It’s been a stupendous year for the cruise industry with lines coming back bigger and better than ever in 2022. This year’s extraordinary Reader’s Choice Awards saw thousands of you vote in more categories than we’ve ever had before.
The cruise industry has started with a bang of ship launches and announcements, which is why we have added a category to our repertoire to celebrate these new builds – Most Innovative Ship.
But what you, our readers, have told us is small ships reign supreme with the likes of Scenic, Ponant, Celebrity Cruises, Viking, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas winning big this year in a number of categories.
The big ships are still very much loved with Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises taking out the top awards for best premium, best contemporary and best entertainment.
To those who took our survey, our heartfelt thanks, especially for supporting the industry over the past few years. We expect there are more things on the horizon for the cruise industry.
Peter Lynch, Editor in Chief
2022 READERS’ CHOICE AWARDS – RESULTS
MOST INNOVATIVE SHIP
WINNER: CELEBRITY BEYOND
She’s been hailed as a game changer in the cruise industry, and Celebrity Beyond has taken out the top spot as the most innovative new ship out there. The ship is the third from Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Class where you’ll find the futuristic Magic Carpet platform, two-storey Edge Villas and private plunge pools like on her sister ships.
But Celebrity Beyond is 20 metres longer and has an extra deck, which means there’s an even wider choice of dining and entertainment venues. There are new accommodation options such as Aqua Sky Suites or the SEA Thermal Suite, which has healing salt crystals, luxurious heated loungers, saunas and steam rooms. A major triumph on board Celebrity Beyond is Eden, a gorgeous space at the end of the ship spanning three decks of art installations, tropical plants, a cocktail bar, café and a fine-dining restaurant. By night, Eden changes into a sultry nightclub with acrobatic cabaret dancers. Here, there is also, a beautiful, airy lounge at the aft end of the ship, spanning three decks and encircled on three sides by the greatest expanse of glass ever to be fitted on a cruise ship.
It’s also the little touches that have made Celebrity Beyond the most innovative ship out there – LED chandelier light shows, the sculptural trees in The Rooftop Garden and much more.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: AVALON VIEW
Avalon View is the newest addition to Avalon Waterways’ 14-strong fleet of Suite Ships – the youngest river ships to sail Europe’s waterways. She is well named – her 65 Panorama Suites and two Royal Suites boast wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows that turn your living space into an amazing open-air balcony. The Panorama Suites are more than 30 per cent larger than the industry standard and feature Avalon’s signature window-facing beds (why don’t all river cruise lines configure beds like this?), while at 300 square feet (28 sq m), the Royal Suites are exceptionally spacious. Other modern touches in suites that readers liked are plentiful USB ports and colour-coded bath towels.
This is a big year for Viking. The company is celebrating its 25-year anniversary, it launched its new brand Viking Expeditions in February, eight new Longships have set sail on Europe’s rivers and two new oceangoing ships, Viking Mars and Viking Neptune, bring Viking’s ocean fleet to nine. Considering Viking’s first ocean ship, Viking Star, launched just seven years ago, that’s an extraordinary achievement – and one that readers are enthusiastically backing.
Viking’s nine small, Scandinavian-style ocean ships are virtually identical. Each one accommodates a maximum of 930 guests in all-balcony staterooms; fares include a free shore excursion in every port, alternative dining, and free soft and alcoholic drinks with meals; and there is a strong emphasis on cultural experiences, onboard and ashore in thousands of desirable destinations around the globe. As chairman Torstein Hagen said when launching the ocean line, it is about providing a “thinking person’s cruise” and its no-kids and no-casino policies have proved to be a huge hit with local and international cruisers.
Hagen has also said Viking is not a “luxury” line, although its Nordic spa (where the thermal suite and famous snow room are free to use), elegant Wintergarden dining/pool deck, Aquavit Terrace and airy public spaces are beautifully designed and offer a cruise experience that’s pretty close to high-end.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: PRINCESS CRUISES
Princess Cruises has been a firm favourite with Cruise & Travel readers for many years across several categories, and this is the first time Princess has been pipped at the post for the Best Ocean Cruise Line award. However, the 15-ship line has taken the honours for this year’s Best Premium Cruise Line, Best Line for Entertainment and Best for Shore Excursions, so it’s still ticking plenty of boxes.
