Crystal Serenity sushi bar - Photo by Crystal Cruises
If there’s anything our panel of cruise experts is passionate about, it’s food and cabins. After all, sleeping and eating are two of our favorite things. Fortunately, there are amazing restaurants at sea these days — and big improvements in cabin décor and design — so the biggest challenge for our first-ever Cruiseline.com Awards was just deciding what we liked best. Here are the results:
Even Disney Cruise Line’s standard cabins have some pretty impressive features: A heavy curtain lets you put the kids to bed early without tiptoeing around them; a split bathroom design makes it easier to get the whole family out the door or ready for bedtime or dinner; and Diaper Genie® disposal systems are available on demand. In addition, the family-friendly suites can sleep up to seven in relative comfort.
Holland America Line also has large staterooms with space to spread out, and it ups the ante with details: Beds are made with premium linens and mattresses, and every cabin is stocked with terry cloth robes and Elemis® bath amenities. The full bathtubs make enjoying the products a very easy task.
Although Carnival Cruise Lines can’t compete on the amenities level, its cabins have plenty of closets and storage space, which many lines fail to provide. Bonus: There's ample bathroom shelf space for toiletries — again, more rare than we can believe — and some family cabins sleep up to five and feature split bathrooms.
Oceania Cruises excels at a lot of things: food, wine, design … and the cabins on its newer builds. While standard outside staterooms are a comfortable 242 square feet, the ships’ ultimate hideaways are the 2,000-square-foot Owner’s Suites — created by the team at Ralph Lauren Home — and the 1,200-square-foot Vista Suites and 1,000-square-foot Oceania Suites by Dakota Jackson. We love the 1,000-thread-count sheets, chic upholstered headboards, and full tubs, and also appreciate the 24-hour butler service in all suites.
The cabins on Queen Mary 2, Cunard Line’s flagship, caught our eye as especially tasteful. We loved the elegant blond wood and soothing neutrals in the Britannia Balcony Staterooms and over-the-top retro glamour (canapés and Champagne, anyone?) in the sprawling Grand Duplex Queens Grill Suites.
And kudos to Windstar Cruises for making the most of the somewhat tight cabin configurations on its trio of sailing yachts — Wind Surf, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit — all of which have been stylishly refurbished over the past two years. Plus, the 277-square-foot Ocean View Suites on the newly christened Star Pride are so spacious, we almost didn’t miss having a balcony.
When it comes to luxury, one brand excels: Silversea Cruises. Long a standard-bearer of cabin comforts, the line's staterooms have details that make us prone to forget we actually booked the trip for the ports: Picture Pratesi sheets, Laura Tonatto™ scent diffusers, and walk-in closets you can almost get lost in — and those are just the standard suites. But our favorite wow factor is the butler service in every stateroom: They're ready to call the concierge, serve a course-by-course dinner, fetch a glass of chardonnay, or do anything else you desire.
Crystal Cruises’ recently completed cabin renovations gave us something we’ve always wanted: residential-inspired décor with edgy elegance. Refreshingly contemporary, the staterooms are tech-heavy, too: Blu-ray DVD players, flat-panel TVs, and electronic “Do Not Disturb” signs are built in. Upgrade to an upper-level suite, and you’ll get complimentary same-day pressing, pre-dinner canapés, and a bathroom with side-by-side sinks and a jetted tub.
We feel right at home in the generously sized suites on Seabourn Cruise Line’s three newest ships: Odyssey, Sojourn, and Quest. At your service are cabin stewardesses who will sprinkle rose petals on your bed or draw you a warm scented bath — and pick up on your needs as if they were their own. We miss the cabin stewards — and the designer soaps, Egyptian cotton sheets, and all-you-can-drink minibar — when we regretfully head home.
Cruise lines seem to have no shortage of bright ideas for new cabin designs these days. We never would have imagined a beveled glass shower that extends over the edge of a ship, or a customizable bedding system with massage functions you can control from an iPad® tablet, or a bathtub on a veranda. But you can find all of these things in our winner: Celebrity Reflection's Reflection Suite.
