By Hannah Walhout
July 10, 2019
Courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises

If there’s one point illustrated by year’s list of the best midsize-ship ocean cruise lines, it’s that cruising can be many things — and that the industry today is offering a wide variety of experiences for increasingly sophisticated travelers.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated individual cruise ships on their cabins and facilities, food, service, itineraries and destinations, excursions and activities, and value. Those assessments were combined to generate results for the cruise lines in five categories; midsize- ship ocean cruise lines have vessels that can carry 250 to 599 passengers.

RelatedThe World's Best Awards 2019

This year’s list is notable for its diversity. Coming in at No. 5 is Ponant, a French company that specializes in yachting and high-end expedition cruises (its expedition ship Le Dumont-d’Urville debuts in August). In fourth place is Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a luxury line whose smallest ship, Navigator, alternates between two strikingly beautiful, but very different regions: the tropical waters of the South Pacific and colder sea off the rocky coast of New England and Atlantic Canada. Wrote one respondent, “I love sailing on the Navigator because of its small-ship intimacy. It's able to go to destinations that the large ships can't get to.”

The No. 3 midsize-ship cruise line this year is Windstar Cruises, known for its distinctive sailboat-style ships. Windstar’s flagship, the 310-passenger Wind Surf, explores the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, catching the breeze with its seven massive sails — making it a favorite with sailing aficionados and those looking for a touch of nautical nostalgia. Wrote one reader, “You really feel like you are on a sailboat!”

Second place is claimed by Seabourn, an ultra-luxury line that sails around Europe, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Australia and New Zealand. It’s known for its innovative partnerships, including entertainment by lauded lyricist Tim Rice, shore excursions with the UNESCO World Heritage Commission, and on-board cuisine by chef Thomas Keller, whose restaurants have earned a cumulative seven Michelin stars.

This year’s No. 1 line operates only one ship, designed specifically for its environment, and offers archeologist-led tours, scuba-certification programs, and access to a private beach in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Read on to find out more.

5. Ponant

Courtesy of PONANT

Score: 88.63

More information: ponant.com

4. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.38

More information: rssc.com

3. Windstar Cruises

Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Score: 91.88

More information: windstar.com

2. Seabourn

Courtesy of Seabourn Cruise Line

Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 92.09

More information: seabourn.com

1. Paul Gauguin Cruises

Courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises

Score: 92.97

More information: pgcruises.com

This cruise line operates only one ship, the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin — and, our readers agree, my, what a ship it is. Every suite comes with ocean views and butler service; every cruise includes water sports like paddle-boarding and scuba diving, a stop at the line’s private beach on Bora Bora, and a day at Motu Mahana, a private island just off of Taha’a in the Society Islands. Itineraries explore French Polynesia — where controversial French painter Paul Gauguin lived for years, developing his primitivist, exotic style — as well as Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and beyond, prioritizing connections with the local culture. “I loved having the island ambassadors onboard to discuss local culture and issues from their perspectives,” wrote one respondent. “The best way to explore this unique part of the world.”

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2019.

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