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This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic upended the travel industry across the world, cruise lines were forced to halt sailings and keep their ships docked. That didn't stop T+L readers from reflecting back on the good times at sea as they rated the world's top 10 midsize-ship ocean cruise lines.

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 ships that can carry 250 to 599 passengers.

Exterior of Windstar Star Breeze
Credit: Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Cruises came in at No. 2 this year after not landing in 2020's top five. The company's Seven Seas Navigator accommodates 490 guests and is slated to return to service in early 2022, with a series of Caribbean itineraries, many of which will depart from Bridgetown, Barbados. No. 3 Paul Gauguin Cruises held steady in its year-over-year ranking, though readers did give the line a higher score in 2021 than in 2020. A specialist in Pacific Ocean itineraries, Paul Gauguin is, at press time, planning a late August return to the seas.

But the biggest change to the rankings was No. 1: Windstar Cruises moved up from No. 4 last year. Readers said the line, which has six ships, was head and shoulders above the competition. "Windstar changed my mind about cruises," said one typical respondent. "My travel companion described our trip as 'life changing,' and now my buddies and I are always on the lookout for our next Windstar opportunity." 

Read on for more applause for Windstar, as well as this year's full rankings. 

1. Windstar Cruises

Windstar Cruises Star Breeze in Sunset
Credit: Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

"Our Windstar cruise ruined us for any other cruise line," raved one reader, summing up the effusive praise that readers had for this boutique operator. Voters consistently mentioned the high-quality food on Windstar's voyages, and the fact that its smaller vessels can visit ports not normally accessible to larger ships. "This is our favorite cruise line for so many reasons," said one voter, recalling a trip aboard the Wind Surf. "The most important are the small number of passengers and the wonderful service." Another distinction? Windstar has three sail-powered ships, which are particularly appealing to many of the voters who ranked this line No. 1. "The fact that the ship cruises under sails nearly half of the time is special," said one reader who also traveled on the Wind Surf. "It's a glorious and romantic way to see unique places."

Score: 93.17
More information: windstarcruises.com

2. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Geirangerfjord Norway
Credit: Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 92.68
More information: rssc.com

3. Paul Gauguin Cruises

A Paul Gauguin Cruise ship Moorea
Credit: Roger Paperno/Courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises

Score: 92.32
More information: pgcruises.com

4. Seabourn

Aerial view of Seabourn Quest
Credit: Courtesy of Seabourn

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 91.59
More information: seabourn.com

5. Silversea

Silver Shadow cruising in a Fjord.
Credit: Michael Collins/Courtesy of Silversea

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.80
More information: silversea.com

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.