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Which Round-Britain Cruise is Right for Me?

U.K. Executive Editor
Adam Coulter

Last updated
Sep 11, 2023

Read time
12 min read

At last count, at least 18 cruise lines are planning to sail around the UK this summer.

Most are going to the same places (Portland, Liverpool, Belfast, Kirkwall and Lerwick, with a few exceptions), while others are offering "coastal cruises" -- i.e. no port calls, only days at sea.

So how do you choose which one is right for you?

We break it down by ship, line, date and what's on offer so you can make the right choice. It's also worth speaking to your cruise specialist agent, who can also help guide you through the bewildering array of new options.

(Still undecided? -- Here are seven reasons why you might like a round-Britain cruise).

Best For Families

With Carnival Corp. lines (P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Cunard) mandating all passengers be vaccinated and thereby excluding those under the age of 18, there are four possibilities for family cruises -- MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Marella (though note, neither Disney nor Marella have yet confirmed their vaccination requirements).

The first three of these lines are the best in the game when it comes to looking after families and offer a vast amount of entertainment and activities for kids of all ages. Marella has a more limited offering but is still quite family friendly.

MSC Cruises

Ship: The line is basing its newest ship, the 6,300-passenger MSC Virtuosa in Southampton for its maiden season.

When: May 20, 2021.

Itineraries: Southampton, offering a series of short-break cruises and week-long summer sailings calling in at Portland, Liverpool, Greenock and Belfast.

What's on offer: MSC has a tie up with LEGO, and as a result its entire kids club is brick-themed. It has separate rooms for different age groups, and a robust teens programme, too. The kids club is strategically placed above the games arcade with simulated F1, bowling and a 4D cinema; and also the basketball court. There's also easy access to the waterslides, directly above. There are family cabins, family dining and lots of family-centric activities.

Requirements: Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination required for passengers over the age of 18 and crew. Passengers under 18 will require a negative PCR test.

Royal Caribbean

Ship: Anthem of the Seas. The ship was meant to be based here last year, but the global health pandemic prevented that. The second in the line's game changing Quantum class vessels, Anthem sets new standards in terms of tech and entertainment.

When: July 7, 2021.

Itineraries: Four-night "Ocean Getaways" from Southampton in early July and five- to eight-night British Isles cruises, starting 15th July, that include ports stops in Liverpool, Kirkwall, Scotland and Belfast.

What's on offer: Royal's offering is as good as MSC's (the line arguably set the template for awesome kids' entertainment); with a dedicated kids club, Adventure Ocean, which includes a theatre for end-of-cruise performances and a science lab; top notch programming and entertainment including simulated surfing, simulated sky-diving, roller-disco, dodgems and a dedicated kids splash area and waterslides.

Requirements: All crew and over-18s must be fully vaccinated at time of sailing. Under 18s must show proof of a negative PCR test.

Marella Cruises

Ship: Marella Explorer

When: Summer 2021

Itineraries: Marella Explorer will offer seven new UK itineraries during the summer season with a three-night itinerary from Southampton, visiting Dover and Portland, and a seven-night itinerary in August from Southampton, visiting Liverpool, Dublin and Cobh in the Republic of Ireland.

What's on offer: Climbing walls, a small kids club for three to 11-year-olds, breakfast clubs, art sessions, and movie nights.

Requirements: The line requires all adults 18-years-old and over to have had both COVID-19 jabs at least seven days before travelling. All under 18-year-olds, excluding infants under the age of two who will not be able to sail as they are exempt from testing, will be asked to have a lateral flow test. All passengers must also provide proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding the ships at the start of the cruise.

Disney Cruise Line

Ship: Disney Magic

When: Summer 2021.

Itineraries: Southampton, Tilbury, Newcastle and Liverpool offering two-, three- and four-night cruises.

What's on offer: What's not on offer? This line defined family cruising when it debuted in 1998 and the brand's ownership of Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars, means that the vast kids area is like a real-life version of Andy's bedroom in Toy Story, with every available childhood toy on offer. Excellent programming and a very kid-centric vibe, mean this is one of the top choices for family cruises.

Requirements: Adults over 18 must be fully vaccinated. Under 18s must show a negative PCR test.

Best for a Sophisticated Experience

The 2020-refurbished Celebrity Silhouette marries the best of the line's award-winning Silhouette class with Celebrity's game-changing Edge-class of ships. Expect outstanding cuisine, a vast (largest at sea) range of wines and great bars.

The exclusivity extends to the newly-installed Kelly Hoppen-designed The Retreat, for suite guests, which includes a sun deck, Luminae restaurant and the Retreat Lounge. All this, plus a refurbished sunset bar, the Lawn Club Grill, and a half-acre of real grass on the top deck on which to admire the British coastline.