For the coming season, Princess fans Down Under have three ships to choose from – Majestic, Coral and Grand Princess – home porting in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle and Auckland.
WINNER: AVALON WATERWAYS
Avalon Waterways operates 15 super-modern river ships in Europe, two in Asia (Ganges Voyager and Avalon Saigon), two in South America (Delfin III and Treasure of Galapagos), and one on the Nile in Egypt (MS Farah). The company, which is part of the Globus family of travel brands, also runs special-interest river cruises in Europe that cater for a wide range of tastes – Jewish history, gardening and nature, photography, beer tasting and wine appreciation, just to name a few.
Avalon is forging ahead in the adventure arena, attracting active travellers of all ages to explore more ashore. On board every European Suite Ship you’ll find an Adventure Centre that stocks bikes, Nordic hiking poles and equipment for self-guided bike rides, runs or walks, and an Avalon Adventure Host is on hand to advise guests on the best active shore excursions and onboard classes for every fitness level. You can take a dedicated Active & Discovery itinerary, or book a number of Active & Discovery shore excursions on a regular river cruise – kayaking, cycling and walking tours are the most popular.
Fares include use of the state-of-the-art fitness centre, regional wine and beer served with lunch and dinner, excursions and free WiFi.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: SCENIC
Although Australian company Scenic has expanded its operations over the years to include a sister river and ocean cruise line (Emerald Cruises) as well as a luxury expedition ship (Scenic Eclipse), it is still best known for its fleet of Space-Ships. These sail on Europe’s main rivers – the Rhine, Moselle and Danube, France’s Seine, Saône and Rhône, and Portugal’s Douro – as well as on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, with Scenic Spirit. The ships accommodate a maximum of 163 guests, which means plenty of space for everyone – in generously sized suites, large dining venues and on the expansive rooftop deck.
Cruise & Travel readers are big fans of all-inclusive fares – when they actually mean “all” inclusive. There’s a definite sense of luxury knowing that once you board the ship you can lock your wallet away until you disembark – there’s no nickel and diming or bill shock at the end of a cruise.
Scenic’s fares cover everything from staff gratuities to complimentary drinks whenever and wherever you fancy one, a minibar in your suite that’s restocked daily, free WiFi, butler service in every suite, and access to a fabulously well-equipped gym (where you’ll find a wellness team to lead you through top-deck yoga classes and other onboard and onshore activities). About the only things you need to pay extra for are spa treatments; revitalising sessions in the Salt Therapy Rooms are complimentary, and unique to Scenic.
But yes, there’s more. E-bikes are provided at every port, for guided or independent cycling tours. Shore excursions are included in the fare, even exclusive experiences such as private concerts in palaces under the Scenic Enrich program.
Scenic Space-Ship guests enjoy a variety of dining options, including wine-paired degustation evenings, casual fare at the River Café, intimate dinners at Portobellos and a constantly updated menu in the open-seating main Crystal dining room.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: AVALON WATERWAYS
Avalon Waterways and Scenic have swapped positions in this year’s awards; previously, Avalon won Best Luxury River Cruise Line in 2019 and 2020, while Scenic was highly commended.
At this level of luxury river cruising, it is hard to pinpoint the differences and of course, much comes down to travellers’ individual tastes and lifestyles. While Avalon arguably takes the lead in its Active & Discovery themed cruises and shore excursions, Scenic has become known for the inclusivity of its fares. Avalon has a reputation for unfussy, unpretentious service and, as we’ve mentioned before, the floor-to-ceiling windows and window-facing beds in its Panorama Suites are a big factor in the line’s popularity.
WINNER: REGENT SEVEN SEAS
It will come as no surprise to regular RSSC guests to learn that the ultra-luxury line’s 2025 world cruise on Seven Seas Mariner sold out in record time; in fact, the voyage was completely reserved before officially opening for bookings on June 15, 2022. This is the fourth consecutive year that an RSSC world cruise broke sales records.
Likewise, Seven Seas Explorer’s first cruises in local waters – she arrives in December for a short series of cruises between Sydney and Auckland – have been mostly waitlist-only for months. If you’ve missed out, book now for her return visit in December 2023 through to January 2024.
