Carnival Breeze
Cruise Critic named the Carnival Breeze the best new cruise ships in 2012. Creative Commons/ragingwire

Cruising review site Cruise Critic has just released its annual Editor’s Picks Awards, naming the top cruise lines ploughing the waters of the world in 2012.

The site, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor Inc., doesn’t pick an overall favorite but rather selects a series of winners based on a variety of categories.

“Each year, our Editors' Picks Awards reflect the cruise lines and ships that we feel best exemplify excellence in categories we consider the most important to people when choosing a cruise," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. "In the cruise industry, many lines go above and beyond, but our awards narrow down the list to those that stand out as the best of the best."

Of the new ships out at sea this year, Carnival Breeze floats above the pack, embodying “a new breed of Carnival’s Fun Ship concept with a toned-down tropical feel and new-to-Carnival restaurants and entertainment, while also remaining true to its casual cruising roots,” the editors noted.

For those on a budget, Cruise Critic also recommends Carnival ships, which it says consistently offer solid prices and hard-to-beat value. Anyone looking for a more upmarket sailing, however, may want to try Regent Seven Seas, which Cruise Critic says offers superb food and services.

Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, takes top honors for families.

“Royal Caribbean's appeal ranges from casual dining venues and cabins that sleep five or more to family-friendly recreational activities, such as ice skating and simulated surfing,” the editors noted. “But its real gem is its kids programs, which are divided into five age classifications, entertaining kids from six months to 17 years old.”

Other standouts include Azamara Club Cruises for the best itineraries, Disney Cruise Line for shore excursions, Lindblad Expeditions for adventure and Windstar Cruises for romantic honeymoons. Cruise Critic also found that the best dining is on Oceania Cruises, while the best entertainment is on Royal Caribbean.

Noting the rise in popularity of river cruises, Cruise Critic recognized Viking Cruise Line’s Longships as the best new river ship and Uniworld River Cruises as the overall best river cruise line. The Viking Longships, it said, are state-of-the-art in their design, with hybrid engines and solar panels. What set Uniworld apart is its lavish décor, superb cuisine and themed tours.

The leading cruise review site did not limit its awards to ships alone but also ports of call.

“San Francisco has long been a contender as one of the country's best ports, but new efforts to redevelop its waterfront and build a state-of-the-art cruise terminal, combined with fantastic sightseeing and easy-to-access air service, put it over the top” in 2012, the editors noted.

Winter is traditionally the busiest time of the year for cruising in the United States, and Cruise Critic releases its annual awards to help consumers pick the best vacation to meet their needs.