The best cruise ships of 2017: Seven highlights of the seven seas

The standout developments of everything the cruising world had to offer in 2017.

BEST NEW CRUSE SHIP

Silver Muse

Launched in April, Silversea's flagship 596-passenger vessel is an upmarket European-styled gem that stands out in the mostly American cruise world. It has generous public areas, an impressive choice of eight dining venues – its Atlantide seafood restaurant is outstanding – and abundant outdoor public areas. A toned-down, uncluttered decor adds to the sense of space, and indulgences include an expansive spa, several chic bars and cabin butler service. See silversea.com

BEST CRUISE-SHIP DECOR

Viking Ocean Cruises

Viking's near-identical ocean ships share a chic but understated, informal Scandinavian design ethos that uses plenty of light, birch and pine wood, slate, limestone and woven textiles. The feel is stylish but homey, whether you're having afternoon tea in the Wintergarden or cocktails in the Explorer Lounge. The result is akin to a boutique hotel, and perfectly suited to un-showy people with a liking for unpretentious comfort. See vikingcruises.com.au

BEST SHORE EXCURSION

Celebrity Cruises in St Petersburg

Celebrity's Baltic cruises call at St Petersburg for three nights, and it's worth booking a three-day excursion package for a comprehensive overview of this fabulous city: scattered sights are hard to get around by yourself, and you'll save steep Russian visa fees thanks to a group-tour visa-waiver program. Informative tour guides provide a comprehensive look at the Hermitage Museum, palaces and churches of this extraordinary baroque city. See celebritycruises.com.au

BEST CRUISE SHIP DESSERT BUFFET

Ponant

The French-flagged cruise line, Ponant, is a haven of Gallic gastronomy, which is apparent in the truly divine dessert offerings from its pastry chefs. From creme brulee to macarons to chocolate pistachio tarts to marquise au chocolat to strawberry pate de fruit and out-of-this-world gelato made every day, it takes great willpower not to head direct to the Ponant dessert buffet, which groans with hedonistic, hip-augmenting goodness. See au.ponant.com

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Pontant's magnificent dessert buffet.

Pontant's magnificent dessert buffet.

BEST SMALL-SHIP DESTINATION

Channel Islands

A benefit of small-ship cruising is the ability to visit tranquil ports inaccessible to larger vessels. APT's "Southern European Sojourn" itinerary between London and Barcelona calls first at the Channel Islands, where shore excursions to St Peter Port (Guernsey) and Sark are made by tender. These are great small-ship ports; Sark in particular has no traffic, only horse carts, and feels like stepping into an Enid Blyton story. See aptouring.com.au

BEST SHIP'S COMFORT FOOD

Uniworld

Uniworld's latest ultra-luxurious river ship, SS Joie de Vivre, cruises France's Seine river from Paris to Normandy. The ship's elegant decor and fine wining and dining reflect all things French; a bowl of French onion soup in the authentic-looking Le Bistrot is as good as any you'll find in a Parisian bistro. Bon appetit! See uniworld.com

BEST ALTERNATIVE CRUISE

Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam

There's a sight you become used to in Vietnam's Halong Bay: boats. Hundreds of them. This is one seriously popular destination for short cruises. Those who would like to steer clear of the masses, however, should take a three-day cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay, the equally impressive, though far quieter area just to the north of Halong. Bai Tu Long's scenery – huge limestone karsts, still waters – is the same, but the crowds are not. See indochina-junk.com

CONTRIBUTORS: Keith Austin, Andrea Black, Elspeth Callender, Ben Groundwater, Brian Johnston, Nina Karnikowski, Katrina Lobley, Sally Macmillan, Rob McFarland, Sheriden Rhodes, Louise Southerden, Alison Stewart, Kerry van der Jagt, Guy Wilkinson

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