by Telegraph Travel, December 1, 2017
The results of the 2017 Telegraph Travel Awards, based on the opinions of almost 90,000 readers, have been revealed, and - in something of a surprise - Cunard has lost the title of best large cruise line for the first time since 2011.
Your top pick for 2017 is Disney Cruise Line, with Cunard slipping to sixth. It held off competition from Viking Cruises and Hurtigruten.
Best small cruise line, meanwhile, went to Seabourn, ahead of Saga and Star Clippers, while Uniworld Boutique won the river cruise category and Brittany the best ferry company.
The 10 best large cruise lines
- Disney Cruise Line
- Viking Cruises
- Oceania Cruises
- Crystal Cruises
- Cunard Line
- Celebrity Cruises
- Fred Olsen
- Holland America Line
- Princess Cruises
Cruising continues to be the fastest-growing holidays in the UK as cruise lines adapt to meet the ever-changing demands and expectations of British travellers. These days there is a ship and cruise style to suit everyone, whether they want to dress up or down, travel on ships packed with entertainment, sail with the family or have a quiet time away from the 1.5 million or so youngsters aged under 18 who cruise these days.
When it comes to cruising with children, Disney Cruise Line is hard to beat. Its ships have family cabins, play areas modelled on Disney film favourites, and pool games with Goofy and pals. The two newest vessels even have a splash-tastic water coaster that takes you over the side of the ship and through the funnel, as well as adult-only bars and nightclubs. Who knows what Disney’s Imagineers will come up with for the three more ships the cruise line is building but as Walt himself would have said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’.
Close behind, Viking Cruises could not be more different. It launched its first ocean-going ship in 2015 with a Scandinavian style and no-children, no-casino policy, and was an instant hit. It already has three more ships and another four on the way. In third place, Hurtigruten is one of the UK’s leading expedition cruise companies. Its holidays range from scenic sailing along the coast of Norway to adventurous trips to Antarctica, where a pioneering new hybrid ship that operates partly on electric propulsion will be making waves in winter 2018/19.
The 10 best small cruise lines
- Saga Cruises
- Star Clippers
- Hebridean Island Cruises
- Azamara Club Cruises
- Silversea Cruises
- Noble Caledonia
- Regent Seven Seas
- Voyages to Antiquity
- Windstar Cruises
Small ships offer a very special experience. By dint of their size, they offer less in the way of entertainment and dining than the large vessels, but that is a small price to pay for the many perks you get. They can access small ports and harbours in remote areas, you run into the same people time and again so it’s easy to make friends, and with fewer people to look after, the crew have time to stop and chat, and properly get to know you.
A previous winner and runner-up in the awards, Seabourn encapsulates everything cruisers love about small ships but adds its own six-star touches. Crew are tasked to know every passenger by name within two days of the start of the cruise, drinks (including as much Champagne as you can imbibe) are complimentary, tips are not expected and you can eat in any restaurant without paying a penny extra. A new ship this year heralded a chic yacht-like look that will be imitated when another vessel launches in May 2018.
Snapping at Seabourn’s heels is Saga Cruises. Another previous winner, it caters exclusively for people aged over 50 who want a British-style holiday – a formula that is so successful, the company clocked up £25 million in advance sales for its first new ship before any itineraries were even announced. In third place, Star Clippers is a niche cruise line with a fleet of three tall ships where the main entertainment is watching the crew hoist the sails and lazing on deck as the canvas billows in the wind and the keel cuts through the waves.
The 10 best river cruise lines
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
- APT Guided Tours and River Cruises
- Pandaw River Expeditions
- Riviera Travel
- Avalon Waterways
- Scenic Tours
- AMA Waterways
- Emerald Waterways
- Viking River Cruises
- Jules Verne
A decade of innovation has brought river cruising out of the backwaters and made it the go-to holiday for ever-growing numbers of travellers who want exciting new experiences while seeing the world in comfort and style. River cruise lines have engineered the change, developing more exciting itineraries, adding active tours ashore and modernising vessels by providing cabins with private balconies, exclusive restaurants and swimming pools that convert into cinemas.
At the forefront of the change is Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, a US company with cruises in Europe, Asia and Egypt that is always breaking the mould. Where others veer towards a minimalist look and feel on their river ships, it favours baroque curves, chandeliers and drapes, and fares that include everything from excursions and drinks to tips. Daring to be different again, in spring 2018 the company is launching U by Uniworld, the first-ever river cruise line exclusively for millennials aged 21 to 45 that packs silent discos and mixologists among attractions.
Close behind is APT, an Australian tour specialist with a 70-year history and diverse portfolio of river cruises across Europe, Russia and Asia that include exclusive experiences ashore such as a journey on the lavish Majestic Imperator train in Austria and dinner in the Vietnam House restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City run by celebrity chef Luke Nguyen. In third place, Pandaw offers adventurous river cruises in Asia that explore the Irrawaddy Delta and transit the gorges and rapids on the Mekong between Laos and China.
Best ferry operators
- Brittany Ferries
- Stena Line
- Irish Ferries
Though challenged by the low fares and myriad new destinations offered by no-frills airlines, the British love-affair with touring the back roads of rural France continues undiminished. And there is nothing we like better than sticking some tape on the headlights, attaching the GB sign to our own car and heading for a south coast ports. Overall, most of us use the Channel tunnel and the short Dover-Calais or Dover-Dunkirk links, but the crossings Telegraph readers enjoy most are the longer routes to Normandy and Brittany (plus those down to the Spanish ports of Santander and Bilbao.
And the ferry operator which meets their expectations most consistently, and is the perennial winner of our awards, is Brittany Ferries. It has held the top spot since 2013, and its success seems to come down to three things: high quality, well-presented ships which feel more like cruise ships than ferries; excellent (French) cuisine - readers seem to feel they have arrived in France as soon as they drive up the ramp; and a great choice of ports and destinations along the north coasts of France and Spain.
Among the runners up, P&O has dropped out of the top three, and Stena Line, which offers routes across the Irish Sea and also from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, moves up to second place - a creditable performance. And finally, congratulations to Irish Ferries, which connects Holyhead with Dublin and Pembroke with Rosslare in south-east Ireland, which your ranked third, its first appearance on our winners’ podium.
Contributions from Jane Archer and Nick Trend