The World’s Best Cruise Lines, Airlines, and Hotels: AFAR Travelers’ Awards 2019

For the fourth annual AFAR Travelers’ Awards, readers cast more than 200,000 votes for their favorite hotels, cruise lines, and—for the first time—airlines. Here we present the winners of the Hospitality Group.

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Hotels

The Peninsula Hong Kong

Winner: Grand Dame

This harborside hotel’s 91-year history speaks to its timeless commitment to elevating the traveler’s experience of Hong Kong. Guests have access to the hotel’s fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a customized helicopter, and—as of 2019—a yacht.

Finalists

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Winner: Epic Stay

At this three-time Travelers’ Choice winner, guests rejuvenate during a massage in an overwater bungalow, learn traditional Polynesian fishing techniques on deep-sea expeditions, or simply relax looking out over the crystalline lagoon.

Finalists:

Fairmont San Francisco

Winner: U.S. City

Fairmont’s flagship hotel has been a grand stopover for San Francisco visitors for over 100 years. Marble Corinthian columns, velvet sofas, and coffered ceilings greet guests in the lobby, and in their rooms, they find plush robes perfect for relaxing after a day around town. The full Fairmont experience should also include a mai tai next to the indoor lagoon in the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar and a view of the sunset in a Signature Golden Gate Suite (telescope included).

Finalists

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Winner: International City

All 179 guest rooms and suites at this urban oasis got a makeover this year: New hand-embroidered headboards and bespoke furnishings with locally produced textiles highlight Japanese craftsmanship and colors of the changing seasons⎯and travelers can now connect their iOS and Android devices thanks to smart TVs. Guests at the sophisticated Nihonbashi mainstay can eat at Tokyo’s first location of Sushi Shin by Miyakawa, overseen by three- Michelin-star chef Masaki Miyakawa, or choose from 11 other dining options.

Finalists

JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

Winner: Wellness

Healing ingredients of the Sonoran Desert—Arizona honey, agave nectar, adobe clay, and more—infuse spa treatments at this Southwestern retreat. Guests stay active during one-on-one fitness classes (including one designed specifically for frequent travelers), refuel at Sprouts spa restaurant, or enjoy the mountain views from a poolside perch.

Finalists

Shipwreck Lodge

Winner: Design

Guests live out their pirate fantasies here on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, named for the remnants of the many ships that have run aground there. The 10 en suite cabins are designed to mimic wooden ships, and travelers can read the history of a wreck on one of the room’s sliding doors. There are no neighbors in sight to obstruct the views of the Atlantic to the west and the expansive dunes to the east.

Finalists

Le Bristol Paris

Winner: Food & Wine

This year, chef Eric Frechon marks his 20th anniversary at Le Bristol, where his Epicure restaurant has held three Michelin stars for a decade. And that’s just one of the excellent eating options at the third-time category winner. The Paris hotel’s casual brasserie, 114 Faubourg, has kept its single star since 2013. Café Antonia’s high tea service offers finger sandwiches, patisserie, and Champagne, and Le Jardin Français serves steak tartare beneath parasols on a terrace.

Finalists

Turtle Island Fiji

Winner: Beach

Guests choose among a dozen private beaches at the all-inclusive resort, or sail, kayak, or go deep-sea fishing in Fiji’s clear waters. Even cooler? Turtle Island is powered by clean energy and works on sea turtle conservation in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

Finalists

Air Travel

American Airlines AAdvantage

Winner: U.S.-Based Reward Program

It’s easy to rack up and redeem miles through AAdvantage, thanks to the scope of the Oneworld alliance⎯which comprises 13 airlines, including Qatar and British Airways⎯as well as a wide network of hotels, car rental companies, and other partners. AAdvantage miles are some of the most valuable of any U.S.-based carrier. They’re redeemable for flights to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide and can be gifted to family and friends.

Finalists

Emirates

Winner: International Airline

Emirates offers more than 4,500 in-flight entertainment channels and 20 megabytes of free Wi-Fi within two hours of login; Emirates Skyward members continue to enjoy free or discounted Wi-Fi throughout the flight, depending on membership tier. In business class, seats recline fully as they do in first class, which also has privacy doors and an onboard shower spa. On the ground, with the help of the government, Emirates has created the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, which works to protect desert habitat and endangered species, as well as the Emirates Airline Foundation, which channels funds and miles donated by rewards members to projects assisting children in need.

