Almost 30,000 readers voted in the 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards, nominating their favourite destinations, hotels and holiday companies – and the results are in. Here we reveal your top cruise lines.
Best Small-ship Ocean Cruise Line
As the cruise industry rebounds with unbridled vigour following the Covid pandemic, it is the small ship lines that have enjoyed some of the most remarkable success.
The appeal of sailing on vessels holding just a few hundred guests rather than thousands – and of diminutive crafts able to sail beyond the reach of mega-ships – has prompted strong demand, with customers increasingly opting for this style of cruising as an alternative to the floating resorts of the larger lines.
This increased popularity has seen this sector of the market ramping up to keep pace, with most established players adding new ships to their fleets and new luxury brand Explora Journeys making its debut this summer.
Notably, this also taps into the trend for expedition cruising – offered by each of our three finalists – which has also gathered speed in recent years.
This year’s winner, Silversea – which came third in 2019 – has really upped its offering, having launched three ships in the space of 10 months during 2022. The most recent was expedition vessel Silver Endeavour – which launched last November – while two additional new-style ships, Silver Nova and Silver Ray, are expected to join its fleet this year and next.
Meanwhile, former Telegraph Travel winner Seabourn strengthened its adventure credentials last year, launching its first purpose-built expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, which it plans to follow with the launch of Seabourn Pursuit this autumn. The range of destinations served by Seabourn’s classic ships has also increased, with more sailings to Asia and Australasia.
Known primarily for transporting passengers and supplies to remote communities along Norway’s coastline, Norwegian operator Hurtigruten has also built up a fleet of expedition ships, including the world’s first battery-hybrid cruise ships.
Best Boutique Ocean Cruise Line
With ships at the smaller end of the scale, contenders in this category tend to enjoy their own distinctive ambience, styling themselves as floating boutique hotels offering a more intimate atmosphere.
As competition in the cruise world grows, so does the need for companies to differentiate themselves, offering a more personalised feel and building on specialist interests to offer guests a more enriching experience.
Boutique lines have risen to the challenge, some by boosting their culinary credentials with haute cuisine restaurants, cookery schools and chef-led visits to local markets, others by concentrating on spa and wellness offerings, talks from distinguished speakers or exclusive performances.
Viking Cruises, which was a runner-up at the last awards and has triumphed this year, is known for the contemporary Scandi feel of its nine-strong fleet of ocean ships, all virtually identical and holding 930 passengers apiece. Billed as the “thinking person’s cruise”, Viking prides itself on its cultural appeal, with on-board lectures and excursions allowing passengers to gain a deeper understanding of each destination.
In second place is archetypal boutique line Azamara Cruises, with its four classically styled ships dedicated to fulfilling the line’s promise of “destination immersion”. Focusing on smaller ports of call, longer stays in port, more overnight stops and night-time tours – as well as its signature AzAmazing Celebrations – Azamara’s cruises are designed to fully immerse guests in their destination.
In third place, Saga Cruises has shot up in the contemporary style stakes in recent years, with new vessels Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure – launched in 2019 and 2021 respectively – both bringing an elegant, avant-garde feel to this classically British line.
Best Large-ship Ocean Cruise Line
Having weathered the Covid storm, the cruise industry is now forging ahead with gusto, buoyed by strong demand and a succession of new ships.
In 2019 – the last “normal” year of business, which companies are now measuring against – the industry celebrated breaking the two-million-passenger barrier. More than three years later, there’s finally talk of returning to this figure by the end of 2023, aided by a new cohort of converts who dipped their toes into cruising on those first UK sailings in 2021 which signalled the industry’s tentative return.
As a result of this demand, all three finalists in this category have new ships on order, with winner Celebrity Cruises increasing its presence in Europe and the Caribbean this year, and preparing to welcome the fourth ship in its revolutionary Edge-class, Celebrity Ascent, this December.
These ships are noted for their strong style credentials, with interiors by the likes of designer Kelly Hoppen, and the addition of the much-talked-about “Magic Carpet”, a cantilevered platform on the side of each ship that doubles as an al fresco bar and restaurant. More importantly, with Celebrity Apex due to be based in Southampton next summer, UK guests can look forward to having an Edge-class ship on their doorstep.
It’s always a grand occasion when Cunard unveils another ship, and next May – when Queen Anne, the fourth addition to its fleet, is launched – will be no different. Holding 2,996 passengers, this will be Cunard’s largest vessel, melding its celebrated traditional flourishes (white-gloved afternoon teas, formal gala dinners) with a contemporary feel.
In third place, Princess Cruises owes much of its high profile among UK cruisers to the three ships it bases in Southampton. Nevertheless, its standing is sure to be bolstered further still in 2024, when it unveils new-style ship Sun Princess – and a host of first-time attractions – in February.
Best River Cruise Line
Viking River Cruises
The appeal of smaller ships, and the convenience and relative proximity of Europe’s waterways, has helped river cruising to make a particularly strong recovery post pandemic.
With the American and Australian markets slow to recover, last year bargain prices and great deals abounded for British travellers – though this year has seen a return to higher prices and sold-out sailings.
Further afield, demand for Nile cruises has soared, while Asia voyages are picking up too, as river cruise lines continue to expand their fleets, adding new destinations and increasingly innovative sailings with a focus on immersive and activity-led excursions.
This year’s winner, Uniworld – which has held on to the top spot since the last awards in 2019, renowned for its lavish interiors and palatial décor – is a case in point. Its product range now includes new mystery voyages, rail-and-cruise hybrid itineraries and, in a first for both the line and the river cruise industry as a whole, a 46-night sailing taking in nine countries on five of its luxury Super Ships.
Runner-up Viking River Cruises – the Nordic-style line which dominates Europe’s rivers with its 79-strong river fleet – also continues to expand, with plans to sail year-round on the Rhine with its first winter departures between Amsterdam and Basel starting in December. It also plans to increase its presence on the Nile, with a fourth vessel, Viking Aton, debuting in August, plus an additional two crafts by 2025.
In third place, Riviera Travel has built up a strong following amongst British customers, largely thanks to its focus on value, and currently has 11 European river ships, plus a vessel each on the Nile and Mekong rivers.