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The Best UK Cruise Companies – Complete Comparison

If you are considering a cruise you may be considering a British cruise line.

British cruise lines are not only a great option for people from Britain but they’re also popular with Americans, Canadians, Australians, and anybody who wants to British experience onboard a cruise ship.

British cruise lines have a lot to offer that differs from American and other European cruise lines.

In this article, we will explore the best British cruise lines and learn a little about what it’s like to cruise with each.

Which Are The Best British Cruise Lines?

The most popular British cruise line is P&O cruises followed by Cunard Line. This is followed by Marella Cruises, Fred Olsen Cruise Line, and Saga Cruises. All provide a quintessentially British experience and are well-loved by many. 

There is a lot of variety between the British cruise lines. Some have large modern ships and some older.

Many hold onto the traditions of cruising such as dress codes and formal nights but you’ll also find a lot of variety within the British cruise line market.

You’ll find a wide variety of passenger ages onboard but the primary passenger nationality onboard all lines mentioned in this post is people from the UK.

Passenger Numbers (Thousands)ShipsOnboard Experience
P&O Cruises623.46Relaxed, Traditional
Cunard Cruise Line169.63Very Traditional, Quiet
Marella106.44Relaxed, Informal
Fred Olsen106.24Quiet, Traditional

Best British Cruise Line For First Time Cruisers: P&O Cruises

P&O Cruises are the largest and most popular cruise line in the UK. They are owned by Carnival and have six cruise ships in their fleet.

The oldest ship currently in the fleet is Aurora built in the year 2000 and the newest was launched this year.

All P&O ships have a union jack on the bow and you’ll find British touches throughout. There are Yorkshire puddings in the buffet, UK plug sockets in the cabins, and afternoon tea served with cakes and scones.

P&O cruise out of the UK year-round and usually have a number of ships in Southampton.

They do cruise further afield but they’re well known for their cruises from the UK and are popular with cruisers of all ages.

ShipBuilt inSizePassenger Count
Aurora200076,000 tons1950 max
Arcadia200584,000 tons2388 max
Ventura2008116,000 tons3189 max
Azura2010115,000 tons3597 max
Britannia2015143,000 tons3647 max
Iona2020183,000 tons5206 max

My Experience Cruising With With P&O Cruises

I’ve only been on one P&O cruise to date but have recently booked two more because I really enjoyed the first. The cruise which I took was a Norwegian Fjords cruise on board Britannia.

The cruise was brilliant. I loved the food, the service, the ship, and the entertainment onboard.

I was very impressed with the way that P&O cruises dealt with food intolerances and my cabin was one of my favorites.

I had the opportunity to do things like learn to cook with Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White which was a lot of fun!

marco pierre white cookery class club p&o britannia

How do P&O Cruises Compare to American Cruise Lines?

The atmosphere on board a P&O cruise is generally speaking more relaxed than you’d find on a big American cruise line like Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line but P&O is one of the more lively British lines.

You won’t find go-kart tracks or flow riders but you will find ships with plenty of top deck space and a friendly atmosphere onboard.

The daily schedule also isn’t as busy as that that you’d find on American cruise lines but there is plenty to keep you busy if you want to be doing things throughout the day.

The food is designed to cater to British passengers so you’ll find British favorites onboard like Beef Wellington, Toad in the Hole, and Fish and Chips!

There is a lot of variety when it comes to food onboard with food from all over the world being served. I’ve cruised with 7 cruise lines to date and P&O cruises have some of the highest quality food in my experience.

Who Would Like a P&O Cruises Cruise?

P&O Cruises are great for families and cruisers of all ages. The atmosphere onboard is fairly relaxed and friendly.

A P&O cruise is great for somebody who wants to relax by the pool and enjoy high-quality food.

I’d strongly recommend a P&O cruise to first-time cruisers as P&O makes the whole process of cruising very easy.

Who Are Typical P&O Cruises Passengers?

On a P&O cruise, you’ll find a variety of passengers. On the older, smaller ships you’ll generally find an older crowd than on the newer bigger ships like Britannia and Iona.

The smaller older ships tend to provide a more traditional cruising experience and in 2019 Arcadia, Aurora and Oriana became adults only.

P&O do advertise heavily to the family market and often have discounted children’s rates. That said, you won’t find things like waterslides or rock-climbing walls on P&O ships.

The ship designs are fairly traditional but the ships do have kids clubs that cater to children of varying ages. The groups are split by age and children are able to attend the activities as they wish.

P&O Cruises Sail Away Party Top Deck

What is P&O Cruises Dining Like?