Finalists

Winner: Business Class

With Emirates, the luxury begins before passengers set foot on the plane. In many major cities, a complimentary chauffeured ride to the airport ensures ample time to unwind in the business- class lounge. After boarding, passengers find a seatside minibar stocked with sparkling water and soda. An onboard cocktail bar serves up martinis, mimosas, and hors d’oeuvres, too. Mealtime brings regionally inspired gourmet dishes served on fine china: Travelers might enjoy fresh burrata and heirloom tomatoes on Italian flights and mango layer cake on flights to India. A Bulgari amenity kit has everything you need for a restful night’s sleep.

Finalists

Singapore Airlines

Winner: Food & Beverage

A panel of eight world-renowned chefs, including James Beard Foundation Award−winner Suzanne Goin and Michelin star recipient Carlo Cracco, create in-flight recipes for Singapore Airlines guests. Passengers in suites, first, business, or premium economy classes can select meals up to 24 hours before a flight using Book the Cook, an onboard meal service featuring locally inspired cuisine. Flyers may savor Charolais beef Rossini while en route to Paris or try the popular peranakanayam buah keluak⎯a traditional chicken stew⎯on Singapore flights.

Finalists

Winner: First Class

Leather seats, mahogany trim, privacy doors, and customizable cabin lighting are all features of Singapore’s first-class fares. Flyers can get in the zone with Bose noise-canceling headphones and more than 1,000 entertainment options to choose from. The new first-class suites on select Airbus A380 routes include a seat and a bed, complete with 100 percent cotton duvet, pillow, and linens that flight attendants turn down when passengers are ready. A retractable partition allows adjacent suites to form a double bed, ideal for couples.

Finalists

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)

Winner: International Airport

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which is larger than some Dutch cities, connects passengers to 327 destinations on 104 airlines. Pre-flight, passengers can catch some z’s in one of the two hotels located beyond passport control, order food gateside on the E concourse with the Deliveroo app, or peruse the works in the Rijksmuseum annex, which showcases original 17th-century art.

Finalists

Lufthansa

Winner: Economy Class

Slim backrests mean more legroom on short and midrange flights, and wide seat cushions and adjustable headrests make long-haul journeys a bit more comfy. No matter the flight length, Lufthansa’s entertainment system offers box sets of popular series for binge-watching and live TV so flyers don’t miss out on sporting events or special broadcasts. In-flight meals are crafted by such chefs as Xiaosheng Gao, executive chef at Shanghai’s Shangri-La Pudong Hotel, and Kunal Kapur, a judge of MasterChef India.

Finalists

Winner: Premium Economy Class

Premium economy includes 50 percent more space than Lufthansa’s standard economy, with wider seats and ample leg room. Lufthansa’s premium economy cabins have thick headrests, large entertainment screens, and affordable Wi-Fi packages. Travelers can check a second bag for free and, once onboard, enjoy a travel kit stocked with an eye mask, socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and other essentials.

Finalists

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Winner: U.S. Airport

SFO proves that waiting to fly can be fun (and stress free). The Berman Reflection Room provides space for meditation, and cuddly charges from the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (mainly pooches⎯and Lilou, the world’s first certified airport therapy pig) keep travelers entertained while waiting to board. Dining options live up to the Bay Area’s foodie reputation, with burgers from Napa Valley stalwart Gott’s Roadside or morning buns from San Francisco−born Tartine Bakery.

Finalists

Delta Air Lines

Winner: U.S. Airline

The Atlanta-based airline flies passengers to 325 destinations and counting on six continents and lets travelers choose among six cabin options to match their style and budget. All flyers have in-flight access to iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp to stay in touch with people on the ground. Delta also partners with The Nature Conservancy for travelers to purchase carbon offsets for their flights.

Finalists

Cruises

Holland America Line

Winner: Alaska Cruises

For more than 70 years Holland America has been cruising Alaskan waters. Every HAL itinerary includes stops to gape at glaciers and spot wildlife, and guests can choose excursions that offer insight into Alaskan life, such as a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway or a fishing trip aboard a boat that appeared on the television series the Deadliest Catch.

