Queen Elizabeth and sailboat

For many people, the idea of getting on a plane to get to your cruise fills them with dread -- the queues, the baggage restrictions -- just the sheer hassle of air travel. True, you do get to the sun quicker (though British summers do seem to be getting more reliable), but you pay the price for that.

The good news is that there are a large number of cruise ships based right here in the UK, particularly from springtime onwards when the seasonally-based US ships reposition to these shores. Most ships leave from Southampton, but there are a number of other ports around the country -- including Dover, Greenock, Tilbury and Newcastle -- which are popular departure points, particularly over the summer.

You might also be surprised at how far you can go from these shores -- north to the Baltic, the Norwegian fjords and Iceland; south to Spain, the Canaries and the Med. and even world cruises and repositioning cruises.>

We've picked what we feel are the best no-fly ships based here in the UK, in terms of itineraries, facilities and onboard atmosphere.

Find a Cruise
(Photo: P&O)

1. P&O Cruises' Britannia

Ship Overview

P&O Cruises’ current flagship, the 3,647-passenger Britannia encapsulates this company’s new approach to cruise ship design with its clean and crisp aesthetic. Cabins and suites come in 35 categories from inside cabins to lavish suites and are equipped with modern technology. There are also 27 single cabins, some with balconies. Speciality restaurants include Epicurean with its understated glamour, pan-Asian Sindhu, and the Glass House with its superb selection of wines. The Crystal Room is the place to go for evening entertainment from live bands and singers. The Limelight Supper Club combines great food with cabaret-style entertainment from Brit-popular artistes. The Headliners Theatre is the venue for West-End review-style shows and tribute acts. During the day there’s the chance to chill out at The Retreat -- an exclusive outdoor spa area. On selected dates, pro dancers and judges from "Strictly Come Dancing" join the ship.

Where Does it Go?

All Britannia itineraries start in Southampton and include cruises to the Mediterranean, Iberia, Canary Islands, Norway, the Baltic and Caribbean, plus mini-break cruises.

Ship Highlights

  • Sindhu restaurant, arguably the finest Indian restaurant at sea
  • Panoramic Crow's Nest Bar and elegant Anderson's clubby bar
  • Crichton's Card Room for bridge tournaments

Queen Victoria Dining

2. Cunard's Queen Victoria

Ship Overview

The 2,061-passenger Queen Victoria is perfect for passengers who yearn for traditional values and an oceangoing taste of yesteryear. The Art Deco aesthetic includes the dramatic architecture of the Grand Lobby -- a majestic atrium with adjacent 6,000-book library. Dominated by magnificent crystal chandeliers, the two-deck-high Queen's Room is inspired by Queen Victoria’s retreat in the Isle of Wight –- Osborne House. The 830-seat Royal Court Theatre has tiered seating and 16 private boxes; other elegant public rooms include the Commodore Club with unimpeded views over the bow. The Chart Room and Winter Garden recently underwent a makeover which has enhanced their appeal. The 878-seat Britannia Restaurant is a striking room with intimate table groupings; the Britannia Club option has proved popular with passengers who don't like to be restricted to specific seating times. The Grills on Deck 11 are for passengers occupying Princess Grill and Queens Grill suites. The Queens, Master and Grand suites are amongst the most lavish at sea. Nine new cabins offering Inside and Oceanview options were added during a refit in 2017.

Where Does it Go?

Queen Victoria sails from Southampton, heading to the Baltic, Norway, Iceland, Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Caribbean, South America and around Britain plus mini-break cruises.

Ship Highlights

  • Royal Arcade inspired by the Burlington Arcade in London
  • Steakhouse at the Verandah
  • Glamorous evenings with themed balls

Crown Princess

3. Princess Cruises' Crown Princess

Ship Overview

Part of the same series of ships as Ruby and Emerald Princess, the 3,080-passenger Crown Princess entered service in 2006 and was refurbished in April 2018. This may be one of the larger ships in the Princess Cruises’ fleet, but it never really feels crowded. There are nearly 900 cabins with balconies. An unusual tiered design means the balcony above doesn’t block the sun, but nor does it offer much in the way of privacy. It has something to appeal to all ages, from the excellent kids clubs to classes for adults, and an impressive variety of pools, bars and restaurants. Signature features include "Movies Under The Stars" -- a giant outdoor LED screen; an adults-only area -- The Sanctuary -- with obliging waiters offering cold drinks and snacks. Evening entertainment focuses around the Princess Theatre, Club Fusion and Explorers Lounge; watering holes include the Adagio Bar, Crooners Bar, Wheelhouse Bar, and Skywalkers Nightclub. Alternative dining choices include Italian Sabatini's, Crown Grill for steaks and seafood, Vines Wine Bar for early evening tapas, and the Salty Dog Gastropub.