P&O Cruises offer both flexible and fixed dining which I love. We never had to wait for a table when I cruised on Britannia and the food was always of high quality.

I never found anybody who had any problem with any element of the food.

I ate in many of the specialty restaurants on board Britannia and found that all were very good. If you’re a fan of Indian visiting Sindu is a must.

The buffet was open late into the night and on some ships there are other places where you can grab food to go. The grab and go section by the pool was one of my favorite things about Britannia, it made it so easy to grab a snack as you sat by the pool.

Most cruise lines have a poolside grill that serves things like hot dogs and burgers but it was nice to have a different option such as a salad or a sandwich.

To find out more about the grab and go section and to learn what else you shouldn’t miss on the ship Britannia, check out this post:

Top tip: If you’re having breakfast in the buffet lookout for the bread rolls with icing on the top. They’re great! Probably not very nutritious and they are literally covered in sugar, but they’re very very yummy. 

On most P&O ships you’ll find a mixture of fixed and flexible dining. I usually always opt for flexible dining and you are still able to table share if you do want to do this. Equally, if you want a table for 2 or 3 that shouldn’t be a problem.

Can You Book a P&O Cruise From Outside The UK?

If you are from outside of the UK it can be difficult to book a P&O cruise. There are limited agents that are able to book P&O cruises and it’s usually easier to book directly with P&O.

Be aware though that if you do this you will have to organize your own flights, hotel, and transfers. One website which does allow Americans to book P&O cruises is VacationsToGo.

P&O cruises currently include gratuities in the cruise fare, all meals are included and your entertainment is too. Drinks cost extra and there are specialty restaurants that cost extra if you’d like to try them too but they are not mandatory.

To learn more about gratuities, including how they also affect drinks and spa treatments, check out this post so that you don’t have any nasty surprises on your cruise:

I personally feel as though P&O cruises offer some of the best value for money. I recently booked a two-week cruise on board P&O’s Iona for £800 ($1000). Considering that the price includes gratuities, that’s incredible!

P&O Cruises Vacations to Go

If you are interested in learning how to book a cruise for the best price, including where and where to book, consider enrolling in our How to Cruise For Less cruise course. You’ll learn everything that you need to know to save 60% on cruise prices and even more when onboard.

Best British Cruise Line For Traditional Cruisers: Cunard Line

Cunard Line is a British cruise line also owned by Carnival. They were founded 180 years ago and focus heavily on the traditional cruising market. Cunard currently has three ships in the fleet, one of which is the only remaining ocean liner.

Cunard cruises have strictly enforced formal nights, dress codes, and the best afternoon tea at sea (in my opinion).

A Cunard cruise is actually the reason why I started this website.

I took my first Cunard cruise and sat onboard thinking, why did nobody tell me that it would be like this? I had no idea about quite how strictly the dress codes were enforced or what a Cunard cruise would actually be like.

I did really enjoy it but it’s very important that anybody cruising with Cunard knows what to expect before the cruise as they’re much more traditional than the majority of other lines.

ShipBuiltWeightPassenger Capacity
Queen Mary 22003149,000 tons2695 max
Queen Elizabeth200790,000 tons2081 max
Queen Victoria201090,000 tons2092 max

My Experience With Cunard

I have only been on one Cunard cruise to date but would love to cruise with them again. We cruised on the Queen Mary and I loved the elegant feel of the ship, the relaxed atmosphere, and the most amazing afternoon tea!

I was definitely the youngest person on the cruise by 20 or 30 years (apart from my younger brother) but that didn’t bother me.

I found the entertainment somewhat limited compared to cruising with other lines and I was not a huge fan of the enforced dress codes. That said, I had a great time and would definitely cruise with Cunard again.

I’d particularly like to cruise across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. The Queen Mary is the only remaining ocean liner which in itself is very cool.

To learn what the difference is between a cruise ship and an ocean liner, including why ocean liners aren’t built anymore, check out this post: Cruise Ships vs Ocean Liners: 5 Fundamental Differences.

My top tip to anybody cruising with Cunard would be to make sure that you are prepared for how strict the dress codes are. Informal nights on a Cunard cruise are more formal than formal nights on most other lines. Below you’ll find dress code examples from members of our Facebook group. 

How do Cunard Cruises Compare to American Cruise Lines?

The atmosphere on board a Cunard cruise is much more relaxed than that which you’d expect on most American cruise lines. The atmosphere is pretty quiet even within British cruise lines.

It isn’t uncommon for there to be gaps in the daily schedule and most events onboard are pretty relaxed.

You won’t find things like silent discos, flowriders or gameshow onboard that is for sure. You’re more likely to find lectures in the theatre, afternoon tea in the ballroom, and a quiz in the pub.

