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Top 10 No-Fly Cruise Ships

Fred. Olsen's Black Watch in Naeroyfjord, Norway (Photo: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines)
Fred. Olsen's Black Watch in Naeroyfjord, Norway (Photo: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines)

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The wonderful thing about no-fly cruises is that there’s nothing to stress about once you arrive at the port. Whether it’s Southampton, Dover, Newcastle or anywhere else, you can hand your suitcases to porters then get yourself a coffee or cup of tea for the short wait to be called through security.

Updated January 8, 2020

Your holiday literally starts as soon as you pass your hand luggage through the scanner and you’re guided up the ramp to be greeted onboard by staff – sometimes by the captain himself – and shown to your cabin.

Then you can wave goodbye to Blighty, grab a cocktail on the sundeck for the sailaway party and look forward to a night of good food and great entertainment before almost certainly waking up the next day in your first exciting destination: perhaps northern Europe, Norway or northern Spain.

Of course, if you’re off to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, Canaries or further, you might have to sleep late and relax all day.

So here is our pick of 10 of the best ships for no-fly cruises.

1. Marella Explorer

Marella Explorer 2 (Photo: Marella Cruises)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
Marella Explorer will be based in Newcastle for round-trip holidays this summer and is Marella Cruises’ newest ship along with sister ship Marella Explorer II, which launched in April 2019. It’s ideal for British family holidays thanks to facilities such as children’s clubs and a Sports & Family deck. The mostly British entertainment and food means children will feel at home onboard and its northern homeport saves the need to get all the way to the south coast with all the paraphernalia that children require before they’re prepared to leave home. As an added bonus for frazzled parents, its cruises are all-inclusive, with drinks and gratuities included, making it much more affordable for families.

Where does it go?
Arriving in Newcastle after a winter in the Caribbean, Marella Explorer will sail to northern Europe from the beginning of May until September. Its first itinerary will take it to the Baltic Sea with a 14-night cruise that not only includes the star ports of Tallinn, St Petersburg (overnight stay), Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen, but also features a day in Oslo -- Norway’s compact capital with its magnificent Viking and maritime museums.

Norway’s fjords loom large in several other six to 13-night cruises, with the longer Midnight Sun cruise in June getting all the way to Alta, high in the Arctic Circle, before returning home. There’s also a 14-night Lands of Fire & Ice cruise in July to Iceland and Norway via the Orkney Islands. Marella Explorer will conclude its summer season with a few round-trips from Southampton before it heads to the Canaries for the winter.

Ship highlights
When Marella Explorer joined the fleet in summer 2018 it raised the bar for Marella Cruises with 10 restaurants and 10 lounges, introducing The Dining Club for foodies and the first Champneys spa at sea. The 1,924-passenger ship had a massive makeover before becoming the line’s biggest ship and it’s bathed in natural light -- from the two-deck picture windows of the lively Indigo bar-club-casino to the two-deck glass wall in main dining room, Latitude 53. There’s also a retractable glass roof in the Mediterranean lounge and restaurant above. The family deck features mini-golf, volleyball and basketball, a couple of pools and a cinema, plus burgers and pizza at the Snack Shack. The adults-only Veranda with double sun loungers and private cabanas, meanwhile, offers an escape while children hang out in their clubs.

2. Disney Magic

Disney Magic (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
For a few weeks during summer, Disney Magic will sprinkle its fairy dust on Dover before setting off on five cruises around Northern Europe. So, there will be no need to fly to America or even board Eurostar to Disneyland Paris to get your Disney fix. If you’ve ever seen the joy of a small child coming face to face with Mickey Mouse or perhaps Beauty and The Beast, you’ll know why Disney Magic offers the ultimate family no-fly cruise.

Where does it go?
From mid-August to mid-September, Disney Magic sails north from Dover to Scandinavia and the Netherlands as well as offering a seven-night British Isles round-trip that goes to Dublin, Belfast, Greenock (near Glasgow) and Liverpool. There are also seven-night return trips to northern Europe that dip a toe in the Baltic, calling at Oslo and Copenhagen or Copenhagen and Gothenburg, as well as sailing to Norwegian ports such as Stavanger. Or there’s a Norway-only round-trip that goes as far north as the picturesque fishing town of Alesund.

