Every year is a great one for cruising here at Cruise Critic. New ships, fascinating destinations, wonderful shore excursions - what’s not to love? With all the superlatives, though, comes the flip side, including travel delays, airplane colds and those annoying other passengers.

With 2019 coming to a close, the Cruise Critic editors take a look at our best - and worst - cruise experiences of the year. Here’s hoping that 2020 brings even more highlights, and that the lowlights are kept to a minimum, for all of us.

Best

On the inaugural voyage of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth to Alaska, I had the unique opportunity to trial a brand-new excursion at Hubbard Glacier. After breakfast we boarded a small fishing charter and drove out to the edge of the glacier, which was experiencing the highest level of calving activity our captain had seen in years. As a photographer, this experience was a dream. One moment we were anxiously awaiting the thunderous cracks of a calving glacier. The next, we were gripping the boat’s safety railings, as large chunks of ice - some the size of a full-size school bus - plummeted into the water, sending massive waves into the side of the boat. It was an incredible scene to capture, and an experience that I’ll surely never forget.
- Christina Janansky, Producer

Viking Helgrim on the Douro River (Photo: Adam Coulter)

The highlight of my Viking Helgrim river cruise started with a picnic lunch in an olive grove in the heart of Portugal’s Douro Valley. There, we met with the owners of nearby hotel, who grow and rear most of the produce, which included fat tomatoes, olives and salad, together with cold cuts including cured hams and chorizo, as well as white wine, which they source from a tiny vineyard a valley away. They then invited us back to their hotel (transport provided on the back of a pick-up truck rigged with loud speakers), where we swam in the pool for the afternoon.
- Adam Coulter, Managing Editor, U.K.

Snorkeling with sea lions made me giggle non-stop underwater. These puppies of the sea chase you around, backflip and somersault in your face, dive down when you do, and just look at you with those big gooey eyes and whiskery faces. For many reasons, you should do it in the wild, not in an enclosure. The best places for cruise passengers to experience this pure fun adventure include Western and South Australia, the Galapagos (where I was) and Mexico.
- Louise Goldsbury, Managing Editor, Australia

Shot of Emerald Harmony on the Mekong River
This year, I reviewed a new ship, Emerald Harmony, on Southeast Asia's Mekong River during a sailing to Cambodia and Vietnam. More than any trip I've ever taken, that one showed me just how similar people everywhere are to one another, in spite of cultural, religious, geographical and economic differences. Visiting Cambodia's Killing Fields and Vietnam's War Remnants Museum taught me more about human nature, resilience and forgiveness than any history book could ever hope to, and I stepped way outside of my comfort zone by crawling through small spaces in the Cu Chi Tunnels and eating things that would make most people cringe. (Tarantulas, anyone?) It challenged and educated me more than I expected, and it set an exceedingly high bar for all future travel.
- Ashley Kosciolek, Senior Editor

Can you imagine 12 straight days of summer with one of your best girlfriends, enjoying nightly wine and cheese on your balcony as you sail around Turkey and the Greek Isles? I lived that dreamy reality in August on a Greece-intensive sailing on Azamara Pursuit. Long days in port meant we had time to see the mountaintop monasteries of Meteora (featured in an old Bond film), or split mornings at ruins with relaxation time on a local beach in the afternoon. An overnight in trendy Mykonos meant we could meander through the endless alleyways of shops and admire the intoxicating bougainvillea before a stunning sunset, before indulging in the island's famous nightlife. One of the most memorable days was in Turkey, when guided tours of the ancient city of Ephesus (from 10th century BC and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are offered by day, and an otherworldy candlelit concert within the ruins takes place at night. Top it all off with a genuinely friendly crew onboard the year-old ship, and it was a cruise for the ages.
- Brittany Chrusciel, Editor

