How can beginners choose the best starter cruise in the UK?

11 June 2024

Choosing the ideal cruise for a first-time experience can be a daunting task. With a sea of options spanning the world's top cruise lines, it's challenging to pin down the best fit. This article aims to guide beginners through the process of choosing the perfect starter cruise in the UK, offering useful tips on factors to consider, including the best time to book, dining options, and onboard experiences.

Understanding Different Cruise Lines

Before embarking on your first cruise, it's important to understand the various cruise lines available. Each cruise line has its distinct flair, amenities, and service style, catering to varying traveller preferences. For instance, Royal Caribbean is acclaimed for its extraordinary onboard entertainment whereas Celebrity Cruises impresses with its culinary excellence.

Norwegian Cruise Line is ideal for the laid-back traveller with its 'Freestyle Cruising' concept. This concept allows freedom and flexibility with no fixed meal times or formal dress codes. On the other hand, the likes of Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are known for their timeless elegance, appealing to those who prefer traditional cruising with a touch of modernity.

Take the time to research different lines and find which resonates with your travel style and preferences. Look for user reviews, articles, and brochures to gain a comprehensive understanding.

Choosing the Right Ship

After determining your preferred cruise line, your attention should shift to choosing the ship. While you may think all ships on a line offer the same experience, this is not the case. Ships vary in size, facilities, entertainment options, and overall atmosphere. Smaller ships typically provide an intimate and relaxed ambiance, while larger vessels boast a wider array of amenities and entertainment.

For instance, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, is a floating city with a myriad of dining options, Broadway-style theatre shows, and recreational facilities like zip-lining and surfing simulators. In contrast, smaller ships like those of Azamara offer a more refined experience with fewer guests, personalised attention, and immersive itineraries.

Best Time to Book a Cruise

Determining the best time to book a cruise can be as important as selecting the right ship or cruise line. Prices for cruises fluctuate throughout the year based on demand, time of travel, and availability. Generally, the cheapest time to book a cruise is during 'wave season' which runs from January to March. During this period, cruise lines often offer attractive deals and promotions.

However, if you're eyeing a specific cruise or cabin type, it's advisable to book well in advance. This ensures availability and gives you ample time to plan your trip. Keep an eye on cruise lines' websites and subscribe to their newsletters to stay updated with the latest deals and offers.

Dining Options Onboard

The dining experience is a significant part of cruising. Reputable cruise lines take pride in their culinary offerings, with menus curated by award-winning chefs and a plethora of dining venues. From buffet-style meals to fine dining restaurants, the variety and quality of food on cruise ships can be astounding.

Inclusivity is also a key aspect of dining onboard. Cruise lines cater to various dietary requirements, ensuring everyone enjoys their meals. Whether you're a vegetarian, need gluten-free meals, or follow a strict diet, you'll find suitable options onboard.

Enjoying Onboard Experiences

Finally, consider the onboard experiences offered by the cruise line. A typical day on a cruise ship is filled with a broad range of activities – from fitness classes and spa treatments to cooking demonstrations and dance classes. In the evenings, you can enjoy performances by live bands, attend themed parties, or relax in a movie theatre.

Remember, each cruise line tailors its onboard experiences to a specific demographic. For instance, Disney Cruises are family-oriented, offering activities and entertainment for all ages. On the contrary, Viking Cruises are designed for adults, focusing on enrichment and immersive experiences. So make sure to find a cruise line and ship that offers the kind of onboard experiences that align with your interests and expectations.

Shore Excursions: The Key to a Memorable Trip

Setting foot ashore and exploring the destination is as important as the onboard experience. Shore excursions provide you with an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture, taste regional cuisine, visit landmarks, and partake in unique activities. Popular choices for shore excursions in the UK include visiting historic castles, taking city tours, and exploring picturesque countryside landscapes.

Cruise lines offer a variety of shore excursions catering to different interests. For example, if you're an adventure enthusiast, you might enjoy hiking or kayaking excursions offered by Norwegian Cruise. Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises is known for its culinary-themed shore excursions, a great option for food and wine lovers.

Remember, booking shore excursions through your cruise line has its benefits. It offers convenience, as the cruise line coordinates all the details and timings, and safety, as only vetted and reliable tour operators are used. However, independent exploring or booking with third-party providers could offer more flexibility and potentially lower prices. Always make sure to research your options ahead of time and ensure they align with your interests and comfort level.

Payment Details and Cancellation Policies

Understanding the payment details and cancellation policy is crucial when booking a cruise. Most cruise lines require a deposit at the time of booking, with the full payment due a few weeks or months before departure. Be sure to take note of these payment deadlines to avoid cancellation of your booking.

Cancellation policies vary among cruise lines. Some offer a full refund if you cancel by a certain date, while others may only offer a partial refund or credit towards a future cruise. Make sure to read the fine print before booking and consider travel insurance to protect your investment.

Also, keep an eye out for flexible booking policies. Given the current climate, many cruise lines, including P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean, have implemented flexible booking policies, allowing guests to change or cancel their booking without penalty up to a certain date.


Choosing your first cruise in the UK can be an exciting, albeit slightly overwhelming, process. However, by considering these key factors – cruise lines, ship size and amenities, time of booking, dining options, onboard experiences, shore excursions, and payment details – you can make an informed decision that aligns with your preferences and expectations.

Remember, the best cruise for you is the one that matches your personal travel style and desires. Whether it's the luxury of Celebrity Cruises, the family-friendly atmosphere of Disney Cruises, the adventure-driven excursions of Norwegian Cruise, or the traditional elegance of Princess Cruises, there's a perfect cruise out there for every traveller. Happy cruising!

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