In 2009: Cruise Critic's Favorite Features

December 31, 2009
Cruise Critic's Favorite Features (5:16 p.m. EST) -- Beyond the news we covered this year -- readers' favorites, as we noted earlier this month, tended to feature death, disease and destruction -- another way to put your finger on the pulse of what mattered, cruise-wise, this year is by our best-read features and port stories.

Following are our most popular features of 2009. Some of them may surprise you (they did us!) -- others, not so much.

Top Story: Oasis of the Seas Mania

The biggest story of the year -- literally and figuratively - was the debut of Royal Caribbean's 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, the most innovative ship ever built. We knew, coming into the year, that Oasis would be a major topic of interest all year long. As such, it's the biggest story Cruise Critic has ever covered. We wrote more than 60 feature stories alone (not to mention some 45-plus news items) and these netted millions of page views. More specifically, those that topped the list of Oasis-related stories included:

Oasis 101: Basics on the World's Biggest Cruise Ship: Anything you want to know about Oasis of the Seas you can find here. It's the best place on Cruise Critic to start.

Our Oasis of the Seas sneak preview review chronicles first impressions of the ship since its debut.

We know how much you like cabin photos in general and Oasis of the Seas, with its innovative lofts and Central Park- and Boardwalk-facing staterooms, sparked special interest, especially with our 20-page slideshow.

In our first-ever live streaming video, Cruise Critic took readers on a private tour of the ship during one of its first preview voyages.

Certainly, Oasis of the Seas wasn't the only hot story in 2009. Here are some others that netted big audiences:

2009: The Year of the Cruise Steal, Er, Deal. Our new Best Budget Cruises piece was timely in light of the economic recession that shadowed travelers in '09. The piece focused on best strategies for maximizing cruise deals, including budget-oriented fleets (and within cruise lines which actual ships were typically charging the cheapest fares), itineraries (repositioning cruises bounced in popularity this year because they're such a good deal) and cruising seasons (how to avoid peak pricing for popular trips).

Families Embrace Cruise Travel. Our Best Family Ships story, updated recently, is a solid winner that offers families concrete recommendations not only about ships that are good for kids, but also those that are best suited for multi-generational groups or families with young children, and those with enough activities to keep moms and dads happy, too.

What's The Most Popular Port? If page views are any indication, Cozumel would be it. The island is a staple of Western Caribbean itineraries, showing up on 4- to 15-night cruises out of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland and more. The Eastern Mexico port lures first-timers and repeat cruisers alike with scuba and snorkeling locations teeming with coral and sea life, beaches for playing and relaxing, and its proximity to historical sites such as the Mayan cities of Chichen Itza and Tulum. Plus, we've got the skinny on the best ways to get around, find the perfect souvenir and choose a local restaurant.

Cruises As Romance Tonics. Some cruise lines are able to successfully incorporate romantic features onto one-size-fits-all ships; others really focus on creating an overall ambience that's geared to couples. Which ships -- and which trips -- are best for you? We tell you where sparks will fly in our Best Ships for Couples feature.

Brrrr! Winter Cruising in Winter Places. It surprised us that this year's two most popular virtual cruise stories -- which as you may know are in-depth, day-by-day accounts of cruises both onboard and onshore -- focused on cold weather voyages! Specifically, virtuals on a snowy cruise to the Mediterranean aboard MSC's Fantasia and a Christmas markets river cruise along the Danube on Viking River's Viking Spirit trumped virtuals in more temperate places.

Are Cruise Critic readers hardy souls, ready to trade Caribbean sun for chillier climes? We're still pondering that one!

Alaska Boomed. Forget the naysayers who reported about Alaska's woes (too many cruise ships and pricey airfares to embarkation cities). Alaska boomed this year precisely because such factors led to the cheapest prices on trips there in recent history. The region, it became clear to us, is especially tantalizing to travelers who hadn't yet tried a cruise. Our most popular destination features, like My First Cruise to … Alaska and Top 10 Must Pack Items for Alaska, definitely shed some light on the relatively mysterious destination.

Speaking of Cruise Virgins…. We know that the right first cruise can get you hooked on cruising for life (and the wrong one could keep your feet firmly planted on land). So our Best Ships for First-Timers aims to unravel the mysteries, offering tips on picking the "right" cruise on big ship, luxury and adventure cruise lines.

How Do We Come Up with Ship Review Ratings? What's your hotel personality and how do you use that knowledge to choose a cruise ship? Whether your favorite on-land vacations take place at a Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, La Quinta or something in between, our story helps you understand how we come to decide ratings for more than 500-plus ships.

BYOB Falls Out of Favor. As cruise lines increasingly crack down on passengers who want to bring a bottle or two of spirits onboard, our cruise line roundup on "bring your own bottle" policies generates spirited debate. Here you'll find the official rules on bringing wine and liquor onboard, as well as age restrictions, tips on where to snag a free cocktail and whether your favorite brand of beer is available onboard.

Cruising Through Nowhere. Repositioning cruises are sea day-heavy voyages that ships take twice a year, to go from the Caribbean to Alaska or from Europe to North America. These have long been an economical way to travel, which perhaps explains the popularity of our repositioning cruise story during a belt-tightening 2009. If you're the kind of traveler who loves the ship experience and doesn't mind an over-abundance of sea days, repositioning deals let you get onto ships you might otherwise not have the budget for. Hint: our 2010 update -- most repositionings take place in spring and fall -- will debut in mid-January.

Happy New Year from all of us at Cruise Critic!