The minute I felt a hard edge as I dug into the sand, I knew I had hit the shell of a baby turtle. After quickly scooping around it, I carefully slid my hand under the hard edge I'd felt and pulled out as large a scoopful of sand as I could. Inside the sand, resting against my palm, the baby turtle squirmed, its front legs flapping as it tried to find land. As my team of four fellow Enchantment of the Seas cruisers, all on a Saving Sea Turtles shore excursion with Royal Caribbean, continued to dig carefully, I reflected on the amazing things you get to do when cruising. Rescuing eight little guys, which we released into the water, was the best cruise-related moment I had all year. 
- Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor

HRH Duchess of Cornwall posing with a model ship of Spirit of Discovery
My 2019 highlight was the naming ceremony of Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery in Dover in July. There was a glorious blue sky overhead and the iconic White Cliffs perfectly set the scene in the background. We were treated to a very British garden party, complete with fizz and afternoon tea, and HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall smashed a jeroboam of specially-blended Hush Heath Estate sparkling wine (from a local vineyard) against the hull of the ship to mark the occasion. The ship is gorgeous -- it feels like a luxury boutique hotel -- and the day was topped off by an incredible performance by Jools Holland and his band (Jools will perform on three sailings in 2020). I’m just sorry I didn’t get to spend longer onboard.
- Kerry Spencer, Editor, UK

My previous attempts at taking my kids on cruises weren't exactly what you'd call a perfect family vacation. So imagine my nerves solo parenting a five-year-old on a weeklong Caribbean sailing with Princess Cruises. Turns out a few years makes a big difference, and my daughter and I had a blast. She loved Caribbean Princess' new kiddie pool and splash area, evening crafts and movies at the kids club and getting dressed up for dinner in the main dining room (no buffet dinners for us!). We enjoyed playing on the beach and visiting an aquarium in port. And we both had fun with testing out Princess' new Ocean Medallion technology, creating turtle avatars and hunting them down at every touchscreen, going on shipwide digital scavenger hunt games and showing off our matching purple bracelets to hold our Medallions. It's always special having mother-daughter time together, but it’s so much better to have it on a cruise ship.
- Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

I visited Hawaii with UnCruise Adventures this summer with my husband, sailing on 36-passenger Safari Explorer. We picked this trip because UnCruise visits smaller ports - our sailing departed from delightful Molokai -- and offers active excursions. I knew we picked the right sailing when, Day 1, we were in the water, snorkels on, looking at colorful fish, curious turtles and reefs galore. This set the tone for the trip, where we were in the water several times a day, snorkeling, kayaking or just swimming off the back of the ship. I’ve grown to love the incredibly knowledgeable crew and guides, the casual approach to everything except safety and the exceptional, locally sourced food UnCruise offers. Snorkeling with stingrays at night and jumping off the third deck into the blue water below will stick with me for a long time.
- Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief
 
Dee Snider performing on the 80's Cruise (Photo: TUKE)
I originally groused when I, by reasons of age alone and the fact that I knew the bands, had to adjust some travel plans to take a last-minute assignment to cover The 80s Cruise, an annual music theme cruise sponsored by ECP. With former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider as the host and lots of neon on the website, the cruise sounded like a bit cheesy on the surface; a true GenXer, I’m always skeptical until proven wrong. Little did I know that this would become one of my favorite cruises, ever. From Day One, the cruise proved to be a journey back to my lost youth, aided by my travel companion, a college sorority sister. We spent the week dancing nonstop, screaming lyrics to our favorite 80s songs until we were hoarse, stalking our favorite bands and celebrities (turns out Dee Snider is one awesome dude!) and outright partying like it was freshman year 1987. It was so much fun that I’m going back next year, with an even larger group of college besties (and husbands this time, who have no idea what they’re getting into). Rock on!
- Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor



Worst

Early in the year, I sailed on a theme cruise and had a wonderful time. But the day of disembarkation, I woke up with the worst sore throat I’ve ever had. It quickly turned into a fever and chills, a headache and then stomach issues, followed by bronchitis. I was out of commission for nearly two weeks and visited three different doctors who ruled out the flu, pneumonia, mono, norovirus and strep throat. I started on antibiotics, which were followed up with steroids, prescription cough medicine, a nebulizer treatment and an inhaler to help me breathe. I definitely caught this monster bug on the aforementioned sailing, and it was a crummy way to end a fantastic cruise.
- Ashley Kosciolek, Senior Editor

