2013 in Review: Biggest Cruise Surprise

December 24, 2013 | By | 7 Comments

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: Biggest cruise surprise:
Cincinnati. I thought this stop, on my American Cruise Line’s Queen of the Mississippi, would be a humdrum Midwestern town. Instead it was a lively city with world class museums and a scenic and happening riverfront that I can’t wait to visit again. — Dori Saltzman, News Editor

Samana, Dominican Republic. I traveled there early in the year to write a port profile for Cruise Critic. I, as I think many cruisers do, had a negative first impression of the town, but what I ended up finding were friendly, generous and hardworking people who bent over backwards to make sure I had a wonderful visit. Away from the docks, I saw waterfalls, rode horses, tried a zip-line, tasted some amazing homemade food, and was welcomed into a local home by one of the cutest little old ladies I’ve ever met. — Ashley Kosciolek, Associate Editor
I’ve been on several of Carnival’s older ships, but this year, I spent some time on Breeze, which debuted in 2012, and Sunshine, which was overhauled this spring. Both ships were really fun, with smart touches (BlueIguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint, for example) that really drove home what the line is trying to do with it’s 2.0 initiative. — Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor
On an Atlantic crossing on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, I was most looking forward to a stretch of seven straight days at sea, with no schedules, commitments or responsibilities. Turns out that Britain’s National Symphony Orchestra was onboard performing and also organizing a volunteer passenger choir to sing alongside at its famous “Last Night of the Proms.” Finding myself, at first reluctantly, then more enthusiastically, participating, I came to look forward to rehearsals — especially enjoying the camaraderie between NSO conductor Anthony Inglis, the band members, and my fellow troubadours. And no evening onboard a cruise will likely compare to the night of the performance. Onstage, just like pros(!), we encouraged the audience to sing along to “Rule Britannia,” “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory” in front of the packed Royal Court Theater. But it was “Amazing Grace” — just our tenors, altos, sopranos and bass — and members of the NSO, on violin and cello, on timpani and harp, that was the concert’s shining moment. — Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Carnival Sunshine. I have to admit, I have never thought of myself as a Carnival type of guy, but everything on Sunshine – from the Serenity Deck to the Spa to the cabins to the Havana Bar to the décor and the outstanding food exceeded my expectations. — Adam Coulter, UK Editor
I like Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising! I’ve long been skeptical that the concept works and anticipated queues outside popular restaurants and sloppily dressed travelers. But on my Pride of America cruise to Hawaii with my husband and toddler, the laidback approach worked perfectly. Perhaps because we ate early, we never had a problem dining wherever and whenever we wanted, and not stressing about formalwear was a relief after long days in port. We usually did change for dinner, as did most of our shipmates, and I can report that casual cruising can definitely still be stylish. — Erica Silverstein, Features Editor
I’ve traveled all over the Caribbean, but had always put St. Maarten/St. Martin on my “meh” list; although I had never been, I envisioned way too many Diamonds International outlets. While duty-free shopping is indeed a draw of the mixed Dutch/French island, I was surprised to find a soul within this cruise port stalwart. Renting a car proved easy, and we never fought for a taxi or a beach chair. Plus it’s dollar friendly, with many cafes and stores on the French side offering 1:1 conversions to the Euro. Regardless of the recent outbreak of chikungunya, I’m plotting my return. — Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor
I had pretty high expectations of the Walt Disney Theater on Disney Magic going in. But they were exceeded while watching a production of Disney Dreams. When bubbles began filling the room during the Little Mermaid scene, I think I gasped louder than the kids around me! — Gina Kramer, Associate Editor
When I saw the small Austrian town of Durnstein on my Viking Danube itinerary, I didn’t think much of it; I was already looking ahead to Vienna. But a trip to a fantastic winery in nearby Krems put me in the perfect mood for an evening stroll. With a castle looming above, I walked uphill through deserted cobblestone streets, trying to get as close as I could (I turned around when I ended up in a dark patch of woods). With hardly a soul in sight, I felt like I was in a medieval version of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” as I traversed the uneven path winding through shop windows and restaurants decorated for Christmas. Sometimes the best tours are self-guided, even if they are a little creepy  – Brittany Chrusciel, Editorial Assistant

    Comments

    7 Responses to “2013 in Review: Biggest Cruise Surprise”

    1. Jackie
      December 24th, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

      Amazed while cruising down the Mississippi out of New Orleans, and under the bridge going out of Tampa, I took the Splendor out of New York City this past March. Driving past the Statue of Liberty going out on the cruise was amazing… but I woke up early to see us pull into New York. The skyline with the incredible sunrise was breathtaking!

    2. Caliope
      December 25th, 2013 @ 1:11 am

      After many years with Holland American, Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean, I felt that Carnival ships were somehow beneath me. Boy, was I WRONG. I did a quick four days out of Long Beach and discovered that Carnival truly is a FUN ship.
      The crowd WAS a bit younger, but in a very good way. All ages from 3 to 80 were having a perfectly grand time and the energetic vibe was fabulous.
      Cabins were clean, frequently refreshed and staffed with willing and able personnel. The dining room staff knew everyone’s name from day one and delivered food that was not only good, but but it provided both taste and variety. Some offerings were downright surprising.
      A valuable lesson was learned. Don’t judge ANY cruise line until you’ve experienced it and know that pleasure is just up the gangway.

    3. Debora
      December 26th, 2013 @ 12:22 am

      Took Carnival Imagination out of Miami Dec 2 – 6 Was really impressed with the stage shows. felt they were far superior to any I’ve seen on any ship. Divas and Rock and roll excellent, amazing singers and dancers. Broadway worthy.

    4. James MARKUSEN
      December 26th, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

      I too did the Krems wine tour. We had a busful of Australians – Aussie Aussie Aussie etcetera and had a wonderful time. That evening I also wandered Durnstein. Magical

    5. Courtney
      December 26th, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

      My biggest surprise on a cruise this year was my boyfriend proposing to me while on board the Carnival Fantasy on the Serenity deck just before we headed down to the Captains dinner. It was the evening after we had left the home port of Charleston, we were somewhere in the vicinity of the Florida Keys en route to Nassau. We had stopped up on the Serenity Deck before dinner while I was in my evening gown and he was in his suit, we were looking up at the stars and the next thing I knew he was on one knee and asked me to marry him :) We plan on taking our honeymoon on a cruise as well to play homage to the fact that we got engaged on one we were however disappointed in several aspects of both the ship over all and the crew. We are thinking about going on RL Allure of the Seas… Does anyone have any input on this idea? Or have experience on RL cruises?

    6. Linda Stokowski
      December 26th, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

      My husband and I sailed on the Oasis last year and loved it so much we did the Allure a year later. Both ships are almost identical. I was very hesitant to cruise on such a large ship. We’ve cruised 10 times previously on smaller ships and always seemed to get lost. The Oasis and Allure are so well-organized and designed we rarely had problems finding any venues. You would never believe these ships hold 5,400 passengers. The entertainment is fabulous and there’s so much to do you could never get bored. Although my husband and I are in our 60′s, our 30 yr. old daughter and a friend went with us on the Allure. They loved it too! You would definitely not make a mistake choosing either ship.

    7. Julie Russell
      December 27th, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

      To Caliope, I’ve sailed with Carnival 30, times. Because it’s called the Fun Ship and….I do have fun. Comedy shows are off the chain…u might not get a seat if u are late and sometimes they closed the doors, because of standing room only, and they’ve reached their capacity limit.

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