The decor onboard is very traditional and the ships are designed to be very elegant. Below are a few photos from my Cunard cruise onboard the Queen Victoria.

Who Would Like a Cunard Cruise?

A Cunard cruise would appeal to guests who enjoy traditional elements of cruising such as formal nights and dress codes.

Cunard cruises are perfect for those who want to enjoy afternoon tea, relax in the conservatory, or learn to ballroom dance. There isn’t much nightlife on a Cunard cruise so the line would suit passengers who like to go to bed relatively early.

Given the cruise lines’ incredibly 180 year history the cruises would suit people interested in maritime history and those who appreciate classic cruise ship design.

The cruise line sails frequently from the UK and the Queen Mary 2 regularly completes transatlantic voyages to New York. Dogs are actually allowed on transatlantic Cunard cruises which makes it a very popular choice for passengers wishing to relocate their pets across the Atlantic.

Ed Sheeran actually recorded part of his Divide album on the Queen Mary 2 doing a transatlantic crossing.

What Are Cunard Cruise Line Passengers Like?

Cunard does tend to attract an older market. That said, if you are younger you won’t feel out of place on a Cunard cruise. I’ve cruised with Cunard in my 20s and enjoyed it very much.

It is usually the older market that enjoys the traditional dress codes and set dining times of Cunard.

The atmosphere onboard is quite quiet and you’ll find things like draughts and knitting on the daily schedule.

What is Cunard’s Dining Like?

All dining on Cunard cruises is fixed and we always found the quality to be very high. There is also a buffet and a pub onboard where you can have your meals if you’d like to.

My favorite part about my Cunard cruise in regards to dining was the fact that room service is free onboard! If you are taking a Cunard cruise make sure that you try it at some point.

To learn more about the included food options, check out this post:

Room service is a great option if you don’t want to take part in a formal night, to learn more about how to skip formal night (if you’d like to), check out this post: You Can Skip Formal Nights on a Cruise: Here’s How

Best British Cruise Lines For Families: Marella Cruises

Marella Cruises are a British cruise line formerly known as Thomson. They currently have four cruise ships in their fleet, two were previously Royal Caribbean cruise ships and two previously belonged to Tui.

All ships have been very well looked after and renovated to a high standard.

Marella is one of my favorite cruise lines due to the relaxed lively atmosphere on board. Cruises with Marella are all-inclusive as standard but they still remain good value for money as the price isn’t too high.

Gratuities and alcoholic drinks are included in the cruise fare on all Marella cruises.

ShipBuilt InWeightPassenger Count
Marella Discovery199669,000 Tons1830
Marella Discovery 2199569,000 Tons1836
Marella Explorer199676,000 Tons1924
Marella Explorer 2199572,000 Tons1814

They are popular with families, young cruisers, and older cruisers alike. They are probably the most lively of the British cruise lines and I thought that the onboard entertainment was brilliant.

marella discovery

My Experience With Marella

I’ve been on two Marella cruises and both were fantastic.

The first was a two-week cruise onboard the Marella Discovery. She was formerly Splendour of The Seas for Royal Caribbean and the Royal Caribbean influence in her design is obvious.

I loved the ship, the entertainment, and the number of included food options onboard.

On the majority of cruises, your included food options are the main dining room, buffet, and possibly a poolside grill. With Marella, there were other included restaurant options too and all of the food was great.

The food definitely is geared towards British tastes but as I’m British that suited me perfectly.

The second cruise I took with Marella was a 90s themed cruise on board the Marella Explorer. This was my first themed cruise and we had SO much fun.

The cruise felt like a three day festival at sea with famous artists from the 90s playing concerts on the pool deck. The all-inclusive pricing structure made the whole cruising process very easy and I left the cruise without a single charge on my onboard account. Amazing!

Marella 90s Cruise Electric Sunsets

How do Marella Cruises Compare to American Cruise Lines?

Marella are probably the most lively of the British cruise lines with the youngest average age. The daily schedule is relatively busy and I personally really enjoyed the entertainment onboard.

This does, of course, depend on the cruise, shorter cruises tend to have a younger passenger demographic but the majority of Marella cruises are popular with families and cruisers of all ages.

The ships are mostly from the 1990s so they aren’t the biggest or most exciting but that said they have been incredibly well renovated and I’ve been on much newer ships which felt much older.

The food and entertainment on board is geared towards a British audience and the majority of passengers on board are British. That said, if you are from elsewhere you’ll be welcomed on board!

What is Marella’s Dining Like?