Being told I had to get off Norwegian Joy, after getting to spend just one night in a Haven suite, was definitely the worst cruise moment of my year. Granted I was on a one-night cruise, but the family suite we were in was so luxe, and we'd barely gotten to enjoy any of the Haven amenities -- like the exclusive pool or Haven restaurant -- that I just wanted to lie down and pound my fists the morning we had to get off.
- Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor

I found out the hard way that if you embark at a U.S. port, you definitely cannot disembark at a U.S. port, unless the ship has visited a non-U.S. port in between. My cruise from San Diego ended in Vancouver but I wanted to get off early. Knowing a little about the Jones Act, I asked the cruise line if this would really be possible (they said yes) so I happily booked my flight home from Seattle to Sydney, Australia. At the last-minute we realised we had to change my flights, and I was “held hostage” for three extra nights. I know, poor me, forced to do more cruising on a beautiful ship in beautiful places. If that’s my worst experience, I clearly had a pretty great year.
- Louise Goldsbury, Managing Editor, Australia

After disembarking a cruise in Naples earlier this year I spent four hours crammed into a hot and sticky Naples Airport waiting for my return flight home. There wasn’t a single seat free in the entire Departures Lounge and I spent over an hour in line at Passport Control. Our flight (and several others) then departed one hour late because it took so long to process all passengers. It felt chaotic and overcrowded. Naples Airport is actually lovely, it just doesn’t cope well with such a high volume of passengers in one go.
- Kerry Spencer, Editor, U.K.

I spent a week on Carnival Sunrise just after its refurbishment, and while I loved many of the additions, problems with passenger flow created some unpleasant experiences. At both the muster drill and disembarkation, we got trapped on stairwells, hardly able to move up or down, which was both disconcerting and likely a fire hazard. We had to cross a smoky casino, or go decks out of our way, any time we wanted to get across the main entertainment decks, and buffet lines were overly long without station-based dining (thank goodness for short lines and great tacos at BlueIguana). We definitely earned any escape we got to the newly added two-deck Serenity deck area.
- Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

In September we were invited to visit Hurtigruten's Roald Amundsen, on an overnight sail from Vancouver to Seattle. All of the opening events surrounding the world's first hybrid-powered cruise ship went off without a hitch; but word spread quickly that some maintenance required the ship to stay docked and not sail. On the way back, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol decided to hold motorcoaches unexplained for SIX HOURS between Washington State and Canada. The worst part of the whole thing was not the unavoidable delays, but the fact that we did not get a chance to spend more time on such an impressive ship.
- Brittany Chrusciel, Editor

It’s easy to forget how inclement weather can impact your cruise experience, as was the case on my Queen Elizabeth cruise to Alaska in June. For months I had been looking forward to my big bucket list excursion: A helicopter tour through Skagway’s glaciers, capped off by a dog-sledding camp experience at 5,000 feet up. Just minutes before we were meant to take off, a weather report for windy and rainy skies resulted in a cancelation of our tour. It’s a great reminder that all shore excursions are subject to change (especially in Alaska), and that it’s always important to have a back-up plan! - Christina Janansky, Producer

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of cruise ship naming ceremonies in my time at Cruise Critic. This year, I witnessed seven ships being christened, complete with the traditional bottle smashing on the hull of the ship. Except in the case of four of them, the bottle didn’t break. In one case, the bottle missed the bow completely, swinging limply in the air a few feet away. In the superstitious maritime world, a miss is met with a collective gasp - and often a more vivacious second chance.
- Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief

My voyage to the Arctic on Ponant’s Le Boreal, sailing with a travel writer friend on a Tauck tour, provided many once-in-a-lifetime moments, including polar bear sightings, a stop in the world’s northernmost settlement Ny-Alesund and glaciers so impressive, they make Alaska look small. One moment that wasn’t so great though - listening to a fellow passenger loudly refute climate change at lunch, after we had just listened to a heartbreaking lecture about polar ice melt. If you aren’t going to listen or learn….why go?
- Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor