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The Best – and Worst – Cruise Experiences of 2018
Northern Lights in Norway (Photo: Mumemories/Shutterstock)

The Best – and Worst – Cruise Experiences of 2018

The Best – and Worst – Cruise Experiences of 2018
Northern Lights in Norway (Photo: Mumemories/Shutterstock)

December 27, 2018

Cruise Critic
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How would you define your best cruise experience? For some, it's checking a long-awaited destination off their bucket list; for others, it could be finding themselves in a seemingly magical moment -- witnessing the Northern lights with loved ones, or connecting with locals in a way that leaves them feeling completely humbled.

On the flip side, there are some experiences that don't go exactly as planned. Nevertheless, they can provide valuable lessons and make for good laughs down the road.

This week, we Cruise Critic editors take a look back at 2018, noting our best -- and worst -- cruise experiences of the year. We hope the positive stories inspire you to share your favorite cruise memories with us in the comments, and the few mishaps we've run into welcome chuckles (or remind you what not to do).

Best Cruise Experiences

I'm not a Disney person; I don't have kids, and I'm skeptical of pixie dust. Yet when it came time to check out Disney Cruise Line's Marvel Day at Sea program on Disney Magic, my inner child went wild. I dove into the Disney canon, catching up on the contemporary classics that had passed me by such as "Coco" and "Tangled" ("Frozen," how you made me cry!), and the entire Marvel universe (Thor, I'll love you forever). All this preparation made the resulting cruise -- taken with my best friend, an admitted geek in both pop culture realms -- a hoot and a half. Disney does all the details right, and since the cruise was over kid-intensive spring break, the adult areas of the ship were pleasantly uncrowded. I came back a Disney believer and armed with enough Marvel trivia to impress my comic-expert nephew.

-- Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor

I spent eight months of 2018 working for Cruise Critic’s UK site in our London office, which gave me, as an American, a rare opportunity to cruise with some of the popular UK cruise lines. In addition to sailing with P&O Cruises, Fred. Olsen and Marella, I had a chance to return to the States on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 at the end of my assignment abroad. Not only was it my first ocean crossing, but it was also my first time sailing on one of Cunard’s iconic queens. The more formal onboard atmosphere, the focus on enrichment and the chance to participate in intriguing onboard activities -- fencing, anyone? -- were exciting, but my favorite part of the cruise was afternoon cream tea, which included finger sandwiches, scones, delicious clotted cream and, of course, tea.

-- Ashley Kosciolek, Editor

Harmony of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

Joining any ship from the shipyard to its first port of embarkation, let alone the largest cruise ship in the world, was an experience that will be difficult to match. In March I had the opportunity to do just that onboard Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas when it left Saint-Nazaire in Nantes, France, ultimately bound to pick up its first official passengers in Barcelona a few days later. With mainly crew and construction workers onboard, it was like having a giant amusement park to myself; I was able to wander the halls taking in the massive collection of art, go down the Ultimate Abyss slide as many times as I wanted, sneak peeks at show rehearsals and enjoy a serene glass of wine in a quiet Central Park. On top of that, I got to see the final touches go on some brand-new spaces like Playmakers Sports Bar on the Boardwalk. While I wasn't able to get off the ship when it stopped in Malaga, Spain (a new city for me), I was lucky enough to return nine months later and disembark to explore the sights, from the scenic overlook at Mount Gibralfaro to the house where Picasso was born. As Cruise Critic's destinations editor, I feel it's so valuable -- now more than ever -- to uncover new ports and share what they have to offer with readers.

-- Brittany Chrusciel, Editor

The year 2018 started like a dream: I woke up on New Year’s Day in Antarctica. While everyone else was sleeping off last night’s party, I was one of two passengers who turned up for the morning snowshoe adventure with our guide, Mungo. With nobody else (not even a penguin) in sight, we felt like the only three people on the whole continent. Antarctica, 2018, was ours. The serenity and the view of the valley kept stopping us in our tracks, so we didn’t reach the peak, but that was never the goal. On the descent, it began snowing softly, which was so magical and perfectly timed, it seemed a bit over the top.

-- Louise Goldsbury, Managing Editor, AU

My cruise year peaked when I discovered the lesser-known Canary Island of La Gomera in November. The Spanish island's only cruise port is San Sebastian, a sleepy capital with a big claim to fame as the last stop for Christopher Columbus before setting sail for the New World in 1492. San Sebastian is a gorgeous port that remains very much unspoiled -- full of colorful buildings made up of local shops, cafes and restaurants. There's also a beautiful church where Columbus and his crew attended mass, and the house where he stayed, La Casa del Colon (The House of Columbus) that you can visit. I took a ship-sponsored shore excursion to get a feel of the island's interior landscape and was blown away as we drove into the mountains via eye-wateringly steep roads. Our tour took us to the island's sub-tropical rainforest, passing lush banana plantations and into the Jurassic Park-like Hermigua Valley. We stopped at various lookout points, including Mirador El Rejo from where we could see the neighboring Canary Islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria. La Gomera is a beautiful island with a fascinating history, and I can't wait to return!

-- Kerry Spencer, Editor, UK

Distilling all my cruise experiences of 2018 down to one "best" proved too difficult; instead, I can only give my top two. In chronological order: My year started with Star Trek: The Cruise II. While I'd never win a biggest Trekkie competition, I have a profound love for the franchise, and getting to mingle with other geeks like me, as well as meeting Armin Shimerman (who was also on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") was such a great experience I'm repeating it again in 2019! Mid-year, I got to test out Windstar's new expedition product in Alaska. I've been to Alaska before, but never on a small ship. While I tell people you really can't go wrong in Alaska, no matter what ship you choose, the small ship experience really can't be beat, especially if you can take a Zodiac ride to within 10 feet of a glacier.

-- Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor

I sailed on Viking Orion early this winter, on its christening cruise. Astronaut Anna Fisher served as the ship’s godmother, and she brought along all her space friends to enjoy the ship and attend the ceremony. The highlight, apart from the christening itself, was a Q&A session with 15 astronauts in Orion's theater. We had the chance to hear stories about space travel, zero gravity and the space program -- it was incredibly entertaining. Then, Drew Feustel called from the International Space Station, speaking to his son, wife and Anna while the rest of us listened in via speakers. The event fit in perfectly with the new ship, which includes an excellent planetarium and features a theme focusing on exploration. It's a night I won’t soon forget.

-- Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor

Ship Hop Vanilla Ice Sailaway (Photo: Cruise Critic)

My best cruise experience of 2018 happened on Ship Hop, a '90s hip-hop-themed cruise onboard Carnival Sensation. It was my very first work trip and my second morning onboard, and I was starting to feel the pressure. I was casually prepping my camera on the pool deck, over a cup of coffee, when Christopher Martin of hip-hop duo Kid n' Play asked if he could join me for breakfast. Something that would normally be more nerve-inducing turned into a wonderful conversation about documentary films, the hip-hop scene in the '90s, and my budding career as a travel photographer, yielding some of the best advice I've ever gotten -- on land or at sea. Theme cruising gives you the opportunity to make meaningful connections with your idols, and memories with people you may never otherwise meet. That morning -- and those words of encouragement -- got me through the cruise, and the rest of my trips in 2018.

-- Christina Janansky, Producer

My February trip with Hurtigruten in search of the Northern Lights was memorable in so many ways, and my boys had never seen so much snow in their lives! We started the trip in Oslo, where the planes' wings had to be de-iced before the flight to Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle. There, we stayed in a snow hotel overnight and went king crab fishing, before boarding MS Spitsbergen for the journey south to Tromso. The food, accommodations and service were standout, but what we loved most was jumping in the hot tub and watching our hair freeze! We even caught a smudgy glimpse of the Northern Lights one night. Tromso is a gorgeous city, framed by mountains, which we climbed before going husky sledding -- and meeting the pups, which my boys loved. All in all, it was an adventure we will never forget.

-- Adam Coulter, Managing Editor, UK

Previously having been on only one river cruise, in Europe, I was ecstatic about the opportunity to do a second one in a more exotic destination -- Southeast Asia -- this past October. The Lower Mekong River itinerary encompassing Vietnam and Cambodia conjured up images of hilltop monasteries, beautiful landscapes and enchanting temples. But after my first day in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), I realized the trip was going to be so much more than that. Our tours were extremely off-the-beaten-path and eye-opening to the impoverishment both countries suffer; some were even tear-jerking, offering a deeper look into the Vietnam War and Khmer Rouge's rule over Cambodia. All in all, the cruise was educational and humbling, and exceeded my expectations. I recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by Southeast Asia, or more specifically Vietnam and Cambodia, and wants to experience it through the eyes of those who've lived through these recent events.

-- Gina Kramer, Editor

Worst Cruise Experiences

While sailing on a brand-new ship to cover its launch, I went ashore with some other journalists. When we returned to the vessel to board after our day in port, the line was long and moving slowly. Crew members had set up some speakers with upbeat music to make the uncharacteristically long wait more bearable. Many people in line were dancing and having fun when, suddenly, the music stopped. We looked around to discover that a disgruntled passenger had walked over to the speaker and pulled its plug. As he walked back to his spot in line muttering to himself about the music being too loud, his fellow passengers began to "boo" him. A crew member informed him he wasn't allowed to touch their equipment before plugging the speaker back in, eliciting cheers and applause from everyone but Mr. Crankypants. This anecdote has a happy ending, but it's amazing how quickly an ill-mannered passenger can bring down the vibe. Don't be that person!

-- Ashley Kosciolek, Editor

Bike on Walking Path Next to Rhine River (Photo: fotoliza/Shutterstock)

My worst cruise experience of 2018 happened during an Abbey Wine biking excursion on a European river sailing. As someone who is fairly active, I was excited over the prospect of a biking 38 miles alongside the Rhine River through fields of flowers, winding hills and quaint German towns. What I failed to recognize is how unusually hot it was for a mid-April morning, how long 38 miles really is, and, most importantly, how terrible I am at maneuvering a bicycle. Three miles from the Abbey and I was ready to give up. But good wine and great friends got me to the Abbey (and a very nice cab driver got me back to the ship).

-- Christina Janansky, Producer

My Antarctic expedition was not all rainbows and penguins. I had to share a tiny cabin with a stranger for 18 nights. Let's just say it did not enhance the experience.

-- Louise Goldsbury, Managing Editor, AU

My worst cruise experience of 2018 by far involved my husband, the onboard casino and a loss that pretty much could have paid for another weeklong cruise in a balcony cabin.

-- Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor

When you board a ship, you expect it to be a safe place, where the entire crew is looking out for your well-being… which is why it was so disconcerting when my brother-in-law had his backpack stolen out of the lounge on embarkation day during a European river cruise. While the backpack itself was recovered -- it was found crumpled in a corner of the lounge -- his iPad and wallet with credit cards were missing. Luckily, he didn't lose his passport, and his driver license was elsewhere. But the entire experience was a reminder that ships can be small cities unto themselves -- and like you do in any city, you can't let your guard down completely.

-- Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor

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