Cruise Critic is a major resource for many cruise travelers who visit the interactive web site frequently for a variety of reasons. Some visit Cruise Critic to chat/learn/fight with other cruise travelers on a monitored message board that can often have the very most current information about any given cruise related topic, even before Cruise Critic itself publishes that information. Others go for a rich library of background information on ports of call, reviews of cruise ships and other travel planning information. This week, Cruise Critic announced its annual Editors Picks Awards.
“Each year, our Editors’ Picks Awards reflect the cruise lines and ships that we feel best exemplify excellence in categories we consider the most important to people when choosing a cruise,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic in a press release. “In the cruise industry, many lines go above and beyond, but our awards narrow down the list to those that stand out as the best of the best.”
Recognizing the best in the cruise industry as noted by its team of editors, here are the winners…along with our editors grade and comments for each pick in Cruise Critic’s 18 categories, awarding 12 different cruise lines.
Best New Ship: Carnival Breeze
Cruise Critic says: “Carnival Breeze embodies a new breed of Carnival’s Fun Ship concept with a toned-down tropical feel and new-to-Carnival restaurants and entertainment, while also remaining true to its casual cruising roots.”
We agree- this is a whole new ballgame for Carnival Cruise Line that should drive the line well into a Fun Future.
Best for First-Timers: Norwegian Cruise Line
Cruise Critic says: “Norwegian Epic, Norwegian’s newest ship, and the line’s Jewel-class series of vessels offer the industry’s largest selection of restaurants, a massive spa and fitness complex, and a much-improved kids program.”
We’ll go with a “maybe” on this one and mainly because in the last year Norwegian has become a whole lot more user-friendly. First timers have a lot of questions and need a lot of answers. Getting an answer out of Norwegian was a lot like pulling teeth before but they are getting a lot better. Still, first-timers owe it to themselves to try Carnival Cruise Lines first. They may not want to sail another line. At least they will know what fun at sea is all about. Carnival has that concept nailed.
Best Value for Money: Carnival Cruise Lines
Cruise Critic says: Carnival consistently offers solid prices and hard-to-beat value. As part of its fleet-wide Fun Ship 2.0 overhaul, the line is adding burger, BBQ and taco dining venues to a number of ships, surcharge-free.
Agreed. Carnival’s No-nickle-and-diming policy on board is refreshing and appropriate in a recovering economy.
Best Shore Excursions: Disney Cruise Line
Cruise Critic says: Disney invests an enormous amount of time and money in creating unique “port adventures,” with tours created specifically for both adults and families.
Agreed with a caveat. Disney’s move to smush together their top-of-the-line land tour operation, adding trademark magic to cruise ship shore excursions is a match made in heaven. Note: When we first saw the category “Best Shore Excursion” we automatically thought “Azamara” who blows away a lot of the pack with extreme destination immersion. They get credit for that later in the list (see below).
Best U.S. Port: San Francisco
Cruise Critic says: San Francisco has long been a contender as one of the country’s best ports, but new efforts to redevelop its waterfront and build a state-of-the-art cruise terminal, combined with fantastic sightseeing and easy-to-access air service, put it over the top.
Nope: Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades gets our nod and that of every travel agent in the world who knows the cruise port is virtually right across the street from the airport (FLL), making Port Everglades an easy port to navigate. High security requiring photo ID check just to get on the grounds of the port is a plus too.
Still, San Francisco deserves credit for, well, being San Francisco which surely is a fabulous destination for pre- or post- cruise activities. Add in their ground-breaking ability to let ships “plug in” rather than run their polluting diesel engines in port and its all the better for San Francisco. Down side: Not a lot of sailings for budget-minded travelers from there and flying from the East coast is expensive.
Best New River Ship: Viking Cruise Line’s Longships
Cruise Critic says: The first six of Viking’s revolutionary Longships debuted this year, offering an airy ambience with plenty of big-ship amenities. And the ships are state-of-the-art when it comes to engineering, with hybrid engines and solar panels.
