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Beyond Mickey Mouse: Disney tops cruise ship rankings

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 1:53 PM EST, Wed February 27, 2013
The Disney Fantasy docks at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. The Disney Fantasy docks at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas.
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Disney Fantasy
Disney Fantasy and Dream
Disney Dream
Disney Dream
Celebrity Reflection
Celebrity Eclipse
Holland America's ms Noordam
Azamara Quest
Azamara Quest
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cruise Critic analyzes reviews by their readers to select the best cruise ships of the year
  • Disney's newest ships feature a four-deck water slide and visits to a private island
  • The Celebrity ships focus on fine dining and the spa experience to appeal to the adult traveler

(CNN) -- Enough talk about drifting cruise ships with overflowing toilets -- that's cruising's rare dark side. On the other hand, how about a four-story waterslide, lots of kids' programming and a private island?

Decked out with these spiffy amenities, Disney's newest cruise ships took top honors at the 2013 Cruise Critic Cruisers' Choice Awards, the website announced Wednesday.

"Disney has done a great job at expanding without losing what makes it unique: characters and Disney-style entertainment," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, a popular website for cruising aficionados. "You can have multigenerational groups because they're providing something for every generation."

Five things we've learned about cruising

The Disney Fantasy trounced the competition in the best large ship category, winning for best overall ship, best cabins, best entertainment, best public rooms and best service. The Fantasy's maiden voyage was in March of last year.

The Disney Dream, which first sailed in 2011, won for best shore excursions in the large ship category. Large ships carry at least 2,000 passengers.

Carnival cruise investigation under way

While the Cruise Critic website boasts more than 100,000 reviews, this year's winners are culled from the thousands of reviews posted in 2012. While anyone can join the website to discuss the ins and outs of cruising, Brown promises that staffers vetting the reviews and veteran cruisers can spot phonies or industry plants. It helps that every ship has had a Cruise Critic staffer sailing on it at some point. "Cruise travel is so much more complicated than a hotel stay and we have (reviewing) guidelines," she says.

Disney has fine dining and tours for adults

The new Disney ships feature almost Michelin-level fine dining, elegant on-board spa services, and adult-only tours, says Brown. The "fantastic kids program" is spread over almost an entire deck of space and includes animation projects, princess and hero dress up, Disney movies, outdoor fun and other activities. The children are divided by age to ensure toddlers and teens have different activities.

In other best large ship wins, the Celebrity Reflection won for best dining, and Celebrity Eclipse won for best value for money. The Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas won for best for fitness and best for embarkation.

"Celebrity has most the interesting, beautiful and fun ships in cruising for an adult and the Reflection is the newest," launching last October, says Brown. The ship is known for its food, the spa has become pretty and there's an actual lawn on the top deck, which attracts birds in the middle of the ocean, she says.

A cruise is a safe and healthy vacation

In the midsized ship category (1,200 to 1,999 passengers), Holland America's ms Noordam won for best overall ship while sister ship ms Westerdam won for best for fitness and best shore excursions. Oceania's Marina won for best cabins, best dining and best public rooms. (The "ms" in the Holland America ship names stands for "motor ship.") The Thomson Dream won for best service and best entertainment, the Norwegian Spirit won for best value for money and Celebrity Summit won best for embarkation.

In the small ship category (1,199 passengers or fewer), the Azamara Quest won for best overall ship, best for fitness and best for service while the Azamara Journey won for best value for money. The Crystal Serenity took the prize for best dining and best entertainment while the Crystal Symphony won for best public rooms. The Seabourn Odyssey won for best cabins, Regent Seven Seas' Seven Seas Navigator took best shore excursions and Windstar's Wind Surf won for best for embarkation.

Opinion: What cruise lines don't want you to know

If you've been on a cruise, please share any tips for first-time cruisers in the comments section below. If you've never been on a cruise, please ask questions here.

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