Last updated: 11:00 AM ET, Sun December 27 2015

Cruise Report Card 2015: Which Companies Earned High Honors?

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Holland America Line | Jason Leppert | December 27, 2015

Cruise Report Card 2015: Which Companies Earned High Honors?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The cruise industry is constantly evolving as the travel segment grows year over year, and the grades are in for the most talked about lines’ 2015 performance.

Holland America Line

Grade: A-

Holland America Line has quite an impressive pedigree of ships across its 140-year history, and the line rightly cherishes its past. In part because of that, the line has generally skewed towards an older clientele, although the average age of its passengers continues to decrease. Now the line is looking more to the future than it ever has before.

When its latest Niuew Amsterdam launched in 2009, it exhibited less in the way of antique reds and golds, but the upcoming Koningsdam is setting sail in even more modern directions as is the brand as a whole, starting with a new logo and tagline. Gone is the sailing ship in the foreground (which I actually miss a bit) and fresh is the “Savor the Journey” motto. All that remains to be seen is just how everything looks when the new ship launches in April 2016 and new partnerships with BBC Earth, AFAR and Utrip turn out, but so far so good.

MSC Cruises

Grade: B

I can’t wait to see how the forthcoming MSC Seaside and its multitude of exciting outdoor attractions turn out, but MSC Cruises’ wavering commitment to the American market has been a bit amusing. The MSC Divina was departing year-round from Miami, Florida but then headed back to Europe until the line changed its mind to bring it back to stay once again. At least, they’re here now. Next, the MSC Seaside itself will homeport from Miami, Florida from a renewed facility, hopefully permanently.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Grade: C+

Norwegian Cruise Line is on a roll with its expanding fleet of new ships. The Norwegian Escape was just christened by godfather Pitbull, and the ship is mostly a great evolution of the slightly smaller Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway sister ships that launched before her.

Thankfully, its casino will soon be receiving an enclosed smoking section to cut down on the proliferation of cigarette fumes elsewhere onboard, and the other newer ships are expected to be remodeled similarly.

Where Norwegian fumbled a bit this year is with some policy changes. They’ve ditched a number of partnerships and all fireworks displays, and the daily service charges, aka gratuities, increased twice this year. Even more unpopular among passengers was a prohibition of takeout food from restaurants, that has since been reversed. On a positive note, the route of going all-inclusive with premium dining and entertainment offerings onboard the Norwegian Sky is a smooth move.

Princess Cruises

Grade: B-

Celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year is Princess Cruises, and “The Love Boat” cast has been making the rounds to promote it. Like Holland America Line, Princess has a history to pay homage to, and its latest ships, the Royal Princess and Regal Princess, do so in name and features. In my experience, it seems the line’s crowd is getting older, so it too could use a renewed focus.

It has a ways to go yet, but in service of that renewal are a number of partnerships of its own with the likes of Discovery At Sea and more recently with celebrity chef Curtis Stone and Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz. What’s more, the third sister ship behind Royal and Regal is planned for China with an English name, Majestic Princess, and a Chinese one, meaning "Grand World" or "Grand Spirit.”

Royal Caribbean International

Grade: A

The new Anthem of the Seas from Royal Caribbean International launched this year, and it is an absolute winner. The second Quantum-class cruise ship revolutionizes traditional shipboard features such as the observation lounge with its stunning Two70º, and the line additionally upped its order of such ships to five and began building its fourth vessel in the Oasis-class, the largest cruise ships in the world.

With so many ships currently on order and under construction, the new year will be particularly impressive as Royal Caribbean launches one Quantum-class ship – the Ovation of the Seas, destined for China – in April 2016 and one Oasis-class ship – the Harmony of the Seas, with the musical "Grease" along for the ride – in May 2016.

Viking Cruises

Grade: A+

Impressing across the board is Viking Cruises and its two brands, Viking River Cruises and new Viking Ocean Cruises. This year alone, Viking christened a dozen of its signature river Longships, bringing its total vessel count to 60, and unveiled the highly acclaimed Viking Star ocean ship. What they’re doing right is consistently offering a well-designed high-quality product on all waterways, available at an astounding value that appeals to discerning masses – Downton Abbey fans included (Viking sponsors MASTERPIECE). And next its headed for the Americas on the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in 2016 and the Mississippi River in 2017.


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