/ Travel & Leisure

What could be done to improve your next cruise?

Cruises can be a great way to see the world at a more leisurely pace – but as with all holidays, cruise holidays can easily turn from dream to nightmare. We want to hear your cruise holiday experiences.

Love them or loathe them, cruises make up a massive part of the holiday industry worldwide – and their popularity is growing.

A record 1.96m Brits took a cruise lat year – up from 1.79m in 2016 – according to the industry body, the Cruise Lines International Association.

And the Mediterranean is the most popular destination for British cruise holidays, holding 37% of the market last year.

Part of the growth in numbers comes from the fact that cruise holidays are becoming more popular with younger travellers – the average age of cruise passengers has fallen to its lowest in 20 years, according to the BBC.

Cool cruise

Cruise holidays, it seems, are becoming cool – and nothing shows this more than the recent announcement from Virgin that it’s launching a cruise line.

Equipped with a ‘tattoo studio’ and ‘Gym and Tonic Bar’, its first ship ‘Scarlet Lady’ will take to the seas in 2020.

According to company founder Richard Branson, the ships will cater to “young at heart people that want a good time.”

In an apparent move to attract a younger, less traditional audience, Virgin Voyages will be an ‘adult-only’ cruise line.

Oceanic feeling

But what makes a good cruise generally? Our research earlier this year suggested the biggest marker of satisfaction on cruise holidays was simple: the size of the cruise ship.

Read all our cruise line reviews here

And the smaller the better: all four companies at the top of our rankings run ships carrying fewer than 1,350 passengers.

Compare that with the 4,266 passengers on board Escape, a ship from last year’s poorest-scoring operator Norwegian Cruise Line. the results of this year’s survey will be available in the January issue of Which? Travel.

But what’s your experience of cruise holidays? Do you love them or loathe them? Would an on-board tattoo parlour appeal, or are you happy with a more traditional family-orientated cruise? Let us know your thoughts ahead of our next Which? Travel cruise survey.


Cruising can be great fun provided you do your research as to what line suits you. And of course you are not sea-sick at the slightest motion.

Broadly you have the floating hotels which happen to go to different ports and then actual cruise ships which are of a size to get into the smaller harbours, and if you do have to tender ashore it can be done in reasonable time.

IWe recommend cruising and recently a neighbour who took a last minute offer with CMV for the Norwegian fjords have waxed lyrical ever since. They will be looking to cruise in the future.

Some of the older ships, though refitted, are never ever going to be as glamorous as the floating hotels but that is a trade-off we are grateful for.

As for tattoo parlours …… around 20% of Australians have them and 27% of those regret them. Having them erased is expensive and lengthy.

The ships are a bit away:
” First Virgin Voyages cruise ship “Scarlet Lady” was named on July 20, 2018, and scheduled for delivery in 2020. Two sisterships (vessels of the same design) …
Length (LOA)‎: ‎278 m / 912 ft
Building cost‎: ‎EUR 600 million (USD 710 million)
Gross Tonnage‎: ‎110000 gt
Builder‎: ‎Fincantieri (Sestri Ponente, Italy)

*There are several cruise specific web sites and they are interesting though I fear that some malicious posting is made. There are also people such as those who have little conception when embarking who feel aggrieved when the ship is at sea despite it being on the itinerary …. how one crosses the Atlantic seeming to escape their logic cells.

The small lines are not perfect if you are looking for budget cruising but allowing for that value for money is high. Our feelings and information is based on taking longer cruise – 28 days plus from and returning to the UK which really allows for the full relaxing experience and of course 190lbs of luggage per person.

Shorter voyages may be where those who are new or unsure, or decide to dislike the ocean would be more common.

I’ve never been on a cruise, and have no great inclination to do so, but after reading typical experiences and pricing policies, I would do so only if:

1. Internet access via wifi is included at no additional charge, perhaps with a reasonable fair usage policy of 250MB per day.

2. There are no additional so-called “service charges” or expected additional gratuities. Staff should be properly remunerated by the ship operator without any expectation for passengers to top up any shortfall in employees’ wages.

3. There is no prohibition on bringing one’s own food and drink on board. Hotels don’t do this, so nor should cruise ships.

