Cruise Critic Names the Best Ships for 2015 in the 5th Annual Cruisers’ Choice Awards

Cruise Critic®, the world’s leading cruise reviews site and online cruise community, has announced the winners of the 2015 Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards. The awards name the best cruise ships of the year, based entirely on consumer reviews posted to the Cruise Critic website.

For the third year in a row, Disney Cruise Line won the coveted “Best Overall” award, with Disney Dream winning in the large ship category and Disney Wonder in the mid-size category. In total, Disney’s fleet won twelve awards, including “Best Entertainment” and “Best Cruises to the Bahamas” for Disney Dream, and “Best Cabins,” “Best Service” and “Best for Families” for Disney Fantasy.

A back-to-back win was also nabbed by Oceania Riviera, named “Best Cabins” and “Best Dining” in the mid-size category for the second year in a row – a nod to the ship’s luxurious cabin furnishings, wide variety of restaurants and onboard Culinary Center. Carnival Liberty was named “Best Value-for-Money” in the large ship category for the second consecutive year.

Unique, best-seen-by-cruise itineraries ruled the “Best Shore Excursions” category – Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, which sails year-round in Hawaii, won the award in the large ship category and Princess’ Coral Princess won in the mid-size category, sailing partial and full transit Panama Canal cruises. Silversea’s Silver Galapagos won in the small ship category, offering expedition cruises of the Galapagos.

“Being named to this list of winners is one of the highest forms of praise cruise lines can receive,” explains Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. “The awards represent the compilation of thousands of reviews Cruise Critic received over the past year, so it’s truly representative of the experiences of those who have sailed on the ships first-hand.”

The Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards are awarded in three ship classes, based on passenger capacity (Large: 2,000+ passengers; Mid-Size: 1,200 to 1,999 passengers; Small: 1,199 or fewer passengers) and are calculated using the ratings submitted with each Cruise Critic member review.

First-place winners include:

Best Cruises Overall
Disney Dream (Large)
Disney Wonder (Mid-Size)
Pacific Princess (Small)

Best Cruise Ship Cabins
Disney Fantasy (Large)
Oceania Riviera (Mid-Size)
Regent Seven Seas Voyager (Small)

Best Cruise Ships for Dining
Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam (Large)
Oceania Riviera (Mid-Size)
Azamara Quest (Small)

Best Cruise Ships for Embarkation
Disney Fantasy (Large)
Disney Magic (Mid-Size)
Crystal Symphony (Small)

Best Cruise Ships for Entertainment
Disney Dream (Large)
Disney Magic (Mid-Size)
Pacific Princess (Small)

Best Cruise Ships for Fitness
Celebrity Equinox (Large)
Oceania Riviera (Mid-Size)
Azamara Quest (Small)

Best Cruise Ship Public Rooms
Disney Dream (Large)
Oceania Riviera (Mid-Size)
Crystal Serenity (Small)

Best Cruise Ships for Service
Disney Fantasy (Large)
Disney Wonder (Mid-Size)
Regent Seven Seas Voyager (Small)

Best Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
Norwegian Pride of America (Large)
Coral Princess (Mid-Size)
Silversea Silver Galapagos (Small)

Best Cruise Ships for Value
Carnival Liberty (Large)
Holland America Zuiderdam (Mid-Size)
Pacific Princess (Small)

Best Cruises for Families: Disney Fantasy

Best Alaska Cruises: Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas
Best Bahamas Cruises: Disney Dream
Best Caribbean Cruises: Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
Best Mediterranean Cruises: Celebrity Reflection
Best Cruises from Florida: Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
Best Cruises from the Northeast: Carnival Pride
Best Cruises from the West Coast: Sapphire Princess
Best Cruises from the U.K.: Celebrity Eclipse

For the full list of winners, visit the 2015 Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards.

Orlando Named No. 1 Hot Spot for 2015

According to Priceline.com, Orlando is the No. 1 “hot spot” for travelers in 2015. After a multi-year surge of blockbuster expansions at Orlando’s world-class theme parks, Orlando’s retail, dining and entertainment scene is following suit in 2015. Visit Orlando, the destination’s official tourism association, uncovered 15 new openings 2015 travelers will be among the first to experience:

INTERNATIONAL DRIVE
In the heart of Orlando’s tourism corridor, International Drive will see significant development in 2015 with the addition of several retail, dining and entertainment venues.

