There’s a cruise for everyone — and the ships can show the world’s top hotels a thing or two about friendly service, five-star accommodation and delicious food.
Better still, no-fly cruises make airport queues a thing of the past and the only luggage limit is the size of your cabin.
Whether you want to sail to far-flung islands or take the family on an action-packed megaship, if you choose the right cruise, you will be hooked forever…
BEST FOR FIRST-TIMERS
Bring on the Bahamas
Dip your toe in the water: Carnival Liberty sets off for the sunny Bahamas (above) from January 2020
Not sure if a cruise is for you? A short sail is the best way to test the water, and it doesn’t have to be a jaunt across the English Channel.
Set off for the sunny Bahamas on 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty’s four-nighter from Florida and enjoy the pools, Twister waterslide, Build-A-Bear workshops, rum-slinging bar and Punchliner Comedy Club.
Don’t miss: Reef snorkelling on arrival in Freeport.
Details: Four nights from £259 pp (cruise only) departing Port Canaveral on selected departures from January 2020 (carnival.com, 0808 234 0680).
Sorry, you have to be aged 50-plus for this offer. Saga Cruises is so confident first-timers will enjoy life on board that it is offering a ‘love it or your money back’ guarantee on sailings such as the all-inclusive Norwegian Fjords from Dover.
The 720-passenger Sapphire will cruise along Hardangerfjord to Rosendal, home to Norway’s smallest palace with gardens ablaze with colour.
Don’t miss: Views of Lifjell mountain, Lysefjord and the 1,982 ft Pulpit Rock on an optional helicopter tour.
Details: Nine-night sailing on Saga Sapphire (saga.co.uk/ocean-cruises, 0800 50 50 30), from £1,399 pp. Departs April 16, 2019, and includes chauffeur to and from the port within 250 miles.
BEST FOR FOODIES
Mix it with Mary Berry
There’ll be no soggy bottoms on Emerald Radiance (above) when Mary Berry, joins a river cruise along Portugal’s Douro Valley
There’ll be no soggy bottoms on Emerald Radiance when the queen of baking, Mary Berry, joins a river cruise along Portugal’s Douro Valley. You can take afternoon tea with Mary and join a Q&A session on the round-trip sailing from Porto.
Don’t miss: Dressing to impress at a gala dinner featuring Mary’s recipes.
Details: The eight-day Delights Of The Douro With Mary Berry on Emerald Radiance departs on June 22, from £2,545 pp. Includes flights (emeraldwaterways.co.uk, 0808 115 8568).
Whisk up a treat with master patissier Eric ‘Cake Boy’ Lanlard on board P&O’s cruise ship Britannia.
The celebrity chef with an A-list clientele is a P&O Cruises Food Hero and he will be on the 3,647-passenger ship’s Norwegian Fjords cruise for a series of classes in The Cookery Club. You can also join his foodie tour in Stavanger, Norway’s gastronomic capital.
Don’t miss: Eric’s signature afternoon tea in The Epicurean restaurant.
Details: Seven-night Norwegian Fjords round-trip sailing from Southampton on Britannia departs on April 27, 2019, from £799 pp (pocruises.com, 0345 355 5111).
BEST FOR FAMILIES
Explore another planet
Go intergalactic in the Battle For Planet Z laser tag studio on the megaship Independence Of The Seas. Children and adults alike can race about in the new glow-in-the-dark arena, before heading to Sky Pad for bungee trampolining.
Don’t miss: Sing along in the theatre, where Grease is the word.
Details: The seven-night Northern European Cityscapes cruise from Southampton starts from £699 pp, based on May 18 sailing, with departures throughout the summer (royalcaribbean.co.uk, 0844 493 4005).
TOP CRUISE TIPS FROM VETERAN BBC REPORTER MICHAEL BURKE
Happy days: Michael (above) with his bubbles
Of all the vantage points from which to look out on life with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart, there is none that can beat a Jacuzzi on the pool deck of a cruise ship as she slips from some sub-tropical port out into the velvet night.
You’ll need a glass of bubbles, of course. Pommery is best.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t put it on my cornflakes, but there’s something about the way the fizz in the glass matches the fizz in the tub that is somehow just right. It’s taken me 30 years of cruising — and considerable collateral damage to my liver — to become this knowledgeable. I started on the old QE2, the last of the ocean liners, built by people with a crick in their neck.
How else to explain their inability to look up and see the jet aircraft that could get to America 20 times faster?
The economy section (cabins you couldn’t see out of, dinner in sittings like at school) was too big, and the luxury end too small for it to be a successful cruise ship. But it was a great experience, churning along at 30 knots, half Cafe Royal, half caravan club outing. The Grills had gold-plated silver service and Edwardian excess.
