Welcome to our Readers’ Choice Awards for this, the most extraordinary year in our 25 years of publishing.
We thought long and hard about whether we should run these awards at all, given 2020 saw only three months of cruising.
But we know how much our readers and the cruise lines look forward to the results so they can use them to choose their next journey or improve their services.
Votes this year were down on our usual numbers, for perfectly understandable reasons, but our readers answered 42,000 questions and spent an average 8.5 minutes giving us their views.
As well as our usual questions, we also asked who handled the pandemic best. We loved the comments about individual crew members. And while we’ve picked out the best, the most common comment was: “They were all great, so nominating one individual is impossible.” You’ll find those winners on pages 18 and 19.
To those who took our survey, our heartfelt thanks. We know cruise lines will study your verdicts, so you’ve helped fellow cruisers and the industry through a difficult time.
We would also like to thank our regular sponsor Singapore Airlines. All of us will be back next year, when our awards night will return in person.
It’s the fifth year in a row that Princess has won this prestigious award. And perhaps, after eight months that have seen the line attract all the wrong headlines because of the global pandemic, it is the sweetest victory of all.
Australia has long had a love affair with this premium line. Earlier this year, Princess revealed its commitment to the Aussie market with the announcement that Royal Princess, Emerald Princess, Sapphire Princess, Coral Princess and Pacific Princess are returning for the 2021/22 wave season, making it Australia’s biggest homeported line by far.
Along with the fabulous entertainment of Broadway shows, fine-dining restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred chefs, and decadent accommodation, Princess’s ships are also bringing its Medallion technology to the region. Every guest is given a piece of wearable technology called the OceanMedallion which unlocks their staterooms, orders food and drinks from anywhere on the ship and plans their shore excursions.
Further abroad, Princess sails to nearly every corner of the earth with itineraries to the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean.
Their latest ship, Enchanted Princess, boasts the new lavishly furnished Sky Suites, which can accommodate five guests, offer the largest suites at sea and come with a butler for hosting your own private dinner parties.
Highly Commended: Royal Caribbean
The family friendly line, which boasts the world’s biggest ships, has been voted Australia’s second favourite brand. In 2021, we will have Quantum of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, visit our shores. Like Ovation of the Seas, she has fantastic rides and activities like iFly and FlowRider, as well as a large range of dining options including Tuscan delights at Jamie’s Italian.
Best Luxury Cruise Line
Winner: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
This is the line that set a new standard in luxury cruising: perfection. Now, for the first time, ultra-luxury brand Regent Seven Seas Cruises has snared the gong for the most prestigious and coveted award in the luxury sector.
What sets the line apart is its highly personalised service and attention to detail in everything from its cuisine, suites, amenities and range of activities onboard to the immersive destination experiences on shore.
You will dine well on RSSC ships, at the main dining room Compass Rose or at chic French restaurant Chartreuse. After dinner, head for the Constellation Theatre to be mesmerised by lavish stage productions or meander to the Connoisseur Club for another Regent tradition – cognac and a cigar.
RSSC has 148 new voyages, including world cruises, in 2022 and 2023, with 17 maiden calls at ports across Arabia, Asia, North America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.
Highly Commended: Ponant
Luxury line Ponant offers expedition cruises with more than a touch of French chic to some of the most remote parts of the world. One of the most talked-about features of Ponant ships is the underwater lounges with windows giving passengers a whale’s eye view of the sea life outside, for a multi-sensory underwater experience of wild destinations including Antarctica and the Kimberley.
Best Premium Cruise Line
Winner: Princess Cruises
This is Australia’s favourite type of cruising, so it’s hardly surprising there are lots of contenders. But, once again, Princess Cruises has been awarded Best Premium Cruise Line.
The line’s onboard food, cocktails, fun activities and Broadway-class entertainment all at affordable prices, are just some of the reasons Cruise Passenger readers are such big Princess fans. Some of the tempting dining options include Share by Curtis Stone, the Chef’s Table, Salty Dog Gastropub and the classic Crown Grill Steakhouse.
The line has unveiled plans for its 2021-22 Australian season, with Royal Princess and Coral Princess cruising in local waters, the return of Emerald Princess and Sapphire Princess, and the first world cruise on Coral Princess setting sail from Australia in 2022. The reshuffle of ships will see Ruby Princess and Majestic Princess head to Alaska and North America, and Diamond Princess leave Asia.
