The Best Ships and Features For 2019 - Members' Choice Awards
In our first round of awards, we looked at which cruise lines stole the show in 2018. This week, we dive a bit deeper and look into which ships and onboard features make each line special, whether it’s delicious cuisine, luxurious cabins, heart-stopping entertainment or high-end service.
Best Ship: Symphony of the Seas (4.52 / 5)
The conventional wisdom of the cruise industry is that while new ships have the advantage of new features and the most recent technology, they often take several years to iron out the kinks in areas like service and dining. Symphony of the Seas, which only launched in April of 2018, defied that wisdom with the highest review scores of any ship on our site, and became the first new ship to win Best Ship in the history of our awards. Allure of the Seas made an appearance for the fifth year in a row, and the consistently popular Breeze and Dream gave Carnival two ships in the top 5. And in the end of an era, Disney Dream fell to number five after three straight years of winning the category.
Best New Ship: Symphony of the Seas (4.52 / 5)
Symphony of the Seas won Best Ship by the skin of its teeth, but it easily won Best New Ship despite a field of tough competitors. We did see a few complaints about large crowds and long lines (there are 5,518 passengers onboard after all), but the onboard activities, entertainment, and service were almost universally praised by Cruiseline.com members. The competition for second place was much closer, with Celebrity Edge narrowly beating out Carnival Horizon, followed by strong performances by MSC Seaview and Norwegian Bliss.
Most Improved Ship: Carnival Fantasy (+.70)
When Carnival came in a close second-place for Best Cruise Line, we speculated that solid performances by newer ships (Horizon and Vista) and their popular staples (Breeze and Dream) were responsible for an outstanding year. That’s still true, but their older ships are clearly pulling their own weight, as four of the five most improved ships came from the Carnival fleet. Fantasy won the category for the second year in a row, meaning its average review score has increased over a full point in just two short years. We were also happy to see Anthem of the Seas, which launched to mixed reviews in 2015, has shown significant improvement over the past year.
Best Line For Ship Quality: Disney Cruise Line (4.53 / 5)
Perhaps Disney has an advantage with only four ships to maintain, but after five straight years of dominating the category, there’s no denying that Disney knows how to build and take care of a ship. The newcomer in this category? Viking Ocean Cruises, whose brand-new ships are already giving established contenders like Celebrity and Disney a run for their money.
Best Kid's Programs: Carnival Cruise Line (4.00 / 5)
After a number of second-place finishes (including Best Cruise Line), Carnival secured an upset victory in the always unpredictable Children’s Programs category. While Disney would seem like the obvious winner, they came in third behind Royal Caribbean. Perhaps because the price point is so much higher -- think three to four times more expensive -- expectations are higher as well? Princess and Celebrity also had surprisingly performances considering that they aren’t nearly as family-focused as their competitors.
Note: Our Best Line for Families with Children categories look at the overall review scores from families that sailed with kids, taking the experience of both the kids and the parents into account. Best Children’s Programs, on the other hand, is solely judged by a line’s organized activities for kids.
Best Onboard Activities: Royal Caribbean (4.06 / 5)
In a nearly identical repeat of 2018, Royal Caribbean again secured top honors in the Onboard Activities category, followed closely by Carnival, Disney, and Celebrity Cruises. We’re never surprised when Royal Caribbean, the ultimate pioneers in onboard activities, secure victory with their onboard surfing simulators and rock-climbing walls, but their top spot doesn’t seem quite as secure this year with Carnival nipping at their heels. The big surprise this year? Cunard, a subdued and relaxed line not known for flashy onboard activities, managed to sneak into fifth place with unique offerings like an onboard planetarium and Cunard Insights, a daily series of lectures covering a variety of topics.
Best Food & Dining: Celebrity Cruises (4.32 / 5)
Celebrity, Disney and Holland America repeated their top-3 showing from 2018, demonstrating a strong consistency in their onboard cuisine. Specialty restaurants like Celebrity’s Blu and Tuscan Grille, Disney’s Palo and Animator’s Palate, Holland America’s Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind, and Jacques and Waves Grill on Oceania all received excellent reviews from Cruiseline.com members, but it’s the combined strength of all their options, including their main dining rooms and buffets, that keep them in the top slots year after year.
Best Cabins: Celebrity Cruises (4.44 / 5)
Celebrity stole the title of Best Cabins from Disney in yet another close race. Both are known for having spacious and well-designed cabins, although their higher price point certainly helps them deliver on this front. Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Viking Ocean, all unranked last year, knocked out last year’s runner-ups, MSC, Costa, and Princess.
Best Entertainment: Royal Caribbean (4.15 / 5)
Just like they continually push the envelope for onboard activities, Royal Caribbean is always searching for new acts to wow newcomers and seasoned sailors alike. A typical ship will have traditional musicals like Hairspray and Cats, in addition to more unconventional performances like high diving, acrobatics, and figure skating. Carnival’s entertainment also made huge strides forward, moving up to second place with conventional stage shows and their (now sadly discontinued) Carnival Live! series.
Best Service: Celebrity Cruises (4.61 / 5)
Celebrity and Disney regularly dominate this category with a level of service typically reserved for luxury hotels, but less expensive lines like Royal Caribbean and Holland America show that you don’t necessarily need to spend top dollar to be treated like a VIP. We also want to take a moment to point out how high the service scores are across the board when compared to other categories. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: service in the cruise industry will spoil you, and give you unreasonable expectations for all other types of vacations.
Lines Considered: Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Viking Ocean Cruises.