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Best and worst cruise lines

P&O, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard and more cruise lines as rated by guests. Find out which one has five-star facilities, cabins and excursions — and which is better avoided
Guy Hobbs
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Our ocean cruise ratings reveal a huge difference in the quality of the cruise experience and Covid flexibility between the best and worst companies. So it always pays to do your research before booking for 2022 or beyond.

Our ratings are driven by thousands of cruise line guests rating their experience of the facilities onboard, the cabin, food and drink and customer service so you can avoid finding yourself queuing for the restaurant every morning or being ripped off over tips. 

From luxury small-ship cruises to big name brands with full entertainment and leisure facilities, we know from guests that the cruise lines rated best are always those that have the best passenger-to-space ratio onboard — something that will be more important than ever as cruise lines look to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. See the full results below to find out which cruise lines give you room and which ones pack holidaymakers onboard. 

The pandemic has also shown us just how important it is to book with a cruise company with a fair refund policy, in case something should go wrong. Which? Recommended Providers (WRP) are not just those companies rated highly. They have also committed to refunding your money within 14 days if the cruise is cancelled. 

WRPs will also offer passengers alternatives if itineraries are changed due to travel restrictions including UK lockdowns, destination quarantines and countries on the itinerary being added to the UK 'red list' or FCDO no-go list. Alternatives may include changing to a different date or destination, a future cruise voucher, or a full refund if none of these is acceptable.

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Ocean cruise lines rated

In the table below, we show the latest results from our survey of Which? members. These results were first published in January 2020 and represent pre-pandemic experiences. To determine WRPs for 2022 we applied extra scrutiny to our existing WRPs, ensuring that your money is safe if you book with them and travel regulations change. We've provided links for all the companies with a customer score of 80% or higher.

BrandWRP*Customer servicePassenger-to-space ratioOn-board facilitiesCabinsFood and drinkCustomer score
Viking Ocean CruisesYes
Saga Ocean CruisesYes
Noble CaledoniaYes
Regent Seven SeasYes

Best cruise company reviews

Many cruise line passengers book with the same company over and over again. It’s that comfort of knowing what to expect on board, from the facilities and food to the general atmosphere. But the truth is that if you’re willing to try a different line you’ll probably have a better holiday. While passengers of the most popular cruise lines, like Cunard, P&O and Celebrity rated them well, there are eight brands rated far better.

Viking Ocean Cruises review – Which? Recommended Provider

Viking has held on to the number one spot in our survey, earning an outstanding five stars in every category. This Swiss-based cruise company specialises in small to medium, adult-only ocean cruises, with all of its ships carrying fewer than 1,000 guests.

As a WRP, Viking has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Customers told us they appreciate the 'classy, crowd-free' atmosphere that eschews the rowdy bars, casinos and hard sell that you'd expect from cheaper rivals. Instead guests can focus on relaxation in the spa, lecture theatres and jazz lounges.

The small size of the ships is a key part of the appeal, with passengers praising the personalised service from crew described as friendly, helpful and efficient. Smaller shops can also visit harbours that are less crowded.

Should I book with Viking? It's not cheap, but the friendly atmosphere, excellent food and unusual destinations are a winning combination, so it's no surprise customers rated value for money as outstanding.

Browse Viking's range of ocean cruises.

Saga review – Which? Recommended Provider

Saga, a British brand providing small-scale ocean cruises exclusively for the over-50s, offers an almost all-inclusive experience at a keen price. Transfers, meals, unlimited drinks, wi-fi and tips are all included in the headline price. But it's still one of the cheaper brands you can book with.

As a WRP, Saga has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Small ships of like-minded, older travellers fostered a friendly atmosphere. It was rated five stars and its outstanding customer service was particularly praised by passengers, who said staff 'go the extra mile'.

Expert speakers and performers are booked in to entertain and there are private balconies for every cabin.

Should I book with Saga? Yes. It may not quite match Viking's customer score, but it's a whole lot cheaper.

Browse Saga's range of ocean cruises.

Hurtigruten review – Which? Recommended Provider

It's all about the destination on a Hurtigruten ocean cruise. Most of its vessels call at 34 ports along the Norwegian coast, and another seven expedition ships go as far afield as Antarctica. Its ships may not be the most luxurious around, but they are compact enough to access smaller ports and towns that large ships can't. 