I searched out this “Conversation” with the express intent of making the points 1) and 2) that you have made, NFH.
These additional, less than overt, compulsory deductions from one’s ‘plastic A/c” are iniquitous and are ‘sharp practice’ if not down-right profiteering.
The scam of airlines adding on un-asked-for ‘extras’ has been largely banned.
So when are these ‘Pirates’ of the high seas going to be forced to haul down their ‘Jolly Roger’ and head-line the actual (gross) costs of their cruises, drinks and other ‘fees’?

I think perhaps you are branding UK cruise lines with the practices of the US cruise industry which are horrendous to English eyes.

Pretty much 95% plus of major cruise lines are owned by just three companies and they tend to be American. Therefore being required to tip constantly and pay for “extras” is pretty ingrained.

On the UK lines you are told the expected tips and often if you book early and take a package then these are included in the price, along with perhaps parking or home pick-up.

Note that both Cunard and P&O are nominally British though belong to the cruise majors.

However if you research your cruise there are many many sights which give you the nitty gritty on prices.

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Overview of whom owns what; it ignores the small non-US lines.

” The biggest single company on the list is Carnival Corporation, which collectively deploys over a hundred ships across ten cruise lines. ” !!

There is an almost exhaustive list of sea and river cruise lines. The Far East is not covered.

That so many people cruise seems to suggest that the ocean is not a factor that worries them. Despite this, the idea of paying for endless food on the rolling wave seems a contradiction and a waste of money. Likewise, if a cruise is (quite a lot) about eating then my finite appetite would provide poor value for money. I don’t particularly wish to swim, dance, drink, work out, sun bathe or live in a cabin without a window, and I don’t wish to pack a dinner jacket to be somewhere I don’t belong. Nor do I wish to hit the highlights and be social until the clock strikes midnight and beyond. There are better places to read a book and chill out, and the brief sojourn in a port or two is hardly enough to get to know the country and explore without paying cruise tour rates.
Now of course, many will mock and tell me that cruising is a wonderful way to relax. Many acquaintances already do and have glowing tales about the places they have visited. I’m pleased for them, but all things considered they won’t take me along any time soon. The brochures picture empty sun beds spacious restaurants and facilities exclusively available for the reader. With a thousand plus, plus, people on board the reality must be different. No mention is made of the various epidemics that strike un-announced and the weather, brings me back to where I started.

Never been on a cruise – although we did a lot of cruising with our own boat some years ago – but the main issue was, and I suspect still is – boredom. I think I tend to agree with Vynor on this. I suspect some of the major cruise companies have realised that, which is why they tend to cruise overnight and stop in new ports during the day.

“We want to hear your cruise holiday experiences.”
Which? Conversation 30/11/18

A nil return from me then. I tend to agree with a lot of Vynor’s reservations.

For immersive overland touring, I’d recommend a small, well matched, group of friends and family, respectable touring (or “cruising”) motorcycles, ultra portable camping gear as a backup, but a baseline plan of using small local hotels and guest houses, typically not pre-booked. Having to find a new place to stay every night, or every few nights, leads to far greater immersion in the local community than would booking everything in advance.

I see cruising as something I might do when I’m not fit to do anything else, much the same as sitting for hours watching TV. Now if I could have tuition in steering the ship, that would make it more interesting, but the other passengers might object.

I was going to respond along the lines of ‘Well, they do have a big wheel’ but I think most of the newer liners are steered by joysticks, now.

Perhaps more active types might prefer a sailing training holiday.

Here are the vessels that one outfit offers:


Yes, reprimand accepted Patrick. I hope others can tell you what it’s actually like out there.

Which? isn’t having much luck with this Conversation so far. At a time when most people are more interested in reporting their mobile phone signal problems this one is still stuck in port and the dyspeptic regulars are looking for something to gripe/write about.

Having done plenty of both, we don’t see much difference between a cruise and a resort holiday in a good hotel, except the range of places visited is greater on a cruise which means that unpacking once but seeing a lot more is an advantage.