While many cruise lines either overdo or underdo their top cabins, the Owner's Suites on Oceania Marina and Oceania Riviera strike the right balance, conveying an elegance that's both outstanding and understated. The focus here is on thoughtful design, courtesy of Dakota Jackson and Ralph Lauren Home, but other features that will vie for your attention include the baby grand piano, the indoor and outdoor whirlpools, and a loaner laptop and iPad.
The concept of a duplex cabin — like the ones on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas — is simple but genius. These staterooms maximize the given space, accommodate up to six people, and feel so big you could fit twice that many. What else do we love about them? The views from the stunning two-story windows.
For food lovers, there may be no better choice than Crystal Cruises. Silk Road, the Japanese restaurant helmed by Iron Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, sources fresh seafood in port — and can even whip up off-menu Japanese classics like katsu. Prego nails the house-made soups and pastas, followed by gelato or tiramisu. And in the main dining room, not only will the chef create a favorite from your last sailing or a tableside bananas Foster, but if you bring a family recipe, the kitchen will cook it for you later that week.
Seabourn also stands out in its main dining room, but it's the creativity of Restaurant 2 that blows our hair back. There, seven-course meals set the standard, an impressive feat considering the absence of an upcharge. We have only one complaint: Reservations can be as hard to score as hot tables back home.
Oceania’s pair of new builds continue to outclass the competition. In the French bistro, Jacques — TV personality Jacques Pepin’s first restaurant anywhere — the infrared rotisserie was specially made to work at sea. And the authenticity of the Thai dishes at Red Ginger (yes, that’s galangal) are unparalleled. In addition, La Reserve not only serves molecular gastronomy fare with its intimate wine-pairing dinners, but it also pours great wines.
Carnival took this one for stepping up its culinary game in ways we never saw coming, with new venues courtesy of the Fun Ship 2.0 improvements. Were the $500 million well spent? We can’t wait to go back for more — and long lines indicate we’re not the only ones who feel this way. Guy’s Burger Joint is a huge upgrade (think freshly ground meat and just-baked buns), as are the tacos at BlueIguana Cantina.
While Princess’s improvements are subtler, it’s the elevated service in the specialty restaurants that stood out the most. Of course, the premium center-cut steaks at Crown Grill and handmade pasta at Sabatini’s don’t hurt, nor does the hand-tossed pizza at Alfredo’s. Hands down the best pie at sea, it's layered with fresh tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella, and toppings that range from fresh basil to shaved parmesan and Parma ham.
New partnerships between Norwegian Cruise Line and celebrity chefs Geoffrey Zakarian and Buddy Valastro have made us more excited than ever to sit down to a meal onboard. Zakarian's restaurant trio includes an elegant seafood restaurant, a raw bar, and a boardwalk-style lobster roll shack. And Valastro has found creative ways to duplicate the quality of his Italian-American treats (think chocolate-dipped cannoli and decadent cheesecake) at sea.
Carnival took both the first and second slots of this category for its new lido deck hot spots: BlueIguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint. BlueIguana Cantina edged out the competition with its lightly battered fish tacos, well-stocked fresh salsa bar, and early morning build-your-own breakfast burritos. At Guy’s, you can add on an extra patty made entirely of bacon, S.M.C. (super melty cheese), onion rings, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and bourbon barbecue sauce. Our advice? Just don’t try to eat a fully loaded burger on your lounge chair without covering your swimsuit with napkins.
The burgers, dogs, and French fries at Holland America Line’s Dive-In at the Terrace Grill may not come with a celebrity chef partner, but the casual fare shines like a star. Stroll in from the lido deck and grab a hand-formed patty on a brioche bun topped with Gouda, bacon, and caramelized onions; a chicken burger topped with guac; or a grilled portobello mushroom with cheddar, avocado, and — what else? — a secret sauce. Then head right back to the pool.
Diaper Genie is a registered trademark of Energizer Personal Care LLC.
Elemis is a registered trademark of Elemis Ltd. and its affiliates.
Laura Tonatto is a trademark of Sangaus S.R.L.
iPad is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.