A subjective list of awards for cruise experiences

Image result for seven seas explorer cruise ship"

Seven Seas Explorer

here’s no shortage of travel industry awards and accolades. 

Today I’ll offer some cruise-only nods — a mini Academy Awards lineup, if you will —  based on my seven years of cruising for Travel Weekly. Unlike the Oscars, in which categories of longstanding tradition are properly judged, my award categories and winners are completely subjective and based mostly on one moment on one ship, rather than a studious fleetwide evaluation over time.

Plus, mine aren’t broadcast on national television. And there’s no statuette. But they’re fun. See what you think, and offer your own winners in the comment section below.

So, with no further ado:

Best naming ceremony: Princess Cruises. Skies were grey in Southampton, England, on that June day in 2013, but who can beat royal princess Kate Middleton christening the Royal Princess? The British pomp and pageantry and the ladies in their gowns and fascinators made it unforgettable. Runner up: More royals, plus opera great Andrea Bocelli singing “Nessun Dorma” for the Seven Seas Explorer in Monaco.

Meal: Celebrity Cruises. I think it was on the Celebrity Reflection with former Celebrity public relations spokeswoman Liz Jakeway that I had a nearly flawless Italian dinner at the Tuscan Grille. Runner up: Guy Fieri’s burgers on Carnival Cruise Line.

Suite:  Viking Ocean Cruises. The Owner’s Suite on the Viking Star duplicates owner Tor Hagen’s book collection and comes with a (faux) fireplace and a sauna with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall for ocean viewing. Runner up: the duplex suites on Royal Caribbean.

Service: Azamara. I know, not what you’re expecting, but I say: try it. The relaxed style really made me feel at home on a 2016 Central America and Mexico cruise on the Azamara Journey. When my time was up, I didn’t want to leave. Runner up: Seabourn.

Entertainment: Norwegian Cruise Line. “After Midnight” and “Million Dollar Quartet” on the Norwegian Escape in 2016 was a knockout one-two punch, and Norwegian has kept up the pace with each new ship: “Jersey Boys,” “Kinky Boots.” Great value for guests. Runner up: Royal Caribbean, where too much is never enough.

Image result for million dollar quartet"

Pool: Seabourn. The cosy aft pool on Seabourn’s 450-passenger ships puts sunbathers close to the water in stylish luxury. Runner up: the Solarium Pool on Celebrity, with its dancing waters fountain.

Cruise Director: Star Clippers. The line’s longest-serving cruise director, Peter Kissner, hails from Bavaria and is the most personable, knowledgeable, interesting person I’ve yet encountered in the job.  Runner up: Azamara cruise director Eric de Gray does it all.

Internet: Royal Caribbean gets the nod for its Voom, which not only is fast and simple but was first to market. What a difference in seven years. Runner up: MedallionNet on Princess Cruises is also fast and simple (but was not first).

Children’s character: Disney Cruise Line for Cinderella. As played by one of Disney’s cast members, the Cinderella I saw could have stepped out of the 1950 animated feature film. The children were enchanted. Runner Up:  Ellie, the towel elephant that prowls the post-turn-down cabins on Carnival ships.

Deck BBQ: Windstar Cruises. A twilight summer deck party anchored off the coast of Portofino. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better than that. Runner up: Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

A first look at Sky Princess, a sister with some distinction

The aft WakeView Pool has an infinity pool appearance and is an outdoor gathering spot.

The aft WakeView Pool has an infinity pool appearance and is an outdoor gathering spot. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

As the fourth in a class of ships that Princess Cruises began introducing in 2013, the Sky Princess will be familiar in many ways to travel agents.

But there are a couple of newly designed areas and some new wrinkles, along with 50 more cabins that aren’t on the three predecessor ships in the class, giving agents a few new things to learn.

The biggest deal about the Sky Princess is the two Sky Suites that have been introduced at the very top of the ship. The 1,873 square feet of space occupied by the suites includes 1,000 square feet of a balcony that extend around the suites, affording a 270-degree view of the surrounding ocean as well as a prime seat for the poolside Movies Under the Stars presentations at night.

A reserved bungalow at Princess Cays, a fancy telescope for stargazing and a “Suite Experience Manager to service your every need” are part of the package.

A second new area on the Sky Princess is Take Five, a theatre for live jazz music, plus educational programming, historical presentations and other events that will make it more than a place just to hear music.

Located across from the casino on Deck 6, Take Five occupies a space that on previous ships have been called Club 6 and included a featured bar and a small dance floor.

The new cabin area has been carved out a forward area on Deck 17 that includes The Sanctuary on previous ships. On the Sky Princess, The Sanctuary moves one deck up to Deck 18, while on 17 a kind of ship-within-the-ship area has been created on three sides of the Neptune Pool. The accommodations are mostly balcony cabins, with eight larger suites for clients with bigger budgets.

The pool deck dancing-waters fountain that made a distinctive debut on the Royal Princess has been abandoned in favour of a hot tub and some patio banquettes.

When it comes to smaller wrinkles, there is a small new WakeView Ppool at the far aft end of the ship on Deck 16, giving a nice experience looking back at where the Sky Princess has been at sea.

There’s a stairway from the pool deck up to the Fitness area one deck above, and then a new mini-golf area one deck above that.

Four new hot tubs have been introduced on decks 17 and 18 that don’t exist on previous ships.

Two aft cabins have been removed on the deck below the WakeView Pool to accommodate its depth.

Some smallish changes have been made in the lineup of shops, restaurants and bars on decks 6 and 7. For example, the Deck 7 Wheelhouse Bar on previous ships has been incorporated into the Crown Grill and becomes the Crown Grill Bar on the Sky Princess.

The Sky Princess' pool deck.

The Sky Princess’ pool deck. Photo Credit: Tom StieghorstThe little dedicated library space that had been located outside the Wheelhouse Bar disappears entirely.

Some features introduced with the Royal Princess in 2013 remain largely unchanged, such as the sizeable World Fresh Marketplace buffet restaurant on Deck 16. 

And the multi-deck Piazza remains an elegant atrium area, with familiar features such as the Vines wine bar, the International Cafe and Sabatini’s restaurant, although the Bellini’s champagne bar has become Good Spirits at Sea, and the Crooner’s piano bar gives way to a new restaurant, Bistro Sur La Mer.

Alaska Marine Pilots Concerned About Royal Princess’ Maneuverability in Alaska

Royal Princess
PHOTO: Royal Princess. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)