Travelzoo Picks: Our Favourite Award-winning Cruises

Jul 23, 2023

A cruise is your transport, accommodation, and entertainment, with an extra splash of glitz and glamour at sea, all rolled into one.

These days, most cruise lines also include all meals, and Travelzoo frequently has great deals with drinks and other perks on offer. When you crunch the numbers (our specialty, one we love doing) an ocean voyage can be a very affordable way to travel. It's no wonder cruises are a popular way to holiday.

But with so many options out there, how do you know which cruise to choose? We listen to the critics of course. We combed through all the award-winning cruises and examined what got the experts buzzing and excited. We took a look at what it takes to make an award-winning cruise, whether it’s the ship, the style or the destinations. Plus, we’ve included some pointers to help you find a cruise that matches your travel style. This time round, we’re focusing on ocean voyages and have narrowed it down to ten of our favourites.  

Best of the Biggest

When it comes to ocean cruising, ships come in all sizes. The bigger they are, the more features there are for you to enjoy while at sea. That’s certainly the case with Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas.

The Oasis Class vessel was the biggest in the world, until recently being pipped by sister ship Wonder of the Seas. In 2022, it added two trophies to the cabinet—Symphony was named Best Individual Cruise Ship at Australia’s Travel Weekly Readers’ Choice Awards and Best Large Cruise Ship at the prestigious World Cruise Awards (aka the Oscars for travel). Like us, the judges probably couldn’t go past all the on-board “deck-defying” attractions, like the surf simulators, glow-in-the-dark laser tag and the tallest slide at sea that whizzes down 10 storeys. Of course, when there’s room for over 5500 passengers, you know that there’ll be something for everyone to enjoy and those who want to chill, swill or boogie are looked after too.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard Symphony of the Seas: You’ll find Symphony of the Seas cruising in the Caribbean and Europe and the Travelzoo team give a big thumbs up to the 7-night Western Mediterranean Cruise. This one caught our eye because it’s a little twist on the classic Med itinerary with the option to depart from Barcelona or Rome.

Perfect match: families, anyone who loves loads of activities and travellers who are concerned about motion sickness on smaller vessels.

Best Mid-Sized Ship

Are you looking for a cruise ship that’s not too big, not too small, but just right? Mid-size ships typically carry around 1500-2500 passengers. One of the things people prefer about vessels in this category is that they can dock at smaller ports, which in places like Alaska can mean that you’re closer to townships or attractions. Many cruise enthusiasts also argue that they are happy to forgo the grand ballrooms and big ship experience to enjoy fewer crowds, more intimate venues and easier boarding and disembarking.

That’s not to say that you have to compromise on luxury, quite the opposite in many cases. Oceania Cruises offers a premium service and award-winning dining is a focus for food-lovers. They cover exotic destinations around the world. But you can also cruise from Sydney to Bali or circumnavigate Australia aboard elegant Regatta.

Holland America Line (HAL) also excels in this category and is celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. The cruise line has received awards for its dining, wine list, best facilities for guests with disabilities (for 13 consecutive years) and most recently received the 2022 Cruise Critic Editors’ Pick Award for Best Service.

The newest in HAL's impressive fleet of 11 ships, Rotterdam was launched just two years ago in 2021. Designed for guests of all ages, the ship offers a spectacular observation lounge, Lido pool area with a sliding glass dome plus giant LED screen, Lincoln Centre Stage that doubles as a classical music venue and a grand dining room.

Continuing HAL’s tradition of award-winning dining options included in the fare, guest have a choice of casual self-service at the Lido Market Buffet, the main dining room, New York Deli and pizza, Dive-in burgers and the Grand Dutch Café that offers complimentary Dutch-themed treats. If you’re ready to splurge (or want opt for a specialty dining package) then there’s the delicious Pinnacle Grill Steakhouse, upscale Rudi’s Sel de Mer or Tamarind, one of the best Asian restaurants at sea.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard Rotterdam: 12-day Panama Canal Sunfarer departs from Fort Lauderdale and cruises to the Bahamas, Curacao, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. A bucket list cruising experiencing is feeling the ship rise 85 feet as it navigates the Panama Canal.