Agreed. Viking River Cruises is in it to win it with an aggressive plan to dominate inland waterways and begin dabbling in ocean cruise world.
Best River Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises
Cruise Critic says: “In addition to its excellent service, what really sets Uniworld apart from other river lines is its lavish décor, superb cuisine, interesting assortment of themed tours in addition to the usual, and innovative ship designs.”
…but the focus of river cruise is off the ship, getting up close and personal with destinations. Keep your lavish decor and give me a new ship with clean, crisp decor lines from Viking River Cruises, the future of river cruising.
Other categories rated by Cruise Critic Editors’ Choice Awards include:
Best for Luxury: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Agreed. Maybe. Define “luxury”. Regent Seven Seas surely has a nice product but how many travelers will get to experience it with a small fleet and high price point. Consider Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises as one combined offering (might as well since upper-level past guest benefits are reciprocal and, typically, luxury cruise travelers are frequent cruisers) and the luxury traveler has a wide variety of accommodations to choose from and a top notch concierge standing by to help.
Best for Families: Royal Caribbean International
Wow, did not see that one coming. Recent rape by crew member on board Navigator of the Seas aside. Ignoring the CNN special Predators at Sea about a Royal Caribbean crew member raping a fifteen year old child, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean program just gets better with age. Our go-to source for all things kids has always been Camp Carnival but that harkens back to a time when we had our kids in the program.
Best Itineraries: Azamara Club Cruises
Agreed, totally. Azamara Club Cruises has an experience that has to be tried to believe. The marketing people at Azamara throw around words like “Azamazing” and “destination immersion” that one might think are just buzz words, carefully used to ignite sales. One might be totally wrong to believe that. Their mostly one-of-a-kind itineraries are grand, thoughtfully planned trips that infuse a great amount of energy into the phrase “once-in-a lifetime experience” as no other. Add that they are backed by the power and stability of Royal Caribbean International and this line looks to be one for all cruise fans to have on their lifetime bucket list to try at least once.
Best Entertainment: Royal Caribbean International
As into cruise vacations as the editors of Cruise Critic are, I bet this was a tough one. Pretty much every major cruise line has made a stab at updating their onboard entertainment options. Some have made major efforts to provide entertainment that specifically targets their core passenger group. Royal Caribbean is one of them and has been successful adding versions of Broadway shows along with custom-designed performances that have passengers who normally skip the same old shows coming out in big numbers. A great example: The Centrum Experience on Grandeur of the Seas that we experienced not long ago. The line took the central atrium area of the ship and transformed the otherwise-unnoticed space into something to be excited about.
Still worthy of an honorable mention is Norwegian Cruise Line, specifically Norwegian Epic and their Cirque Dreams and Dinner performance which is uber amazing.
Best Cruise Ship Bar: Carnival Cruise Line’s Alchemy Bar
Disagree but just by a few feet. We’d have to go with Carnival Cruise Line’s Red Frog Rum Bar as tops but on any given sailing, the right people at the right place, any place, on a ship can make for the best experience ever. For us, the top award in our cruising lifetime would have to go to Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess. Almost a decade ago we did a 7-night Caribbean sailing, meeting the same fun people in the ships’s Skywalkers lounge at the end of each day for a wonderful time and the bar was a part of it.
Others may have gone to Skywalkers and not had nearly as good of a time…and that is the problem we have with Editors Choice awards by anyone. Since so much of the cruise experience is subjective, (what I like, you might not or vice versa), we like awards with some quantifiable factors that are easily comparable between lines.
We can do that with price, itineraries, square footage of staterooms, crew to guest ratio and a whole lot of other factors. To find information we can use in other, general areas like “food”, we’re best to turn to friends, family and travel professionals we know and trust like travel agents, writers and bloggers that deal with this sort of thing and get feedback from clients and readers daily.
Still, for a good time jumping in to the world of cruise vacations, Cruise Critic gets high marks of its own.
For more information on the awards and winners, visit www.cruisecritic.com/editors-picks.