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's first-in-class Breakaway debuted smartly innovative features, such as the Waterfront, which moves dining and drinks outside for sea views. The New York City-themed ship kicks action up a notch with its high-flying ropes course/zip line as well as four waterslides. Foodies will love the 27 restaurants, including famed chef Geoffrey Zakarian's Ocean Blue.
Carnival invested $155 million into turning 17-year-old Destiny into Sunshine. The refurb is the most extreme we've seen. Sunshine came out of dry dock nearly unrecognizable, with all of the line's Fun Ship 2.0 features, a three-deck adults-only Serenity space, enhanced kids clubs, spa cabins and an array of dining options.
Regent Seven Seas offers a luxury experience that blends contemporary lifestyle and cornerstone traditions. These range from a relaxed ambience and resort casual dress to superb service and top-notch cuisine. Itineraries include exotic and marquee ports of call. We love Regent’s inclusive policy, which covers airfare, pre- and post-cruise hotel, excursions, cocktails, and even, occasionally, Internet.
Disney's all about families -- not just kids, though the line's kids clubs are top-notch, with endless activities for tots through teens. Disney really shines with its activity options for the whole family: shows that appeal as much to adults as they do to children, encounters with characters and shore excursions pegged on family exploration.
Princess passengers can spend anywhere from two to 111 days onboard the line's ships exploring exotic locations. Its extra-long World and Grand Adventure itineraries pack in off-the-beaten-path variety (think Cape Horn or the Seychelles). Princess also combines Asia and Australia itineraries that blend both continents, with stops at jewels such as Sydney, Bali and Ho Chi Minh City.
Lindblad Expeditions combines superior excursions and intimate experiences. With its partnership with National Geographic, Lindblad provides passengers with hands-on encounters with nature and knockout onboard enrichment options. The line, which emphasizes sustainable travel, also provides its passengers with Zodiacs, glass-bottom boats and an open bridge to enhance the adventure experience.
A lot about Azamara feels like a luxury experience. Ships spend more time in ports and offer one included, unique excursion on each cruise. Service and restaurants are superb. With value-oriented fares that are closer to big-ship than ultra-luxe, it’s impressive that Azamara offers so many included features, such as bar drinks, specialty coffee, sodas, gratuities and self-serve laundry.
In a crowded category, Oceania sets itself apart with ships that offer fantastic dining variety and exceptional quality. The line's open-seating restaurants include Asian Red Ginger, French Jacques and Italian Toscana -- all at no charge. La Reserve is a gormand's dream, with its seven-course meals and Wine Spectator-developed pairing at an additional fee.
Entertainment on Royal Caribbean's ships doesn't stop with the theater. The line smartly uses every inch of public space to pack in music, shows, comedy and Broadway productions. While its large ships get the headlines for high-diving and ice-skating productions, passengers on its smaller ships will love entertainment options such as atrium aerial shows and piano bar sing-alongs.
Oceania's suites are smartly designed yet incredibly luxe. Suites have the best views onboard and are exceptionally spacious. While they include industry standards such as walk-in closets and space for entertaining, some also have incredible high-end touches including cashmere wallpaper, in-room fitness equipment and huge teak balconies with jetted hot-tubs for private soaking.
Norwegian's studio cabins on Breakaway, Epic and Pride of America cater to an oft-neglected cruise demographic -- the solo traveler. The line put serious thought into its studios, packing a lot into the small but uber-functional space. The decor is hip, the layout is well designed and passengers in these cabins have exclusive access to the exclusive studio lounge area.
Celebrity's standard cabins are larger than the industry average, and its standard amenities are a cut above the usual (things such as bathrobes for everyone and custom toiletries). With their modern decor, cabins include interactive flat-screen TVs and bedding so comfortable the line actually sells it.
Disney's Port Adventures are a departure from the norm, with an emphasis on experiences you might not find elsewhere: an after-hours visit to St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice or a family archeological dig in Athens, for example. Excursions cater to all ages, with family as well as adult activities, such as rum tasting and cigar rolling in Nassau.
Windstar's motorized sailing ships offer key cruise amenities in a setting that’s incredibly romantic. While the sails are definitely eye-catching, an equal draw is the line's itineraries, which focus more on small ports than the hustle and bustle of big ones. Other pluses: Service is pampering and restaurants feature many two-tops so there’s more opportunity for romantic dining.
Celebrity's Martini Bar is equal parts great cocktail and evening entertainment. Bartenders at the frost-coated bar know a lot about mixology and are willing to show off their skills, flipping bottles and pouring a dozen drinks at once. At night, the passengers flock to the lively bar for a chance to get in on to the action.
Vancouver's Canada Place is in a clean, walkable city surrounded by beautiful scenery. It's connected to the Pan Pacific Hotel, which boasts shops, a spa and a food court. The port facilities are centrally located; it's easy to make your way to Gastown, Stanley Park, Chinatown and Granville Island. Vancouver's secondary facilities at Ballantyne Pier are 10 minutes away.
On a ship that holds just 164 passengers, it’s amazing that AmaPrima features so many amenities otherwise associated with ocean-going vessels. Its spacious A and B category cabins have sit-out balconies and French verandahs. Its sundeck comes complete with a cooling pool and swim-up bar. Indoors, there’s a sprawling lounge, a library with faux fireplace and two restaurants.
Viking has been building new river ships at a breathtaking pace, expanding its innovative Longship Class year after year, which means passengers are likely to sail on new ships with the latest amenities. The line also has invested heavily in developing unique shore excursions such as a tour of Highclere Castle, the setting for the TV series Downton Abbey.