Ship highlights
Disney Magic has some of the newest onboard offerings of all Disney Cruise Line’s ships, thanks to a multi-million-dollar refit in 2018. Rapunzel’s Royal Table offers a new dining experience inspired by Disney film "Tangled". Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and the Snuggly Duckling Thugs entertain you as you eat in the castle ballroom, while "Tangled: The Musical" is one of the onboard theatre productions. The teens room, Vibe, has been transformed into an urban loft with video and virtual reality games, plus activities such as movie-making. And the adult-only Cove Café has been reimagined into a totally tropical escape for coffee or cocktails beside the Quiet Cove Pool. Adults can also enjoy the redesigned Rainforest Room with steam and hydrotherapy in the Senses Spa. And if your child has grown out of Disney characters there’s the chance to meet Marvel’s Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America.

3. Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
When Independence of the Seas was named in Southampton in 2008 it was the world’s largest cruise ship and has always held a special place in the hearts of British cruisers. In 2018 it had a massive refit to bring it bang up to date and returned to homeport in Southampton. Now it’s back again this year. While unequivocally American, the crew on Independence have the measure of British passengers and not only are the prices well pitched for our market, but the itineraries are spot on. From short sampler cruises over to northern Europe and back (Bruges and Le Havre a speciality) to a week in Scandinavia or a fortnight in the Mediterranean, Independence of the Seas has the family holiday covered as well as catering to younger groups and couples.

Where does it go?
Outside the school holidays, Independence of the Seas travels to cultural destinations in northern Europe such as Hamburg, Oslo and Bruges (from Zeebrugge), or areas of natural beauty like the Norwegian Fjords. Western France and Spain are included in a trip down to Lisbon while autumn cruises include an 11-night Sunshine In The Canaries sailing. But in high summer the focus moves to the Mediterranean, sometimes concentrating on Italy, sometimes on Spain. Independence of the Seas leaves for the Caribbean come winter and in 2020 its Southampton spot will be taken over by the magnificent Anthem of the Seas.

Ship highlights
New onboard activities top Independence of the Seas’ list of upgrades, starting with The Perfect Storm twin racing waterslides, a pop-up Lazer Tag room and a new Escape Room. Original favourites such as the ice skating rink, Flowrider Surf Simulator and rock climbing walls are still there, too. West End-standard musicals are a feature of RCI ships and Independence of the Seas has a brilliant version of "Grease". As for eating, there are many restaurants, free and paid-for, with the most theatrical new arrival being the Asian-inspired Izumi Sushi and Hibachi Grill -- the largest teppanyaki dining experience in the whole fleet. Staterooms range from inside cabins to balcony cabins or suites, with new Panoramic Rooms offering floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the ship. There are also inter-connected staterooms for families. At the heart of this 3,858-passenger ship, though, is the Royal Promenade -- a venue for shopping, eating and drinking, plus nightly street parties.

4. Spirit of Discovery

Saga Cruises' new ship, Spirit of Discovery, is set to be christened by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall in Dover
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
Saga’s first new-build ship will sail from Dover after a naming ceremony in July, switching to Southampton in October, then heading back to Dover again next spring. It might be built for polar expeditions, but its cruise calendar sticks closer to home with a mix of northern Europe, Mediterranean and Canary Islands round-trips. Passengers will love the ship’s British focus -- from the Jools Holland supper club to the recent introduction of no gratuities. Then there’s the free chauffeur service taking guests to the ship from their home (within a 250-mile radius) and the option of free travel insurance or a price reduction if not required. Free Wi-Fi and wine with lunch and dinner also makes this famously over-50s travel company a perennial favourite.

Where does it go?
Saga is definitely for grown-ups and although it goes to popular destinations such as the Norwegian Fjords, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean there are often twists to the itineraries. Its Natural Scandinavia round-trip, for instance, goes to Skagen and Stockholm but also the less well-known Lulea in Sweden and Oulu plus Pori in Finland. Its food and wine-themed French & Spanish Flavours cruise goes to Bordeaux, Bilbao and Leixoes for Oporto in Portugal, while its Chic Mediterranean cruise avoids the obvious ports and stops at historic Cartagena and Valencia in Spain plus St Tropez and Toulon in France.

