Telegraph Travel readers have delivered their verdict – and now the best cruise lines can be revealed.
This year the ocean cruise awards were broken down into three categories, providing a comprehensive cross-section of the best voyages at sea.
In the category of best small ship cruise line, Seabourn has moved from second into top spot. Its five luxury ships each carry between 458 and 600 passengers; by 2022 another two will be added to its fleet. Noble Caledonia has risen two places into second, while Silversea came in third.
The gong for best boutique ocean cruise line (a new award for 2019) went to Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which has featured on Channel 5’s The World’s Most Expensive Cruise Ship. Cunard took top spot for the best large ship ocean cruise line. Its two ships (each with a capacity of more than 2,000) and cruise liner Queen Mary 2 will be joined in 2022 by a new vessel – the company’s first launch in 12 years.
Uniworld River Cruises was named best river cruise line – river cruises are enjoying a boom in popularity and Uniworld is delivering four new ships in 2020. APT and Uniworld have jostled for the top spot in the last two years, this year APT came in second. Britannia Ferries remains the Best Ferry Line, a position it has consistently enjoyed.
Best Small-ship Ocean Cruise Line
While the race to build the biggest ships is dominated by the likes of Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises, other lines are focusing their efforts at the other end of the scale, promoting a more intimate cruising experience that’s more akin to being on a private yacht. There are many advantages to exploring by small ship, not least being a part of a smaller group size when you explore on land, accessibility to pristine, untouched ports, and no queuing on disembarkation.
Last year’s runner up Seabourn grabs the top spot in the Best Small-ship Ocean Cruise Line category. The newest ships in its fleet have no more than 300 suites, a variety of dining options and an open bar policy serving premium wine, champagne and spirits. These floating homes from home offer front-row seats for the majestic scenery of Alaska, the natural wonders of the Amazon, the vibrant cityscapes of Asia and the Caribbean less explored. Two polar class expedition ships will join Seabourn’s fleet in 2021 and 2022.
It is a fresh new look for the category as both runners-up edge out last year’s finalists. Noble Caledonia, in second place, earns high praise for its adventurous itineraries, which put a different spin on the Baltic, the Black Sea, Japan, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, with cultural themes including art, music and history. Also new is Silversea, which offers more destinations than any other cruise line, 900 across seven continents. A journey of discovery that can be made surrounded by the comforts of an ocean-view, butler-served suite.
Best Boutique Ocean Cruise Line
1 Regent Seven Seas Cruises
2 Viking Cruises
3 Oceania Cruises
Somewhere in between the super-sized ships carrying multiple thousands and the small, homely ships, carrying the low hundreds, are the boutique cruise lines, finding a happy medium between stature and intimacy. This middle ground is a fertile breeding area for stylish innovators, those who can offer the amenities of larger ships, meaning more restaurant choices and enrichment opportunities, but can also deliver a more personalised experience tailored to the individual needs of passengers. These ships are still small enough for direct access into off-the-beaten-track ports, offering hand-picked itineraries that serve the wanderlust of keen travellers.
Leading the pack in the Best Boutique Ocean Cruise Line category is Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which has been the subject of a Channel 5 documentary: The World’s Most Expensive Cruise Ship, giving viewers the inside track on the world’s most expensive suite, which comes in at £8,000 per night. Seven Seas Explorer has been sailing since July 2016, and the 750-passenger vessel has some of the highest space-to-guest and crew-to-guest ratios of any cruise ship. Guests want for nothing with Regent’s all-inclusive luxury experience that covers shore excursions, speciality restaurants, unlimited beverages, flights, transfers and more.
Second place Viking continues its successful move into ocean cruising, with the launch of a sixth ship Viking Jupiter in 2018. Sticking with what it does best, each identical sister ship carries 930 passengers, has a modern Scandinavian design and a thinking person’s ideology. Third place Oceania Cruises has brought a culinary edge to its luxury cruise proposition, combining a relaxed country club feel on board its mid-size ships with some of the finest dining at sea.
Best Large-ship Ocean Cruise Line
1 Cunard Line
2 Celebrity Cruises
3 Princess Cruises
The number of ocean cruises taken by UK and Irish passengers in 2018 passed the two million mark for the first time, a significant milestone for an industry that is fast becoming a mainstream holiday option. Every year sees the launch of a raft of ships, with innovative features on board to tempt new-cruisers, technological wizardry to help the cruise experience become more seamless, and high-quality dining options, masterminded by some of the best chefs in the business. Destination remains a primary motivation for booking, and cruisers are spoilt for choice with the global mix on offer.
Cunard shoots to the top of the pile when it comes to Best Large-ship Ocean Cruise Line. While the line’s loyal followers wait with anticipation for the launch of a new ship in 2022, the company’s first in 12 years, the Three Queens continue to impress with their happy marriage of timeless heritage and luxury service. The traditions of afternoon tea and dressing up for dinner still endure, while special event cruises, such as Transatlantic Fashion Week and the Journey of Genealogy, keep the brand fresh and relevant.
Runner-up Celebrity Cruises had a big year last year, with the launch of Celebrity Edge in December, a ground-breaking new class of ship, which introduced the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered multi-use floating platform, and private plunge pools with new Edge Villas among other talking points. Third place Princess Cruises has been pioneering new technology on board with the Ocean Medallion experience, a wearable device that can be used to order food and drinks, customise entertainment and navigate around the ship.
Best River Cruise Line
1 Uniworld River Cruises
3 AMA Waterways
Rapidly overcoming a rather staid one-size-fits-all image, river cruises are booming in popularity. According to industry association Cruise Lines International Association (Clia), the UK and Ireland river cruise market grew by 10 per cent in 2018. Operators are feeding this demand with an expanding range of immersive itineraries, by upgrading their fleets and adding more themes to cater for different interests. The Danube overtook the Rhine to become the most popular river – together they account for 58 per cent of passenger numbers – with the Mekong holding the top spot in Asia.
This year’s Best River Cruise Line winner Uniworld is known for offering some of the most luxurious river cruise vessels in Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, Egypt and India. The company has gradually been refurbishing its older ships and transforming them into ‘super ships’ that have additional dining options, new larger suites and more luxury finishing touches.
In April this year River Royale was rechristened SS Bon Voyage and next year River Countess will become SS Venezia. The entire European fleet will be super ships by 2021.
Last year’s winner APT slips down to second place. The family-owned company has grown considerably since it was formed in Melbourne in the 1920s, and a thriving river cruise programme in Europe, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, China and India sits alongside luxury touring and ocean cruising. Third place AmaWaterways introduced AmaMagna this year, which is twice the width of traditional European river cruisers. Stand-out features are the four restaurants, including a chef’s table experience, a Zen wellness studio and a sundowner boat for more intimate river cruise excursions.