There is a limit to what you can do on a port call except tick off another destination and see some popular sights, whereas on a fortnight’s resort holiday there is much more opportunity to get to know the area, travel out to other places, and sample other establishments, but neither can compare with city holidays in my opinion. For those who just want the sun and sea air and the ‘all inclusive’ style of holiday a cruise and a resort holiday are quite comparable. Some people on cruises never leave the ship – or just walk round the docks – so that they can have their four meals a day, have a pampering session, sit or lie around and just relax; some put all their energy into the evenings or just watch the world go by.

You get good lectures and experiences on some cruises that you would never get in a hotel and there is a wide range of [expensive] excursions at every port which can be quite enjoyable, but a lot of it is just “filling time”. Taking your own boat or yacht to different places can be more exciting but you are stuck with your own company, it involves more work, and is more like a caravan or canal barge holiday than anything else – I am glad I did those things but they were for younger times.

Twenty years ago cruises were still largely traditional, quite formal, and rather pretentious. The construction of much bigger vessels changed everything [except with Cunard] but not always for the better. Bigger ships meant bigger crowds and more pressure on the staff and facilities. We found that our natural comfortable limit was a passenger capacity of 1,500-2,000. Much more than most resort hotels so more uniform and anonymous, but able to put on a much wider range of experiences and variety of through-the-day entertainment [and generally of higher quality], but small enough to have a warm and friendly atmosphere. Our preference was for grown-ups only cruises but whenever there were young children and teenagers on board they didn’t seem to be a problem and there were plenty of activities for them in their own zones. We never went on any of the bigger cruise ships that are more like floating blocks of flats and pleasure beach affairs. We always had a suite with our own balcony so that we could just have time to ourselves. We often had breakfast in our room to avoid the “canteen experience” in the morning.

It is now five years since we went on a cruise because, like many aspects of life, it lost its appeal. We have never been ones for ticking boxes and having a bucket list so there are no unfulfilled dreams but, more by accident than design, we have been on some incredible and memorable holidays aboard ships and have few regrets. If anything has made us fed up, to a large extent it’s the other people; on a big ship there are too many of them, and on a small ship there are too few and you can get stuck with some pretty lack-lustre or boring types [he says snobbishly].

The growth of fly-cruises has made a big difference and greatly reduced the boring-days-at-sea problem. It used to take four days of sailing to get into the Mediterranean but now you can join the ship in Barcelona or Venice or other ports and have more time in the sun and enjoy the delights of southern Europe, the middle east and north Africa. Dressing up for dinner is no longer obligatory as there is a good choice of dining options on most ships and even on sea days when the dress code is ‘formal’ it is not so rigid as it used to be. On most ships there is now a more relaxed approach to dining so you can choose your own time every day, don’t have to sit at the same table every night or even have to eat in the same restaurant, and [most importantly] you don’t have to be stuck with the same people throughout the cruise. Compulsory gratuity deductions are no longer universal and with many cruise lines it is simple to opt out.

On modern ships, the motion of the ocean is almost imperceptible and speeds are often low as the distances to the next port are often not great so an overnight passage is quite calm. The only time we experienced really rough seas was when going round Cape Horn but that was to be expected and part of the thrill of the voyage – and it was compensated for by five magical days of extremely calm cruising in Antactica at no more than 5 knots [for environmental protection reasons].

So there you have it. I think there is something for everyone with cruises but I can understand people’s reservations although on balance I don’t see them as much different to other relaxation holidays. If you want adventure, excitement, cultural immersion, and freedom to go where and whenever you want, a cruise is not for you.

We have never been on a river cruise. Does anyone have any experience they could impart? Our feeling is that they could be a bit claustrophobic and restrictive.

River cruises. We have done only one which was four days up the Yangtse in 2000 to see the Three Gorges before the massive new dam reduced their majesty somewhat. Very worthwhile. Possibly because as everything in China was new and this was just part of a three week tour. To fly all that way for a short cruise would seem daft.

Technically going up the Amazon to Manaus from Belem [@900km] was a river cruise but we were on the Marco Polo a sea-going vessel. For anyone who loves experiencing big clouds and new terrain it was wonderful. Little-known fact the island at the mouth of the Amazon is the size of Switzerland.