Highly Commended: Viking
For an ocean line that is just five years old, Viking has managed to set a new benchmark in this category. Nudging luxury, its catchphrase “No kids and no casinos” absolutely nailed the premium cruise market around the world and Australia is no exception. With its streamlined Scandinavian design and ambience combined with an all-inclusive experience, Viking is fast becoming a favourite among Australian cruisers. Its ocean-going fleet offers itineraries to Australia, Asia and Alaska on 930-passenger ships – the right size, according to our surveys, for post-pandemic cruising.
Best Contemporary Cruise Line
Winner: P&O Cruises
For the fifth year in a row, homegrown line P&O Cruises has taken the title of Best Contemporary Cruise Line. The sale of two favourites, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Aria, while sad, makes way for new vessels Pacific Adventure and Pacific Encounter to join the modernised fleet in 2021.
P&O’s contemporary style of cruising is exemplified through diverse dining experiences, including concepts from Australian chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan and award-winning Melbourne-based chef Johnny Di Francesco. There will also be exciting new spaces like the Byron Bay Beach Club and live music venue the Blue Room on board Pacific Adventure.
Flagship cruise liner Pacific Explorer stays contemporary with cool onboard features and partnerships with fresh Australian companies, like the Archie Rose dedicated gin bar, based on the Sydney distillery. P&O has also pioneered new destinations, building infrastructure in Papua New Guinea.
Highly Commended: Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean’s onboard activities, such as surf simulator FlowRider, the Aqua Theatre, laser tag arena, zip lines, trapeze school and sky diving simulator iFly, are a testament to the cutting edge and innovative nature of the line. Contemporary food options are also to be expected, with Ovation of the Seas offering 18 eateries, ranging from Jamie Oliver’s Italian to experimental venue Wonderland.
Best Family Cruise Line
Winner: Carnival Cruise Line
At a time when many lines have abandoned families in favour of the lucrative older markets, Carnival Cruise Line’s welcoming family-orientated approach to cruising is a winner.
Carnival cruises offer an array of activities and entertainment onboard, as well as dining options for even the pickiest of eaters, all at an affordable price. Carnival Spirit and Carnival Splendour are both sailing Australia for the 2021 summer season and are equally packed with wholesome family fun – a Carnival upper deck is the closest thing to an amusement park at sea.
Carnival Spirit features the Green Thunder waterslide, Hasbro the Game Show, and a collaboration with Dr Seuss. Dining options like Pizza Pirate and Swirls keep the young and young at heart smiling on long sea days. Carnival Splendour also offers minigolf and dive-in movies.
Carnival may not have every whiz bang go-faster goody or tech delight, but they know how to make mums, dads and kids feel at home.
Highly Commended: P&O Cruises
Kids’ clubs, waterslides, adventure parks, sports, talent time, music lessons and more are present on each and every P&O cruise. Parents can send the kids off for a full day of entertainment or join them in a variety of activities and shore excursions for whole-family fun. But it’s not just about children. Check out any deck on a P&O ship, and you’ll find multi-generational cruising. Yep, grandma and grandad will also be there.
Best Adventure Cruise Line
From whale watching on a Zodiac to kayaking in the Norwegian fjords, French luxury line Ponant takes great pride in giving guests the finest experiences at sea in the most rugged parts of the world.
With its fleet of small expedition ice-breaker ships carrying experienced expedition leaders, Ponant traverses the world from Antarctica to Papua New Guinea, taking passengers to distant regions to immerse themselves in unspoilt nature.
Its Explorer-class ships can accommodate up to 184 guests and operate with a crew of around 112. They are contemporary in design, each with two restaurants and a spa, and are designed to provide absolute comfort for passengers.
The line’s latest environmentally friendly ship, Le Commandant-Charcot, runs on liquefied natural gas and electric generators, is scheduled to debut in April next year.
Highly Commended: Hurtigruten
Norwegian line Hurtigruten was once used as the country’s postal ferry service but it has evolved into a sophisticated, environmentally friendly brand that takes guests on expedition cruises all over the planet. What’s so special about Hurtigruten is that on expedition trips, there are naturalists, lecturers and working laboratories onboard rather than casinos.
