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A growing number of ocean cruise lines have announced UK-only voyages for summer 2021, in a bid to tempt you back to the seas amid ongoing uncertainty around when international holidays will resume.
Cruise companies with domestic voyages starting after 17 May include Cunard, Fred Olsen, Hurtigruten, MSC Cruises, Noble Caledonia, Princess, P&O, Saga and Viking.
While some of these brands are Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) – meaning they organise exceptional holidays and have also committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled bookings – other brands languish at the wrong end of our rankings.
Cruise companies have also introduced varying policies on things such as vaccine passports and flexible bookings, so it pays to do your research if you’re considering a domestic cruise this summer.
Find out which are the best and worst cruise lines
Best brands for a UK cruise this summer
Hurtigruten, Noble Caledonia, Saga and Viking all have domestic voyages scheduled to sail in June or July this year, and have all been named WRPs in our most recent ocean cruise survey.
These brands told us late last year that they’re consistently refunding customers in 28 days or less for cruises they’ve had to cancel due to Covid-19. That’s a lot more than can be said for some companies. Two providers – Azamara and Seabourn – lost their WRP status last year because of their approach to refunds during the pandemic.
Remember, we rely on your feedback to hold companies to account, so please email email@example.com if any WRP gives you the runaround. As well as the four companies mentioned, Regent Seven Seas is also a WRP, although it isn’t offering domestic cruises at the moment.
Viking Ocean Cruises – 93%
Viking is the top-scoring cruise brand in our survey, earning the full five stars in every area we review, so make it your first port of call when considering any ocean cruise. Its England’s Scenic Shores cruise is currently it’s only UK itinerary, taking in the likes of Falmouth and the Scilly Isles on its eight-day journey from Portsmouth to Liverpool and back.
While these voyages are currently sold out, Viking’s Risk-Free Guarantee, which lets you amend your cruise booking for free up to 14 days before departure, means you may want to keep an eye on Viking’s website to see if any cabins become available.
Saga Ocean Cruises – 88%
Saga is offering several cruises in British waters this summer, including its Scottish Islands and Highlands itinerary, which visits Invergordon and Lerwick. Saga’s cruises received full marks in several areas of our survey, including customer-to-space ratio and food and drink, so you can be confident of a pleasant experience on board.
But you’ll have to have had both your Covid-19 vaccines in order to embark and Saga doesn’t currently have a flexibility promise, so you’ll need to be sure you want to go before booking.
Hurtigruten Ocean Cruises – 85%
If you’re wanting to go on a long UK cruise, Hurtigruten’s 15-day tour from Dover to Stornoway and back is one of the longest currently on offer. Whether looking out for corncrakes on Rathlin Island or spotting puffins on the Isle of Iona, nature is a key focus on a Hurtigruten cruise.
On board, Hurtigruten’s facilities aren’t quite as impressive as other brands, but it ranks highly for passenger-to-space ratio, value for money and how well the cruise description matches reality. And the company’s ‘book with confidence’ policy that lets you amend bookings for free up to 14 days before departure for extra peace of mind.
Noble Caledonia Ocean Cruises – 84%
With more than 40 UK tours and cruises to choose from, including nine voyages departing in June 2021, Noble Caledonia is well worth considering if you’re vaccinated against Covid-19 and set on a domestic cruise this summer.
Its fleet of cruise ships carry between 36 and 250 guests, so it’s no wonder they earn top marks for passenger-to-space ratio. And although Noble Caledonia isn’t cheap, the social atmosphere on board, and the quality of customer service and port excursions are second to none. There’s no flexibility policy, though, so only book if you’re certain you’ll want to go when the time comes.
UK cruises: which cruise line scored lowest?
The other ocean cruise lines offering UK cruises either aren’t good enough to be WRPs, don’t meet our refund requirements or both.
Fred Olsen (76%), Princess (76%) and P&O Cruises (71%), for example, all rank in the bottom half of our table, while MSC Cruises is the worst of the lot, propping up the bottom of our rankings with a dismal customer score of 52%. MSC Cruises could only muster a disappointing two stars out of five in many of our survey categories, including customer service, passenger-to-space ratio, onboard facilities, food and drink, and port excursions.
Cunard, meanwhile, earns an impressive customer score of 80% in our survey, but it’s one of several cruise companies that says it’s automatically issuing future cruise credit for cruises it has cancelled due to the pandemic. These vouchers are worth 125% of the cancelled booking and can be rejected in favour of a cash refund. However, we think customers should be given the choice of a cash refund before the voucher is applied to their account.
P&O Cruises is among the other cruise companies to apply future cruise credit automatically before issuing refunds for customers who request them, while MSC Cruises also says refunds can be requested ‘once you have received your Future Cruise Credit’.
All overnight cruises are classed as package holidays, regardless of whether they leave British waters or include flights, so you’re always entitled to a full cash refund if your cruise is cancelled by the provider.
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Do I need a vaccine to cruise the UK?
If your cruise goes ahead and you decide you no longer want to go, you won’t be able to get all your money back, so you should only consider booking now if you’re sure you’ll want to travel when the time comes, or if the company has introduced a flexibility promise that lets you amend your booking for free.
You also need to check the company’s policy on Covid-19 vaccinations. Saga has said passengers will need to be vaccinated to board any of its cruises, while Noble Caledonia and P&O Cruises have said that vaccines will be required for their UK cruises. Meanwhile, Viking Ocean Cruises says it expects to initially test both guests and crew on a daily basis.