In choosing the winners, Cruise Critic's editorial team drew on their own extensive experience and also polled industry experts (do you have an opinion? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!).
The winners of Cruise Critic's Innovation Awards are:
Onboard Dining: Norwegian Cruise Line's creation of the "Freestyle Cruising" concept -- in which ships offer resort-style restaurant experiences -- has inspired other cruise lines to tweak if not completely overhaul the traditional set seating, set tablemates dining experience.
Affordable Balconies: When Princess Cruises unveiled its then-new Crown Princess (no longer part of the fleet), the ship featured a whopping 184 cabins with balconies -- an amenity that at the time wasn't even considered by other lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival. From that start, Princess has continued to design and build ships with higher and higher ratios of balcony cabins, priced for all travel budgets.
Pathfinding Itineraries (Luxury Lines): From exotic Caribbean to the furthest ports in Asia, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises has focused on distinctive destinations to attract adventurous passengers. RSSC hasn't stopped there -- once in port, its series of unique on-shore experiences and a travel concierge maximize the experience.
Pathfinding Itineraries (Big-Ship Lines): For folks who are equally adventurous travelers but work with more modest budgets, Holland America, founded in 1873, has had plenty of time to hone its explorations of the world. In addition to its newfound status as a world cruise leader (offering around-the-globe voyages on two different ships in 2007), new ports of call in coming seasons include Benghazi, Libya, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Quebec's Saguenay Fjords, and South Georgia Island in the sub-Antarctic.
Family Friendly: Obvious but true -- Disney Cruise Line revolutionized family cruising when it launched its first ship, Disney Magic, in 1998. Special features include revolving dining; a children's program offering a range of educational, theatrical and parent-child experiences; a teen facility off limits to parents; and adults-only areas such as a pool, spa and nightclubs.
Recreation and Fun-in-the-Sun: Royal Caribbean has long created distinctive and dynamic recreational opportunities -- from rock-climbing walls and ice-skating and roller-blading rinks to, coming soon, cruising's first surf park! Its spa and fitness facilities, particularly on ships such as Radiance of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas, are elaborate and distinctive.
Celebrity Chef: In the era in which quantity of food often usurped quality, Celebrity Cruises was the first to team up with a world-acclaimed chef to raise the level of its cuisine across all onboard restaurants. Michel Roux, a Britain-based Michelin-starred chef who established London's legendary Le Gavroche and the acclaimed Waterside Inn in Bray on Thames, actually signed on with Celebrity before the line even launched its first ship. Roux, still a major presence there today, oversees menus, creates wine lists and trains restaurant staff.
Enrichment Initiatives: On Crystal's fleet, its comprehensive Creative Learning Institute is the next best thing to going back to school. The program comprises areas such as Arts and Entertainment, Business and Technology, Lifestyle, Wellness, and Wine and Food.
Introducing Cruise Travel to First-Timers (Big Ships): No company has transformed more land-based vacationers into cruise aficionados than Carnival Cruise Lines. When Carnival founder Ted Arison introduced the battered, quite secondhand Mardi Gras to travelers as a cruise experience for the "average Joe," he created a "Fun Ship" boom. Thirty-three years later, the ships have become larger and more sophisticated (with more amenities) than the late, lamented Mardi Gras -- but Carnival's original onboard joie de vivre still serves as a magnet to land-based travelers.
Introducing Cruise Travel to First-Timers (Small Ships): The latest entrant into the luxury cruising marketplace is SeaDream Yacht Club. With just two ships, holding only 110 folks apiece, the ultra-pampering, ultra-flexible life onboard these ships -- more like semi-private yachts than cruise vessels -- means that passengers really are pretty much free to do whatever they please, whenever they please to do it. The ships are small enough to venture into the tiniest (and most exclusive) ports of call, and there's a fabulous sports platform off the aft with everything from sailboats to Jet Skis. SeaDream also offers just about the most all-inclusive policy (save for shore excursions and spa treatments) at sea.
Homeporting: While the concept of drive-to ports of embarkation is nothing new for folks who live in cruise-convenient places like the East Coast's Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to genuinely explore the concept of "homeport cruising" from cities all around America's coast. Most innovative approach? A year-round schedule of sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean from New York -- even in the dead of winter -- has been so successful that other cruise lines are copying the move. NCL, via the creation of NCL America, is also the first contemporary line since the failure of American Hawaii to park itself in Honolulu.