RSSC is renowned for offering the most inclusive fares in the rarefied world of ultra-luxury cruising, along with very high crew-to-guest and space-per-guest ratios, world-class dining and five opulent all-balcony ships (its newest, Seven Seas Splendor, is tagged ‘Luxury Perfected’ – Seven Seas Grandeur will join the fleet in November 2023 as the ‘Heritage of Perfection’).
Seven Seas Grandeur will be almost identical to Explorer and Splendor (all three boast the palatial 312-square-metre Regent Suites), but one important difference will be the dramatically redesigned Compass Rose restaurant, which will not only wow guests with its spectacular décor but offer a completely reimagined menu.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: PONANT
While Ponant scores the No. 1 spot for Best Expedition Cruise Line, it is part of a rapidly growing trend that combines high levels of luxury with adventurous itineraries. Ponant has 34 years’ experience in the luxury expedition sector and its fleet has expanded from one vessel, the three-masted yacht Le Ponant, to 13 – with a zero-impact eco-ship on the drawing board for 2025.
Ponant ships are the height of understated elegance, inside and out. Every ship features a spa, well-stocked library, a heated swimming pool and a theatre for shows and concerts. Fine food and wines – French and international – are served in the main dining room and the more casual venue.
WINNER: PRINCESS CRUISES
Once again Princess Cruises has captured the hearts and minds of local cruisers, who have voted the line at the top of the Premium Cruise Line category. Did the recent screening of The Real Love Boat tip the balance for first-time cruisers, too? As all seasoned Princess fans know, the original 1970s TV series The Love Boat was filmed on board various Princess ships over the years. The original cast reunited in 2014 to celebrate the line’s 50th anniversary and christen Regal Princess in Fort Lauderdale.
Today, Princess Cruises operates 15 ships around the world – Cruise & Travel readers voted the latest, Discovery Princess, as highly commended in the Most Innovative Ship category in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards. The ships range in size from the 2,000-guest Coral Princess to the six 3,660-guest Royal-class vessels, with the 4,000-guest Sun Princess – the line’s biggest – scheduled to make her debut in early 2024.
Regardless of the ships’ size, Princess offers guests a sense of familiarity and tradition across the fleet. There’s a strong focus on dining: guests can choose from free venues such as the International Café and main dining rooms or enjoy specialty dining at very reasonable prices. Professional shows, destination-themed activities and family-friendly itineraries all add to the line’s huge appeal to fans of premium cruising.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: CELEBRITY CRUISES
Celebrity Cruises has operated Down Under for several years and this season Celebrity Eclipse will be cruising in local waters until April 2023. She is sailing a variety of itineraries in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga.
A favourite feature on the 2,852-guest, Solstice-class ship is the real grass lawn at The Lawn Club; Deck 15 is also where you’ll find glass-blowing classes, fun activities for kids and the atmospheric Sunset Bar.
Celebrity Eclipse offers a range of stylish accommodation, including the AquaClass for spa lovers and The Retreat, which has its own restaurant and lounge. Celebrity is renowned for its dining, sophisticated bars and theatrical events.
WINNER: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
Having recently launched Norwegian Prima in Iceland to worldwide fanfare, Norwegian Cruise Line’s contemporary fleet now numbers 17. Fourteen ships are divided into five different classes: Sun, Dawn, Jewel, Breakaway and Breakaway Plus Class. Norwegian Epic, Pride of America and Norwegian Spirit are in their own classes, adding to the brand’s variety of vessels.
Norwegian Spirit returns to Sydney in December for a series of 12-night port-intensive cruises between Sydney and Auckland. The 2,032-guest ship was extensively remodelled in 2020 and has lots to offer cruisers of all ages. Spa lovers will find plenty of indulgent treatments at Mandara Spa; and the ship has a great choice of complimentary and for-fee dining venues, bars and lounges. The Stardust Theatre hosts comedy and variety shows, and if you fancy a flutter there’s a sizeable casino.
NCL was one of the first cruise lines to offer the ‘ship within a ship’ concept, an exclusive enclave that has its own luxurious accommodation, restaurant, lounge, 24/7 butler service and often its own pool. The Haven by Norwegian is available on 11 of its ships (although not on Norwegian Spirit) and it has proved to be a major drawcard for multi-gen family groups.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
Royal Caribbean snags a Highly Commended mention here and in the Best Line for Families, as well as taking out Best Line for Activities in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards. RCI is part of the Royal Caribbean Group, which also operates Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises, and it operates 26 ships in six different classes of megaship.
