Zagat's First Cruise Ship Survey: The Results
SeaDream Yacht Club
Zagat's first cruise survey covers 22 major cruise lines, collecting information from approximately 2,379 avid cruisers. Recognizing the difference between a 2,500 passenger mega-ship and an intimate, 100 person expedition vessel, each cruise line was categorized based on the number of passengers. Large ships included over 1,500 passengers; mid-sized ships accommodate between 200 to 1,500 passengers; and small ships held under 200 passengers. Cruise lines were then rated on Zagat's signature 30-point scale for five facets of performance: cabins, service, dining, facilities, and shipboard activities. Using this data, an overall score was determined by averaging the ratings in each particular cruise line category. Interesting enough, Royal Caribbean, Crystal Cruises, and Windstar Cruises, all considered the most popular cruises in each size category by Zagat's surveyors, were not necessarily ranked as the top overall cruises. The results of the survey can be found below.
Top Overall Large Ships: Cunard Line
All guests are pampered like royalty on Cunard, so its easy to forget the cruise line's 165 years of maritime heritage or a distinguished guest list that has included luminaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Nelson Mandela, and Elton John. Cunard's luxurious fleet of grand ocean liners currently consists of the lavish Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, as well as the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth, which will debut in autumn 2010. Elegant details like a planetarium, shops stocked with high end attire from Hermes and Harrods, and an impressive art collection worth an estimated $5 million dollars exemplify the Queen Mary 2's opulent splendor. The world class dining options aboard each ship include formal afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters, a glamorous evening dinner in the traditional Britannia restaurant, or upscale Mediterranean fare in the Todd English Restaurant. Cunard is famous for its regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings between Europe and New York, as well as ports of call on four continents. With impeccable service, decadent dining options, and immaculate facilities, Cunard was also bestowed the top distinction in the Zagat Survey's categories for best service, facilities, cabins, and dining.
Top Overall Mid-Size Ships: Regent Seven Seas Cruises Top Overall Small Ships: SeaDream Yacht Club
Boasting one of the highest staff-to guest ratios in the cruise industry, the two biggest ships in Regent's four ship fleet accommodate only 700 guests. Every cabin aboard a Regent ship offers an ocean panorama and many of the spacious suites also include a balcony. Unlike other cruise lines, Regent's all-inclusive service provides guests with a complimentary champagne greeting, as well as soft drinks, cocktails, and gratuity built into the fare. The exquisite dining options aboard the Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager showcase cuisine prepared by chefs from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute, in addition to a main dining room and a contemporary steakhouse. Regent specializes in international itineraries to ports of call in in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the South Pacific, and South America.
A sojourn to the French and Italian Riviera or Caribbean yacht harbors like St. Croix, St. Barts, and Barbados aboard a SeaDream yacht is an intimate luxury experience. SeaDream's two yachts include all the usual amenities and services of bigger cruise ships such as a casino, swimming pool, boutique, fitness center, and spa. However, with a maximum of 112 guests per cruise, the service aboard a SeaDream yacht emphasizes personal satisfaction. For example, the professionally prepared gourmet meals can be served al fresco on the ship's deck during the evening. All staterooms aboard the SeaDream I and SeaDream II offer an ocean view and are luxuriously appointed with plush Belgian linens, a personal bar, a multi-jet shower massage, and Bvlgari bath products. Each yacht has a built-in marina with personal watercraft such as jet skis, a Zodiac for water skiing, and kayaks for passengers to enjoy when docked in the harbor. SeaDream was also awarded the top slots in the Zagat Survey's categories for best cabins, service, dining, and facilities.
Food is always a marquee draw for any cruise vacation. Over the last two decades, cruise ship dining has evolved from a two-restaurant, buffet-driven model to a layout that includes five or more specialty restaurants, many of which are presided over by star chefs from around the world. Epicureans can now enjoy dining in a French bistro, steakhouse, Asian-cuisine restaurant, Italian tratorria, or simple delicatessen on the high seas. The top picks for cruise ship food in the Zagat Survey focus on sophisticated fare in an elegant setting.
Top Dining Large Ships: Cunard Line
Top Dining Mid-Size Ships: Yachts of Seabourn
Top Dining Small Ships: SeaDream Yacht Club
Cabins aboard a cruise ship range from spartan interior staterooms with bunk beds, no windows, and cramped bathrooms to grandiose, sunlit suites with balconies and sweeping ocean vistas. Many cruise ships cabins now include iPod docking stations, chic decor, high thread-count linens, and ample room to spread out. The top notch on Zagat's list for best cabins went to Regent and SeaDream, which boast spacious, all ocean-facing staterooms, and Cunard, which features a wide selection of different cabin classes.
Top Cabins Large Ships: Cunard Line
Top Cabins Mid-Size Ships: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Top Cabins Small Ships: SeaDream Yacht Club
Providing friendly passenger service with considerate attention to detail is the golden standard of the cruise industry. The array of services available on cruise ships typically include: daily evening turndown service, concierges, spa services, and 24-hour room service. Some cruise lines, however, go beyond expectations to provide exquisite customer service. The high profile state rooms aboard cruise lines such as Cunard and Regent, for example, offer the added benefit of private butler service and the option of specially prepared in-room meals.
Top Service Large Ships: Cunard Line
Top Service Mid-Size Ships: Yachts of Seabourn
Top Service Small Ships: SeaDream Yacht Club
The dazzling, state-of-the art facilities of modern cruise ships are typically kept spotless thanks to the hard work of a diligent crew. The grandiose magnificent Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, both museum-worthy ocean liners, and the lavish opulence of the Crystal Cruise and SeaDream fleet earned top nods in the Zagat Survey.
Top Facilities Large Ships: Cunard Line
Top Facilities Mid-Size Ships: Crystal Cruises
Top Facilities Small Ships: SeaDream Yacht Club
Top Shipboard Activities
In the era of mega cruise ships like Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, the Carnival Dream, and the forthcoming Norwegian Epic and Disney Dream, the array of shipboard activities is becoming seemingly endless. The plethora of shipboard activities for both grown ups, teenagers, and adults now includes water parks, ice skating, surf simulators, diving shows, and even glass blowing. Despite the recent debut of new ships, Mickey Mouse and friends landed the top spot for Disney Cruises in Zagat's large vessel shipboard activity category. Lindblad Expeditions, which offers adventure cruises on expedition ships to Antarctica, Alaska, and the Galapagos Islands, received the top pick in the small ship category.
Top Shipboard Activities Large Ships: Disney Cruise Line
Top Shipboard Activities Mid-Size Ships: Crystal Cruises
Top Shipboard Activities Small Ships: Lindblad Expeditions
Other Zagat Cruise Line Survey Rankings:
Top Nightlife: Disney Cruise Line
Top Onboard Shopping: Cunard Line
Top Live Entertainment: Disney Cruise Line
Top Spa Services: Cunard Line
Most Appropriate for Families: Disney Cruise Line
Most Appropriate for Singles: Carnival Cruise Lines
Top Excursions: Princess Cruises
Most Appropriate for Romantic/Honeymoon Cruises: Cunard Line
Most Appropriate for Budget Cruises: Carnival Cruise Lines
Top Fitness Centers: Celebrity Cruises
Best for Kids: Disney Cruise Line
Best for Families: Disney Cruise Line
Best for Seniors: Holland America Line
Best For Weekend Getaways: Disney Cruise Line
Best for Expedition Cruises: Celebrity Cruises
Top Itinerary Choices: Cunard Line
Top Casinos/Gambling: Cunard Line
Top Overall Small Ships: SeaDream Yacht Club