One of the most helpful features of our new book The Complete Guide to European Cruises is a section called “The Best of Cruising,” where our editors pick the best of the best on the high seas. Here’s an excerpt from that feature.
Best Regular Dining Room Cuisine
With more than 2,000 passengers, today’s large cruise ships simply can’t offer elegant, restaurant-quality food on such a vast scale. However, most cruise lines do manage to provide good food to their passengers. A few do even better, and you may be surprised to find that they aren’t always the most luxurious lines.
Carnival Cruise Lines. Yes, Carnival! The line offers what is possibly the most-improved dining experience at sea. With the added touch of chef George Blanc’s Signature Selections (offered since 2006), the food is tastier, more sensibly portioned, and nicely presented.
Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity made its mark with food and service that was decidedly a cut above the average and hasn’t wavered over the years. While serving hundreds of diners at a time, the waiters manage the illusion that yours is the most important meal of all.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Creative dishes spiced just so and wines chosen to complement all menus are a hallmark of Radisson ships. Service is attentive, but not hovering or intrusive. (photo, top)
SeaDream Yacht Club. A true gourmet meal is hard to come by on land, let alone at sea, but SeaDream chefs accomplish just such a feat. Every meal (for 110 passengers or more) is individually prepared.
Best Specialty Restaurants
Virtually every cruise line now offers reservations-only restaurants, which prepare restaurant-quality meals for a special cover charge. Here are the lines that stand apart.
Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2. Cuisine in Todd English Restaurant is as other-worldly as the exotic Moroccan surroundings in which it is served. The small cover charge for lunch or dinner wouldn’t be sufficient for a tip at his Olives restaurants on land, and you won’t have to wait months for a reservation at sea. (photo, right)
Carnival Cruise Lines. When Carnival introduced supper clubs, the line took shipboard dining to a new level with a sophisticated ambience and the ingredients for outstanding meals at sea. Anyone familiar with big-city steak houses will recognize the presentation of a tray displaying the evening’s entrées.
Celebrity Millennium-class ships. Decorated with authentic ocean-liner artifacts and the actual paneling from the White Star liner Olympic, these restaurants feature table-side food preparation, classical music, and food that is described in hushed, reverent tones.
Crystal Cruises. Asian-themed restaurants on Crystal ships receive rave reviews for the beautifully prepared dishes, including ultrafresh sushi. Presentation is beautiful, and if you aren’t adept with chopsticks, no one will raise an eyebrow if you use a fork.
When you want to go away on a relaxing cruise vacation, you want to be pampered and waited on. While service in all ships is pretty good these days, it’s a given that with more than 2,000 passengers, large ships just can’t give the kind of personalized service you’d get on a smaller ship. So it’s no surprise that the best service at sea is on cruise lines that operate smaller ships.
Windstar Cruises. Graduates of Holland America’s training school in Indonesia, Windstar’s Filipino and Indonesian stewards and servers go out of their way to provide gracious service with a sincere smile and genuine warmth.
SeaDream Yacht Club. A Corona with no lime, extra juice in your rum punch: whatever your preference, it will be remembered by all servers on board. They seem to network behind the scenes to ensure perfection.
Silversea Cruises. The mostly European staff don’t seem to understand the word “no.” Every attempt is made to satisfy even the most unusual request, even if it means buying a bottle of guava juice in the next port of call.
Best Bathrooms Afloat
Let’s face it: cruise ship bathrooms aren’t usually noted for roominess or luxury. However, there are exceptions. Here’s a rundown of our favorite bathrooms on the high seas.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Without a doubt, the marble bathrooms with separate shower and full-size tub on Seven Seas Voyager (photo, top) and Seven Seas Navigator are totally pampering.
Seabourn Cruises. Although not the biggest shipboard bathrooms, Seabourn’s bath amenities are deluxe.
Silversea Cruises. Double vanities, marble-clad showers, separate tubs, and fluffy, oversize towels are luxurious appointments, even in standard suites. Top suites add whirlpool jets.
A good night’s sleep is important to a feeling of well-being, so why would anyone want to sleep on a lumpy mattress outfitted with pancake-thin pillows and scratchy sheets? No one does. Since Westin introduced their “Heavenly Bed” to travelers, hotels have been in the process of offering upgraded beds and bedding for years. Cruise lines have joined the wave and these are our favorites.
Holland America Line. The Mariner’s Dream bed is a Sealy 9-inch innerspring mattress with a pillow top layer of fibers and foams and additional plush foam comfort layers. Hypoallergenic poly or goose-down pillows and cuddly down blanket are covered in 300-thread-count sheeting with a one-inch woven stripe pattern and a soft sateen finish. (photo, right)
Carnival Cruise Lines. The Carnival Comfort Bed features an 8-inch spring mattress, a downlike nonallergenic pillow, high-quality sheets and pillowcases, and a 100% hypoallergenic down duvet covered by an ultrafine, ring-spun, satin-striped cotton blend duvet cover.
Oceania Cruises. Inaugurating the “bed wars” with their “Tranquility Bed,” Oceania has outfitted all accommodations with high-quality mattresses, 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton linens, silk-cut duvets, and goose-down pillows.
Royal Caribbean Line. A 9-inch spring mattress with 2-inch microfiber pillow sets the stage for 200-thread-count cotton-blend sheets and cushy microfiber pillows. It’s all topped with a 23-ounce synthetic blend duvet with a cotton blend cover.
Best Entertainment at Sea
The quality of cruise-ship entertainment is higher these days than it has ever been. You’re likely to find a Las Vegas-quality revue or Broadway-quality show on most cruise ships. Still, some lines stand out with their offerings. These are our favorites.
Carnival Cruise Lines. Flash, dazzle, and special effects worthy of Las Vegas are backdrops for the talented teams of entertainers in Carnival production shows.
Ocean Village. Aerial deck shows feature a company of international circus artists, dancers, singers, and stilt walkers. Set on and under unique top-deck aerial structures — with a grand finale laser-and-light show — there is nothing else like it at sea.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. In addition to lavish production shows and guest entertainers fleetwide, only Royal Caribbean’s megasize ships feature world-class ice-skating peformances.
Learn more about European cruising with Fodor’s European Cruises, 1st Edition