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17 Jun 2021

UK cruises in 2021: can they go ahead and which brand is best?

P&O Cruises, TUI and Saga are among the ocean cruise lines to launch British cruises this summer - but should you book?

Many ocean cruise lines have announced British cruises this summer in a bid to tempt you back to the seas, but ongoing coronavirus restrictions are threatening the smooth sailing of these voyages.

The government's decision to delay the easing of all Covid-19 restrictions in England means cruise capacity remains capped. Until 19 July, cruises can only operate with 1,000 passengers or at 50% capacity, whichever is lower.

Furthermore, the Scottish government has banned cruise visits until further notice. While it is hoped these rules will be relaxed later in the summer, cruise lines are having to amend itineraries of cruises due to depart imminently. If you've been affected, find out if you're entitled to a refund.

Cruise companies with domestic voyages this summer include Cunard, Fred Olsen, Hurtigruten, Marella (operated by TUI), MSC Cruises, Noble Caledonia, Princess, P&O, Regent Seven Seas, 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.

Find out which are the best and worst cruise lines

Best brands for a UK cruise this summer

Hurtigruten, Noble Caledonia, Saga, Regent Seven Seas 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 travelexperts@which.co.uk if any WRP gives you the runaround.

See all our ocean cruise line reviews.

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 and Scenic British Isles cruises are currently it's only UK itineraries, both lasting eight days.

Viking's Risk-Free Guarantee, which lets you amend your cruise booking for free up to 14 days before departure, means you do have some flexibility if you book a cruise now and later change your mind about travelling.

Read our full Viking reviewor browse Viking's website to see its range of cruises.

Saga Ocean Cruises - 88%

Saga is offering several cruises in British waters this summer, including its Taste of the British Isles itinerary, which visits Newcastle and the Isle of Man, among other destinations. 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.

Read our full Saga review or browse the websiteto see its range of cruises.

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.

Read our full Hurtigruten review or browse the websiteto see its range of cruises.

Noble Caledonia Ocean Cruises - 84%

With more than 40 UK tours and cruises to choose from, 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.

Read our full Noble Caledonia review or browse the websiteto see its range of cruises.

Regent Seven Seas - 84%

Regent Seven Seas may have been a little late to the UK cruise party, but it has now announced an 11-night circumnavigation of Great Britain, departing from Southampton in September. Prices start from around £8,400, but up to 47 shore excursions are included in that price and you can also expect a luxurious on-board experience with exceptional cabins and customer service.

It's Regent Reassurance policy means if you book before the end of July, you'll be able to cancel up to 15 days before departure and receive a voucher for a future cruise worth 100% of the total cost.

Read our full Regent Seven Seas review or browse the website to see its range of cruises.

British cruises: which brand 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%), Marella (operated by TUI, 71%) 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.

For more expert travel advice, subscribe to Which? Travel.

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.

Will I need a coronavirus vaccine to fly or travel in 2021?

What if your UK cruise is cancelled?

The government's decision to keep cruise capacity limits in place for another four weeks means cruise lines have had to cancel hundreds of bookings on UK cruises due to take place between 21 June and 18 July.

If your cruise booking has been cancelled, you're legally entitled to a full cash refund within 14 days. Regardless of whether the leave the UK, all cruises lasting more than 24 hours are classified as package holidays, meaning you're protected by the Package Travel Regulations.