The fleet includes five of the world’s biggest cruise ships (Oasis-class ships that carry up to 9000 passengers and crew), as well as five 4,180-guest Quantum class ships. Sister ships Quantum and Ovation of the Seas are cruising Down Under for the 2022-23 season, Quantum sailing out of Brisbane and Ovation from Sydney.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: VIKING
Ponant’s 12 luxury expedition vessels sail to some of the world’s most remote, sought-after destinations and the company has garnered many awards over the 34 years it has been operating. It is renowned for its commitment to sustainable travel and is the first international cruise company to receive Green Marine Europe environmental certification – three years in a row.
Whereas expedition cruising was once something only for hardcore pioneers, Ponant offers luxury expedition and soft adventure cruising aboard sleek, stylish ships that can slip in and out of ports and tiny bays that are inaccessible to vessels carrying more than a few hundred guests. Ponant’s four sister ships, L’Austral, Le Boréal, Le Lyrial and Le Soléal accommodate up to 264 guests each. The six Explorers, Le Champlain, Le Laperous, Le Bougainville. Le Dumont-D’urville, Le Bellot and Le Jacques-Cartier, accommodate up to 184 guests and are probably best known for their multi-sensorial, underwater Blue Eye lounges.
Going further south than any other ship has done before, luxury icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot set a new world record in February 2022 when she reached the extreme latitude of 78˚44.3’ south in the Bay of Whales in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
Ponant guests return again and again for the ships’ elegantly appointed accommodation and public spaces, fine wining and dining, and wonderful sense of camaraderie.
Viking’s first expedition ship, Viking Octantis, set sail for Antarctica in January 2022 and just nine months later, sister ship Viking Polaris followed in her twin’s wake for her maiden season in the White Continent.
The identical ships host a maximum of 378 guests and regulars will recognise some of Viking River and Ocean lines’ signature features – The Nordic Spa, The Living Room, The Library and dining venues Mamsens and Manfredi’s. Naturally, there are many new, state-of-the-art spaces and facilities, such as an industry-first in-ship marina (The Hangar), The Science Lab and the latest must-have water toys – two mini-submarines.
Scenic’s first ‘Discovery Yacht’, Scenic Eclipse, set sail in August 2019 after a series of delayed starts and was christened by Dame Helen Mirren in New York a few weeks later. Scenic Eclipse II is due for completion by April next year and will join Scenic Eclipse sailing itineraries taking in the Mediterranean, Scotland, the Americas, the Caribbean and both Polar regions. In 2024, Scenic Eclipse II will also visit Polynesia, Indonesia and – hooray! – Australia, where Scenic was founded 37 years ago.
The elegant 228-guest vessels are not only Polar-rated and among the most technologically advanced at sea – two helicopters and a mini-submarine allow another level of exploration – they provide an extraordinarily glamorous lifestyle. Every spacious suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open to a private balcony or terrace, where your butler can deliver morning coffee or evening cocktails. There are up to 10 dining options, including contemporary French restaurant Lumière, the main Elements dining room and Night Market @ Koko’s; meals at all venues and premium beverages are included in the fare.
Guests’ health and wellbeing are at the forefront of the Discovery Yacht experience, from onshore adventures to onboard fitness programs and spa treatments. There’s even a separate yoga and Pilates studio.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: PONANT
Ponant’s first vessel, the 88-metre, three-masted yacht Le Ponant, is something of a legend in the sailing world. Boasting a one-to-one crew-to-guest ratio (32/32), she was completely refurbished this year ahead of her first Kimberley season, which starts in April 2023.
She epitomises French chic and once on board, you feel as though you’re holidaying on your own private yacht; Kimberley itineraries will be flexible to allow for as much wind-powered sailing as possible. Ponant’s partnership with Paspaley gives guests private access to Paspaley’s pearl operations in Kuri Bay as well as transfers on the company’s vintage flying boats.
