2014 in Review: Best Cruise Dining Experience

December 22, 2014 | By | No Comments

Fine Dining - photo courtesy of Luiz Rocha/Shutterstock

Another year is winding down, and we here at Cruise Critic are taking stock of the hits, misses and outright surprises that made up our cruising year (and we invite you to share your own!)

Today: Best Cruise Dining Experience

America’s Pacific Northwest already has a reputation as a superb region for food and wine. On my Columbia River cruise, American Queen Steamboat’s American Empress held its own throughout the week with its regionally influenced menus and locally produced wines and beers. While its River Grill alternative restaurant had the same menu throughout the cruise, it stood out for its inventive tweaks, superb service, and just simply delicious food (the surf & turf married lobster and lamb chops with a fantastic honey mustard sauce). The meal was so good I went back — and had the same exact dinner again.

– Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

We had standout meal after standout meal onboard Paul Gauguin. I consider myself a bit of a foodie who is willing to try just about anything once. My husband’s tastes lean to the simpler side. On Paul Gauguin, you get the best of both worlds at virtually every meal. I loved the high-end adventurous choices (pate and scallops; traditional Tahitian dishes like poisson cru), and my husband enjoyed some perfectly prepared standards (a quesadilla or spectacular sirloin). It’s rare the two of us agree on a meal, but we both dined happy on Paul Gauguin.

– Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor

Read on for more top picks

    Just Back From… Costa neoRiviera: 5 Things to Know About “Neo”

    December 19, 2014 | By | No Comments

    Costa neoRiviera - photo by Chris Gray Faust

    It’s a dilemma all cruise lines face: How do you update and refresh smaller ships that physically aren’t able to compete with the shinier and larger vessels plying the marketplace? With neoRiviera (and several other “neo” flagged ships in its fleet), Costa has made the smart decision to remake the cruising experience itself to cater to an adult audience that’s more focused on destinations than brand-new hardware.

    I’m just back from sailing Costa neoRiviera in the Middle East, on a roundtrip Dubai itinerary that stopped in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Fujairah. The ship was the first to go “neo” in mid-2013; other ships with the designation include neoRomantica and the recently renamed neoClassica. Here are five things that make a neo vessel different from other Costa ships:

    Five things to know about neo class ships

      Hot on the Forums: Cruisers Handle Clingy Shower Curtains

      December 19, 2014 | By | No Comments

      woman in shower

      When I check into a cabin, it doesn’t take long to work out whether I will be singing in the shower or having a touch of the washday blues. My main complaints are wafer-thin soaps that instantly break in half, stingy containers combining body wash and shampoo (which invariably leave your hair as dry as straw) and no conditioner (see previous point).

      But far worse is the dreaded clingy shower curtain – and looking at the forums I know plenty of members think the same.

      It’s unpleasant enough when a cold, clammy curtain sticks to you. Much nastier than that is the thought of whom, or what, it has stuck to before.

      It’s fascinating to discover that scientists and other great minds have pondered the dilemma of why shower curtains attack, with several attributing it to the Bernoulli effect that keeps planes in the air. However, it’s canny Cruise Critic members who have come up with practical solutions and tips to fight back.

      Never wrestle cabin curtains again.

        A Closer Look: Talking With Carnival Cruise Line’s Incoming President

        December 18, 2014 | By | No Comments

        Christine Duffy, incoming president of Carnival Cruise Line, already knows how she’ll be spending at least one week this winter – on a Carnival ship, soaking up some rays, enjoying a book and checking out everything that there is to know about Fun Ships. That’s because, though she’s been on other cruise ships, Duffy has never sailed on Carnival.

        But while Duffy may not have any personal experience aboard a Carnival ship, she’s been the voice of cruising for several years. As president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, Duffy has led the lobbying and educational efforts of the industry since 2011.

        After Carnival made the announcement yesterday, Cruise Critic got on the phone with Duffy to find out more about her and what plans she has for Carnival.

        CC: Tell me about your travel style.

        Duffy: I’ve always been passionate about travel. I like to try all sorts of different travel, whether it’s a luxury experience, an adventure experience, an experience with big crowds. I have a large extended family and we often travel together. I think, like most people, my travel style changes depending on who you travel with and what the trip is all about. So if I’m traveling with a bunch of girlfriends and we’re heading out to Vegas to see some shows or with just my husband and another couple, it all depends.

