Today, for the 11th consecutive year, Cruise Critic announced its 2018 Annual Editors’ Picks Awards for Best Cruises. The awards cover ocean, river and luxury cruises—bestowing honors on both cruise lines and cruise ships, broken down into 44 subcategories.
Whether you are a reader or a writer, it’s hard to escape the abundance of “best lists” that are regularly published by newspapers and magazines (both in print and online) and in books and on websites. Around the holidays, when the pressure to advertise and sell travel (and everything else) spikes, such lists are almost unavoidable–and scores of best cruise lists are among them. If you Google that term, you’ll see how many different lists of best cruises crop up from a variety of sources.
It’s not surprising though. Lists provide a reader-friendly structure and format for articles and depending on the source, can be extremely informative and useful to consumers (I’ve researched and written a few of them myself).
When I recently wrote a news story about the announcement of the Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks for Forbes, I wanted to learn more about the backstory: How did Cruise Critic develop its list?
Now more than 20 years old, Cruise Critic is the largest and oldest consumer cruise site with thousands of news articles, 350,000 cruise reviews and more. Almost encyclopedic in nature, the website also provides a platform for a highly trafficked online community of readers interested in cruising. The site receives 6 million visits per month.
But should we trust this particular list? I asked Cruise Critic Senior Editor Colleen McDaniel about the methodology and approach used to create the Editors’ Picks List so MTTT readers can judge for themselves. She graciously agreed to provide a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes:
With the growing number of lists and travel awards, etc., why is this list any different or more credible than the rest?
CM: Cruise Critic is in a unique position, in that we gather cruise intell from two perspectives – those of our editors and those of the consumers who visit our site. And both are experts in their own right.
While our Editors’ Picks Awards are heavily focused on the expertise of our international team of cruise editors and writers, the award categories and qualifications for winners are influenced by what we know to be important to cruise travelers, because of the insights they continuously provide on our site.
Even the award categories are carefully curated to highlight what we hear is most important to those who cruise and those who are looking to cruise – the food, the service, the accommodations, the entertainment, the overall value. These are all dimensions that are important to cruisers, and our goal when selecting winners is to provide a definitive list to help guide travelers to the absolute best lines for their particular interests and needs.
Can you offer some insight into the composition of the awards panel and their experience?
CM: The awards are selected by cruise experts—our global editorial team spends months and months of the year onboard cruise ships. Combined, the team has decades of experience covering the cruise industry, so they experience cruising’s ongoing evolution first-hand, and have honed in on what truly makes a cruise stand out.
When not at sea, these same people comprehensively cover the cruise industry, which is dynamic. We cover all the big – and little – changes and updates that lines implement, so we’re truly able to speak as experts.
What selection process you use? Is there some objective methodology?
CM: The award selection process is lengthy. We start discussing winners in the summer, and continue to finesse our list right down to the time we announce the final awards. This leaves time to incorporate feedback from writers on sailings well through the end of the year, and for news that breaks as we’re compiling the list.
Admittedly, the thing about cruising – and travel as a whole, really – is that it’s incredibly subjective. And we see that first-hand during our selection process. We literally bunker down in a room, taking everyone’s subjective thoughts and opinions into account, and then work to pare down the list of winners to one standout in each category.
When we’re particularly stuck, we always come back to asking ourselves, “If your friend were to ask your advice, what would you suggest?” And that can be your foodie friend who asks for a recommendation, or your friend traveling with her family, or your friend who is traveling solo. If whatever friend, with whatever specific interests or needs, comes to you for your expert advice – where do you direct them?
We do have some pretty enthusiastic selection discussions. It’s a bunch of cruise enthusiasts who ”geek out” over the latest and greatest in cruising. It’s incredibly fun, and what I most look forward to each year.
Increasingly, cruise lines and ships are diversifying and segmenting the market. How has that affected your list?
CM: Honestly, this year’s list of winners shows that now more than ever, there’s a cruise for just about everyone. There will always be naysayers, but it really is about finding the best fit for you.
Let me explain further. The absolute best way to visit the Galapagos is by cruise ship – I stand by that. There’s no better way to fully immerse yourself in the region. But you have a choice of lines that sail Galapagos itineraries, and it’s so important to find which one has offerings that best match your personal travel style. The same goes for Alaska or the Panama Canal. Both regions are on a ton of people’s bucket lists – whether they’re cruisers or not – but your experience on a large ship will be hugely different than your experience on an expedition or luxury ship.
To some extent, that’s always been the case – you could tell us your travel preferences, and we would be able to point you to the line that would best deliver those needs. But what’s incredibly exciting now is that there isn’t just one line to recommend. There are many great options to choose from, as the industry continues to grow and evolve.
Our selection meetings are more animated now than ever – and that’s a really, really great “problem” to have. But that’s what makes these awards so important is that from a long list of truly fantastic options, we can really stand by these Editors’ Picks as those that truly represent the best.
One final question: Are the awards influenced by the site’s advertisers?
CM: The power of our editorial team’s coverage is in its complete independence — it’s always kept separate from the site’s advertising. We tell it like it is and share opinions that we stand by – whether it’s while selecting award winners, or covering the latest cruise news and reviewing cruise ships.
Our top priority is always the authenticity of our experts’ voices, to ensure we’re providing the most useful information for our readers.
The complete “2018 List of Cruise Critic Editors Picks Awards” follows:
Best New Ship: Celebrity Edge
Best Ship Refurbishment: Mariner of the Seas – Royal Caribbean International
Best for Adventure: Lindblad Expeditions
Best Cabins: Princess Cruises
Best Dining: Celebrity Cruises
Best Entertainment: Royal Caribbean International
Best for Families: Disney Cruise Line
Best Itineraries: Princess Cruises
Best Nightlife: Carnival Cruise Line
Best Service: Carnival Cruise Line
Best Shore Excursions: Princess Cruises
Best for Solo Travelers: Norwegian Cruise Line
Best Suites: Royal Caribbean International
Best Value for Money: Holland America Line
Best North American Homeport: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Best River Cruise Line: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Best New River Cruise Ship: The A – U by Uniworld
Best Ship Refurbishment: S.S. Beatrice – Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Best for Active Cruisers: AmaWaterways
Best Cabins: Avalon Waterways
Best Dining: Crystal River Cruises
Best Enrichment: American Queen Steamboat Company
Best for Families: Adventures by Disney
Best for First-Timers: Viking River Cruises
Best Itineraries: Viking River Cruises
Best for Luxury: Crystal River Cruises
Best Service: Tauck River Cruising
Best Shore Excursions: Scenic
Best for Solo Travelers: American Cruise Lines
Best Value for Money: Emerald Waterways
Best Luxury Cruise Line: Seabourn Cruise Line
Best New Luxury Ship: Viking Orion
Best Refurbishment: Silver Spirit – Silversea Cruises
Best for Adventure: Silversea Cruises
Best Cabins: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Best Dining: Oceania Cruises
Best Enrichment: Crystal Cruises
Best Itineraries: Ponant
Best for Romance: Windstar Cruises
Best Service: Seabourn Cruise Line
Best Shore Excursions: Azamara Club Cruises
Best for Solo Travelers: Seabourn Cruise Line
Best Spa: Viking Ocean Cruises
Best Value for Money: Viking Ocean Cruises