WINNER: ROYAL CARIBBEAN
For the sixth year in a row, Royal Caribbean has won our top award for the Best Line for Activities. And no wonder – Royal’s megaships are packed with wild and wonderful things to do, from screaming down the tallest slide at sea (Ultimate Abyss, on Oasis-class ships) to skydiving on iFly (Quantum-class ships), surfing on the FlowRider (on 18 ships) and rock-climbing high above the ocean (all ships). The line operates the award-winning Adventure Ocean program for kids and teens across the fleet.
Sister ships Quantum and Ovation of the Seas, which are sailing in local waters for the 2022-23 season, have so many activities you’d be hard-pressed to experience them all even during a 12-night cruise. As well as sporty activities such as iFly and surfing on the FlowRider, the ships’ Seaplex centre includes a vast arena for bumper cars, roller-skating, a basketball court and a circus school. Then there are four swimming pools, a sports court, fitness centre and, for a spot of mental gymnastics, the Escape Room and Laser Tag.
More relaxing options include a ride in the North Star observation capsule, for awesome views 100 metres above sea level; sampling 17 dining options and multiple clubs, bars and lounges; catching a show or movie; and indulging in a spa treatment.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: P&O CRUISES
‘Homegrown’ cruise line P&O Cruises’ three ships, Pacific Adventure, Pacific Encounter and Pacific Explorer, have lots to offer kids, grown-ups and multi-generational families – there are more than 60 different activities every day.
Head to P&O Edge Adventure Park for the Flying Fox, Bridge Roof Walk, Rock Climbing, Walk the Plank and Laser Tag, just to name a few, or enjoy a thrilling ride on the Twin Racer Waterslides. Barefoot Bowls is a P&O specialty, and traditional cruise games include golf putting, table tennis and quoits. You can sign up for classes ranging from cocktail- and coffee-making to dancing and fitness – or take time to relax in The Oasis.
WINNER: PRINCESS CRUISES
Princess Cruises once again stages a winning performance in the Best Line for Entertainment category – for the sixth year in a row. The line is renowned for its original musicals (produced by some of the world’s top directors and choreographers and performed by fabulous international casts) as well as lavish production shows and Broadway classics.
To celebrate The Real Love Boat TV show, Princess has introduced The Love Boat Piazza Party on board Discovery Princess and is now rolling it out to the rest of the fleet. The evening features musicians, dancers, a love-themed game show and a Love Potion cocktail – look out for it on your next Princess cruise. Coral Princess is now sailing year-round from Brisbane and is joined in Australia this season by Majestic Princess (home-porting in Sydney) and Grand Princess (home-porting in Melbourne).
The line-up of entertainers at various venues around the ships includes magicians, singers, instrumentalists, jugglers, acrobats and more, while Movies Under the Stars is a signature Princess experience. Throughout the day and night, the giant screen shows films, concerts and exciting live sporting events.
Festivals of the World are held on select cruises – these lively gala events celebrate traditions from destinations around the globe visited by Princess Cruises.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: CELEBRITY CRUISES
Celebrity’s fleet of three Edge, five Solstice and four Millennium class ships offer a range of entertainment that varies according to the size and age of the ships – the newer Edge-class ships take entertainment to a whole new level.
The high-tech theatre is extraordinarily versatile and hosts production shows featuring contemporary music; part of the Eden complex is an entertainment venue; The Club hosts late-night discos and intimate shows; and The Rooftop Garden is dotted with small stages for solo musos. While she’s cruising Down Under, Celebrity Eclipse is staging three very different, very professional shows: Amade, Rock City and Topper.
WINNER: DISNEY CRUISE LINE
Next year Disney Cruise Line is sending a ship to sail around Australia and New Zealand for the first time, and the response has been phenomenal. The 2,713-guest Disney Wonder, one of five in DCL’s fleet, will sail a limited season of short itineraries out of Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland from October 2023.
Clearly, the Disney magic has been working on Cruise & Travel readers who have cruised on the line’s distinctive, black, red and gold-hulled ships in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska and other cruise hotspots. Guests sailing on cruises in the Bahamas and the Caribbean get to visit Castaway Cay, DCL’s private island, which offers everything from beach and water activities to scenic walking trails, tram tours and a shaded games pavilion.
Disney ships are designed and built with family fun front of mind, from the range of accommodation through dining, pools (there are separate pools for over-18s), waterslides and shops, plus dozens of entertainment and activities including appearances by popular Disney, Marvel and Star Wars characters and, of course, spectacular live shows.