Ship highlights
It’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of Jules Holland playing the piano in The Club -- the steakhouse restaurant he has helped to design -- although he’ll only be onboard for a couple of special cruises (Gourmet Spain and Natural Scandinavia in 2019). Elsewhere the ship has a light-filled contemporary feel, with a touch of mid-20th century retro style. It’s only a small ship, carrying just 999 passengers, but onboard facilities include the Britannia Lounge for daytime lectures and evening music and dancing. The Living Room has a Champagne bar at night and homemade cakes by day, while The Spa has a hydrotherapy pool and steam room and the gym offers Pilates, yoga and tai chi classes.

5. Britannia

Britannia (Photo: P&O Cruises)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
P&O Cruises’ flagship Britannia is a home-away-from-home for Brits. Built as a ship for the nation and named by the Queen back in 2015, it’s hosted a live Ant and Dec’s "Saturday Night Takeaway" and the celebrity chefs who have created its speciality restaurants are household names in the UK. Apart from a winter season in the Caribbean all its cruises are return-trips from Southampton. There’s a good mix of seven and 14-night holidays that are aimed at P&O fans who have embraced the ship’s less traditional -- more boutique hotel -- design. The no-tips-required cruises will no doubt also win new fans and there are 27 single cabins for solo travellers.

Where does it go?
Britannia’s Norwegian Fjords, Baltic Sea and northern Europe itineraries mostly cover well-known destinations, so are best-suited to people who haven’t been to those particular regions before and are keen to see the highlights. Its 14-night Scandinavia and Russia cruise, for instance, goes to all the must-see places with an overnight in St Petersburg and late departure from Copenhagen and only one less well-known port, Skagen in Denmark. While most of its Norwegian Fjords cruises follow a well-worn route, they also feature days of scenic cruising that get Britannia into fjords other cruise lines might not offer. There’s also a school holidays Mediterranean cruise that goes to well-known ports between Cadiz and Livorno, for excursions to Florence and Pisa.

Ship highlights
P&O Cruises’ biggest ship, at 3,647 passengers, is also its most stylish. It’s like a plush London hotel. Britannia was the first P&O ship to introduce The Limelight Club, an intimate supper club, and The Epicurian, a stylish lounge café for afternoon tea with cakes by Eric Landlard. Also new for Britannia was the Market Café in the Atrium where guests can buy British beer and team it with artisan British cheese (but only if they want to) or indulge in more Landlard patisseries. British food is highlighted in the Cookery School, where guest teachers can include baking queen Mary Berry, while Chef’s Table dinners are sometimes hosted by celebrity chefs such as Marco Pierre White. Entertainment includes the hugely successful interactive magic and illusion show "Astonishing", and "Strictly Come Dancing"-themed cruises in partnership with BBC Studios. It also has P&O Cruises staples such as pan-Asian Sindhu, The Glass House wine bar and the Headliners Theatre with revue-style shows and tribute acts.

6. Crown Princess

Exterior shot of Crown Princess docked in port
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
Crown Princess has been cruising around the Caribbean of late, but it’s back in Southampton for summer 2019 after a refit in 2018. So if you want to explore the British Isles this summer on a mid-size ship with a long list of amenities this could be the one for you. There’s everything from Movies Under The Stars to water parks and a giant gym, but with a maximum 3,080 passengers onboard it rarely seems overcrowded and there are plenty of lounges and public spaces to get away from it all.

Where does it go?
This summer, Crown Princess is one of two Princess Cruises ships sailing around the British Isles and Ireland from Southampton, calling at major cities such as Dublin, Belfast, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh until September. After a winter in the Caribbean the ship will be back in Southampton in time for May 2020 for round-trips to the Baltic and Midnight Sun cruises around Norway right up to North Cape. Then, after a few autumn Mediterranean trips Crown Princess will be heading back to Florida for winter sun.