        Read on for the full interview

          Steal of the Week: $1K Bonus on Azamara

          December 18, 2014 | By | No Comments

          piggy bank cruising
          Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
          THE DEAL: Azamara Club Cruises is offering one of three bonuses — all valued around $1,000 — when you book a select sailing now through March. Choose from onboard credit, air credits or a cabin upgrade.
          WHAT WE LOVE: Azamara is already a great value with many inclusions bundled into your cruise fare: drinks, laundry, gratuities and more. Save $1,000 in onboard spending or airfare, or treat yourself to a cabin upgrade — on them. This promotion offers a significant incentive to book during wave season — and you have until March 31 to choose the right sailing for you. A line known for its exotic and extensive itineraries, Azamara has applied this promotions to both its ships and not just into the New Year — you can book as far ahead as 2017. Ports span the globe from the Mediterranean to South America, the Middle East to the West Indies… you name it. The choice is up to you, and there’s a lot to choose from.
          WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: Are you a couple that will spend $1,000 onboard? Do you care about a cabin upgrade? Do the air credits apply to you? If you don’t see a value in any of the promotions, maybe it’s not the right time to book. Sales run more frequently these days, in general, so another promotion is likely to come along if the current one doesn’t speak to you. Be sure to book within your budget; don’t just be dazzled by the bonuses.
          HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on these deals (including that pesky fine print), click here.
          Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
          * Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ‘em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
          * Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.

            A Spa Novice Asks, What’s a Thermal Suite?

            December 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

            Disney Dream Rainforest Room - photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

            I like a nice massage or facial, same as anyone, but I’m by no means a spa devotee; I see no reason to pay, hundreds of dollars to be slathered in goo, wrapped in tinfoil or pounded on the back like a piece of USDA grade beef in an onboard steakhouse. So when Disney Cruise Line offered me the chance to try out Rainforest Room, the thermal suite on Disney Dream, I was curious to check out what all the fuss was about.

            If you’re not in the know, thermal suites seem to be the latest rage in onboard spa amenities. All of the new ships have them, and charge extra for them. While they’re filled with exotic-sounding amenities, like Laconiums (Laconia?) and salt scrub bars (um, what?), don’t let the lingo fool you; in plain English, thermal suites are fancy saunas, where you can relax in a variety of heated environments (for a fee, of course).

            Here’s something else you might not know: You’re supposed to go through the various rooms in order. It’s apparently better for your pores. But make sure you get the route map — another writer on our trip didn’t know and went through backwards. Disaster. I’m sure her pores are now filled with toxins.

            Despite the weird names and cautionary tales, I discovered that thermal suites, for the most part, are quite relaxing. Here’s your route map to relaxation.

            Your guide to the Disney Rainforest Room

              Wanderlust Wednesday: Step into a Medieval Storybook

              December 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

              Tallinn, Estonia - photo courtesy of Giantfan13/Cruise Critic Forums

              Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.

              Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at photos@cruisecritic.com or post it in our member photo gallery. Feel free to send us your Twitter or Instagram handle. Maybe you’ll get a shoutout next #WanderlustWednesday!

              If you’ve cruised the Baltic, you may be familiar with Tallinn, Estonia. The thriving city and cruise port is contemporary and industrial, yet its Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) has been preserved for more than 600 years. Here, cruisers step into a medieval storybook filled with winding cobblestone streets, ancient towers and antique shops.

              Find interesting places to visit based on region.

              Everything you need to know about planning a cruise.

              Explore Trip Reports of unique itineraries.

                What If…Cruise Ships Had SkyMall?

                December 16, 2014 | By | 1 Comment

                Shopping Mall - photo courtesy of zhu difeng/Shutterstock

                On long flights, I’m a sucker for SkyMall. Although I’ve never actually bought anything, I get a kick out of the idea that travelers are able to make purchases — whether amazing or absolutely useless — at 35,000 feet.

                The last time I stole a copy of the magazine from my seatback pocket, it got me wondering what might be included in the cruise version of such a publication. (We’ll call it SeaMall because that’s super original and far more appropriate.) Below is a list of actual items pulled from the summer 2014 SkyMall catalog that might prove useful to the cruise set.

                2014 SeaMall Cruise Starter Kit

                  keep looking »
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