Disney’s kids’ programs cater for kids aged three to 12, tweens and teens and there are numerous age-appropriate clubs, hangouts and activities. Group babysitting and playtime are available for babies six months and older, and there are also family lounges and arcades.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ROYAL CARIBBEAN
As well as providing brilliant activities for kids of all ages, Royal Caribbean’s ships are incredibly well set up for family cruisers in terms of accommodation, dining and other facilities. If you have a baby in the family, let the cruise line know and they will provide a cot and supplies; extended families can choose selected staterooms that can be connected; and all the ships are equipped for guests with special needs. Royal Caribbean offers two categories of ultra-family-friendly suites: Royal Suite Class (available on Oasis-class and select Quantum-class ships) and the Ultimate Family Suite (available exclusively on board Symphony, Spectrum and Wonder of the Seas).
WINNER: OCEANIA CRUISES
Oceania Cruises has long claimed to serve ‘the finest cuisine at sea’ (the line has even trademarked the phrase) and Cruise & Travel readers have voted Oceania into the top spot for five years in a row. Dining options are slightly different on the four smaller R-class ships (Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena) and their larger fleet mates, the O-class Marina and Riviera; and the upcoming Oceania Vista takes Oceania’s culinary journey even further.
Cuisine across the fleet is overseen by renowned French masterchef Jacques Pepin. Gourmet restaurants (four on the R-class ships, more on the O-class ships) cater to the most discerning palates and offer a remarkable array of choices, from Continental cuisine to authentic Italian at Toscana, Asian dishes at Red Ginger and classic steakhouse fare. Every restaurant on board is complimentary and has open seating.
Guests on board Riviera and Marina can enjoy the new Dom Pérignon Experience at La Reserve by Wine Spectator. Six courses of gastronomic delights are paired with three specially selected vintages of Dom Pérignon Champagne. The two ships also host Privée, a magnificent private dining room that features select dishes from a range of menus; the famed Culinary Center, which offers sophisticated cooking classes; and Culinary Discovery Tours ashore.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: CELEBRITY CRUISES
Dining on Celebrity’s ships is first class, whether you opt for complimentary restaurants or specialty venues. The stunning main dining room on Solstice-class ships, including Celebrity Eclipse, serves a wide range of classic and contemporary dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Specialty restaurants include Murano, Sushi on Five and Tuscan Grille, while Le Petit Chef combines entertainment, 3D table animation and international cuisines in a dining experience like no other.
The stylish Blu restaurant is open exclusively to AquaClass guests, and specialises in fresh, inventive cuisine and a menu of sustainable and biodynamic wines. Luminae is a chic, private venue for guests of The Retreat.
Cunard’s gracious queens make the spa experience at sea a must-do. The Aqua Therapy centre on board Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth – sailing in local waters until March – Queen Victoria and the highly anticipated Queen Anne is a case in point.
The Aqua Therapy centre features aromatic steam and sensory showers, Finnish saunas, swirling pools and a relaxation lounge, perfect for unwinding before a spa treatment or relaxing after a workout.
Starting or maintaining a fitness program is easy when the ships’ well-equipped gyms are close to hand. Exercise and yoga classes are guided by expert instructors, or you can opt to pay extra for personal training sessions and consultations.
Mareel Wellness and Beauty offers a delectable selection of treatments inspired by the ocean. Facials range from those focusing on anti-ageing and contouring to treatments that boost the overall health of your skin, using a combination of exfoliation, traditional massage, and nutrient-rich skincare products.
Body treatments include traditional Swedish massage with essential oils, aroma stone massage using warm stones to help release tension and a total body therapy that targets specific ailments. Couples can book specially designed treatments for two – a blissful escape on a sea day. Other services include a hairdresser, beauty salon, Medi-Spa and alternative therapies.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: PRINCESS CRUISES
Princess ships all feature the popular Lotus Spa, where guests can indulge in pampering facials, alternative treatments such as acupuncture, a range of massages and much more. The Lotus Spa Fitness Center offers fitness programs designed to help you maximise your wellness with Tour de Cycle, personal training and classes such as Pilates, yoga, Body Sculpt Boot Camp, Results Based Training and TRX suspension training. The Lotus Spa Fitness Center also features state-of-the-art equipment so you can tone on your own. The piece de resistance is The Enclave, a massive thermal suite and a hydro-therapy pool with a cascading rain shower and therapeutic air jets.
