Last updated: 06:35 PM ET, Fri July 08 2016

The Cruise Winners of Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2016

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Viking Cruises | Jason Leppert | July 08, 2016

The Cruise Winners of Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2016

Photo courtesy of Viking Ocean Cruises

Travel + Leisure magazine has unveiled its annual World’s Best Awards for 2016, and five cruise categories reflect reader favorites from river cruising to ocean cruising. Both familiar cruise lines and newcomers made the lists this year.

The most wave-making top ten list comes in the form of Best Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Lines with Viking Ocean Cruises taking the top spot from Crystal Cruises, which had previously held the title for 20 straight years. Among the features that ranked the freshman brand so high are inclusive carryovers from its successful Viking River Cruises brand: free Wi-Fi and free dining, that extends to its specialty restaurants.

In response, Torstein Hagen, founder and chairman of Viking Cruises said, “Viking is the world’s leading river cruise line, and we are pleased to now be the world’s best ocean cruise line. We launched Viking Ocean Cruises to reinvent the category. We have a unique approach to destination-focused ocean cruising that is built upon our success in river cruising, and awards like this demonstrate that our approach is working. Thank you to our guests and the readers of Travel + Leisure for this great honor.”

Rounding out the Large-Ship category, in descending order, are Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Cunard Line, Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Also of interesting note is how despite a smaller fleet, Azamara bested direct competitor Oceania, indicating that its recent ship remodels are paying off.

While Viking Cruises won in the ocean category, its Viking River Cruises brand came in third for Best River Cruise Lines behind first-place Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and second-place Tauck. Uniworld’s opulence and tour programs spoke to readers who were quoted as saying, “The cabins are like little jewel boxes,” and “Uniworld’s onshore excursions are unique, varied and well chosen, with a distinct accent on history and art.”

READ MORE: What Can We Learn from Travel and Leisure's 'Best Of' Lists?

“Uniworld’s connection to its sister company, the five-star Red Carnation Hotel Collection, has enabled the company to tap into over 50 years of worldwide expertise,” said Guy Young, President of Uniworld. “As the world’s leading luxury boutique cruise line, we must adhere to a surpassed level of luxury that is employed throughout all channels, both onboard and onshore.”

Coming in behind the top three are Grand Circle Cruise Line and AmaWaterways for a total list of only five, altogether leaving out other brands like Avalon Waterways and Scenic. As river cruising continues to boom and more new riverboats come online, the segment is always in flux, and competition is stiff. Next year may very well depict an entirely different picture accordingly. Always coming out on top are the destinations themselves and the travelers that seek them out more intimately around the river bend.

Heading back to the ocean is the Best Small-Ship Ocean Cruise Lines – think expedition and sailing ships – with lesser known Australis taking the top position with its singular vessel, the Stella Australis. Like river cruising, its success is attributed to unique destinations, from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile. In fact, a T+L reader was quoted as saying, “The lectures were informative, the ship was great, and the crew and staff were amazing.”

Ranking next in line are Quark Expeditions, Windstar Cruises, Grand Circle Cruise Line and SeaDream Yacht Club. Both returning to the list after a prolonged absence, Grand Circle is one company that offers small ship cruises as well as river cruises, and it’s nice to see that SeaDream still resonates even with an aging fleet. And Windstar moves the dial with its new mix of clipper ships and power yachts, formerly operated by Seabourn Cruise Line. Meanwhile, Quark Expeditions impressively joins the fold for the first time ever, proving a surge in adventure travel interest.

Stepping up in scale are the Best Midsize-Ship Ocean Cruise Lines, a new awards category, with aforementioned Seabourn Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises making the list at number two and three respectively. Taking the top spot though is Paul Gauguin Cruises and its sole Paul Gauguin ship, an impressive feat given that it exclusively sails in the South Pacific region. Besides desirable features onboard (luxurious cabins) and ashore (exotic shore excursions), a reader had this to say about the experience: “the staff and service are absolutely indescribable.”

“We are thrilled to be acknowledged as the ‘World’s Best Midsize-Ship Ocean Cruise Line,’” said Diane Moore, President of Paul Gauguin Cruises. “Thank you to the readers of Travel + Leisure for this prestigious award. It’s a testament to our talented staff who provide exemplary service to our guests and deliver extraordinary experiences aboard our voyages in Tahiti, French Polynesia, Fiji, and the South Pacific.”

Following the top three are Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Of Ponant, a reader praised, “The company focuses on smaller ports not frequented by the larger cruise lines.” With Crystal, Seabourn and Regent luxury lines making lists, it is surprising that Silversea Cruises nor Silversea Expeditions did not warrant inclusion in any category since both are also exceptional products comparable to the competition.

Even above the first-mentioned large-ship category are the Best Mega-Ship Ocean Cruise Lines like Royal Caribbean International (which came in at number five) and the biggest cruise ship in the world, the new Harmony of the Seas. Leading the list is Cunard Line thanks to its true ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2, reflecting its greatness even before its recently completed $132 million refurbishment. As such, the T+L article incorrectly mentions the ship’s former Todd English restaurant, now replaced by The Verandah.

“We are honored to receive this designation from the readers of Travel + Leisure, who are some of the most discerning travelers in the world,” said Richard Meadows, President, Cunard, North America. “We pride ourselves on the level of service and offerings we provide our guests and our ongoing commitment to offer world-class luxury in the cruise industry.”

In between Cunard and Royal Caribbean, in descending order, are Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, marking Disney as the clear leader in the family cruise market, as one reader exclaimed, “We had an unforgettable 50th wedding anniversary cruise with our son, two daughters and seven grandchildren from ages four to 18. We thought this was an excellent way to celebrate and were happy to see our kids and grandkids enjoy what we love to do: cruise.”

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