The Best Luxury Cruising Experiences of the Year

Courtesy Paul Gauguin Cruises

The 2020 Legend Awards are meant to serve as inspiration for future travel—when it is safe to do so. Learn more about this year's awards on our methodology page.

There are few travel subsets more iconic than the highly specific culture of cruising. Stepping onboard a cruise ship means wading into a world of distinctive cruise verbiage that the crew speaks like it's their mother tongue. It means quickly learning the etiquette of the ship, which to a certain extent, reinvents itself with each voyage. Each sailing has a different dynamic depending on the passengers and ports of call. And that’s one of the many reasons we keep coming back for more—to see how our luxury cruise lines evolve, adding new itineraries, attracting new clientele, and hosting new events that still double as an excuse to start drinking before noon. 

Life aboard a luxury cruise vessel puts every type of cuisine, every high-end brand of gin, and every spa treatment at your fingertips. Luxury on international waters means ordering caviar for breakfast, endless hours spent lounging by the top-deck pool, and perhaps even ill-advised entrance to a karaoke competition. But the best part—yes, better than the breakfast caviar—is watching the sunset over the ocean from your private deck, champagne in hand.

These are the 2020 Legend Awards honorees for best onboard experience, cruise itineraries, and river cruises:

Onboard Experience

Regent Seven Seas Cruises


Courtesy Regent  Seven Seas Cruises 

Regent Seven Seas Cruises debuted their brand-new Seven Seas Splendor this year—she was christened at the Port of Miami in February 2020. The first major ocean liner captained by a woman, the Splendor is home to the $11,000 a night Regent Suite and 375 suites, all of which have private balconies. From the infinity-edge spa pool to the five-star restaurants, like pan-Asian Pacific Rim and Chartreuse, serving high-end French fare, the luxury on this ship knows no bounds.

Silversea 


Lucia Griggi/Courtesy Silversea Cruises

Silversea has eight boutique cruise ships, each focused on different parts of the world, from the Silver Galapagos, which heads south to Ecuador, to the Silver Cloud, which is arctic-bound. Silversea is looking forward to debuting their S.A.L.T. program, which encourages guests to learn more about their destinations through food, with market trips in certain ports, special dinners on board, and cooking demos with local guest chefs in the cooking lab, later this year.

Oceania Cruises


Courtesy Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises recently welcomed “a new era of wellness” with the launch of their brand-new Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center. Aquamar’s “Vitality Cuisine” includes a comprehensive plant-based menu served in The Grand Dining Room of all ships, onboard yoga and fitness classes, and Wellness Discovery Tours tailored to the ships’ ports of call.

PONANT


Christophe Dugied/Courtesy PONANT

Exclusive French cruise line PONANT is prized for luxury details like their onboard menus by Alain Ducasse, Hermès toiletries, and Laduree macarons. We’re completely taken with PONANT’s undersea Blue Eye lounge—the first of its kind in the cruising industry. The Blue Eye lounge debuted on Le Lapérouse, but now also exists on Le Champlain, Le Bougainville, and Le Dumont d'Urville.

Windstar Cruises


Courtesy Windstar Cruises

We’re paying specific attention to Windstar Cruises partnership with the James Beard Foundation. As the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, Windstar is able to offer food and beverage programming from some of the most sought-after sommeliers and chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants around the world.

Cunard 


Courtesy Cunard 

Known for their luxurious family-friendly programming, Cunard has excellent nursery services onboard, as well as entertainment for children of all ages. This year, Cunard celebrates 180 years of refined luxury at sea.

Our Favorite Itineraries

Paul Gauguin Cruises


Tim McKenna/Courtesy Paul Gauguin Cruises

Paul Gauguin Cruises’ trademark itineraries venture to French Polynesia and the south Pacific, primarily exploring Tahiti and the surrounding islands. While the stunning m/s Paul Gaugin has branched out, now heading to ports of call in southeast Asia, the intimate ocean liner is designed strategically to navigate the waters of the south Pacific. Their signature seven-night Tahiti & the Society Islands itinerary visits Bora Bora, Taha’a, Huahine, Moorea, and Papeete.  