Where Does it Go?

Baltic, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Mediterranean and round-Britain.

Ship Highlights

  • Movies Under The Stars
  • Adults-only "Sanctuary"
  • Chef's Table Experience

Independence of the Seas

4. Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas

Ship Overview

Independence of the Seas underwent a significant refurbishment in April 2018. Features added include the Perfect Storm waterslide; Skypad -- trampolines with bungee-style harnesses and virtual reality headsets; Puzzle-Break Observatorium –- an escape room experience; Splashaway Bay waterpark; and glow-in-the-dark laser-tag "Battle for Planet Z". Also new are a fish n’ chips shop; Izumi Hibachi & Sushi restaurant; plus Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade. The FlowRider surfing simulator and rock-climbing wall are always popular. The heart of this 3,858-passenger ship is the Royal Promenade -- a boulevard for shopping, dining and entertainment including nightly street parades. The Alhambra Theatre is the venue for a brand-new, virtually full-length production of "Grease". Bustling watering holes include Vintages wine bar and the signature Viking Crown Lounge. Studio B skating rink hosts skating lessons by day and spectacular ice shows at night. The 1,200-seat main dining room spans three decks linked by a dramatic staircase, while speciality restaurants include Giovanni's Table and Chops Grille. There are 21 categories of accommodation including Interior cabins that look down onto the Royal Promenade. There are also five grades of large family-focused accommodations, plus triples and quads.

Where Does it Go?

Canary Islands, Norway, Mediterranean, France, Spain, the Azores and around Britain; as well as mini-break cruises.

Ship Highlights

  • Grease full-length production show
  • Studio B Ice Shows
  • Skypad, FlowRider, Observatorium

(Photo: Cruise Critic)

5. Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Silhouette

Ship Overview

The 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette made its debut to these shores in 2018, replacing its hugely popular sister Eclipse. Silhouette has an astonishing 85 percent of cabins with verandas. The Grand Cuvee Dining Room is a gorgeous space spanning two decks that features a shimmering metallic wine tower containing 1,800 bottles. Speciality restaurants includes: the grill-your-own Lawn Club Grill; High-end French Murano; Lo-cal cuisine at Blu; playful QSine and for hearty Italian fare, Tuscan Grille. Featuring globally inspired cuisine, Luminae is the preserve of suite-class guests. With its two pools, the pool deck is one of the most serene and resort-like in the cruise industry. The Silhouette Theatre stages Celebrity Cruises’ renowned entertainment, while Celebrity Central is a performance venue for late-night comedy. For a quieter vibe, there’s the Ensemble Lounge which offers after-dinner jazz. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is decorated in minimalist style and offers various pampering treatments.

Where Does it Go?

Norway, Iceland, Baltic, Russia, Mediterranean, Azores, Canary Islands, Spain and France in addition to mini-break cruises.

Ship Highlights

  • Lawn Club Grill
  • Canyon Ranch SpaClub
  • Superb dining in both the main dining room and speciality restaurants

Saga Sapphire

6. Saga Cruises' Saga Sapphire

Ship Overview

As the company's flagship, the 720-passenger Saga Sapphire is a British classic with a modern twist. Sadly the ship is now sailing on its farewell season before retiring from the company's fleet in May 2020, to be replaced by the line's first new build, Spirit of Discovery. With an extremely loyal following, this ship will be missed by many devotees who have come to appreciate the beach huts at the quirky Beach Club on the Sun Deck where they can have fish and chips at lunchtime and ice cream when the temperatures rise. Fez-shaped lampshades and cushions bearing comedian Tommy Cooper's one-liners add humour to Cooper's Bar; another delightful room is the Aviator Lounge with a striking decor dedicated to heroes of the skies. The Pole To Pole main restaurant has four zones, each styled on a different continent; while East to West is a specialty Asian restaurant. Many cabins have private balconies, and there are 44 cabins for solo travellers.

Where Does it Go?

Sailing from Southampton and Dover, the ship will visit Canada, plus sailings to Norway, the Baltic, Canary Islands, British Isles, Caribbean and Mediterranean.

Ship Highlights

  • East To West speciality restaurant
  • Travel insurance and home pick-up included
  • The Aqua Spa and heated indoor pool

Boudicca

7. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' Boudicca

Ship Overview

The 880-passenger Boudicca underwent an extensive refurbishment in March 2018 and reappeared with a new dining room, as well as other enhancements to cabins and public spaces. Ship highlights include the informal Secret Garden Cafe, which has an alfresco ambience at breakfast and lunch; as well as popular Indian, Thai and Indonesian-themed buffet dinners at night. The Secret Garden Lounge is the epicentre of life onboard, while the most serene room is the Observatory above the Navigation Bridge. The Neptune Lounge offers revues of West End musical favourites, as well as guest stars from the stage and British television. Boudicca is a good choice for solo cruisers as there are two single Balcony Suites, four outside singles, and 24 inside singles.