The dining on a Marella cruise is completely freestyle and there are loads of options. On the Marella discovery, there were a number of free options including the main dining room, an Italian restaurant, a Pizza/Tapas restaurant, a Grab and go style restaurant, and a buffet.

Marella do have a formal night of sorts but the dress codes are quite relaxed. If you are a man it’s recommended that you wear a shirt with a collar, this could be a polo shirt.

For women as long as you are wearing a smart (ish) dress or trousers/top you’d be fine. I never saw anybody be turned away from the main dining room for not being adequately dressed.

Best Small Independent Cruise Line: Fred Olsen Cruise Line

Fred Olsen are a relatively small independent cruise line. They currently have 4 cruise ships in their fleet all of which were built before the year 2000. Fred Olsen have recently purchased two more ships from Holland America.

The experience onboard a Fred Olsen cruise is fairly traditional and the onboard schedule is quite quiet.

Due to the smaller size of the Fred Olsen ships, they are able to visit ports that other larger ships can’t visit and they actually offer mystery cruises!

A mystery cruise is basically a cruise where you know the start, end and how long the cruise will take but don’t know any of the ports along the way.

I was recently interviewed on BBC radio after there were complaints from guests on a mystery cruise who didn’t like the ports that they visited on the cruise, safe to say I wasn’t really very sympathetic. If you book a mystery cruise you get a mystery!

To learn more about mystery cruises, including just how much of it is a mystery, check out this post: What is a Mystery Cruise? (Cruise Guide and Examples).

ShipBuiltWeightPassenger Capacity
Black Watch199628,000 tons539
Boudicca200528,000 tons536
Braemar200124,000 tons929
Balmoral200743,000 tons1230

How do Fred Olsen Cruises Compare to American Cruise Lines?

The experience on a Fred Olsen cruise is much quieter and more relaxed than that which you’d find on most American cruise lines.

The experience is geared towards British guests with the majority of passengers being from Britain. The Britishness of the cruise line is evident in the onboard food and entertainment.

Fred Olsens Balmoral

Who Would Like a Fred Olsen Cruises Cruise?

A Fred Olsen cruise would suit a passenger who wanted a relaxing traditional cruise on small cruise ships. The typical passengers on a Fred Olsen cruise do tend to be older than some other lines.

Fred Olsen cruises would suit guests who are interested in visiting unique ports and are destination-focused.

Check out the Fred Olsen website here.

Best British Cruise Line For 50+ Cruisers: Saga Cruises

Saga are a 50+ cruise line that focuses on the luxury market. Saga cruises are more expensive than the other lines mention in this post but in my opinion, the cruises are well worth it.

You’ll find more included on a Saga cruise than most other cruise lines and I recently spent a few nights onboard the Spirit of Discovery. It was GORGEOUS!

You do have to be 50+ to cruise with Saga so I’ve got quite a while to wait. If you’re 40+ you’re able to cruise with somebody 50+.

ShipBuiltWeightPassenger Capacity
Spirt of Discovery201958,000 tons999
Spirit of Adventure202058,000 tons999

My Experience With Saga

I was lucky enough to spend a few days on board the Spirit of Discovery prior to her naming ceremony in Dover, UK. I was blown away by the ship and I stayed in a ‘solo’ cabin which was HUGE and so beautiful.

It felt as though everything onboard had been really well thought out and the ship felt very luxurious. I’m not too sure what I expected from a Saga cruise but it definitely wasn’t anything as gorgeous as the ship actually was.

I visited the ship as part of a press cruise so the ship was busy late into the night and we had things like parties by the pool and drag queens in the theater! That isn’t to be expected on a usual Saga cruise which would be much more relaxed.

How do Saga Cruises Compare to American Cruise Lines?

The experience on a Saga cruise is much quieter than that which you’d find on the majority of American cruise lines.

The ship felt to me to be much more spacious than the likes of ships owned by lines like Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line.

The experience of taking a Saga cruise is undeniably British. You’ll find UK plug sockets in the cabins, kettles, and even a photo of the queen onboard!

Spirit of Discovery

Who Would Cruise With Saga?

A Saga cruise would suit somebody who wants a touch of luxury when they cruise all while being surrounded by British comforts.

Saga passengers do have to be 50+ which does mean that the cruise line has an older than average age demographic and as a result, the onboard daily schedule and atmosphere aren’t as lively as that which you’d find on some other lines.

That said a Saga cruise is perfect for those who want to enjoy good food, great service, and beautiful ships.

To learn more about the cruise lines mentioned in this post and many others that haven’t been mentioned check out my complete recommended cruise lines page here: Recommended Cruise Lines, Full List.

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.

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