Ship highlights
Crown Princess had a UK makeover for the 2017 season, introducing curry night once a week, fish and chips every lunchtime and a weekly Sunday roast to its complimentary restaurants. Even the pub serves Lancashire hotpot and Cornish pasties on sea days, while the breakfast options include English-style bacon and black pudding, with Twinings tea and Marmite to hand. Since the 2018 refit every cabin has been upgraded with a luxury Princess bed. Plus, the four top-deck outdoor restaurants have been enhanced. The new Salty Dog Grill serves street tacos with fillings such as roasted sweet potato green chili as well as burgers. The new pizza take-away, Slice, offers California artisan toast, with toppings such as avocado, as well as the line’s signature Neapolitan-style pizza. The poolside bar and ice cream bar, meanwhile, have both been renamed after a makeover. The Italian Sabatini’s and Crown Grill remain superb. There’s adults-only sunbathing at The Sanctuary and an adults-only pool in the Lotus Spa -- both paid-for. But this is a family ship with excellent free children’s clubs that offer new activities in association with Discovery Channel.

7. Norwegian Spirit

Norwegian Spirit (Photo: NCL)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
There are not many opportunities to experience the famous “Freestyle Cruising” of Norwegian Cruise Line on round-trips from the UK, so grab it while you can when Norwegian Spirit docks in Southampton this summer. From May to September there are opportunities to sail around Britain and see northern Europe while being free to eat any time without being limited to a main dining room early or late sitting. Freestyle also means you can choose from a selection of free upgrades such as speciality dining or Wi-Fi packages and there are activities to suit all ages, from toddlers up.

Where does it go?
Like most UK-based ships Norwegian Spirit heads north during the early summer months to take advantage of the long nights. Its Iceland, Ireland & Norway cruise has virtually 24-hour daylight in early June and its Norway & The Arctic cruise in late June takes in the summer solstice. There are several trips around the British Isles, with one that also goes to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. This offers a rare chance to disembark in Holyhead, north Wales, and Portland, on the Dorset coast.

Ship highlights
As one of NCL’s smallest ships, with 1,996 passengers, Spirit really is perfect for destination-heavy itineraries where you wake-up in a new port most days and are too tired to do more than eat and drink at night. There are 17 places to do this, many of them complimentary, including the two main dining rooms, the Raffles Court buffet, 24-hour Blue Lagoon snack station and the Bier Garten, serving Bavarian dishes and beer. Book a speciality package so you don’t miss out on Cagney’s Steakhouse, good coffee in Café 49 or the three other paid-for restaurants. And after dinner there’s Maharini’s Lounge & Nightclub, a South Beach-style hangout, or Stardust Theatre for Vegas-style shows.

8. Black Watch

Black Watch (Photo: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' Black Watch is sailing from Liverpool this summer and again in 2020 following a successful 2018 season based on the River Mersey. Mostly, the ship will sail north to Scotland, Norway and Iceland and, when it’s not in its Liverpool home, it will be based in Southampton for the winter. Black Watch is a quintessentially British ship with prices in sterling and traditional menus that suit the mostly older clientele. Multi-generation holidays are a growing feature of its summer programme, when there’s a Little Skippers Club for children aged five to 11, but outside the school holidays the ship is a haven for mature travellers.

Where does it go?
Black Watch is a small ship, with just 799 passengers onboard, so it’s perfect for its Scottish Isles cruises and for exploring the Norwegian Fjords. Iceland, the Baltic Sea and even Greenland itineraries, with an overnight in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, are also on offer. From September, Black Watch heads south to northern France, or down as far as Portimao in Portugal, and a November return trip to Liverpool will get you to Morocco. Then from December the ship is based in Southampton for winter sun trips to Spain and the Canaries or up to northern Norway to look for the Northern Lights, before returning to Liverpool in March 2020.

