Before there were waterslides and circus tents and aqua theatres and curved stateroom walls aboard ships, there was one essential quality about a cruise that was inescapable: you were on a luxurious floating palace that moved gracefully over the water

 Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ MS Europa took top honours 
in the Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships.
Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Which is why it was refreshing to see the list of the top ships as picked by cruise connoisseur Douglas Ward, author of the Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships.

Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Europa took top prize, scoring 1,853 points out of a possible 2,000. Not far behind were the new Seabourn twins, Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn, each of which came in with a score of 1,787 points.  Silversea‘s flagship, the 2009 Silver Spirit, was close on their heels at 1,772 points, while feetmates Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow received a remarkable 1,753 and 1,750 respectively (for our tour of the beautiful Silver Shadow, click here)

Silversea’s brand-new Silver Spirit also came away
with a suitably high score.
Photo courtesy of Silversea Cruises

That the ships picked for top honors are all operated by luxury lines renowned for their service and culinary delights is no real surprise; what is impressive, though, is the attention it is bringing to those lines who pride themselves on their smaller fleet of intimate, well-appointed ships. 

The simple joy of being at sea is alive and well here.

Of course, this doesn’t diminish the advances mainstream lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have give to the world of cruising.  The modern cruise vacation as we know it owes a tremendous debt to these lines who continually challenge the status quo of what can and can’t be done aboard a ship.

As newbuilds have grown larger, and passenger counts have doubled, tripled, even quadrupled over ships built even five years ago, that relaxing experience called  a cruise becomes more elusive.  No matter how fantastically built or designed, it’s just not possible for a ship carrying six thousand passengers to touch the kind of experience offered by a ship holding under two thousand, let alone a mere five hundred. 

As this year’s crop of ships as picked by Berlitz shows, innovation doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest, flashiest ship wins. 


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