Best River Cruise Line
Winner: Viking Cruises
Founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen when he purchased four ships in Russia in 1997, Viking Cruises has grown into the world’s leading river cruise line.
All its ships are identical – with clean, Scandinavian design, light-filled staterooms and expansive public spaces – which makes return cruisers feel instantly at home. Viking ships are spacious, catering for about 190 guests on each ship.
The line takes pride in “no nickel and diming” so wine and beer are included during meal times along with at least one complimentary shore excursion at each destination.
Viking river ships sail in Europe, Egypt, Russia and Asia and, from 2022, in the USA. The new Viking Mississippi will sail the eponymous river and visit seven US states on four itineraries.
Highly Commended: Avalon Waterways
Avalon Waterways is known for its one-of-a-kind Panorama Suites, with wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows for the best views on the water. Its fleet of river ships sail in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and offer a variety of special interest cruises. It also introduced Active & Discovery sailings, in which excursions are tailor-made to guests’ activity level preferences, ranging from energetic experiences to interactive discoveries.
Best Luxury River Cruise Line
Winner: Avalon Waterways
For the second year running, Avalon Waterways has taken the gong for Best Luxury River Cruise Line, thanks to the ambience of relaxed luxury onboard its fleet. The line takes pride in providing excellent food, unstuffy service and impeccable attention to detail. Avalon’s offering of themed cruises and shore excursions catering for guests’ preferred level of activity is what sets the line apart.
Avalon has also fine-tuned the design of its Panorama Suites, in which the beds face the wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows for the best river views and guests can choose the firmness of their beds and pillows.
Its flexible dining options with no strict seating times mean guests have the freedom to decide where and when they dine – from an alfresco lunch at the Sky Grill to a four-course dinner in the dining room.
Highly Commended: Scenic
Scenic has grown from a river cruise company to a river, ocean and tours group but river cruising in its Spaceship fleet is still what it is best known for. Its all-inclusive river cruises have long been a favourite – though new contenders in the market and a few missteps in its treatment of passengers during the pandemic have eroded its position.
Best Cruise Line for Food
Winner: Oceania Cruises
With dedicated culinary journeys and an onboard cooking school, it comes as no surprise that Oceania Cruises has won the award for best dining for the fourth year running.
Sailing on the luxurious fleet, guests will enjoy signature specials from the godfather of French cuisine, Jacques Pepin, and fabulous Asian fusion at Red Ginger nightly. Meal variety is essential, and menus change daily, offering choices of at least ten appetisers, soups and salads and twelve mains at dinner.
Other dining options available to suit a range of individual tastes include The Bistro, Toscana, Polo Grill, Terrace Café and Waves Grill, as well as complimentary room service. Oceania also won praise for culinary shore excursions such as visits to local markets with the ship’s chef to find fresh produce and make local dishes.
Highly Commended: Princess Cruises
The wide variety of dining options onboard a Princess Cruises ship earns the line a Cruise Passenger highly commended nod. Not only does Princess boast Michelin-starred restaurants and celebrity chefs but the signature food offerings of all kinds always hit the spot. The Designed for Fresh motto is evidenced in every meal.
Best Cruise Line for Entertainment
Winner: Princess Cruises
For the fifth year in a row, Princess Cruises takes the crown for the best entertainment at sea.
The one-of-a-kind Princess productions are a combination of vibrant stage sets and international performers playing out modern hits and timeless classics in state-of-the-art Princess theatres and right across the ship. With rock ‘n’ roll, magic, opera, pop and a few interesting crossovers, Princess cruises have it all.
The Grammy Award-winning composer of Wicked, Steven Schwartz, has created an exclusive musical for Princess ships called Magic to Do, featuring a mash up of the best musical numbers from his Broadway shows, along with a few originals.
Less formal but equally entertaining shows include world class magicians and illusionists, top comedians, live music, disco deck parties and street entertainers in the piazza.
Highly Commended: P&O Cruises
Staying true to their catchphrase, ‘Ain’t no party like a P&O party’, the homegrown line has slid into second place. Next year will see Pacific Encounter and Pacific Adventure join Pacific Explorer and ready to entertain. Comedy, ’80s, Elvis Presley and country-music themed cruises are all on the P&O agenda for 2021.
Best Cruise Line for Activities
Winner: Royal Caribbean
The line with the largest cruise ships in the world has been named the best for activities for the fifth year running, and no wonder. All Royal Caribbean ships offer the most contemporary and innovative activities for the whole family.