Ship highlights
With its classic lines and a wraparound promenade deck, Black Watch takes its passengers back to a gentler time of deck games and afternoon tea. But a 26-day refurbishment in late 2016 brought Black Watch up to date with new bathrooms and mini-bars in every cabin, an interactive TV system and improved restaurant and lounge bar facilities. There’s a small contemporary-styled restaurant, the Brigadoon, and a small a la carte restaurant, The Club, in addition to a spacious main restaurant, The Glentanar. The ship has a Scottish theme throughout, from its restaurants to the tartan carpets and Black Watch Regiment memorabilia in the public rooms. As for the onboard entertainment, well that’s fairly gentle, too, ranging from traditional revues to ballroom dancing.

9. Columbus

Columbus (Photo: Cruise & Maritime Voyages)

Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ flagship Columbus is based full-time at London Tilbury, with just the occasional departure from Rotterdam, so it offers a great choice of no-fly cruises year-round. These include very successful themed cruises, such as its Cricketing Legends with superstars like former England captain Mike Gatting, interviewed by the sublimely entertaining Nick Hancock. There are also winter sunshine and Christmas markets cruises and a round-the-world cruise, while the onboard ambiance is comfortably lively -- but not excessive -- thanks to the reasonable bar prices. It’s also worth looking out for the many special offers and when cruises start in the Netherlands there are sometimes free coach and ferry transfers with free parking in Tilbury, where the cruise disembarks.

Where does it go?
Round-Britain cruises and the Norwegian Fjords dominate itineraries during late spring and summer but, as Columbus is relatively small, with just 1,400 passengers, it can anchor off out-of-the-way destinations such as the Scottish Isles or the Channel and Scilly Islands. Its Baltic and Norwegian Fjords cruises follow classic itineraries and, during winter months, there are cruises to the Canaries and Madeira with festive short cruises to Antwerp, Amsterdam and Hamburg. The Grand Round the World Cruise 2020 will take Columbus to the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal to Australasia and the Far East, returning through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and home. From April 2020 Columbus is back at Tilbury for cruises heading north.

Ship highlights
Columbus joined the CMV fleet in 2017 after a major refit and its restaurants and lounge bars still look fresh and new -- in particular the glamorous Waterfront main restaurant and contemporary Plantation buffet restaurant, with shelves full of potted plants and knick-knacks giving it a land-based feel. The food is remarkably good for such a budget cruise line but the stand-out restaurant is the curry house, Fusion. It’s no coincidence that CMV’s food and beverage manager comes from Kerala, in India. Columbus was once a Princess Cruises ship, so there’s a good selection of public spaces for shows and the bars are reasonably priced, with a bottle of red wine costing around £15.

10. Celebrity Silhouette

Celebrity Silhouette (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)
Why is it good for a no-fly cruise?
Celebrity Silhouette has made Southampton home for the summer again with a series of mainly seven and 14-night round-trips to Scandinavia, Russia and Norway’s fjords. It’s especially good if you want to go to the Baltic Sea because it goes back and forth to St Petersburg several times from May to July. Many cruises have free drinks and gratuities included which, with the saving on air fares, makes it even more affordable.

Where does it go?
Celebrity Cruises was among the pioneers of overnight stays and late-night departures so Silhouette’s series of 14-night Scandinavia & Russia cruises feature two days in St Petersburg as well as two in Copenhagen or Stockholm, which is a real treat. Iceland also features in several cruises, coupled with Ireland, with overnights in Dublin and Reykjavik. During the summer there are two classic Western Mediterranean cruises and then it’s down to the Canaries a couple of times before crossing the Atlantic to New York.

Ship highlights
Celebrity Cruises fancies itself as a “hip” cruise line and it’s certainly a favourite with foodies. Silhouette had the first restaurant at sea where you could grill your own food at the Lawn Club (a green sward of grass for picnics and gazing out to sea). It’s almost like having a barbecue party in your garden, with a chef helping you cook on a ventilated grill beside your table. The cabana-style private retreats in the Lawn Club are pretty memorable, too, and there is certainly a good choice of complimentary and paid-for restaurants, from sushi to French and Italian, as well as an excellent Cellar Masters wine bar where the Enomatic self-serve wine system means you can buy wine by the glass to create your own wine-tasting evening. Also stand-out is The Hideaway, an avant-garde tree house for relaxing in a quiet corner, and Celebrity iLounge, with interactive workstations and Apple-trained staff.

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