The Cruise Awards 2015 reflects the thriving cruise industry, says Cruise International Contributing Editor Sara Macefield

Andy Harmer, Christopher Edgington, Marketing Director, P&O Cruises, Jennie Bond and Julie Peasgood
Andy Harmer, Christopher Edgington, Marketing Director, P&O Cruises, Jennie Bond and Julie Peasgood

The short film that opened Cruise International’s Cruise Awards 2015 was only meant as a brief snapshot of the industry’s high points of the last 12 months. But it again brought home to the audience (and to me) the dynamism and innovation that runs so strongly through the ocean and river cruising world.

Glamorous new ships with regal overtones; exciting new products; awe-inspiring destinations – it’s easy to forget exactly how much this industry moves on from year to year. After all, it’s also about what goes on behind the headline-grabbing innovations.

But that’s why it is always good to take a step back, review the progress and pay tribute accordingly – which is what Cruise International’s Cruise Awards are all about.

And believe me, there is no shortage of contenders. However, opening the voting up to the public – with 27,000 Cruise International readers having their say – always produces a few surprises in the roll-call of winners.

This year’s awards ceremony, staged at the suitably modish Ham Yard Hotel in central London (one of the “in” venues of the moment for such events), was attended by the great and the good of the industry, along with a smattering of household names.

Avid cruiser Jennie Bond, best known as former BBC royal correspondent; bubbly Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame (cue skirt ripping jokes to Making Your Mind Up); and actress Michelle Collins (remember her as Cindy Beale from EastEnders?) were familiar faces who joined hosts actress Julie Peasgood and Cruise Lines International Association chief Andy Harmer on stage during the presentations.

There were deserving winners in 22 categories ranging from adventure and well-being to food and value for money.

Disney Cruise Line, of course, was the undisputed winner of the Best for Families category – and having sailed on Disney Magic and screamed all the way down the AquaDunk waterslide, I can vouch for their fun factor.

And who could argue with Royal Caribbean International being voted as Best for Onboard Activities, with Norwegian Cruise Line being highly commended? Both lines boast ships, packed to the funnels with the sort of onboard pursuits – sky-diving simulators, rock-climbing walls, wild waterslides and zipwires – that have helped to revolutionise the cruise industry.

I was pleased to see a few smaller lines triumph that I hadn’t necessarily expected; Voyages to Antiquity voted as Best for Enrichment; Voyages of Discovery as Best for Adventure; and Seabourn triumphing in the hotly-contested Best Boutique Line category.

For me, Titan Travel winning the Best Cruise Agent award was a departure from the usual names in this field and I was also pleased to see due recognition for Thomson Cruises (highly commended) and Saga Cruises (winner) in the Best for Value for Money category.

Both lines include gratuities, which I feel is a huge plus point for customers who dislike the whole tipping palaver, and Saga also adds in chauffeur-driven airport transfers and selected drinks with meals. For some customers, these are real high points that help to make the experience special.

However, the belle of the Cruise Awards 2015 ball had to be Princess Cruises, which went away with a hat-trick of awards as Best for Food, Best for First-Time Cruisers and Best Cruise Line.

Mikael Krafft, founder and owner of Star Clippers, and Jennie Bond
Mikael Krafft, founder and owner of Star Clippers, and Jennie Bond

My favourite award is always the Outstanding Contribution to the Cruise Industry; an accolade that celebrates real achievements that have helped to shape today’s cruising landscape.

This year the winner was Swedish entrepreneur and founder of tall ship line Star Clippers, Mikael Krafft; a charming and unassuming man who has a passion for tall ships, inspired by Britain’s own famous tea clipper Cutty Sark. He flew in for Wednesday’s ceremony on his own private jet from Monaco – stirring memories of when I first met him in early 2000 after being picked up by his Learjet from Biggin Hill in Kent and flown to see his newest baby, the beautiful five-masted Royal Clipper, being built at a shipyard in Rotterdam.
It became Star Clippers’ graceful flagship, helping to turn the line into one of the most unique and stunning cruise brands – and underlining the diversity of the cruise industry.

Now 15 years on, Mr Krafft is forging ahead with the line’s next new ship, its biggest and most ambitious to date; hailed as the world’s largest square rigger, to be launched in 2017.

Doesn’t this illustrate, at every level, just how dynamic and forward-moving this industry is?

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