I do think it possible that the Douro, Danube, and Rhine will be considered. I am afraid I cannot countenance any Russian rivers currently.

I think feelings of claustrophobia and restriction are a function of the weather being inclement and perhaps a packed boat. If you are content to go with the flow and be relaxed I do not really see a problem.

Thanks for this, John – I’ve passed it over to our Travel team.

The posts from people who haven’t been on a cruise are interesting, too. It’s good to see the reasons why some may have been put off/any preconceptions they may have – it all forms part of what people really want to get from a holiday experience like this.

I have been looking at the Which? Review on cruise lines and I have to say that the lack of detail as to where the cruises can go to is perhaps rather an interesting area left unexplored. I would think some of the small lines have visited a couple of hundred ports and the large ships have less than 100. I was very pleased in 2014 to manage to get to Rabaul famous to war history buffs as a Japaneses HQ and port.

This range of ports does not matter if you are interested in sunshine and onboard fun but if you want to get the flavour of different parts of the world not that useful.

A point worth considering is the benefitsof travelling on a “British” ship from the UK. A friend who flew out to an Italian based ship had the pleasure of hearing all announcements five times to cater for the nationalities onboard. This actually made everything just that bit [x4] more long-winded and tedious.

The guide to cruising also says that one should book early for best prices which I know is wrong. CMV are giving a 120 day world cruise from £7999 – virtually half-price given the sailing is January. So £66 per day food,heating and travel thrown in.

There are few cruise lines that offer genuine complete round the world cruises. AFAIK three.

In our experience you need to book early to get the best accommodation according to your budget; that can be more important than the price.

Many “British” ships also sail from Mediterranean and other ports without the distractions mentioned by Patrick. By “British” I mean ships that cater principally for UK residents even if they have foreign ownership or registration. American cruise ships are similar and do many things the “British” way.

Many thanks to all who have contributed to this edifying Conversation.
You’ve confirmed my worst fears.

I have never risked an ocean cruise because I have been seasick on ferries and even on Loch Ness. I have envied friends who have sailed with the Jubilee Sailing Trust: http://jst.org.uk which has the tall ships Lord Nelson and Tenacious and both able-bodied and disabled people can join the crew and learn how to sail the vessels according to their capabilities.

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I saw his cousin yesterday, coming out of a waterfall pool, but I can’t share it with you because it is my photo and not on line. Closer examination might have led to a fallen tree, but it was quite life-like.

I sympathise, but find that a tablet -bought from the chemist – solves this problem on shorter crossings including a force eight gale from Ireland. I wouldn’t want to rely on those for a cruise as side effects are not that pleasant. Ships are for getting to places without having to endure the misery of an airport. You can also take the car with you.

I have even suffered travel sickness before a short internal flight. Maybe the answer is to take the pills well in advance.

Duncan – The Loch Ness monster doesn’t really exist but the revenue from tourism is something you can believe in.

We used to do a lot of sailing, and I once spent several days in Loch Ness with deep scan sonar trying to find anything. No luck, but it was lots of fun.

Never been sea sick, but I sympathise with those who are, as it seems truly awful.

Having been on river trips on friends’ boats I am really keen to try sailing with my family. It appeals much more than commercial cruises.

It’s certainly the most relaxing way I know to take a break. Things tend to happen slowly on boats and the only skills you really need are chart reading and decent eyesight, plus a good pair of binoculars.

If you’re going to sea, which we did a lot in Scotland, off the West coast, then it’s also essential to know something about Marine radio telephony but apart from that listening to the weather forecast and deciding your plans accordingly is all that’s needed, really.

We loved it and preferred it to any other type of holiday.

I’ve avoided lumpy water because of travel sickness, though I can certainly see the attraction.

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Duncan – If you are responding to JKK’s comment above [25/12/2018] “Many thanks to all who have contributed to this edifying Conversation. You’ve confirmed my worst fears.” it is possible that you might have misunderstood his or her meaning. I think the comment was about the enjoyability of an ocean cruise, not the quality of this Conversation.

