2014 in Review: Best cruise dining experience

Fine Dining - photo courtesy of Luiz Rocha/Shutterstock

Another year is winding down, and we here at Cruise Critic are taking stock of the hits, misses and outright surprises that made up our cruising year (and we invite you to share your own!)

Today: Best Cruise Dining Experience

America’s Pacific Northwest already has a reputation as a superb region for food and wine. On my Columbia River cruise, American Queen Steamboat’s American Empress held its own throughout the week with its regionally influenced menus and locally produced wines and beers. While its River Grill alternative restaurant had the same menu throughout the cruise, it stood out for its inventive tweaks, superb service, and just simply delicious food (the surf & turf married lobster and lamb chops with a fantastic honey mustard sauce). The meal was so good I went back and had the same exact dinner again.

- Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

We had standout meal after standout meal onboard Paul Gauguin. I consider myself a bit of a foodie who is willing to try just about anything once. My husband’s tastes lean to the simpler side. On Paul Gauguin, you get the best of both worlds at virtually every meal. I loved the high-end adventurous choices (pate and scallops; traditional Tahitian dishes like poisson cru), and my husband enjoyed some perfectly prepared standards (a quesadilla or spectacular sirloin). It’s rare the two of us agree on a meal, but we both dined happy on Paul Gauguin.

- Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor

Read on for more top picks


WIN! A hotel stay in London + tickets to the Telegraph Cruise Show

The second London Telegraph Cruise Show 2015 is just around the corner, taking place on 9 – 11th January at London’s ExCel Exhibition Centre, and giving visitors the chance to meet with many of the major cruise lines and discover the perfect cruise.

We’re not only giving ten of our readers the chance to win a pair of tickets to the show, but one of these lucky winners will also win a one-night stay at The Rockwell. For a chance to win, complete the entry form here: http://www.cruisecritic.co.uk/contests/

Any entires already received by email will be automatically entered into the contest.


A spa novice asks, ‘What’s a thermal suite?’

Disney Dream Rainforest Room - photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

I like a nice massage or facial, same as anyone, but I’m by no means a spa devotee; I see no reason to pay hundreds of dollars to be slathered in goo, wrapped in tinfoil or pounded on the back like a piece of USDA grade beef in an onboard steakhouse. So when Disney Cruise Line offered me the chance to try out Rainforest Room, the thermal suite on Disney Dream, I was curious to check out what all the fuss was about.

If you’re not in the know, thermal suites seem to be the latest rage in onboard spa amenities. All of the new ships have them, and charge extra for them. While they’re filled with exotic-sounding amenities, like Laconiums (Laconia?) and salt scrub bars (um, what?), don’t let the lingo fool you; in plain English, thermal suites are fancy saunas, where you can relax in a variety of heated environments (for a fee, of course).

Here’s something else you might not know: You’re supposed to go through the various rooms in order. It’s apparently better for your pores. But make sure you get the route map — another writer on our trip didn’t know and went through backwards. Disaster. I’m sure her pores are now filled with toxins.

Despite the weird names and cautionary tales, I discovered that thermal suites, for the most part, are quite relaxing. Here’s your route map to relaxation.

Ready to relax? Click here.


Destination spotlight: 8 quintessential things to do in Dubai

Aerial view of Dubai's skyline - photo by Chris Gray Faust

Not exactly known for its subtlety, Dubai comes at you with a host of superlatives. All developments in this construction-happy city seem to have an -st on the end (biggest, largest, most expensive, etc.). Designer labels and high-end brand names dominate; even the police officers drive Ferraris.

Yet the Las Vegas of the Middle East has a soulful side, evidenced by its religious conservatism. Emirati women are rarely seen in public without head-covering abayas (albeit tinged with luxurious lace and beadings), alcohol is only served in hotels and a handful of restaurants and even the malls have dress codes. If you look hard enough, you can find some authenticity among the manmade islands and designer handbags (although it’s not a trip to Dubai if you don’t indulge a little bit).

After four days spent wandering the sprawling city, from Deira to Jumeirah, we’ve come up with a list of eight quintessentially Dubai experiences that capture the essence of this cultural crossroads. The good news is that many cruises stay more than one night, giving you plenty of time to explore.