Perfect match: first time cruisers, passengers with mobility issues and people who prefer comfortable facilities with fewer passengers

Best Small Ship 

Good things can come in small packages, especially when it comes to ocean voyages. Carefully chosen itineraries, amazing attention to detail, impeccable service, high passenger-to-crew ratios and luxurious amenities are commonplace features in the small ship category. To meet the small ship criteria, they generally carry less than 800 passengers.

Popular cruise lines include Ponant and Crystal Cruises. And Azamara was named the 2022 Best Boutique Cruise Line. Picking a favourite ship amongst such a star-studded selection wasn’t easy, but we had to agree with the World Cruise Awards’ winner for 2022 and go with Silversea's Silver Origin.

Silversea built their first destination-specific ship in 2020 and Silver Origin is the most elegant ship sailing the Galapagos. On board there are 8 zodiacs for closer exploration, sophisticated interiors and plush, all-suite accommodation with a butler service for every cabin. Two restaurants offer delicious regional and international dining and it’s all inclusive. Yes, you can celebrate an amazing day in the archipelago with a complimentary glass of beer, wine, spirits or bubbly anywhere on the ship.

Ecuadorian expert guides and 90 crew look after the 100 guests while the environmentally-conscious ship cruises from San Cristobal to North Seymour Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island, Isla Santa Fe, Gardner Bay and other amazing Galapagos destinations to watch penguins at play, swim with turtles, trek over lava fields, see beaches covered in sea lions and colourful Marine iguanas living among Hood mockingbirds.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard Silver Origin: 7-day San Cristobal, Galapagos to San Cristobal, Galapagos is a round-trip voyage that stands out as a Travelzoo pick because it’s a one-of-a-kind destination and cruise experience. Silver Origin is truly all-inclusive. They offer a full door-to-door option and on board you have all the food, drinks, butler service and expedition gear. Shore excursions are also included each day on this cruise you have 28 to choose from with a variety of activity levels.

Perfect match: wildlife lovers, expedition cruisers, luxury travellers and travellers seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Family Favourite

More and more families are opting for a cruise holiday and it’s not hard to understand why. The holiday budget can be set without worrying about hidden extras, there’s entertainment for every age, and there’s child minding available for when parents what a little ‘alone’ time.

Carnival is a popular cruise line if you’re holidaying with kids, and they get the thumbs up for affordability. P&O often has great family promotions, like their ‘Kids Cruise Free Sale.’ Norwegian Cruise Lines also boast plenty of kid-friendly amenities. The stand-out cruise line though has to be Disney.

Famously known as “where wonders never cease”, Disney Cruise Line has taken the theme park experience and applied it to adventures at sea. The cruise company dates back to 1998, but come October 2023 it will be bringing the magic at sea down under for the first time with 2- to 6-night cruises from Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. There are all the things adults love too, like world-class dining and award-winning entertainment, but just imagine how excited the kids will be to cruise with all their beloved Disney characters.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard Disney Wonder: We love the 4-night Disney Magic at Sea Cruise from Sydney. On the voyage to Hobart there will be kids clubs for three different age groups, fireworks displays, Disney movie screenings, fun in the waterslides and splash zones. That’s all included and for a little extra children can enjoy a Royal Court tea party with Disney characters or magical makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirates League. What a magical way to introduce the family to cruising without the pressure of an extended overseas trip.

Perfect match: no surprises here, families with kids and teens.

Best for Couples and Singles

Watching the sun dip below the horizon while you’re snuggled on the deck with your special someone – any cruise is going to be a winner with romantics. Though, if Travelzoo wants to play cupid we would point the arrow at Virgin Voyages. The sassy new exclusively adult cruise line was recently the first brand to take home all five of the 2023 Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards in the large ship category, so obviously travellers love them too.

