The results of the 2018 Telegraph Travel Awards, based on the opinions of you, dear reader, have been revealed, and Hurtigruten has been rewarded.
Hurtigruten (meaning “fast route” in Norwegian) held off stiff competition from Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Viking Cruises to scoop the title of best large cruise line – with last year’s winner, Disney, slipping out of the top five altogether.
Best small cruise line, meanwhile, went to Star Clippers who knocked Seabourne off the top spot Seabourne. Elsewhere APT Guided Tours & River Cruises romped home in the river cruise category.
The five best large cruise lines
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises
- Viking Cruises
- Cunard Line
- Celebrity Cruises
This is the age in which major cruise lines compete for headlines. New mega-ships outbid each other to boast the utmost in innovative attractions for thrill-seekers, glitzy stage shows, outlandish design features, celebrity-chef restaurants and novel themed bars.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that a cruise line offering few frills, very little choice of dining and virtually no entertainment has won this award.
What Hurtigruten does is take you into the embrace of Norway. Not just its glorious coastal scenery but its people and customs, because the 11 multi-function ships that hug the shore are a lifeline for remote hamlets, delivering everything from the mail to food to children visiting granny.
Last year’s second runner-up, Hurtigruten also operates two expedition vessels, with two more go-anywhere ships currently being built.
Ultra-luxe cruising is finding a growing audience and despite a fleet of just four ships – a fifth is scheduled for early 2020 – Regent Seven Seas has gained a sufficiently appreciative audience to take the first runner-up spot.
Everything is thrown into in the admittedly premium price, from champagne at breakfast to inspiring shore excursions.
The second runner-up, Viking, has struck plenty of chords with its adults-only smaller ships with smart Scandinavian interiors, inclusive pricing and well-thought-out itineraries.
Viking’s range of destinations is expanding as fast as its fleet; ship number six is due early in 2019, with more to follow.
The five best small cruise lines
- Star Clippers
- Azamara Club Cruises
- Noble Caledonia
- Saga Cruises
Small cruise lines can deliver big experiences. Without the necessity to appeal to a mass market to fill their cabins, they can find their own niche, concentrating on the itineraries and an enriching on-board ambience.
Having fewer ships means a company can develop a personality, one that often attracts a loyal following. And as the vessels are usually more diminutive, they can access ports or anchorages that are off-limits to the ‘floating cities’.
You cannot imagine a more distinctive cruise line than Star Clippers. Its three ships – plus a new flagship that is about to enter service – have multiple masts and numerous sails.
Stirring music is the signal for the crew to raise those sails and allow guests to enjoy the sensation of wind power. The relaxed, fun atmosphere on board has proved very popular, as have the detailed itineraries in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and South-East Asia.
The first runner-up, sophisticated Seabourn, sets the bar high in terms of plush accommodation and fine dining on intimate ships.
Seabourn’s win in this category last year was no doubt prompted partly by the launch of the super-stylish Ovation and the line’s partnership with Unesco, which adds depth to many shore excursions.
The second runner-up, Azamara Club Cruises, has captured attention with its country-intensive voyages across the world. On these itineraries, the ships visit a variety of ports in a more compact region, with several overnight stays.
The five best river cruise lines
- APT Guided Tours & River Cruises
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
- Pandaw River Expeditions
- Riviera Travel
- Avalon Waterways
With a limited number of navigable rivers around the world, competition among cruise companies is fierce. Key ports on Europe’s Rhine and Danube in particular can see a dozen ships docked at any one time.
Yet even occasional problems with water levels – as seen this year – have not dampened enthusiasm for this gentle and fulfilling way of travel. With travellers now returning to the Nile, and more choices on the rivers of Asia, there is plenty of scope for the future.
Last year’s winner and first runner-up have swapped places for 2018, with Australian company APT emerging victorious.
Its prime product is stuffed with pleasures. Signature experiences such as private concerts in historic buildings and rides on vintage trains are complemented by a choice of included excursions in many destinations.
APT’s win also proves that there are plenty of people happy to pay a premium for quality, though the company – which operates in Europe and Asia – has a less-inclusive brand at a less-weighty price.
Uniworld piles on the luxury in terms of accommodation and food on its elegant ships. Although its brave attempt to lure younger travellers into river cruising has had a mixed response, the company’s core customer base clearly love the gracious service and old-school charm enough to vote Uniworld into the first runner-up spot.
Specialist Asia line Pandaw maintains last year’s second runner-up place, a fine achievement considering the high-profile brands in the market. Its handsome, traditional-style ships sail on the continent’s less-known rivers as well as the key waterways, with new Indian itineraries for 2019.