The Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards are chosen by Cruise Critic's international team of editors, based on the lines and ships they feel best represent excellence in each of the designated categories. Awards announced November 2014.
Believe the hype: The most eagerly-anticipated ship in years delivers - and then some. From the ease of boarding, to the smart wristbands, the breathtaking technology in Two70 and the bionic bartenders; plus the North Star, bumper cars and simulated sky-diving, Quantum of the Seas genuinely heralds a new era for cruising.
As part of its Platinum programme, Thomson Cruises has invested in a series of thoughtful and well-executed upgrades across its fleet in the last few years. This year, new balcony cabins on Spirit, Celebration and Majesty have made the ships more modern and added a new dimension to the enjoyable at-sea experience British passengers have come to expect from the line.
Regent is the only line at this end of the ultra-luxury scale that truly delivers all-inclusive luxury. Unlimited shore excursions, flights, pre-cruise hotel nights, beverage packages (including premium wines and fine spirits) and specialty restaurants -- it's all included. Plus, recently announced, there's unlimited Wi-Fi for cruisers in top suites.
On P&O's four family-friendly ships, kids facilities are outstanding. The Reef Club has four different rooms for different ages, each packed with fun stuff that ranges from a soft play area and climbing equipment to a disco for teens. Warm and friendly staff organise activities such as scavenger hunts, pool games and drama workshops.
The whole ethos of this line and its 540-passenger ship, MV Discovery, is exploration. Longer stays and land-based itineraries allow passengers to get up-close and personal in ports. The ship travels all around the world, and half the destinations we haven't even heard of: Antsiranana, Dar es Salaam, Paramaribo, Iles du Salut ...
Hurtigruten defines and excels at adventure cruising. Watch glaciers calve in Greenland, whales breach in Antarctica. Dive into icy seas or dog-sled in Tromso. Look for polar bears in Spitsbergen, or spend the night in an ice hotel in the far north of Norway as you watch the Northern Lights form above your head.
Fred offers a more traditional cruise experience at a great value - from two-for-one offers and drinks cheaper than UK pub prices, to tips that are lower than most in the industry. It also has great offers for solo passengers, with double cabins available at solo prices.
Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar, James Martin, Eric Lanlard. The list of celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs associated with P&O is long, and it shows in the cuisine. The White Room on Ventura is the standout, but MPW has a number of other restaurants fleetwide. Kochhar's East on Ventura and Sindhu on Azura are simply outstanding.
Royal Caribbean smartly uses every inch of public space onboard to pack in everything from bumper cars to Broadway productions. The big, brash new ships get headlines for simulated skydiving and ice skating productions, but passengers on its smaller ships love entertainment options that include atrium aerial shows and piano bar sing-alongs.
Celebrity's Solstice Class is all about attention to detail, and this is evident in its suites, especially on Reflection. There are a number of different types of suites -- Signature, Celebrity, Royal and a stunning Reflection Suite and Penthouse Suite -- and in response to demand, Celebrity also added 34 AquaClass Spa Suites to Reflection.
With cabins across the fleet larger than the industry average, Holland America's ongoing "Signature of Excellence" upgrades are bringing all sorts of great features onboard. All cabins have new, luxury bedding and flat-screen TVs with DVD players. Most cabin bathrooms also feature tubs, and Elemis amenities and bathrobes are also standard.
The recent exclusive concert at Liverpool Cathedral is a good example of Azamara's 'AzaMazing' evenings, which really are money-can't-buy experiences. Others may include an exclusive evening with the Three Tenors, watching an elephant dance show at a temple in Yangon or a private tour of an aristocratic home in Buenos Aires followed by a private tango show.
Princess has always catered well in the romance department. You can order a four-course lobster dinner with Champagne delivered to your balcony or pop the question on video during Movies Under the Stars, and now the line has just launched an online honeymoon registry, allowing wedding guests to choose romantic packages for them during their cruise.
There's something magnificent, particularly in high seas, about peering out toward endless ocean, sometimes watching the sunset, sometimes a pod of whales or dolphins, or watching a storm approach from the horizon in this wonderful front-of-ship bar. White-gloved waiters serve cocktails to order; there is an adjacent cigar bar, and a pianist plays in the evenings.
Much of what Liverpool has to offer cruise-ship visitors is right in the city centre, alongside the waterfront where ships dock. The revitalised Albert Dock houses numerous restaurants and attractions -- like the Beatles Story museum -- and the adjacent billion-pound Liverpool One retail park is the UK's largest open-air retail complex.
The UK's biggest port once again held onto the top spot in Europe, with total passenger numbers including 'day visits' climbing 7.5% to 1.64 million in 2013. The city has also made vast improvements to the roads leading to Ocean Terminal, making it much easier to get to the ships.
Europe's newest river cruise line made quite a splash in 2014. Emerald Waterways' Emerald Star and Emerald Sky offer a modern, innovative option for European river cruising without breaking the bank. Coolest innovation: a dual-purpose area that transforms from an indoor heated pool with retractable roof during the day to a cinema at night.
This family-owned French river cruise company is no newcomer, but it has certainly expanded its horizons this year and become more internationally focused. In 2014, CroisiEurope has introduced newer and nicer ships and canal barges, added interesting new itinerary options in Europe, expanded the fleet in Southeast Asia and included free drinks during the high season. C'est bon!