Celebrity Cruises

Ship: Celebrity Silhouette

When: July 3, 2021.

Itineraries: Southampton, offering six- to eight-night cruises which will include port calls in Portland, Liverpool, Inverness, Kirkwall and Glasgow.

What's on offer: Superb food in Luminae, Murano, the Lawn Club Grill and Tuscan Grille; wonderful selection of wines; and bars including a firm fleet favourite, the Martini Bar, and Craft Social, which replaces Cellar Masters.

Requirements: All over-18s fully vaccinated. Under 18s must show proof of a negative PCR test.

Best of British

If you're after a true Brit flag-waving experience round our island, then look no further than these (American-owned) British lines.

Playing on their heritage as quintessentially British, expect the world's first gin still at sea (on Iona); a vast array of British beers (on Britannia and Iona) and British entertainment.

The big draw for P&O Cruises' fans will be a chance to experience the line's new flagship, Iona, which is launching a year late because of the pandemic.

If you're struggling to choose between the brands, Cunard is a more refined, elegant experience, with passengers to match.


Ship: Queen Elizabeth

When: From August 2021.

Itineraries: Southampton, offering ten departures; four of these will offer ports of call, including Liverpool, Greenock, Invergordon, Belfast, and Newcastle. A maiden call for the Cunard fleet will be made in Holyhead, Wales.

What's on offer: Ballroom dancing, lawn bowls and afternoon tea in the Garden Lounge.

Requirements: All passengers and crew must be fully vaccinated.

P&O Cruises

Ship: Britannia, Iona

When: June 27, August 7 (Iona), 2021.

Itineraries: Southampton, offering round-trip short breaks on Britannia and week-long cruises on Iona until September 19, 2021.

What's on offer: The finest Indian cuisine at sea in Sindhu and the experimental Epicurean; intimate entertainment in Limelight (Britannia) and the Gary Barlow-directed 710 (Iona) and spectacular shows in the Atrium (Iona). As well as food and wine partnerships with Michelin-starred chef Marco Pierre White, master patissier Eric Lanlard and Alex James, of Blur fame, and now better known for cheeses; and Olly Smith, who chooses the wines for The Glasshouse on both ships.

Requirements: All passengers and crew must be fully vaccinated.

Best for a Hip Vibe

Virgin Voyages is the latest cruise line to announce round-Britain itineraries this summer.

Scarlet Lady makes its return journey, more than a year after it made its debut, to offer a series of "seacation" cruises to Brits this summer. Billed as more of a hip hotel than a traditional cruise ship, the line is aimed squarely at those people who might not have considered a cruise before but are tempted in by the Virgin name. Expect lots of music, dancing and late-night entertainment.

Virgin Voyages

Ship: Scarlet Lady

When: August 6, 2021.

Itineraries: Two-, three- and four-night cruises to nowhere departing Portsmouth between August 6 and August 27, 2021.

What's on offer: A tattoo parlour, Squid Ink; the first Korean barbeque at sea, Gunbae; drag queen brunches; an atrium more like a hip hotel lobby, "Rock Star" accommodation and what is being billed as "the best nightclub at sea" (by VV's CEO), The Manor. Note the pool is tiny, which is probably just as well on a round-Britain cruise.

Requirements: All passengers and crew must be fully vaccinated.

Best for Entertainment

This is a tough call with MSC and Royal both strong contenders, but Princess wins due to its unusually strong line-up this summer.

Production shows aboard Regal Princess include 'Bravo' and 'Sweet Soul Music'. Joining Bravo as guest soprano will be opera singer and actress Shelley Rivers, whose theatre credits include performing as Eliza in My Fair Lady and working alongside incredible talent such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Close.

Passengers on Sky Princess can watch the line's newest production show 'Rock Opera', which debuted in late 2019. It features incredible costumes inspired by glamorous avant-garde fashion with a musical soundtrack spanning classic rock, opera and musical theatre, sung in English, Spanish, Latin and American sign language -- a Princess first. Rock Opera has a special guest appearance by West End star Ross Hunter, who has starred in award-winning shows such as We Will Rock You and The Book of Mormon.

Princess Cruises

Ships: Regal Princess, Sky Princess

When: July 31, 2021

Itineraries: Southampton, offering 22 "Summer Seacation" short-break and week-long cruises, with ports-of-call including Liverpool, Belfast and Greenock until September 23, 2021.

What's on offer: Elegant vibe, sophisticated drinking venues and highly-rated restaurants including Sabatini's and Crown Grill. The ships will also feature Ocean Medallion, which allows passengers to make almost all purchases and bookings touchless.

Requirements: All passengers and crew must be fully vaccinated.

