Knowing how cruise lines score in annual award competitions is a good place to start when looking for a ship that suits your lifestyle and pocketbook.
About two decades ago a good friend of mine took his wife on their first cruise.
Unfortunately for them, they chose to sail on a large ship with a mass-market cruise line that was the water-going equivalent of a Holiday Inn, when they were expecting an experience more akin to a Four Seasons Hotel. At the time, they didn’t realize that cruise lines can be as different from one another as hotel chains, and that onboard experiences can be very different according to the size, age, and class of a ship.
Today, however, my friend would have a much better chance of finding a cruise that suits his lifestyle thanks to the many reviews, ratings and rankings that are available free online. For example, Cruise Critic has an extensive number of cruise ship reviews written by its members that are available on its website. And a number of media organizations produce “Best Cruise Line” rankings on an annual basis.
One of the most useful rankings comes from U.S. News, which compares cruise lines across a range of criteria including best for value, families and luxury.
In 2017, U.S. News selected Celebrity Cruises, followed by Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line as the cruise lines which deliver the Best Value for Money. In the Best for Families category, Disney Cruise Line ranked first with Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises earning second and third spots. And with respect to Best for Luxury, U.S. News gave top spot to Crystal Cruises, following by Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises.
At the most recent Cruise Critic Choice Awards, which are based member-submitted reviews, Disney Cruise Line won eight prizes in the large-ship classification, including Best Overall Ship for Disney Dream, as well as for Best Cabins, Best Service, Best Public Rooms and Best Shore Excursions.
Viking Ocean Cruises, which launched its first ocean cruise ship in 2015, was selected by Cruise Critic as best in the medium-sized ship classification in 10 areas of comparison, including Best Ship (Viking Sea), Best Service, Best Entertainment, Best for Fitness, Best Public Rooms and Best Shore Excursion. And Celebrity Cruise Line’s Galapagos-based ship, Celebrity Xpedition, won six top awards in the small-ship class, including Best Overall, Best Value and Best Shore Excursions.
Condé Nast Traveler produces one of the most comprehensive annual rankings of cruise lines by surveying thousands of its well-traveled readers. In their 2016 survey published in October, they rated the world’s best cruise lines in four categories – Large, Medium, Small and River cruise lines – on a scale of zero (worst) to 100 (best).
In the large ship category (more than 2,500 passengers), the top three cruise lines were Disney with a score of 90.23, Cunard with 90.1, and Princess with 86.43.
In the medium ship category (500 to 2,000 passengers), Crystal Cruises finished first with a rating of 92.24, followed by Disney at 87.44, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises at 86.54.
In the small ships category (fewer than 500 passengers), Seabourn Cruise Line scored best at 91.11, with Paul Gauguin Cruises at 90.83, and Regent Seven Sea Cruises at 89.83.
Finally, in the river boat category, Grand Circle Cruise Line won top honours with a rating of 93.55, followed by Viking River Cruises at 93.36, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises at 93.07.
While consumers still need to decide what type of cruise experience they want and are willing to pay for it, these types of reviews and rankings can be helpful in making a better choice. And while winning awards is not the only criteria that matters in picking a cruise ship, it’s a great place to start.