1.    I-Drive 360, a new entertainment complex from Merlin Entertainments, will open a trio of new attractions. At the heart of the complex, The Orlando Eye is a 400-foot-tall (12.92-meter) observation wheel providing breathtaking views of Central Florida in all directions within fully enclosed, air-conditioned glass capsules. Madame Tussauds, the world’s most famous celebrity wax attraction, offers visitors the ultimate fame experience with its signature red carpet treatment. SEA LIFE Orlando delivers a new wave of underwater adventures with beautiful displays of colorful fish, sharks, jellyfish, sea horses and more, that turn the traditional aquarium observation on its head. The Yardhouse, Tin Roof and more retail, restaurants and entertainment yet to be announced, will add to the experience.

2.    Orlando welcomes one of South Beach’s hottest dance clubs with the addition of Mangos Tropical Café. With 55,000 square feet (5,109 square meters) of entertainment space, the Orlando location is a massive restaurant and nightlife destination offering high-energy entertainment for a wide variety of tastes. Guests will enjoy Salsa, Bachatta, Reggae and Pop performances with Floribbean Cuisine and tropical cocktails.

3.    Escapology Orlando brings a new kind of entertainment to Orlando with its first U.S. location. The attraction challenges guests to be their own heroes in a thrilling game of adventure and mystery. Teams of up to six players are locked in a themed room with just 60 minutes to combine clues, solve puzzles and discover the key to escape.

4.    Nearby International Drive, The Florida Mall takes coloring to a new level with the opening of Crayola Experience. The 70,000-square-foot (6,503-square-meter) attraction will offer 25 hands-on activities.

5.    The list of dining and entertainment options unique to Orlando continues to grow with the addition of The Whiskey on Sand Lake Road, welcoming lovers of gourmet burgers, craft cocktails and rock ‘n roll fun. With over 100 brands of whiskey for the thirsty connoisseur, the venue will also host live entertainment, from musical guests to head-to-head “food fights,” where local chefs will pit recipe against recipe.

THEME PARKS

6.    Walt Disney World Resort is transforming Downtown Disney into Disney Springs doubling the number of shops, restaurants and other venues. The new area will open in phases starting in 2015 and include, Morimoto Asia, a one-of-a-kind dining experience created by Chef Masaharu Morimoto, of Iron Chef America fame. For the master chef’s first pan-Asian dining experience, Morimoto Asia’s extraordinary, 36-foot (11-meter) tall, two-story layout includes a vast range of areas to explore including open terraces, a grand hall, private rooms, long bar, cocktail lounge, waterside seating and more.

7.    The BOATHOUSE is an upscale, waterfront dining restaurant at Disney Springs that will immerse guests with experiences beyond the cuisine. Guests can listen to live music or take a romantic Captain’s guided tour aboard The Venezia, a beautifully crafted 40-foot (12-meter) wooden Italian Water Taxi featuring champagne toasts and chocolate-covered strawberries. The BOATHOUSE will be showcased in an expansive restaurant with three distinctive bars, one built over the water. Guests will enjoy a gourmet menu served daily until 2 a.m. featuring steaks, chops, fresh seafood and a raw bar.

8.    STK Orlando blends two concepts into one—the modern steakhouse and a chic lounge. Unique features include a live DJ, high-energy atmosphere and a sleek environment designed to encourage guests to interact and mingle. STK Orlando boasts the only rooftop dining venue in Disney Springs.

9.    LEGOLAND Florida Resort will open a new land called Heartlake City, set to welcome guests this summer. The expansion will include a horse-themed disc coaster called Mia’s Riding Adventure, an interactive show titled ‘Friends to the Rescue’ and new shops inside the Heartlake Mall.

10.  SeaWorld Orlando will debut an all-new show, Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High, a hilarious tale, filled with amazing animal behaviors and splashy audience fun. The comedic sea lion duo will be joined by mischievous otters, a 2,300 lb. (1043 kg) walrus and a cast of goofy human characters.

DOWNTOWN ORLANDO

11.  The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts delivers a stellar lineup of 2015 entertainment for its inaugural season: Broadway productions including Disney’s Newsies, Motown the Musical, Pippin and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; big-name musicians John Mellancamp, Jason Mraz and Idina Menzel; and comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Bill Maher will complement an ongoing Jazz Roots series and Orlando Ballet season.

12.  Orlando City Soccer Club is Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team set to debut in 2015 with global soccer icon, Kaká. The Orlando City Soccer Club will kick-off their first MLS season at the newly rebuilt Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. After a $207 million reconstruction, sports fans will enjoy an all-new lower bowl with more legroom, improved broadband and Wi-Fi coverage and expanded concession with healthy and gluten-free options.