The only drawback was the chance that you might run into Ralph, the dog-eared roué who worked as a pianist in Cunard’s Chart Room bar. Having watched him in action for a couple of cruises, I asked him the secret of his success with old, and rich, women. ‘The one thing you have to get right, Mike,’ he said, brushing the dandruff off his blazer, ‘is to be able to tell the difference between mounting passion and an asthma attack.’
A useful tip, if not a motto for life.
You can have something of the pre-war liner experience by taking the present-day Queen Mary across the Atlantic.
Go west, not east. You get an extra hour a night in bed and the landfall in New York is stupendous. Let’s face it, no one has ever been thrilled to arrive in Southampton.
So, here is Buerk’s Guide to Commendable Cruising . . .
PICK YOUR SHIP
Don’t be snooty about the big ones. There are lots of places to go, lots of things to do, and who wouldn’t want a 100 ft-high climbing wall afloat?
The shows are grander, too — mind you, it’s an iron rule of cruising that if you’ve heard of an entertainer, he is half-dead.
One of our best cruises was with 2,500 other passengers on a Royal Caribbean leviathan up the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Alaska.
But we actually prefer smaller ships. Fewer facilities, fewer options, maybe, but the good ones can be like country house hotels. Silversea, with 300 to 600 passengers, is our current favourite. Seabourn is similar, Regent and Crystal slightly bigger.
They get into smaller ports and dock closer to city centres, and it’s a lot quicker if you’re going ashore by tender.
LOOK PAST HEADLINE PRICES
Lots of the big names automatically add £10 or more a day per person for ‘gratuities’ and more for ‘service’ on drinks. Outrageous. Service is what they’re selling, for heaven’s sake.
We try to go on ships where tips — and, indeed, all drinks, ho ho — are included. Depending on how thirsty you are, it might be cheaper. Just saying.
PLAN YOUR ITINERARY
I like loafing at sea in the sunshine, while my wife prefers scurrying around historic towns. So my ideal is a trans-Pacific and no sight of land for weeks. It’s a miracle we’ve been married so long, come to think of it.
BEWARE SHORE EXCURSIONS
They make a lot of money out of them. Often, it’s cheaper to hire a taxi or car, especially with another couple. Just don’t break down in the Chilean Alps, as we once did. You can feel very lost and lonely at ‘all aboard’ time.
TOO ‘COOL’ TO CRUISE?
It’s the only way you can feel like a teenager again without taking class A drugs. But, if you want something ‘edgier’, go on an ‘exploration’ cruise. We’ve just been to Antarctica — dramatic scenery, a younger crowd and pretty tough-going between the canapes. Unforgettable.
MY MOST IMPORTANT TIP…
Be kind to the lecturer on board. He’s probably a superannuated BBC correspondent so poor it’s the only way he can be sure of a square meal. You don’t have to go to the talks. A big tick on the feedback form will do.
Bask in Alaska
What better way to celebrate Princess Cruises’ 50th year in Alaska than by whizzing along the 5,000 ft-long zip line over Icy Strait Point?
With sailings from May to September, and seven of the Princess fleet sailing into America’s Last Frontier, there’s never been a better time to bag a deal and go ‘flightseeing’ over the Misty Fjords or whale-watching on a yacht.
Don’t miss: Spot brown bears on the Chichagof Island river valley tour.
Details: The seven-day Voyage Of The Glaciers scenic cruise on Royal Princess departs June 22, from £699 pp. Calls at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway (princess.com, 0344 338 8663).
BEST FOR GOING SOLO
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ selection of sailings for 2019 includes the no-fly Scenic Scottish Islands cruise.
Climb aboard the 804-passenger Black Watch for the adults-only sailing, featuring plenty of entertainment, without paying the earth.
Don’t miss: Tobermory Distillery tour.
Details: The nine-night Scenic Scottish Islands cruise on Black Watch departs from Liverpool on May 29, 2019, with solo prices from £2,299 (fredolsencruises.com, 0800 0355 242).
No single supplements
Wave goodbye to single supplements on all top-category cabins on Tauck’s 2019 European river cruises, such as the Blue Danube sailing calling at Vienna, Salzburg and Bratislava, among other places.
Don’t miss: Tauck’s exclusive dinner and cocktails in Vienna’s Palais Pallavicini.
Details: The 12-day Blue Danube cruise features seven nights on ms Joy or ms Savor plus two-night hotel stays in Prague and Budapest, from April to October, from £4,460 pp (tauck.co.uk, 0800 810 8020).
BEST FOR DANCING
Ballet on board
Lord of the dance: Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2, above, departs Southampton for New York on August 11
Practice your pirouettes as you join the expert dancers of the English National Ballet on Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2 for the Dance The Atlantic Transatlantic Crossing.
Performances include extracts from Swan Lake and Le Corsaire, and wannabe ballerinas can drop in on rehearsals and take part in workshops to learn from the professionals.
Don’t miss: The spectacular early-morning skyline as you arrive in New York.