Best Itineraries

Two contenders here -- both aimed squarely at the over-50s -- Saga and Fred.Olsen -- both include some really interesting port calls and scenic sailings. The most exciting aspect (apart from the Shetland Islands) is cruising the fjords in Norway. OK you can't get off the ship (at this stage), but at least they sail beyond the British Isles. Both lines cater wwell to their demographic with classic cruise activities, including quizzes and lectures, bridge lessons and tournaments, and arts and crafts sessions, are, by far, the most popular. Dancing is also in demand, with gentlemen dance hosts onboard and regular ballroom and Latin American sessions. Saga is the more elegant (and expensive -- and inclusive) option.

Saga Cruises

Ship: Spirit of Discovery, Spirit of Adventure

When: June 27, July 26 (Spirit of Adventure)

Itineraries: Four itineraries, all round-trip from Tilbury (except Spirit of Adventure):

  • Scottish Highlands and Islands on June 27th, 2021 aboard Spirit of Discovery for six nights calling at Lerwick on the Shetland Islands, followed by Scrabster and Invergordon.

  • Great British Isles Adventure departing on July 11th, 2021 aboard Spirit of Discovery for 14 nights, calling at Falmouth, Holyhead, Belfast, Greenock, Ullapool, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Newhaven and Newcastle.

  • From the Northern Isles to the Fjords aboard Spirit of Discovery on July 3, 2021 or July 25, 2021 for six nights, calling at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, cruising Sognefjord in Norway, Lerwick in the Shetland Islands and Stornoway followed by Scrabster in Scotland.

  • The Inaugural Cruise on Spirit of Adventure on July 26th for 15 nights and heading to Newcastle, Newhaven, Dundee, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Ullapool, Cruise St Kilda, Greenock, Belfast, Douglas, Holyhead, Bristol and Falmouth before disembarking in Dover.

What's on offer: Saga has set the bar high with its two new ships (anyone familiar with Viking's ocean-going vessels will feel very comfortable). The over-50's-only line does not go in for high-octane entertainment, but do expect fine dining, a clubby atmosphere and British

Requirements: All passengers must be fully vaccinated with both doses. Saga caters to cruisers 50 years of age and older as a rule.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Ship: Borealis, Bolette

When: July 5, August 16.

Itineraries: Highlights include:

  • Liverpool on Borealis on a three-night scenic maiden voyage on July 5.

  • Bolette on a three-night maiden voyage from Dover on August 16.

  • Borealis' four-night 'Scenic British Isles & Summer Wildlife' no port cruise, departing from Liverpool on 8th July 2021 and cruising past the following spots -- Neist Point Lighthouse, Kilt Rock & Mealt Waterfall, Loch Broom, The Small Isles, Loch Hourn, Dutchman’s Cap – (Bac Mòr) & Fingals Cave, Sound of Mull and Duart Castle.

  • Borealis' five-night 'Scenic Orkney & Faroe Islands' no port cruise, round-trip from Liverpool on 17th July 2021 and including the Orkneys and Shetland Islands, as well as cruising by Cape Enniberg, Kalsoyarfjørður, Leirvíksfjørður and Djúpini.

What's on offer: Neither of these near-identical former Holland America Line ships have yet sailed under the Fred. brand, so everything onboard will be new (or more accurately, refurbished). The 1,338-passenger pair will have six restaurants and 11 bars and lounges, as well as 50 solo cabins. Borealis also has two swimming pools -- one with a retractable roof -- a pair of hot tubs and a spa with nine treatment rooms, a hydro pool and two saunas. Outside there are tennis and basketball courts These two recent additions to the fleet offer lot more than your usual Fred. Olsen experience.

Requirements: Fully vaccinated passengers only.

Best for Knowledge

There's no doubt that if you want to learn in detail about the places you are sailing by or visiting, then Viking leads the way, with a roster of learned guest lecturers who range from archaeologists and historians to former news commentators and scientists. There are in-depth port lectures, a substantial onboard collection of books and also an impressive art collection on all the ships. Don't expect to find onboard casinos, shipboard photographers, art auctions or other modern "distractions"; it's just not the Viking way.


Ship: Viking Venus

When: May 22, 2021.

Itineraries: The line will offer five eight-day ocean itineraries with embarkation dates of May 22, 29 and June 5 (which are actually sold out) -- plus two additional dates -- June 19 and 25 -- for U.K. residents only from Portsmouth, calling in at Liverpool, Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, Falmouth and Portland.

What's on offer: The line's latest ship (which will have just been christened here in the UK) is a carbon-copy of the rest of the fleet, so expect: Nordic cuisine, elegant surrounds, lots of inclusions (drinks and Wi-Fi) and arguably the best spa at sea.

Requirements: All passengers fully vaccinated, plus a negative PCR test and daily non-invasive saliva PCR tests for both crew and passengers. Over 18s only.

Publish date April 08, 2021
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