The Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks Awards have been chosen by Cruise Critic’s team of cruise editors based on the lines and ships they feel best represent excellence in each of the designated categories. Awards announced December 2012.
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. Big hits include a sit-down sushi bar, Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint, and George Lopez’s Punchliner Comedy Club – not to mention a fabulous water park, an adult-only serenity sundeck, and the all-new BlueIguana Tequila Bar.
In a niche where superb food and service are requirements, what sets Regent Seven Seas Cruises apart from the rest is its commitment to value for money and no-hassle travel. It packages flights and hotels into cruise fares, offers add-ons like free cocktails, eliminates mandatory gratuities and offers a vast range of complimentary shore tours.
Norwegian Epic, Norwegian's newest ship, and the line's Jewel-class series of vessels take the Vegas-resort-at-sea concept to new heights with the industry's largest selection of restaurants, a massive spa and fitness complex, a much-improved kids program and, for luxury-seekers, its all-enclosed Haven suite complex.
Royal Caribbean's appeal ranges from casual dining venues and cabins that sleep five or more to family-friendly recreational activities, such as ice-skating and simulated surfing. But its real gem is its kids programs, which are divided into five age classifications, entertaining kids from six months to 17 years old.
Azamara's small ships can visit ports larger ships can't access, and that's one of the reasons its itineraries, which feature a nice blend of marquee ports and offbeat calls, are so successful. The line's adventurous, with calls at once-bypassed places like Myanmar (or Burma) and its effort to introduce overnights in ports throughout itineraries, not just at the beginning or end, distinguishes its efforts.
Lindblad Expeditions offers soft adventure cruises from the Antarctic to the Atlantic. While its ships have upscale touches (spas, Wi-Fi, plush towels and good food), the focus of the line, through its National Geographic partnership, is on exploration. Passengers get up-close with nature, via tours on kayaks and Zodiacs, with the help of well-informed naturalists.
Carnival consistently offers solid prices and hard-to-beat value. As part of its fleetwide Fun Ship 2.0 overhaul, the line is adding burger, BBQ and taco dining venues to a number of ships. And while competitors have increasingly adopted the a la carte dining model, these three eateries, at least, are surcharge-free.
Oceania Cruises does an exceptional job on its cuisine, whether it’s gourmet, grill or the buffet. While its new ships, Marina and Riviera, feature even more options, including Jacques Pepin's French restaurant and Red Ginger Asian restaurant, its smaller ships also offer some of the line's new dishes on their main venue menus.
While Royal Caribbean's already-iconic Oasis and Allure of the Seas -- with their comedy clubs, jazz bars, evening promenade parades, nighttime high-diving performances, ice-skating shows, pubs with folk music and actual Broadway productions -- deserve the nod, we also applaud the line for incorporating a similar variety of options on its (somewhat) smaller vessels.
Onboard Oceania’s Marina and Riviera, a trio of Owner's Suites are the most sumptuous at sea. Bigger than some New York apartments, these feature furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, a large living and dining room, bedroom with king-sized bed, his and hers walk-in closets, and even a media room with a professional entertainment system and a whirlpool on its wrap-around balcony.
Disney's Dream and Fantasy offer cruising's only windowless cabins with a view, courtesy of a virtual porthole displaying a variety of different vistas to brighten up a cabin category that typically doesn't see natural light. Designed with families in mind, the cabins also offer a good amount of storage space, combination shower and tub, and Disney's typical attention to detail throughout.
Whether you're on Holland America's newer ships or older ones, its cabins, which are larger than average by industry standards, have received a massive "Signatures of Excellence" upgrade. This includes new bedding, flat-screens with DVD players in all staterooms and, in most cases, bathrooms with tubs -- a perk that's becoming a rarity in new cruise ships.
Disney invests an enormous amount of time and money in creating unique "port adventures," with tours created specifically for adults (such as a cooking session at a Tuscan villa or a roll-your-own-cigar workshop in Nassau) and families (a Hummer ride through rustic Alaska or making salsa and learning to dance in Cabo San Lucas).
Windstar Cruises' trio of sleek, masted sailing ships with computer-directed sails offers an intriguing balance of sophisticated pampering, exceptional service and luxurious amenities. Yet, it keeps the atmosphere low-key. The ships' itineraries tend toward more offbeat ports in places like Central America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
In Carnival's new Alchemy Bar, currently available on Carnival Liberty, Carnival Conquest and Carnival Glory, you create your own concoction on a "prescription" pad -- and let the bartender do the hard work. Not feeling creative? There's also a standard bar menu with various drinks for different "ailments."
One of the most beautiful cities in America to sail into, 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.
The first six of Viking's revolutionary Longships debuted this year, offering an airy ambience with plenty of big-ship amenities. Verandahs are full-sized. Suites, mirroring hotel accommodations, each offer two-rooms. The Aquavit Terrace, an indoor-outdoor casual eatery, is a dedicated alternative restaurant. And the ships are state-of-the-art when it comes to engineering, with hybrid engines, solar panels and even an organic herb garden.
Uniworld draws on the expertise of upmarket sister company Red Carnation Hotels when it comes to training and inspiring its onboard crew, resulting in excellent service, but what really sets this river line apart is its lavish décor, superb cuisine, interesting assortment of themed tours in addition to the usual, and innovative ship designs.