WINNER: REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
The ultra-luxe line, which operates ‘the most luxurious fleet in the world’ gets Cruise & Travel readers’ vote for best service for the third year running. Regent Seven Seas is celebrating its 30th anniversary and its impeccable service in all areas is just one reason why the company continues to sail from strength to strength.
Regent ships have one of the highest crew-to-guest ratios in the business – on board Seven Seas Explorer, which is making her maiden visit to Australia and New Zealand this season, 567 crew members look after a maximum of 732 guests. The company prides itself not only on the exceptionally high crew-to-guest ratio, but also on the professionalism and friendliness of its crew. Many guests request cruises on ships where they know the crew personally.
Guests staying in penthouse suites and above enjoy 24/7 butler service, and if you’re among the fortunate few who book one of the two extraordinarily lavish Regent Suites, you will also have a personal driver at every port of call. However, you can be sure that all suites are immaculately maintained by outstanding attendants who restock your minibar and bathroom amenities daily. World-class wining and dining are further enhanced by the services of your maître d’, sommelier and wait staff.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: PONANT
The exemplary service on board Ponant’s luxury expedition ships is all about giving you the feeling that you are travelling on your own private yacht. Whether you’re taking a leisurely cruise on the Mediterranean or exploring the world’s most remote regions, Ponant’s attentive crew members are dedicated to providing every guest with an exceptionally comfortable experience. Guests staying in the Deck 6 suites on the four Sisterships and in select suites on the six Ponant Explorers enjoy personalised butler service for that extra dimension of carefree adventuring. Waitstaff in the restaurants are polished and professional and every expedition cruise is accompanied by Ponant’s onboard expedition experts.
Viking’s signature streamlined, Scandinavian-style interior design has proved immensely popular with Cruise & Travel readers, as it takes over this year’s No.1 spot in the accommodation category. Whether you’re taking a river cruise, ocean voyage or, now, an expedition cruise with Viking, you know you’ll be staying in similarly elegant and well-appointed staterooms.
Viking’s 76-strong fleet of river ships were the first to feature its patented corridor configuration, which allowed the line to offer a variety of staterooms that range from Veranda and French Balcony Staterooms to Veranda and Explorer Suites. Viking Longships were also the first river ships to provide suites in the true meaning of the word – having two separate rooms rather than just one large space.
Interiors of the river, ocean and expedition ships are all designed by the same award-winning interior design team, Rottet Studio in Los Angeles. Features include pale blond wood panelling, splashes of colour in the soft furnishings and an overall clean, pared-back colour palette. Viking’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, is a stickler for details and after spending so much time staying in hotels he wanted things to be kept simple. Guests know they’re going to get large showers with clear controls (and certainly no clingy shower curtains); easily distinguishable bathrooms, top-quality bathroom products; anti-fog mirrors; and heated floors.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
NCL is known for many ‘first at sea’ features and offers an impressive range of accommodation options. The line introduced purpose-built staterooms and exclusive lounges for solo travellers to the world of cruising, as well as pioneering the ‘ship within a ship’ concept – The Haven – that is now available in a similar form on several big-ship lines.
Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss and Pride of America all feature the award-winning Studios, which are designed and priced for singles – a boon for many thousands of cruisers who otherwise have to pay a single supplement.
WINNER: PRINCESS CRUISES
The Princess fleet sails to hundreds of countries around the world and the line offers an impressive variety of shore excursions in every port. Whether you’re exploring a major city, a tiny village or a historic site – as a couple, single traveller or with your family – Princess has an excursion that appeals to every interest and taste.
For those looking for immersive tours that would be virtually impossible to arrange individually, small-group Discovery Exclusive Tours are the way to go. In Alaska’s Juneau, for example, you can take a tour of a lifetime that combines a helicopter ride and landing on Taku Glacier with an airboat trip.
Local Connections are tours where local experts take you on an insightful journey only they can lead. Excursions are designed to match a wide variety of interests – you could learn about bagpipes and whisky in Scotland, say, or beer aficionados might meet a master brewer anywhere from Dunedin to Tallinn.