Australian favourite Ovation of the Seas is set to impress for another season with fun features including the iFly, for a skydiving-like thrill; the North Star’s panoramic view of the sea; and famous surf simulator FlowRider.
Quantum of the Seas has a bold line-up of activities for her first Australian season, with iFly, North Star and FlowRider, as well as laser tag, and mind-bending puzzles in an all-new Royal Escape Room.
Serenade of the Seas is home to a mini-golf course, rock-climbing facilities, cooking classes and plenty of activities for the little ones at Adventure Ocean.
Highly Commended: Carnival Cruise Line
Coming in a close second, Carnival Cruise Line offers something for everyone onboard, with the steepest waterslide at sea, dive-in poolside movies, Cloud Nine Spa, painting and jewellery design workshops, video game arcade and more. Carnival sets family fun activities at the top of its priority list.
Best Cruise Line for Spa/Wellness
Winner: Princess Cruises
The Lotus Spa onboard Princess Cruises’ fleet has a reputation among those who love being pampered. As well as traditional treatments like facials and hot stone massages, the cruise line also offers its guests access to a special aromatherapy thermal suite called The Enclave.
This VIP area has a dedicated hydrotherapy pool, therapeutic jets as well as a Turkish-style bath called a hammam. In adults-only retreat The Sanctuary, couples can indulge in their own private cabana where Princess serves their specialty spa cuisine, consisting of lighter and fresher dishes. The standout feature in The Sanctuary is the option of an open-air massage while you watch the sea roll by.
The Lotus Spa Fitness Centre has spinning classes available as well as access to weights and treadmills but to achieve the ultimate zen, Princess offers special yoga classes and tai chi sessions on the deck.
Highly Commended: Holland America Line
A newcomer to the category, premium Holland America Line gets a nod for the luxurious pampering services it offers. Its Greenhouse Spa & Salon has exotic pampering skin, body and hair treatments on its menu. On certain Holland America Line ships, you’ll find spa suites and staterooms located in quiet enclave of the ship so guests can spend their voyage relaxing.
Best Cruise Line for Service
Winner: Regent Seven Seas
White-gloved butlers and impeccable hospitality have put luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises in top spot for best service for the second year in a row. While every cruise line offers fantastic hospitality, Regent goes above and beyond with its luxury offerings.
With each suite comes a personal butler who will cater to your every whim, restock the mini-bar with premium wines and liquor of your choice, unpack and launder your clothes, shine your shoes and ensure your freshly made up room is waiting for you when you return from your day exploring in port.
Staff also shine in public areas. In the dining room, the maître d’, the sommelier and the wait staff make each dining experience feel like guests are in a Michelin-starred restaurant. And should you desire anything that’s not on the menu, the staff will cater to the best of their ability.
Highly Commended: Cunard
Known for its Art Deco interiors, sweeping ballrooms and grand staircases, traditional luxury line Cunard has lovely, obliging service. Guests in the Grill Class experience exceptional assistance and Cunard’s charming bell boys, decked out in the red uniforms, are unmissable for their iconic attire as much as for their attention to detail.
Best Cruise Line for Sustainability
Former postal carrier service line Hurtigruten is leading the charge of creating environmentally sustainable options for the future.
The Norwegian line recently unveiled MS Fridtjof Nansen, featuring a revolutionary battery hybrid powered propulsion system. She is a sister ship to the hybrid-powered Roald Amundsen, launched last year. Roald Amundsen is propelled by electric motors and internal combustion engines, which the line claims cuts fuel consumption by 20 per cent.
Across the fleet, guests won’t find any unnecessary single-use plastic items onboard and can forgo having their room cleaned every day to save on supplies and water.
The line has plans to roll out more hybrid ships that are battery operated and also run on fuel from dead fish and organic waste. Hurtigruten has signed a long-term agreement with Norway-based Biokraft to supply climate-neutral liquefied biogas.
Highly Commended: Viking Cruises
Viking Cruises has pledged to work towards a more sustainable future. In 2018, the Scandinavian line announced that it would build two more ships at Vard Holdings Limited, which is known for constructing the world’s most environmentally friendly ships. Its focus on natural environments at destinations – with education and thoughtful excursions – is another plus.