Member Review of the Week: A sense of Freedom

Cruise Critic member AlanMOK jumped in feet first and took his first ever cruise on Carnival Freedom on a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale last month.

Apart from the “tipping lark”, AlanMOK found the whole cruise to be “a most relaxing and pleasing experience”.

Read on to find out more.


An American and a bunch of Europeans walk onto a cruise ship…

Not happy at all - photo courtesy of PathDoc/Shutterstock

A funny and heartening conversation took place on our forums recently.

Somebody felt they’d been mistreated on a cruise, got grumpy and came on the forums to vent about the injustice of it all. Sounds pretty standard, right?

However, in doing so, the original poster generalized that all of Europe is full of rude people lacking in manners and that the staff onboard MSC Poesia were “dimwits.” And the debate that ensued was fascinating — if not least for the fact that it was, on the whole, full of thoughtful and considered (and usually considerate) remarks.

The initial volley came from forum member misterscrubs: “Been on the MSC Poesia last week Feb 11-18 2012, and what an experience that was.”

Read on for more.


Hot on the forums: Too close for comfort?

crowded table - image courtesy of Corepics VOF/Shutterstock

How many times have you been shown to an onboard table for two and discovered the romantic dining spot you had in mind looked more like a sawed-off section with barely enough room to squeeze in?

When you’re virtually sharing salt cellars with the people next door, it can be hard not to eavesdrop into their conversation (especially if it’s more interesting than yours!). And if they decide to talk to you, when you just want to converse with your dining partner, things can get awkward.

Following an uncomfortable meal on Ruby Princess, hasbro raised the subject on the Cruise Critic forums.

“The first night we were seated in one of the long rows of tables for two where each table is only a few inches from the next one. The lady really wouldn’t leave us alone, asking us everything from what type of bread was in our bread basket to what type of stateroom we were staying in. We did our best to give only very short answers and tried very hard not to make any eye contact with her.

“On subsequent nights we were seated in the same area, but not next to her. She and her husband were always at the same table. We watched as she annoyed every diner who had the bad luck of being seated next to her. We noticed that several of the diners ate quickly and left.”

Read on for more.


What kind of cruiser are you?

What's your Cruise-A-Nality?

We admit it. The editors at Cruise Critic are personality quiz junkies. Whether we’re determining which Harry Potter character we are, what country we should be living in or what colour best describes our auras, personality quizzes sweep through our department like forest fires. So when Carnival Corp. Released its Cruise-A-Nality quiz a few weeks ago, we were all over it, sharing and dissecting our results.

It was no big surprise that we fell into a number of different categories; most cruisers enjoy different experiences, after all, and want different things out of their cruises.

Some, like three of the Cruise Critic editors, are adventurous and, in the words of Carnival Corp., “enjoy venturing off, off, off the beaten path, whether it’s a brisk ATV ride through the jungle, discovering a secluded beach or canoeing down an isolated river… Sailing away is just the beginning of the thrill ride.”

Others are more free spirited, up for just about anything and willing to give it all a try. And then there are the cosmopolitan cruisers for who all forms of travel are meant to be a meaningful experience, and the planners – or cruise directors – who want everyone to have a good time and create an agenda accordingly.

Here are the Cruise-A-Nalities of our editors. Be sure to take the quiz and let us know what kind of cruiser you are!

Read our Cruise-A-Nality then learn your own!


Titanic man: My shed will go on


While we wait for Titanic II to be built, we’ve found the next best thing: an exact replica of a room from the doomed ship … in one man’s shed.

This marvel of dedication and restoration is John Siggins’ Titanic shed, which is at the bottom of his garden in Ripley, Derby.

Read on to find out more about John’s Titanic shed!


Member review of the week: Transatlantic on the “Celebrity” Quantum

“There is a very large pink bear. Why? Because they can.

There is sky diving. Why? Because they can.

There is a pod that rises 300 ft above the ship and then swings out 90o over the side. Why? Because they can.”

Find out what made little britain “WOW” once they stepped inside Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas in their review.

Read on to find out more.