Discovery Family tours are tailored for family groups and provide activities that appeal as much to young children as to their grandparents – which can be challenging to organise yourself! Then there are specialised trips for animal lovers, hands-on culinary tours, and a wealth of opportunities to immerse yourself in all forms of culture.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: AVALON WATERWAYS
When you visit a new port, or even two, every day, there are endless opportunities to explore ashore. Avalon’s river ships sail in Europe, Asia and South America and tours can be as organised or independent as you choose. Guided tours with local experts come under three main programs, which are pretty self-explanatory – Classic, Active and Discovery – and you can also personalise shore experiences with optional excursions. The handy AvalonGo app is perfect for self-guided walking and cycling tours and is loaded with GPS navigation and information about local attractions, restaurants and bars. Avalon’s Active tours have played a big part in the line’s appeal to younger, fitter travellers.
WINNER: HURTIGRUTEN EXPEDITIONS
Once known primarily for sailing on Norway’s western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, delivering supplies to local townships as well as ferrying passengers, Norwegian company Hurtigruten today operates expedition cruises in Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and the Northwest Passage as well as in warm-weather destinations such as the Galapagos archipelago, South America and West Africa.
Hurtigruten has been sailing in Polar waters since 1893 and says that “exploring our blue planet for more than a century has taught us the importance of being green”. In 2018 Hurtigruten became the first expedition line to ban non-essential single-use plastic across all its operations, and the following year it unveiled the world’s first hybrid expedition ship, MS Roald Amundsen.
As well as committing to operating sustainably powered, cutting-edge ships, Hurtigruten is a strong supporter of the small communities the ships visit. Trading locally, sourcing regional produce and engaging local companies to provide shore excursions are key to the line’s philosophy of contributing in a meaningful way. Cultural interactions and the resulting long-term friendships also imbue guests’ experiences with a positive feel-good factor, which Cruise & Travel readers heartily endorse.
Hurtigruten is a founder member of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), a member of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), and has committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: PONANT
Luxury expedition company Ponant is another pioneer in the field of sustainable tourism. This year, Ponant was again awarded Green Marine Europe certification – the only international cruise company to be certified – and its Blue Horizon program encompasses six strategic commitments to reducing waste and emissions as well as supporting scientific research.
Last year Ponant launched the world’s first hybrid-electric LNG-powered luxury icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot. Now the company is working on an eco-design ship that will have zero impact on the environment when sailing. It will be the 14th ship in Ponant’s fleet and the aim is to combine several non-fossil fuel energy sources, including wind propulsion, by integrating technological bricks.
Whether you’re a local, from interstate or an international visitor or a ship’s captain, sailing in or out of Sydney Harbour is always a high point of any cruise. Ships that are too large to pass under the Harbour Bridge dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, which has been operating since the 1950s and has seen significant refurbishments over the years. The OPT, or as it is officially known, Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal, is perfectly positioned for exploring Sydney’s best-known attractions – the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge – as well as walking around the historic Rocks area or joining a day tour that takes you further afield. Jumping on the Manly ferry is another popular option – Manly’s ocean beach is a worthy rival to busy Bondi Beach, and a short walk takes you to secluded Shelly Beach where those in the know dive, swim and snorkel year-round.
Smaller ships generally dock at Rozelle’s White Bay Cruise Terminal. It’s not quite as convenient as the OPT but Sydney’s shops, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries are a short taxi or shuttle bus ride away. And if you’re already well-acquainted with the city’s main attractions, why not explore the buzzy Inner West neighbourhoods such as Newtown and Marrickville (recently voted the second-coolest suburb in Australia by Time Out magazine).
HIGHLY COMMENDED: BRISBANE
Brisbane’s new International Cruise Terminal welcomed its first arrival, Pacific Explorer, in June 2022 and was officially opened by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the same time. P&O’s Pacific Encounter, Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess and Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Luminosa are homeporting in Brisbane year-round and this season they are joined by Majestic Princess and Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. Queensland’s capital city has a wealth of attractions for visitors and locals alike and its sunny, temperate climate makes it ideal for al fresco dining and bar-hopping, beach and boating activities. Brisbane’s South Bank is a buzzy entertainment, cultural and shopping hub, with acres of picturesque parks.