Where Does it Go?

Boudicca has a roster of sailings from Dover between March and October heading to the Mediterranean, Spain, Canary Islands, Norway, Iceland and Greenland.

Highlights

  • Atlantis Spa and Salon
  • Keenly-priced terrace balcony cabins
  • Long-standing and personable crew

Columbus

8. Cruise & Maritime Voyages' Columbus

Ship Overview

The current flagship of Cruise & Maritime Voyages joined the fleet in June 2017. The 1,400-passenger Columbus is the largest vessel in CMV’s eclectic fleet and includes 775 passenger cabins in 17 different grades, ranging from Voyager Inside to Deluxe Balcony cabins and Junior Suites. 150 cabins are allocated for solos. Due to its age (32 years in 2019) corridors are a lot wider than on other ships of a similar size which affords a spacious ambiance. The Waterfront Restaurant has open-seating at breakfast and lunch and traditional first and second sittings for dinner. Alternative restaurants include Fusion and the Grill and Chef's Table. The more casual Plantation Bistro offers buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner, and when the weather is fine, the alfresco Grill beckons. There's a choice of seven lounges and bars including the Captain's Club; Connexions; Raffles; and Taverners Pub. Six entertainment venues include the Dome Observatory and Nightclub; as well as Palladium Show Lounge for ballroom dancing. Facilities also include two swimming pools and large open decks with outdoor screen; plus a wellness centre and gym.

Where Does it Go?

From May through December, Columbus sails from London Tilbury to Norway, Iceland, Baltic, British Isles, Canary Islands, Madeira, Azores, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland.

Ship Highlights

  • Informative lecture programmes
  • Friendly ambiance for first-time and solo cruisers
  • Comedy nights

Hebridean Princess

9. Hebridean Islands Cruises' Hebridean Princess

Ship Overview

A voyage amongst the breathtakingly beautiful remote islands of the Hebrides and Western Isles, and the lochs and inlets of Scotland's West Coast, onboard the Hebridean Princess is a pure delight. This tiny ship carries just 50 passengers and a crew of 38. The world's smallest luxury cruise ship has an enviable reputation for offering an all-inclusive experience. In fact the Queen chartered Hebridean Princess to celebrate her 80th birthday. The impeccable cuisine in the Columba Restaurant features top quality, fresh, locally-sourced produce. On seven-night cruises there are two formal nights including the captain's gala farewell dinner when haggis is served with traditional flair. The 20 boutique hotel-style cabins are richly decorated to individual designs there are also 10 comfortable single cabins.

Where Does it Go?

Four- to nine-nights cruises operate between March and October from Oban to the Inner and Outer Hebrides plus Orkney and Shetland. At the start and beginning of the season the ship sails in the more sheltered waters of the Argyll Coast from Greenock.

Highlights

  • Celebrated guest speakers
  • Inclusive excursions to castles, gardens and museums
  • Country house ambience
  • (Photo: Norwegian)

    10. Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Spirit

    Ship Overview

    Originally built and launched for Star Cruises as SuperStar Leo in 1998, the 2,018-passenger ship underwent a major makeover in 2017. It’s a classic ship by NCL standards, but it does come with the company’s "Freestyle Cruising" concept. Complimentary restaurants include: the two main dining rooms -- Windows and Garden Room; there's also the Blue Lagoon, Shogun, Bier Garten and Raffles Court buffet which are complimentary. Speciality dining options include: Le Bistro, Teppanyaki, La Trattoria, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria and Sushi. Bars and lounges include the traditional-style Henry's Pub, Shanghai Bar, Champagne Charlie's Champagne Bar and Galaxy of the Stars Observation Lounge. The Stardust Theatre stages lavish hi-energy shows such as ELEMENTS; Soul Rockin' Nights; and World Beat for Irish tap dancing, African drums and mesmerising Asian Kodo rhythms. Night owls love Maharani’s where the DJ spins crowd pleasers. Younger cruisers head to Buccaneer’s Wet & Wild Pool which has slides, paddling pools and even a hot-tub. Charlie’s Childcare Centre is just for kids and comes complete with a jukebox, table football and air hockey. There’s a wealth of accommodation options for all budgets and preferences ranging from Inside cabins to Penthouses and Owner’s Suites with large balconies, butler and concierge service.

    Where Does it Go?

    From May until October Norwegian Spirit sails from Southampton to Norway, Iceland, Baltic, British Isles, Mediterranean and Greek Islands.

    Highlights

    • Le Bistro for superb classic French cuisine
    • Roman Spa & Fitness centre
    • A real wooden promenade that wraps around the ship