Details: Seven-night cruise departs Southampton for New York on August 11, with prices from £1,649 pp (cunard.co.uk, 0344 338 8650).
What a scorcher!
Red-hot Burn The Floor has to be the sexiest dance show at sea. The steamy embraces and high-octane tempos from Norwegian’s ballroom and Latin dance company leave TV’s dance shows strictly in the slow lane . . .
Don’t miss: Yet more music in Syd Norman’s Pour House dance club with live rock ’n’ roll.
Details: Cruises on the 3,963-passenger Norwegian Breakaway include the seven-day Canada & New England From New York round-trip departing August 30, 2020, from £1,139 pp (ncl.com, 0333 2412319).
BEST FOR LUXURY
Perfect for a special family-and-friends celebration, the 12-guest hotel barge La Belle Epoque sails through Burgundy with stops for private tastings of Chablis wines and Champagne.
Book early for a 20 per cent discount on an all-inclusive gourmet cruise — and let the party begin.
Don’t miss: The chance to dine with Baroness Segolene de Taisne at her home, Château de Ricey-Bas, during the sailing.
Details: Six-night cruise from Venarey-les-Laumes to Tanlay departs on April 28. The total price of £35,100 (from £46,800) includes transfers from Paris to La Belle Epoque (europeanwaterways.com, 01753 598555).
Just won the lottery?
If money’s no object, take up to 53 lucky friends and family with you on a private Boeing 737-700 for an all-inclusive deluxe cruise-and-stay holiday to some of the most spectacular destinations on Earth.
Priced from £39,950 pp, the trip includes sailing across Halong Bay, viewing the Taj Mahal and staying on a private island resort in the Maldives.
The trip includes sailing across Halong Bay (above), viewing the Taj Mahal and staying on a private island resort in the Maldives
There are also tours in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, plus the chance to gaze in wonder at Petra in Jordan, one of the new seven wonders of the world, before flying home via Abu Dhabi. All of this in 17 days!
Don’t miss: Early-morning Tai chi on your privately chartered ship, Au Co, in Vietnam.
Details: The 16-night Pearls Of The Orient expedition departs London Gatwick on November 1, 2020, from £39,950 pp (aircruisecollection.com, 00 31 88 130 7380).
BEST FOR NEW SHIPS
There’s no need to worry about leaving your Amazon virtual assistant Alexa at home on MSC Bellissima, as it comes equipped with Zoe, a voice-enabled artificial intelligence device in your cabin.
The 4,500-passenger ship’s inaugural cruise sets off on Monday, with stunning entertainment including the daring theatre of Cirque du Soleil.
Don’t miss: A ride in the F1 racing car simulator.
Details: MSC Bellissima’s eight-night maiden voyage departs Southampton for Barcelona on March 4, 2019 (£699, cruise only), with further dates and destinations available throughout the summer (msccruises.co.uk, 0203 426 3010).
Revolutionary: The Magic Carpet dining venue, which moves up and down the side of the ship and doubles as a boarding area
Designer Kelly Hoppen’s contemporary interiors, 29 restaurants and rooftop garden for live music gigs make Celebrity Edge the most talked-about new ship on the seas.
Book the Italy, France, Monaco & Spain fly-cruise to see the ship for yourself and take in some of Europe’s historic destinations along the way.
Don’t miss: The Magic Carpet dining venue, which moves up and down the side of the ship and doubles as a boarding area.
Details: The seven-night fly-cruise from Rome to Barcelona departs July 27, from £1,926 pp, including flights (celebritycruises.co.uk, 0800 441 4054).
BEST FOR WILDLIFE
Watch out for crocs
Cruise on Africa’s Lake Kariba, which straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe, but don’t swim — it’s full of crocodiles.
Instead, watch the crocs, as well as hippos and fish eagles, from your wraparound sundeck on the 16-guest riverboat African Dream and enjoy daily boat safaris.
Combine CroisiEurope’s sailing with a luxury lodge stay in Namibia, near Chobe National Park, where cheetahs, lions, leopards and elephants roam.
Don’t miss: Stays in Victoria Falls and Johannesburg.
Details: Twelve nights from £6,007 pp, includes overnight and internal flights. International flights not included croisieurope.co.uk, 0800 768 7232).
In Darwin’s footsteps
Journey from Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, and follow in the path of naturalist Charles Darwin along the Beagle Channel on the new expedition ship Ventus Australis.
Australis is the only cruise line with a licence to sail through the maze of islands to glistening glaciers on a journey to Punta Arenas, in Chile. So, while you are thinking yourself lucky, keep looking up and you may even spot an albatross.
Don’t miss: The boisterous penguin colony on the Isla Magdalena excursion.
Details: Five-day Patagonian Explorer departs weekly until April 2020, from £1,089 cruise only, (australis.com, 00 34 93 497 0484).