Best Cruise Line for Shore Excursions
Winner: Princess Cruises
With cruise lines exploring more of the world, brands have gone above and beyond to offer their guests immersive and educational shore excursions. This year, Princess Cruises has again won this category, one that is incredibly important to Cruise Passenger readers.
While the line offers fabulous excursions to the top food and wine destinations in the world, unspoiled natural environments, and culturally and historically important sites, Princess also takes their guests to communities that need support the most.
At the beginning of 2020, Princess took guests to visit the bushfire-ravaged South Australian destination of Kangaroo Island. Guests on Sun Princess were welcomed with open arms by local tour operators, who took them to some of the island’s natural wonders as well as to visit local food and wine providores.
Highly Commended: Viking Cruises
With one included in the price at every destination, and with destination a focus of their river, ocean and (soon) expedition cruises, Viking’s shore excursions cover a wide range of interests. Whether you love arts and culture, adventure activities or food and wine, Viking offers it all. The line also advises the fitness level of each activities, which is incredibly handy.
Best Cruise Line for Theme Cruises
Winner: P&O Cruises Australia
It’s no surprise that Australia’s homegrown cruise brand has won this year’s award for best themed cruises. Sailing out of Brisbane and Sydney, P&O Cruises offers short voyages themed around food, sport and comedy.
One of the favourites is the annual State of Origin cruise, which sees fans from both Queensland and NSW come onboard alongside famous footy players from the Blues and the Maroons, who will be available for photo and autograph opportunities as well as Q&A sessions.
P&O hosts an annual cruise to the Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation, with an onboard lineup of fashion, entertainment and culinary delights.
The line also hosts comedy cruises, with an impressive line-up of Aussie comedians and a partnership with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival that includes an exclusive comedy show for P&O guests at Melbourne Town Hall.
Highly Commended: Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean cruises around the world offer guests interesting themed sailings. Organisations and production companies charter ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet to host cruises with themes such as country music, holidays and motorbikes. There are even tattoo-themed cruises where you can get inked onboard if you dare.
Best Cruise Line for Cabin Design
Winner: Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ships have some of the most stunning accommodation at sea. Staterooms are spacious and sophisticated, and filled with useful amenities like USB ports.
Club balcony suites, family balcony and balcony staterooms all have comfortable seating areas, convertible drop down beds and plenty of storage space, making them perfect for a family of four. The high-end suites in Norwegian Cruise Line’s exclusive VIP area, The Haven, come with their own sitting rooms and dining areas and are beautifully appointed with unique pieces of artwork.
Select Norwegian ships also offer award-winning studios that are designed and priced for singles.
Highly Commended: Viking Cruises
Once again, Viking Cruises’ loyal followers highly ranked their clean, sophisticated and chic stateroom designs. The warm pinewood finishes combined with modern fixtures make Viking staterooms a classic, and the most welcoming place to start and finish a day of cruising.
Best Australian Port
Sailing into Sydney Harbour is a bucket list item for many keen cruisers.
Arriving at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in the heart of the city, guests step off their ships straight into historical area The Rocks, within walking distance of high-end and high-street shopping and fine restaurants with views of the busy harbour.
Outside the city, Inner West suburbs are buzzing hubs filled with breweries, op-shops and trendy cafes, and in the opposite direction lies Bondi’s world-famous beach.
With the addition of White Bay cruise terminal, Sydney can host a range of cruise ships in all sizes, and the proximity of both terminals to train stations and the airport makes it easy to transit domestically and internationally.
Highly Commended: Brisbane
Queensland’s capital will soon have a new cruise terminal at Luggage Point. The opening has been delayed, but when it opens, world-class ships will homeport and visit here for sailings to the South Pacific and elsewhere in the state, including the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Great Barrier Reef. The city itself is a modern metropolis.
Best Cruise Travel Agent
Winner: Bicton Travel
“No doubt 2020 has been one of the most challenging years for the travel industry, but the industry has proven how resilient and important we are for millions of travellers. The personal relationships we’ve built with travel partners over 20 years have eased some of the challenges in this year of refunds and cancellations. Without our dedicated team and trusted partners, we couldn’t do what we do to assist our loyal clients. Thank you to our clients and readers of Cruise Passenger for once again acknowledging the important role accredited travel agencies provide to the wider community.” – Carole Smethurst, owner.
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