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 October 2013.
Norwegian has never shied away from innovation, and Breakaway is no exception. The line took the best features on Epic - dining, entertainment, The Haven complex - and improved and refined them. It also opened up the ship to the outside with a Boardwalk concept in which all the venues have outdoor seating.
Carnival Sunshine came into existence after $155 million was spent on Carnival Destiny adding three new decks, 182 cabins and numerous dining and entertainment options. Three reasons why Sunshine wins this award hands down: the ambitiousness of the project; the learnings the line took from previous 2.0 ships; and it could provide the blueprint for future projects.
Hebridean Princess is a 50-passenger ship more akin to a country house hotel, with oak-panelled public rooms, big, comfy sofas and tartan decor. Service and food are also exceptional, making Hebridean the best way to see Scotland in supreme comfort and style. And of course, this is the ship HM The Queen has hired twice, so as the old adage goes: If it's good enough for the Queen, it's good enough for us.
Thomson's ships have a host of kid-friendly features. Its Kidzone and Island Cruises' Palmy children's clubs, for kids aged three upwards, feature everything from arts and crafts to dressing up at superhero theme parties to treasure hunts. The club is free. There are also child-sized portions in restaurants; kids' fares applicable up to age 16; and no cabin supplements for kids.
P&O Cruises visits 182 worldwide destinations thanks to the World Cruises it offers, taking in everywhere from the West Coast of the US to Australia and the South Sea islands and back. Arcadia also offers North American cruises from Halifax to New York, and Aurora takes in the Eastern Mediterranean and interesting North Africa and Canary Islands stops.
Whether it's dog-sledding, chasing the Northern Lights, staying the night in an ice hotel, ski-mobiling, whale watching, viewing glaciers in Greenland or taking a dip in Antarctica's freezing waters, Hurtigruten offers a vast range of soft and tougher adventure options combined with cosy cabins and great local cuisine at reasonable prices.
When it comes to drinks packages, Fred. Olsen leaves the competition standing with an extraordinarily good value all-inclusive drinks offer for the 2014/2015 season. If you don't opt for the package, you'll pay UK pub prices for beers and wines. The line offers deeply discounted supplements for solo cruisers and overall, keenly priced fares.
Oceania punches above its weight, getting dining scores as high as the ultra luxury lines. It's largely down to the influence of Oceania's executive chef Jacques Pepin, who takes a hands-on approach to the cuisine onboard. The variety and quality is outstanding. The fact that the specialty restaurants are free also gives Oceania bonus credit.
Norwegian set the bar high with Blue Man Group and the Spiegel Tent on Epic. Breakaway saw the debut of West End and Broadway show Rock of Ages, plus a slick dance revue, Burn the Floor, which continues to set standards high. The line also has its popular link-up with Nickelodeon, so there's plenty of kids' entertainment, too.
Celebrity's Solstice class ships are widely regarded as the most beautiful big ships at sea, in part due to the suite offerings. Suites throughout the Solstice class ships offer butler service and all the standard VIP treatments, but the Penthouse Suites, measuring 1,291 square feet with 389-square-foot balconies, offer floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, indoor and outdoor whirlpools and even a baby grand piano.
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.
Azamara has upped its game and begun to offer truly tempting inclusive events, like its 'AzAmazing Evenings', part and parcel with the fare. These private, inclusive shore tours are aimed at enriching passengers' experiences on the line's numerous overnight port calls, but they're also offering their passengers a unique experience that's closer to the luxury end of the spectrum -- while keeping fares at a luxe-lite level.
Princess Cruises have honed their romantic offerings to an art. For $100 per couple, you can order a four-course lobster dinner with Champagne delivered to your balcony. And if you're planning to pop the question, the line will play a video proposal during Movies Under the Stars, followed by an army of waiters delivering champagne and roses to the lucky bride to be.
We'll wager your local pub doesn't offer beautiful ocean views, towering ceilings, elegant decor and a perfectly made martini. And even if it does, the views wouldn't be ever-changing like they are in Celebrity's Sky Lounge and Bar. The spot offers music and dancing in the evenings, an especially incredible experience on formal nights.
For Beatles fans and football fans alike, Liverpool is a place of pilgrimage, but the historic port has much to offer the casual cruise traveller, too. The city has a beautiful cruise port and terminal right in the center of the city. Highlights of the city's maritime history include the Albert Dock and Pier Head, which features the Liver building, the Port of Liverpool building and the soon-to-be- refurbished Cunard Building.
For ease of travel and a wealth of cruise ship options, Southampton remains the U.K.'s best port of departure. This year, Southampton is set to seal its position as the No. 1 cruise departure port in Europe, with a record 430 visiting cruise ships and 1.5 million cruise passengers.
The riverboat's top-deck space offers a pool (with swim-up bar) that's ideal on a sweltering day. And it's heated for those who fancy a dip at cooler times of year. Nice touches inside the ship include five separate dining venues and twin balcony arrangements in most cabins.
Viking is on the most aggressive new-build kick in the industry, with six Longship-class new-builds added to the European fleet in 2012, 10 more identical ships in 2013 and another dozen to be built by 2014. Numbers mean options -- and from itineraries to sail dates, the largest river cruise line in the world allows you to create the cruise you want.