Wave Season Round-Up: Cruising from the U.K.

January 28, 2011
January's round-up of wave season deals concludes with a look at some of the best roundtrip cruising bargains to be had for 2011. Prices are at their best right now and, here at Cruise Critic, we've come up with some of the finest options for cruising from and to the United Kingdom. Don't forget to check all of our weekly updated deals online for the latest offers.

Boarding a ship anywhere in Britain gives you the obvious advantage of avoiding crowded airports, plus there's no real restriction to the amount of luggage you can bring. Most of the boarding and leaving formalities are easy and, because you're not travelling thousands of miles to join the ship, you start your holiday relaxed and ready to go.

Roundtrip cruises offer itineraries from as short as two nights right through to an 18-night circuit of the Mediterranean. Here are some of the best picks from our offers.

Springtime in Southern Norway

The Trip: Take an eight-night cruise on MSC Opera from Southampton to Amsterdam, Bergen, Flam and Oslo, sailing on May 27.

The Deal: Fares start from £649, including free car parking. Special fares for singles and over 55's are available on application.

Best for: People wanting a large resort ship with a distinctly European feel that offers a good range of ports in a short cruise.

What You Need to Know: Opera is a big ship, carrying several thousand passengers with a number of different nationalities mixing onboard. There is a large number of alternate dining and entertainment venues onboard this beautifully decorated ship, plus a decent spa and no shortage of outdoor pools and hot tubs. Plus, the inclusion of both Bergen and Oslo on any Norway itinerary is rare, especially such a short one.

Caveats: Size isn't always everything. You can find lines almost anywhere on a ship of this scale, especially when tendering ashore at some ports. Expect announcements over the tannoy in many different languages and extra charges for almost everything from bottled water upwards. Many European passengers tend to disregard smoking rules, and these are not always as well enforced as they should be. If entertainment is important to you, be aware that it can be hit or miss.

Click here for booking information.

Summer Gardens and Celtic Classics

The Trip: Sail for nine nights roundtrip from Liverpool aboard Cruise and Maritime Voyages' Ocean Countess, sailing to Oban, Kirkwall, Invergordon, Honfleur, Cobh, Guernsey and Scilly on September 6.

The Deal: Fares for inside cabins start from £749 per person.

Best for: Budget-minded travellers who prefer a small ship and the convenience of sailing from a west coast port, Nature lovers and horticulture buffs will enjoy this holiday as well.

What You Need to Know: Ocean Countess is relatively small at 17,000 tons and has an intimate air tailored especially to the British market. Drinks prices onboard are quite reasonable, and the ship retains the tradition of two sittings at dinner.

Entertainment is low key, with the ports of call providing the main attractions on this complete circuit of the British Isles. Many will remember this ship as the popular Cunard Countess from years ago.

Caveats: The inside cabins especially are really small, and soundproofing is not great. The waters around the British Isles can be rough at any time of year, so this cruise may not be best for the most delicate travellers. And joining arrangements for any ship are nowhere near as smooth in Liverpool as, say, Southampton or Harwich.

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Captivating Springtime Canaries

The Trip: Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas will depart Southampton on March 25 for an 11-night cruise, calling at Vigo, Lisbon, Tenerife, Las Palmas and Madeira.

The Deal: Prices start from £849 per person.

Best for: Anyone looking for an amenity-laden mega-ship with plenty of diversions both indoors and out for days spent at sea.

What You Need to Know: For a cruise that features a few sea days, Independence is ideal. Packed full of action features, such as the FlowRider surf pool and ice skating rink, and gifted with a wealth of entertainment and dining venues, the ship will keep you busy and diverted for the entire cruise. The indoor Royal Promenade is a unique experience, with its bars, shops and restaurants, and even an authentic English pub.

There are numerous eateries, many at a supplement, but even the smallest inside cabins are of a good size and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities. The main dining rooms now offer both flexible dining and the more traditional, two fixed sittings for dinner.

Caveats: You're sailing both ways over the infamous Bay of Biscay, and that will make even the biggest ship rock at times. Onboard prices are not cheap, and many items such as postcards and bottled water are not included in the fare. Disembarkation at ports could be a hassle with many thousands of passengers waiting to get off the ship, especially where tenders might have to be used.

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Iberian Interlude

The Trip: This seven-night cruise onboard Princess Cruises' Grand Princess sails roundtrip from Southampton on May 21, visiting Guernsey, Brest, Lisbon and Vigo.

The Deal: Fares start from £616 per person, based on sharing an inside cabin.

Best for: Sun lovers wanting a trip that's short on time, but not style, at a good price.

What You Need to Know: Despite being over 100,000 tons and carrying more than 2,500 passengers, Grand Princess does not feel like a mega-ship because many of the lounges and dining areas have been kept relatively small and intimate. There is a sliding glass roof over one of the pools that makes it useable even if the weather is bad outside.

Grand Princess boasts a spectacular disco overlooking the stern of the ship and top-notch entertainment. Cabins are of a decent size, though not as big as on some of the newer ships in service. Dining ranges from the traditional two sittings for dinner to Princess' flexible option, which allows you to book a table at a time that suits you. The ship also features a number of extra-tariff eateries.

Caveats: Guernsey is a tender port without docking facilities, and the call is often cancelled due to the choppy waters around the port. Some of the pool areas onboard can feel crowded if the ship is fully booked.

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Glorious Mediterranean Gems

The Trip: Spend 12 nights onboard Cunard's Queen Elizabeth, sailing from Southampton on August 2 to Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Florence, Rome and Gibraltar.

The Deal: Fares start from £1,847 for inside cabins.

Best for: Those who appreciate sea days -- this cruise has six of them -- and traditional cruisers who love to show off their tuxes and ball gowns.

What You Need to Know: Queen Elizabeth made its debut last year, and is lavishly decorated in art deco styling. The main dining room retains the traditional two sittings, and the ship is certainly dressier at night than many at sea. Formal nights are popular and well attended.

The ship features one of the best and most comprehensive libraries at sea, plus a large amount of Cunard memorabilia for lovers of sea travel. There is plenty of open deck space as well as a retractable dome that covers one of the main pools. Cabins are a decent size, and storage space was improved following the debut of Queen Victoria. The daily afternoon tea is a Cunard staple, and the line retains a hugely loyal following that will only ever sail on Cunard ships.

Caveats: Queen Elizabeth is really a three-class ship, with passengers in the Queens and Princess Grills allowed entry into private areas inaccessible to the majority of passengers.

Many price traps onboard are designed to part you from your money, including very high charges for onboard photographs. With over 2,000 passengers on each cruise, lines could get long for lunchtime buffets and tenders at anchor ports.

Click here for booking information.

--by Anthony Nicholas, Cruise Critic contributor