azores… The Fred. Olsen list is impressive, taking intrepid cruisers all over the globe, and always looking for new spots to visit.
Whether it’s taking a cruise to see the Northern Lights, or the ‘Midnatsol’; or to go polar bear spotting in Spitsbergen, to visit the Russian border, to see iceberg calving in Greenland, or whale-watching in Antarctica -- Hurtigruten offers it. The line also offers it in a degree of comfort, at very reasonable fares and in a convivial atmosphere.
First, Fred. Olsen launched the all-inclusive drinks offer on select sailings; then it followed up with a £5 per person per day drinks package on all sailings, and next it offered buy one cruise, get one free. Add to that duty-free priced drinks (if you don’t opt for the package), and very keenly-priced fares.
On its Solstice-class ships, Opus is arguably the finest main dining room on any large cruise ship; Qsine is the most innovative dining concept on any cruise ship; Murano defines fine dining; Tuscan Grille is a superb Italian steakhouse; Silk Harvest offers wonderful Far East flavours; and the Lawn Club Grill -- on Reflection and Silhouette -- is the ultimate stylish outdoor BBQ venue at sea.
The fact that you can see the Las Vegas-quality production Blue Man Group onboard Norwegian Epic (for free) gets a huge thumbs-up. Throw in Legends in Concert and Cirque Dreams; Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club; Headliners Comedy Club and Bliss Ultra Lounge – and it’s a mighty impressive list, which is not confined to Epic, the whole fleet goes the extra mile when it comes to entertainment.
Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas set the bar high with their outstanding Loft Suites and Family Suites, but the three ships in Royal’s Freedom class -- Independence, Liberty and Freedom -- also boast some outstanding suite accommodations, including the Presidential Family Suite (1,215 square feet, balcony 810 square feet), which is unique in the industry.
Holland America has always been known for having larger than industry-standard cabins, but their fleet-wide refurbishment programme has introduced further improvements such as flat-screen TVs, DVD players and ultra-comfy bedding. Its bathrooms, uniquely in this day and age, also feature bathtubs in all cabins (save for insides).
Disney has put an impressive amount of effort into creating really interesting shore excursions. In a world where the word ‘unique’ is bandied about almost as casually as ‘luxury’, these excursions truly are unique, whether they are for adults, such as cooking with a local chef in Tuscany; or for kids: dressing up in traditional outfits for a visit to St Petersburg.
Many lines offer romance packages, but Princess really goes the extra mile, with a balcony brunch and dinner, rose petals on the bed, anniversary packages, vow renewals and Proposals Under the Stars -- a video proposal played during Movies Under the Stars, followed by an army of waiters delivering champagne and roses to the lucky bride to be (assuming it’s a yes).
Wine buff Olly Smith’s passion for wine is stamped all over Azura’s stylish The Glass House, a bar/wine-pairing grill for which the TV presenter and wine expert, has tracked down unusual but affordable wines to taste by the glass, complete with informative descriptions. Its popularity is such that it will be installed on sister ship Ventura following her dry dock next spring.
Belfast has regained its former glory thanks to the ship that for many years defined its decay. The stunning Titanic Belfast Centre has arguably done for Belfast what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao. The fact that more and more cruise ships are choosing Belfast as a port of call, seals its number one spot this year.
We acknowledge the approach to Southampton is not as iconic as that of New York, but this year, the port excelled in two stand-out events -- Cunard’s Three Queens and P&O’s Grand Event, showing it can handle a large number of ships with ease. It has also sealed its position as the number one cruise port in Europe, with a record 430 cruise ships visiting next year.
The six new Viking Longships launched this year are identical, so all win for their sleek lines, stunning atrium, balcony cabins with full-sized verandahs, and hotel-style suites. The Aquavit Terrace, an indoor-outdoor casual eatery, is a dedicated alternative restaurant. And the ships are state-of-the-art when it comes to engineering, with hybrid engines, solar panels and even an organic herb garden.
Uniworld’s close association with Red Carnation Hotels shows -- in their design, service and quality of food. It also helps that the owners take such a hands-on approach to every ship. SS Antoinette gave a good indication of which direction the line was headed, with speciality dining, beautifully-designed public areas and bars and the Zagat-rated quality of food in the Restaurant de Versailles.