Virgin Voyages is turning heads with their new superyacht-inspired ships. Signature red hammocks hang on every balcony and the cabins come with lighting to match your mood, as well as other techy features. No awkward moments with who pays for dinner; dining in all 20+ eateries is included and the menus feature fresh, made-to-order food. Other ‘always included’ luxuries are entertainment, all tips, Wi-Fi, group fitness classes and essential drinks (stay hydrated with complimentary still or sparkling water, soft drinks and tea, plus get that caffeine fix with drip coffee each day).

What also makes Virgin Voyages a great choice for singles is that it’s easy to meet fellow ‘sailors’. On top of the included entertainment and fitness classes, there are activities geared for solo travellers. There are also Insider and Sea View cabins that are priced attractively for people travelling on their own.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard Resilient Lady: 10-night Starry Night in Greece & Croatia sails round-trip from Athens. We love that in one easy cruise you can take in the Greek Islands, enjoy an overnight stay in Mykonos, plus have full days to explore Dubrovnik and Montenegro’s stunning coastal city of Kotor.

Perfect match: couples, singles, first time cruisers – remember, Virgin Voyages are child-free.

Best in Expeditions

Cruising is as much about the journey as it is the destination, but expedition voyages are a little different. These are the itineraries that venture beyond the traditional routes and the ships are fitted with zodiacs or landing craft that enable you to explore remote places.

Norway, Iceland, South America, Antarctica, Alaska, Papua New Guinea and the Kimberley Coast - these are all the type of destinations that are ideal for expedition cruising. But just because you’re exploring doesn’t mean you have to do it tough. Most expedition cruises offer extremely comfortable cabins and exceptional service, some are simply lavish. In addition to the crew, there are also likely to be specialist guides and regional experts on board to give you a greater insight into the wildlife, geography, culture and history of the places you’re visiting.

Oceanwide Expeditions was named the World’s Best Expedition Cruise Line at the 2022 World Cruise Awards and the Dutch company specialises in Antarctica and Arctic adventures. One of our favourites is the North Spitsbergen cruise that includes a trek around historic Longyearbyen and gives you the best chance to view polar bears.

Lindblad Expeditions is also a stand-out. At the same World Cruise Awards they were recognised as the Best Green Cruise Line and named in Conde Nast Traveller’s 2023 Gold List for the Best Cruise Ship in the World – National Geographic Endurance. In 2004, Lindblad joined forces with National Geographic and today you can sail aboard the National Geographic fleet to the most extraordinary places alongside skilled specialists, world-renowned scientists, photographers and researchers.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard National Geographic Endurance: Discover why Endurance is rated as the best on one of the grandest wild adventures on Earth. Antarctica, South Georgie and the Falklands 22-day voyage traces the story of Shackleton’s fateful journey and this is the trip to capture incredible images of vast penguin colonies.

Perfect match: culture lovers, thrill and wildlife seekers.

Best in Luxury

Where do we start? Unless you’re bunkered down on an old cargo ship, cruising is a luxurious way to travel. It feels indulgent to have all your meals prepared to the highest level with a choice of dining options, cabins that are like comfy hotel rooms with an ever-changing view, around-the-clock activities and many other individual perks. To help you narrow down which type of luxury features would suit you best, here are three award-winning options.

Scenic Eclipse first set sail in 2020 and offers truly all-inclusive 6-star cruising for a maximum of 228 guests. Everything is taken care of, from the shore excursions to decadent dining and the unlimited complimentary premium beverages. Cruise Antarctica, the Mediterranean and our favourite for 2024, 11 days from Broome to Darwin to discover the Kimberley’s ancient shores.

Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of the Cunard fleet and a true ocean liner that’s perfectly suited to extended voyages and Transatlantic crossings. It’s the best of British style with a capital ‘S’ aboard Cunard and that includes their splendid traditional afternoon tea. Your table will be reserved for breakfast, lunch and dinner, when you’ll experience the signature ‘White Star’ service. It pays to note that aboard classy Queen Mary 2 there is a dress code and for the formal gala dinners you’ll be expected to frock up. One of the things we love about Cunard, on top of the world-class entertainment and sense of occasion, is that cruising is a pleasure to be enjoyed at leisure. Take the cruise from Fremantle to Singapore for example, it’s a spectacular 35-night journey and includes overnight port stays in Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Regent Seven Seas is always high on the lists of best luxury cruises and the all-inclusive cruise line prides itself on epicurean perfection, personalised service, unrivalled spaces to enjoy and unforgettable moments to experience. There will soon be 6 ships in the award-winning fleet, after Seven Seas Grandeur launches in November 2023. Seven Seas Voyager debuted in 2003 and hasn’t lost any of its sparkle. The plush ship is designed so you can enjoy the outdoors as much as indoors and every suite has a private balcony. This is our pick for a stunning 19-night voyage from Cape Town to Dubai. There are up to 37 included shore excursions, enjoy unlimited beverages, specialty dining is included and gratuities are all part of the package. See why we’d love to be cruising to the Seychelles, Oman and Abu Dhabi aboard this elegant ship.

Travelzoo luxury cruise picks: 11-day Broome to Darwin aboard Scenic Eclipse to discover the treasures of the Kimberley’s ancient shores. Fremantle to Singapore aboard Queen Mary 2 cruises via Australia’s East Coast, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Vietnam. Seven Seas Voyager embarks on a 20-day African and Arabian luxury cruise from Cape Town to Dubai.

 Perfect match: those who enjoy the finer things in life (and don’t mind paying for them)

Best Newcomers

There’s no sign of the cruise industry losing steam. It’s back bigger and better than ever. Just count how many new ships are making waves this year. 

Amongst some of the impressive ships to launch in the last 12 months are Norwegian Prima, Silver Dawn, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, Carnival Jubilee, purpose-built expedition ship Seabourn Venture, MS Arvia by P&O Cruises and mega MSC World Europa that carries up to 6272 passengers.

Viking Octantis was built to sail in polar waters and has an innovative interior marina which makes it easier to climb aboard the ship’s zodiacs out of the wind and swell. APT’s sleek MV Lady Eleganza has been designed to fit into harbours along Croatia’s coastline and enable its 34 guests to reach coastal villages that other ships can’t access.

Emerald Cruises is better known for their riverboats, but now they’ve introduced Emerald Azzura and Sakara - two luxury yachts that sail the Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionian Sea. Similarly, Scenic Luxury Cruises launched the second in their fleet this month, Scenic Eclipse II.

Ship builders around the world have been busy keeping up with demand and making a move into ocean cruising seems to be the latest trend. Virgin Voyages is of course an extension of Branson’s popular airline. If you spotted Emirate’s April Fool’s Day prank, then we can assure you that the airline isn’t planning on cruising any time soon, but the iconic Ritz-Carlton hotel brand has set sail with their luxury yacht collection. We’re tipping that you’ll be seeing Evrima, Ilma and Luminara feature in future cruise awards, because these sleek, sophisticated and innovative yachts have all the hallmarks of the luxury hotels and are designed to help you marvel at the Caribbean and Mediterranean through fresh eyes.

Travelzoo cruise pick aboard Ritz-Carlton Ilma: The next-generation superyacht is scheduled to have its inaugural voyage in the late summer of 2024. We’ve got our eye on the 13-night itinerary from Lisbon, Portugal to San Juan, Puerto Rico in November 2024, that cruises via Madeira, Tenerife and the British Virgin Islands.

Perfect match: whether you’re a first-timer, cruise convert or cruise aficionado, there are exciting new cruise ships on the way to suit every style and budget

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