Aqua Expeditions 


Courtesy Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions uses intimate explorer yachts to venture to under-explored waters. One of their brand-new experiences aboard Aqua Blu is sailing the East Indonesian archipelago to visit Komodo National Park, the Spice Islands, and Raja Ampat. This itinerary can be done in seven or 12 nights aboard the opulent 15-suite Aqua Blu. 

Seabourn Cruises


Eric Laignel/Courtesy Seabourn Cruises

We've long since been a fan of Seabourn's luxury family-friendly cruising options. Their Caribbean itineraries are perfect for travelers of any age. In particular, the seven-day Yachtsman's Caribbean voyage from Sint Marteen to Barbados is a favorite of ours, especially when enjoyed from the comfort of the Penthouse Suite.

Crystal Cruises 


Courtesy Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises offers one Full World Cruise each year, departing in January and wrapping up in April or May. On full world ocean cruises, the Crystal Serenity starts at the port of Miami and moves west, winding down to South America before picking up additional passengers in Los Angeles. From LA, the ship moves on to the south Pacific, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, and finally concludes in Europe.

Silversea Cruises


Courtesy Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises does the Antarctica cruise experience a little differently. Their Antarctica Bridge itinerary bypasses the Drake Passage and instead, travelers fly business class directly to Antarctica. Once on the white continent, the Silver Explorer whisks guests away for a six-night exploration of King George Island, the Antarctic Sound and Peninsula, and the South Shetland Islands.

Holland America Line


Courtesy Holland America Line

The Holland America Line 128-day Grand World Cruise delves into destinations by staying for multiple days, like their five days in Brazil, six days in Japan, four days in China, and three days in the UAE. The Grand Voyages on Holland America Line are already a cut above, with a ratio of one crew member to every two guests, top-notch live entertainment, and a variety of fine dining options. 

Scenic USA


Scenic Neptune/Courtesy Scenic USA

Onboard the Scenic Eclipse, which the brand calls the “World’s First Discovery Yacht,” guests will find two helicopters and a submarine to help them reach the most remote corners of the globe. Launched in August 2019, our exposure to the Scenic Eclipse arctic voyages have been exceptional, and we're looking forward to the venturing to western coast of South America with the Eclipse when she sets sail again.

River Cruises

Crystal River Cruises


Courtesy Crystal Cruises

Crystal River Cruises brings their luxury model to the European rivers with 430 voyages across four intimate vessels; Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler, and Crystal Ravel. What sets them apart is Crystal’s ability to seamlessly translate their large-scale “six star” luxury to these 100-guest European cruise experiences.

Uniworld River Cruises


Courtesy Uniworld

A favorite in the world of boutique river cruises, Uniworld debuted their S.S. Bon Voyage in 2019 along the rivers of Bordeaux. More recently, in January 2020, they brought all-star luxury to Vietnam’s Mekong River aboard the Mekong Jewel.

Viking River Cruises


Courtesy Viking Cruises

Known for their small river ships, Viking River Cruises sail through Europe, Asia, and on the African continent in Egypt. Viking River Cruises stole our hearts for their Ukraine and Russia voyages, along the Dnieper and Volga River, respectively. 

Aqua Expeditions


Courtesy Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions specializes in adventure cruising for luxury clientele, cruising the Amazon River, Vietnam (Mekong River), and various routes through Indonesia. Of Aqua Expeditions’ four ships, Aqua Blu promises a revelatory (and brand-new) experience; the 15-suite ship went through a refurbishment in 2019 and is known to be the most luxurious vessel cruising East Indonesia.

AmaWaterways


Courtesy AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways is entirely focused on river cruising, curating luxury experiences in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Something we love about AmaWaterways, beyond their five-star dining and hiking and biking excursions designed for small groups, is their wine-focused cruises. From the Douro Valley (aboard the AmaDouro) to Bordeaux (aboard the AmaDolce or AmaVida), these intimate wine cruises offer authentic culinary experiences and an in-depth look at the wine region ports of call.