Florida wins big in annual 'U.S. News' cruise rankings, just as it mourns one of its biggest advocates

Photo of the Disney Fantasy via Wikimedia Commons
Florida remained dominant in the cruise industry again this year, with the release of U.S. News & World Report's annual Best Cruise Lines rankings.

Seventeen cruise lines and 176 ships were included in this year’s list, which is based on passenger rankings, sanitation-inspection scores, and expert ratings based on facilities, activities, cuisine, cabins and more. The cruise line rankings are a relatively objective look at an industry where brand names often overshadow value and new offerings.

Central Florida-based Disney Cruise Line remained in First Place in the Best Cruise Line for Families category, a position it has held since the rankings first began. Disney Cruise Line also held the top spot for Best Cruise Line in the Caribbean for the seventh consecutive year.

In the Best Cruise Line in the Mediterranean category, Seabourn Cruise Line remained in the top spot, but they were bumped to second place for Best Luxury Cruise Line, with Viking Ocean Cruises claiming first place. Viking kept their first-place ranking for Best Cruise Lines for Couples.

One of the biggest moves across the six categories was Crystal Cruises in the Best Cruise Line in the Mediterranean category. It jumped from fifth place last year to second place this year. Crystal Cruises also moved up from fourth place to third in the Best Cruise Line for Couples. In both categories, Crystal unseated Azamara Club Cruises, which slipped to fourth position in both groups.

click to enlarge Carnival Mardi Gras' new terminal at Port Canaveral - IMAGE VIA PORT CANAVERAL
Image via Port Canaveral
Carnival Mardi Gras' new terminal at Port Canaveral
Carnival Cruise Line was only ranked in the top three in two categories. It moved from fourth place to second place in the Best Cruise Line for the Money and held its third-place rank in the Best Cruise Lines for Families.

Norwegian Cruise Line came in third on the For the Money category, the only group it ranked within the top three in. It came in fourth place in the For the Families category; in all other categories it wasn’t within the top five.

The big winner in the six categories is Florida. First place in three of the six categories was won by Florida based cruise lines. Seabourn Cruise Line, while headquartered in Seattle, is owned by South Florida-based Carnival Corporation. The only cruise line in the first place in any of the six categories without a Florida leadership connection is Viking Ocean Cruises. The single other cruise line in any of the top three positions within the six categories to not have a Florida connection is California-based Crystal Cruises.
click to enlarge Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s new Miami HQ campus - IMAGE VIA ROYAL CARIBBEAN
Image via Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s new Miami HQ campus
Royal Caribbean’s and Florida’s numerous awards are especially meaningful as the industry mourns the passing of Edwin W. Stephan, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Stephan, a war veteran with two Bronze Stars, is known as "the founding father of the modern-day cruise industry" and is credited with bringing the cruise industry to Florida.

Stephan founded Royal Caribbean in 1969, a year later launching Song of Norway, the first cruise ship purpose-built for warm-water cruising. His vision of Caribbean cruises was quickly modeled by other cruise lines, including Carnival, which launched in 1972. The two competing cruise lines, both of which continue to operate out of South Florida, have grown to be the two largest cruise companies in the world.

click to enlarge Edwin W. Stephan, the founder, long time-president, and vice chairman of the board of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. - IMAGE VIA ROYAL CARIBBEAN
Image via Royal Caribbean
Edwin W. Stephan, the founder, long time-president, and vice chairman of the board of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
Under Stephan’s leadership, Royal Caribbean remained a groundbreaking company within the industry thanks to such concepts as cantilevered Viking Crown Lounges and the multi-deck atriums that have since become industry standards. In 1978, Song of Norway was also the first major cruise ship to be stretched by inserting an additional mid-section. He was one of Miami’s biggest cheerleaders, regularly praising its warm weather and beautiful beaches.

Stephan worked his way up within the hospitality industry, beginning as a bell captain in Miami Beach. He remained in leadership at Royal Caribbean until his retirement in 2003 and was a regular in South Florida philanthropy circles. As witnessed in these latest awards, Stephan’s impact on the industry is still seen to this day.

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