2017 UK Editors' Picks Awards: Ocean Cruises

See the lines and ships that best represent excellence in ocean, river and luxury cruising, chosen by Cruise Critic's international team of editors.

Ocean Cruise Lines

Meraviglia marks a step change for MSC Cruises in almost every aspect -- food, entertainment, service and accommodation. As well as top-notch speciality restaurants (Japanese and steak), the line has tie ups with Eataly and celebrity chefs; Cirque du Soleil performs two exclusive shows; and service competes at the top level. Meraviglia debuts new cabin types including loft-style suites and family cabins, as well as the exclusive Yacht Club.
Queen Victoria
Best Ship Refurbishment
Cunard spent $40 million on Queen Victoria's refurbishment, which involved (amongst other things) slicing off the back of the ship to add 30 cabins including five new Penthouse Suites and increasing the size of the aft sundeck. The line also upgraded 24 existing suites and Britannia Club cabins; reconfigured the ship to add a new restaurant and a new cafe as well as upgrading furniture in the Winter Garden.
When it comes to the polar regions, Hurtigruten has it covered, operating in the high Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland and up and down the Norwegian coast, offering everything from husky sledding, iceberg spotting, snorkelling in Antarctica, quad biking to the Russian border, extremely close wildlife encounters with polar bears and marine mammals, as well as hikes in the hills of Greenland.
Celebrity's cabins perfectly walk the line between form and function. They're beautifully decorated, with modern, clean lines and a neutral palette punctuated by flashes of colour. But cabins also are spacious; even at the small end, they start at 170 square feet. They feature smart space for storage, from large wardrobes to bureaux, and they include smart touches like interactive flatscreen TVs and large showers.
As part of a massive fleetwide reinvestment, Holland America has elevated the quality of its culinary offerings with a new pop-up seafood brasserie, enhanced room service menu and buffet, and has given the Pinnacle Grill steakhouse a sexy makeover. Flagship Koningsdam leads the way with new-to-fleet Sel de Mer and Tamarind is _ for our money _ the best Asian restaurant at sea.
Royal Caribbean excels in providing excellent entertainment throughout the day -- whether its simulated surfing or skydiving, bumper cars, climbing walls and extensive water parks -- and night, with ice-skating shows, the AquaTheater and West End-quality shows -- Grease on Harmony of the Seas and Hairspray returning on next year's new ship, Symphony of the Seas. The DreamWorks link-up means fabulous fun for kids (and adults) with nightly parades and character meet-and-greets.
MSC Cruises has long been family friendly, with a well-established kids-go-free offer, but recently it has gone a stage further, forging partnerships with arguably the most iconic kids' toy -- LEGO -- as well as Italian baby accessory store, Chicco. Both these partnerships have been retro-fitted in kids' clubs across the fleet, culminating in arguably the best kids' club at sea on MSC Meraviglia.
From one-night taster cruises to epic 108-night adventures, Fred. Olsen offers a wide variety of sailing lengths, plus no-fly cruises departing from 10 UK ports to all corners of the world. Fred. Olsen's programme also features European river itineraries -- including 30 new sailings from 2018 -- a unique mystery cruise and special sailings to witness events such as the Northern Lights.
All Norwegian Cruise Line ships feature at least eight bars and lounges (13 on the Breakaway class), while The Cavern Club and Bliss Ultra Lounge on Epic -- the latter arguably the best nightclub at sea -- set the line's nightlife apart from other lines. We're also big fans of the private karaoke booths on the line's newest ship, the Breakaway Plus-class Norwegian Joy.
Sharing a bottle of bubble on the real grass top deck Lawn Club on the line's iconic Solstice Class ships while listening to a jazz band on a warm summer's evening is hard to beat in the romance stakes. Adjourn to a couple's cabana for a massage, followed by dinner a deux in the intimate suites-only Luminae restaurant, followed by a nightcap at the aft-facing Sunset Bar.
Celestyal Cruises operate just two small ships -- Crystal and Olympia -- in Greece and Cuba with crew drawn from the Philippines, Indonesia, Ukraine, Morocco, China, Greece and Cuba, all of whom go out of their way to be helpful, friendly and accommodating -- whether that's at meal times, offering a helping hand to parents with young children or simply sorting out a special request. These are happy ships, and you can tell.
Celebrity's shore excursions are far removed from wandering around a town in a large group with a quiet vox, and include: grape picking during harvest time with wine expert Amelia Singer; joining the chef at local markets; getting up close and personal with wildlife on Galapagos cruises and participating in one of adventurer Ben Fogle's exclusive shore excursions such as camel riding in the desert, speedboating in Finland or a mountain bike ride.
Not only does Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines waive single supplements on selected voyages, it offers cabin upgrades and unique "Singles Cruises" on a wide selection of sailings. Fred. Olsen maintains that 10 percent of its cabins are dedicated to solo passengers with special solo events onboard. Gentleman Hosts and Dance Couples are also on-hand with companions arranged for solo travellers on shore excursions.
On the line's three Oasis class ships there are nine different suite types, including a four-bed Presidential Family Suite which can accommodate 14 people, the industry first double height loft suites and AquaTheater suites, which offer a grandstand view of the shows. Add to this an array of suite perks including exclusive access to the Coastal Kitchen restaurant, lounge and in the top suites -- a Royal genie.
The cruise line formerly known as Thomson offers fantastic value with fares including beverages, tips and service charges -- one of the few mass market lines to do so -- across its fleet of six ships. Speciality dining options set the bar high for quality and value, such as the line's Hot Stone restaurant and the sushi bar on the line's newest ships Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2.
Southampton
Best UK Departure Port
Voted the Best UK Departure Port for the ninth consecutive year, Southampton is home to four modern cruise terminals providing a wide selection of year-round sailings. P&O Cruises' and Cunard Line's summer homeport, Southampton is also Europe's busiest turnaround port and serves a number of smaller UK lines (Fred. Olsen and Saga Cruises) plus international lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.
St. Peter Port (Guernsey)
Best UK & British Isles Port of Call
Guernsey encapsulates all the charm of a lost 1950's idea of Britain, with a French twist and a fascinating history. St Peter Port (the capital), with its tiny streets and pretty houses, is charm personified; beautiful, unspoilt beaches lie just minutes away and the Second World War history is fascinating. Guernsey welcomes cruise ship passengers with free street Wi-Fi, an upgraded port area and army of helpful volunteers during high season.

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