As a WRP, Hurtigruten has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Nobody raves about the experience on board, but that's not the point. You will see sights that few people get to see: jaw-dropping views of Norwegian fjords and the Northern Lights, for example. Both the staff and food are Norwegian, making this a very local experience, more like being on a fascinating ferry journey than a traditional cruise. On longer 'Explorer' trips, experts give talks about ornithology, history and geology. 

Customers told us that everything is very well organised, and Hurtigruten's efficient customer service scored a faultless five stars. 

Should I book with Hurtigruten? If what you're interested in is the destination – whether that's the Norwegian fjords or Arctic icebergs – then Hurtigruten is highly recommended. If you're after a luxurious cruise experience, look elsewhere.

Browse Hurtigruten's range of ocean cruises.

Noble Caledonia review – Which? Recommended Provider

If a small ocean cruise to less-visited destinations is what you're looking for, you'll want to consider Noble Caledonia. Its cruise ships carry between 36 and 250 guests, making them some of the smallest you can sail on, and passengers told us they felt well taken care of, rating customer service and passenger-to-space ratio the full five stars.

As a WRP, Noble Caledonia has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

As well as a personal on-board experience, it's one of just three companies to earn a full five stars for the quality of its port excursions. One passenger said: 'We really enjoyed travelling to little-known islands that are rarely visited. This was possible because it was a small boat with only 70 passengers.'

On the flip side, you won't find the wealth of facilities that bigger boats offer. And ticket prices are high, though passengers still rated Noble Caledonia a very good four stars for value for money.

Should I book with Noble Caledonia? If you're interested in well-run visits to lesser explored destinations rather than gyms and swimming pools, Noble Caledonia is a fantastic choice.

Browse Noble Caledonia's range of ocean cruises.

Regent Seven Seas review – Which? Recommended Provider

For a luxurious, all-inclusive ocean cruising experience, it's hard to beat Regent Seven Seas. Almost every cabin has a balcony, staff are friendly and helpful, and the port excursions are consistently enjoyably and well organised. 

As a WRP, Regent Seven Seas has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Regent Seven Seas' small ships have a capacity of 500 to 700 passengers, and its five-star rating for its passenger-to-space ratio bears out the cruise line's claim that it doesn't pack people into its ships.

Passengers felt well looked after by staff and were full of praise for the spacious cabins. 

The only real downside is the cost of a cruise. Passengers of the better-scoring cruise lines in our survey felt they had got better value for money. 

Should I book with Regent Seven Seas? Yes – if the price is right. Regent Seven Seas gained high ratings in many categories and is a well-deserved WRP, but passengers felt they got better value with Viking.

Browse Regent Seven Seas' range of ocean cruises.

What makes a Which? Recommended Provider? Cruise line

Which? Recommended Providers (WRP) are the cream of the crop and, as a minimum, we only consider giving the accolade to cruise lines with the highest customer scores.

That’s not all. We know that pricing transparency is important, so we only make a company a WRP if it provides clear information about gratuities, excursions and drinks at the booking stage. After all, it's hard for customers to compare prices if they can't find these details before parting with their cash. If the companies fall down in more than one area, they’re not eligible to be Which? Recommended Providers, whatever score they receive in the survey.  

Similarly, a cruise company can only be a WRP if it is committed to refunding customers promptly for any cancelled cruises, and is prepared to offer alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries are changed due to travel restrictions.

Which? is independent. You can be sure that our recommendations are influenced only by our survey results and policy analysis. We're not influenced by third parties and we don't accept freebies from product manufacturers, retailers, or providers.

Cruise refunds and cancellations

Any cruise lasting more than 24 hours is automatically considered a package holiday, regardless of whether or not your booking included a flight.

Package holidays are covered by the Package Travel Regulations, entitling you to a full cash refund within 14 days if your booking is cancelled by the cruise operator. If you booked your cruise through a travel agent, they will return your money once they've received it from the cruise line.

During the coronavirus pandemic, however, many cruise lines have illegally ignored the Package Travel Regulations, with some taking more than a month to issue refunds and others refusing refunds altogether and issuing vouchers, instead.

If you're considering booking a cruise for later in 2021 or beyond, only do so with a cruise company that's quickly and consistently refunding customers for cancelled bookings. All our WRP cruise lines can be trusted to do this and they also all organise excellent cruises.