Finalists

Viking

Winner: River Cruises

On Viking’s river cruises (some as long as 23 days), passengers can learn about handcrafted porcelain along the Elbe River, admire 10th-century Cambodian Hindu temples on a trip down the Mekong, or meet a local Ukrainian family during a journey on the Dnieper. Every itinerary includes daily cultural enrichment, musical performances by local artists, and artisan-led craftmaking demonstrations to deepen travelers’ understanding of each destination.

Finalists

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Winner: French Polynesia Cruises

Polynesian hosts and entertainers welcome guests aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin. The third-time category winner sails throughout the South Pacific, including the Marquesas and Society Islands. Aspiring scuba divers can earn PADI certification on board, and all passengers have access to a private white-sand beach on Bora Bora.

Finalists

Celebrity Cruises

Winner: Large Ship

Celebrity Cruises, which stops at more than 300 destinations and 79 countries, has been busy. This year, passengers can watch onboard performances by American Ballet Theatre dancers—or even take a class from them—in an exclusive new partnership. They can also enjoy a new five-course Chef’s Table dining experience designed by chef Daniel Boulud, Celebrity’s new Global Culinary Brand Ambassador, and catch a ride on the Flora, the first Celebrity ship crafted specifically with the Galápagos Islands in mind.

Finalists

Azamara

Winner: Medium Ship

The cruise line offers Broadway-caliber onboard entertainment and extensive time ashore for connecting with locals. In 2019, Azamara offers the most pre- and post-cruise programs in the industry, and in 2020, the cruise line will offer South African voyages for the first time.

Finalists

Winner: Experiential Itineraries

By offering more overnight stays and evening activities ashore—traditional dances and taekwondo demonstrations at the Busan Cultural Center in South Korea, for instance, or by a traditional Slovenian a cappella group in a moonlit town square—Azamara encourages its guests to linger in destinations longer than other cruise lines do.

Finalists

Winner: Mediterranean Cruises

Travelers can sail to Greece, Israel, France, or Croatia on a “Country-Intensive Voyage” that docks at multiple ports in one country. Or they may choose an event-inspired itinerary to explore Venice during the annual Festa del Redentore fireworks or watch racers zoom by during the Monaco Grand Prix.

Finalists

Windstar Cruises

Winner: Small Ship

On Windstar Cruises, no more than 342 guests sail at a time, and the small-size vessels can access waterways and ports that other cruise lines can’t visit. Travelers can see Greece via the Corinth Canal or marvel at Alaska’s landscape by way of Prince William Sound. At day’s end, they can freshen up in a marble bathroom, enjoy a dish created by a James Beard Foundation chef, or order a cocktail from the 24-hour room service.

Finalists

Royal Caribbean

Winner: Caribbean Cruises

With this second-time category winner, passengers can slow down in St. Kitts, marvel at Mayan ruins on the island of Roatán, Honduras, or spot seahorses under water at Bonaire Marine Park. But if travelers want something a little different, Royal Caribbean is ready: In December 2019, the cruise line’s private resort island in the Bahamas, renamed Perfect Day at CocoCay, fully reopens after a $250 million renovation. There, passengers can ride down North America’s tallest water slide (a towering 135 feet), play in the Caribbean’s largest wave pool, or relax in private overwater cabanas.

Finalists

Silversea Expeditions

Winner: Expedition

With Silversea, travelers can see puffins in a rarely visited Norwegian outpost, hone their photography skills through the onboard workshop My Photo Academy on a trip to Antarctica, and in 2020, explore the Galápagos Islands on the newest fleet addition, the Silver Origin.

Finalists

Oceania Cruises

Winner: Food & Beverage

With Jacques Pépin as executive culinary director, Oceania crafts the finest cuisine at sea. Whether passengers want homey Italian pasta, flavorful vegan fare, or a six-course tasting menu paired with Dom Pérignon champagnes, they’ll find it on board. Onshore Culinary Discovery Tours let travelers savor St. Lucia’s many spices, make cannoli in Sicily, or attend a cooking demonstration by one of France’s few female Michelin-star chefs.

Finalists

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