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The importance of itineraries –
I was amazed to see that a CMV cruise sold out within a week for January 2020 but then the itinerary is something quite spectacular including St Helena , SW Africa, S Africa, and a handful of those islands in the Indian Ocean much talked about such as Zanzibar, Reunion, Mayotte, Seychelles, Sri Lanka , and India …………

One thing that we find that could be improved is the quality, amount and relevance of information provided. There was a small cruise line, now defunct, which realised there is a section of the UK public who love information but on most cruise lines though they may have some subject speakers the audience is seen to need information in a lightweight form.

If you like knowing the history, geography, and economics of a country/town, or size and population of the country I recommend downloading Wikipedia* and/or taking some relevant books or maps.

The internet by satellite can be both expensive and slow given the high contention rate of passengers to transmitting ability so it helps to have everything off-line. Whilst many bemoan not being able to speak to family daily or run a business from onboard cheaply for many others the release from being in contact is a major part of the holiday’s benefits.

Our recent discovery of photobooks, [I have posted an article on them in the Member Community forum and also the off-topic lobby] , has opened an excellent way to have a nice glossy album of your best photos of the places visited on your bookcase at small cost. Certainly better than multiple CD’s or expensively printed photos hidden in some bulky album ! : )

* under 90 GB and accessed through Kiwix though that can be laborious. You can also download Wikiquotes, Wikitravel, wikiSource etc and the complete Gutenberg in the same .zim format.

Has anyone any comments on the best and worst cruise lines article?

Hi Oscar, that was the reason for my question? Just out curiosity how many people did you survey from each cruise line? Thanks

Jacinta Skelly says:
29 January 2019

I’m glad to have the opportunity to comment to which about our river cruise with Saga last summer. We would not have considered Saga were it not for a very favourable review from Which? I’m sorry to say that the whole thing was a nightmare that has put us off cruising for ever. The itinerary was interesting – Berlin to the island of Ruegen, visiting Polish and German sides of the river. But the the boat was old and rather tatty, the cabin was very cramped, especially the bathroom, where a strategically-placed shelf prevented one from leaning over the tiny basin, making it impossible to wash one’s face or teeth! There were no toiletries and no opportunity to buy shampoo for five days, given German opening times at the weekend. The window could not be opened and the air conditioning either did not exist or did not work – very unpleasant given the hot weather. The “gourmet” food was typical Dutch “horeca” (catering industry), came in huge tins, and was boring and inadequate. I have not seen tinned fruit salad for years, yet it made its appearance every evening, usually titled “chef’s special trifle” or the like. Worst of all was the fixed seating at dinner. We were unlucky to be obliged to sit with a strange family trio who did not speak to us or to each other or indeed anyone else the whole time. This arrangement was purely for the convenience of the crew and made every evening a misery.

Another flaw was the fact that we spent far too much time traveling and not enough at the ports of call, which was very disappointing. I wrote to Saga with these comments and received a reply along the lines of “we’re sorry you did not enjoy the cruise, but no-body else complained”, hardly an adequate response.

Regarding Cruises my wife and I love them and have been on over a dozen to a different parts of the world every time, They are expensive and will add many extras to your bill if you are not careful, we very rarely book organised trips and get off the boat and explore using local transport or walking, people worry about rough seas and being ill on board but in all our cruises the worst weather we have experienced has been in the Med. and the English Channel, We have crossed the Atlantic several times and it has always been like a mill pond so perhaps we have been lucky, There is no doubt that travel broadens the mind and alters your view on life as we have no conception how other people live until you meet them and see the other side of the coin, the ships can vary a great deal even when run by the same company and so can the food but overall anyone can find something to eat and allergies, vegetarian and vegan food are catered for provided that you let them know and the entertainment surely must suit all as there are, Films, Shows, talks and plenty of books to read and if you are very active all ships have pools, exercise tracks and gyms and some even have climbing walls and ice rinks so how you could be bored on a ship is beyond me.
For us a cruise is the only way to go but it can be a hassle if you have to fly out to pick up the ship at a distant port as you have the luggage weight restriction for the plane but the ship has a laundry and take easycare clothing that will wash and dry easily as some parts of the world the humidity is so high that you change clothes several limes a day – anyway happy cruising and enjoy the experience.