13.  An influx of restaurants will join new downtown Orlando venues in 2015, including: Two Chefs Seafood, featuring comfort food and seafood from former chefs of Emeril’s Orlando and The Palm Restaurant; and North Quarter Tavern, a chef-driven neighborhood tavern by the team behind downtown Orlando’s power-lunch staple, Citrus Restaurant.

AREA HOTELS

14.  Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort will feature 20 Bungalows on Seven Seas Lagoon and 360 Deluxe Studios. The Bungalows will be the first of this type of accommodation at Disney, sleep up to eight guests, and feature a plunge pool with views of fireworks over Magic Kingdom Park. The first phase is scheduled to open in 2015. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel is getting a $125 million, multi-phased, multi-story upgrade.

15.  The JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes will welcome new restaurant concept based on the resort’s 13,000-square-foot (1,208-square-meter) farm. Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen, will serve up farm-fresh food and signature craft beer.

AAA hands out diamonds to hotels and restaurants

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Top 7 US Family Travel Destinations for 2015

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Disney Creates Savings Fund for Future Vacations

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The best ski resorts in North America

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Four Family Travel Trends for 2015

Family Vacation Critic, TripAdvisor’s family travel site, has announced the top family travel trends to watch in 2015, based on new programs and amenities focused specifically on families.

“A really promising trend we’re seeing, industry-wide, is an increased focus on families throughout the travel experience,” says Lissa Poirot, editor of Family Vacation Critic. “The entire process – from getting there to exploring and immersing yourselves in the destination – is becoming easier for families. Travel brands are building their products around what matters most to families: convenience, options and memorable experiences.”

The top family travel trends for 2015 include:

  • The rise of the family suite. Leading hotel brands, including Club Med and Karisma Hotels & Resorts, are adding multi-room family suites to their accommodation offerings. The trend also extends to cruise lines; Holland America recently announced that it will be adding family suites — sleeping up to five guests — on its new ship, Koningsdam, scheduled to launch in early 2016.
  • More kid-friendly programs for families to enjoy together on cruise ships. Over the last few years, cruise lines have focused even more on upgrading onboard kids’ clubs and activities, and now they are focusing on creating kid-friendly programming for the entire family to experience together. Carnival has launched Dr. Seuss-themed experiences and Princess has introduced new kids’ programming as part of its partnership with the Discovery Channel – including Animal Planet and Science Channel shore excursions.
  • Immersive travel becomes more inclusive of families. Experiential travel doesn’t have to be limited to kid-free travelers, and resorts and outfitters are creating even more opportunities for families looking for immersive travel options. Families can treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains as part of Destination Hotels & Resorts’ new  “Destination Family Escapes,” explore Inca ruins in Machu Picchu with G Adventures’ new “Teen Adventures,” or take a local cooking class in Ecuador as part of Adventures by Disney’s 2015 itinerary offerings.
  • Transportation providers make ‘getting there’ easier for families. This year, UberFAMILY was introduced – providing car seats in select Uber vehicles, and RyanAir launched its ‘Family Extra’ program with discounted seating for children, in-flight bottle warming and discounted travel insurance for kids. Thomson Airways has also announced plans to introduce ‘family booths,’ seating four to six in a row, as well as in-flight kids’ clubs as early as next summer.

For more information on planning a family vacation, visit www.familyvacationcritic.com.

Virgin Group Announces Plans to Make Waves in the Cruise Industry

Virgin Group, the Branson family-owned branded investment group, today announced the formation of Virgin Cruises, its new cruise line business, as well as the appointment of a CEO and its lead investment partner, Bain Capital. Financial terms of the transaction are not being disclosed.

Proven industry leader Tom McAlpin will join Virgin Cruises as CEO and will head the management team. Most recently, Tom has been President and CEO of The World, Residences at Sea. Tom also served as President of Disney Cruise Line having joined as part of the founding management team.

Virgin Cruises will be headquartered in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area and plans to design and construct two new world class cruise ships. At this time, the company has not disclosed when it will start operating for competitive reasons. As part of one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands, Virgin Cruises will offer guests an outstanding experience and service aimed at broadening consumer targets for the cruise market.

Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson said, “We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday that customers will absolutely love. They’ll be sailing on the latest ships offering great quality, a real sense of fun, and many exciting activities all delivered with the famed Virgin service.”

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