Maritime historians often cite the Prohibition era as the origin of Americans' passion for escaping to sea. Short "booze cruises", when ships headed out to sea from New York in order to serve liquor, were all the rage in the 1920s. Today the rise in popularity of these "taster" trips reflects the trend for curious cruisers putting a proverbial toe in the water for the first time. Short break cruises are also ideal if you're tight on time or don't want to blow a fortune on a holiday at sea.
Cruise lines pack short-break cruises with many elements of a longer voyage distilled into a few days. Increasingly, these cruises are proving popular with multi-generational family groups as there are activities to suit every age.
Not all are bargain-basement priced -- that depends on the ship and the sail date -- but some start from around £50 a night. P&O Cruises have scheduled an unprecedented 34 short cruises in 2017, and many other Brit-popular companies such as Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Saga Cruises, Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Hebridean Island Cruises, Voyages of Discovery and Royal Caribbean have a mini-voyage with your name on it -- and sailing from more U.K. ports than ever before. The following selection includes a range of the most popular and Cruise Critic reader-approved ships sailing from ports across the U.K. So whether you want to sail from Southampton, Dover, Tilbury, Portsmouth, Greenock or Oban, there's one for you.
Launched in 2010, Azura is a swanky vision of a traditional P&O ship. As the slightly newer sister to Ventura, this 3,100-passenger vessel incorporates several innovations including the "SeaScreen" above the Aqua Pool showing recently released films. Kids are in their element at the Aqua Pool and Coral Pool, which is dedicated for families. The Reef Children's Clubs are at the stern of the ship where there's also a paddling pool and a ball pool at the Beach Hut (for 2 to 4-year-olds). Despite its modernity, this is no floating theme park, and there's universal appeal for those testing the water for the first time and traditional cruisers alike.
- "Food Heroes" cruises include cooking demonstrations, masterclasses, hosted dinners, Q&A sessions and food or wine related shore excursions with P&O's celebrity chefs.
- Epicurean boasts the finest cuts of organically-reared meat, and the best seafood from British shores; contemporary Indian restaurant Sindhu offers the best curries at sea.
- Brodie's hosts quizzes and football match screenings, as well as live music and karaoke in the evening.
P&O Cruises' 3,092-passenger Ventura is the workhorse for the line's extensive series of short-break cruises. During these cruises entertainment goes up a gear in the many bars and show lounges, with excellent tribute acts in the Tamarind Club, the Latin beat of salsa and rumba in Havana, and live sport and quiz nights in The Exchange pub. Speciality dining options include small plates of treats accompanied by Olly Smith's wine recommendations in the Glass House gastropub. The Epicurean is one of the most elegant restaurants at sea, and in Sindhu the fusion of Indian and British dishes debunks the myth that Indian cuisine is endless variations of chicken tikka masala.
- Two main pools, including one with a retractable roof.
- The hideaway Terrace Pool at the aft end of the ship.
- The Oasis Spa has a thermal suite with hot and cold relaxation rooms and heated tiled beds.
The 2,014-passenger Cunard ship transports passengers back to a golden age of travel. That era may be gone, but onboard Queen Victoria its spirit lives on. Guests embark via the three-deck high, mahogany and marble Grand Lobby where an ornate, sweeping wrought-iron staircase leads to the principal public rooms, including the elegant Cafe Carinthia and Chart Room. The Art Deco aesthetic continues in the two-deck high Queens Room, dominated by magnificent crystal chandeliers. With tiered seating and 16 private boxes, the Royal Court Theatre evokes the ambiance of famous music halls. The Britannia Restaurant is a striking room, with intimate groupings of tables, and The Grills on Deck 11 are for passengers occupying Princess Grill and Queens Grill suites. Queen Victoria offers a range of accommodation from the ample to the opulent.
- Tea in the Queens Room where white-gloved waiters serve fresh scones with cream, finger sandwiches and premium teas.
- The Royal Arcade was inspired by London's elegant Burlington Arcade.
- Martini mixology and whisky tasting classes in the Commodore Club overlooking the bow.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' heritage dates back to 1848and today this family-operated line's four ships revel in English and Scottish home comforts, while the Norwegian influence of the parent company is also evident. The 839-passenger Boudicca raised the bar when it joined the fleet in 2006, with the ambiance of a new ship, rather than a spruced-up old-timer. Traditions are important with Fred. Olsen and there are set dining times in the refined Four Seasons Restaurant, the more vibrant Tintagel Restaurant, and smaller Heligan Room, which are delightful rarities in today's world of vast dining rooms at sea. In the informal Secret Garden cafe there's an al fresco ambience at breakfast and lunch, as well as popular Indian, Thai and Indonesian-themed buffet dinners. Cruises attract a loyal following of passengers who are looked after by personable and long-serving crew members, many of whom welcome repeat passengers with a "home-away-from-home" camaraderie.
- The serene Observatory above the bridge with a resident pianist during cocktail hour.
- The Card Room hosts bridge instruction and tournaments.
- Crowd-pleasing appearances by guest stars from TV and stage, authors diplomats, politicians and other well-versed experts.
Elegant and timeless with a cosy, informal atmosphere, the 720-passenger Saga Sapphire is a British classic with a modern twist. The Pole To Pole main restaurant has four "zones"; each styled to reflect a different continent. Dotted with antiques and curios, it's a sophisticated room to enjoy full service breakfast, lunch and dinner. The majority of tables are open seating, and a number of fixed-seating tables are available. East to West is a 64-seater specialty restaurant featuring a medley of Asian-influenced dishes. The Verandah & Grill offers a fuss-free continental breakfast, buffet-style lunch, or waiter-served dinner prepared at the open kitchen. The quirky Beach Club on the sun deck has a decidedly British vibe with beach huts dispensing ice cream and old fashioned sweets, with fish and chips at lunchtime.
- View from the Top high on the ship, has hot tubs, and crazy golf at "St Andrews", and films under the stars.
- The multi-purpose Britannia Lounge is the venue for dance classes, quizzes, and music recitals, and afternoon tea by day, and quality evening entertainment by night.
- Saga Cruises provides a complimentary chauffeur-driven car to take passengers to the port, up to 250 miles each way.
Cruise & Maritime Voyages specialises in adults-only, no-fly cruises for the British market, and particularly attracts older couples and singles. With its classical lines, the Magellan is the latest and largest acquisition to the fleet. In 2017 this 1,250-passenger ship is offering four one-night "taster" cruises. There are 15 grades cabin categories -- ranging from standard twin inside cabins to a Royal Suite. There is a traditional feel to the elegant Waldorf and Kensington restaurants which offer open seating at breakfast and lunch and a first and second sitting for dinner. The menus are the same in both restaurants and food is well presented. Bars and lounges include the Captain's Club, Churchill's Lounge, Hampton's Bar and Sinatra's Bar, plus Scott's nightclub. There are two swimming pools, with one overlooking the stern.
- The onboard enrichment programme, CMV Additions, which includes maritime history, broadcasting, gardens, criminology and more.
- Themed "Arts & Crafts" cruises, as well as "An Audience With... " programme of light-hearted discussions on selected sailings.
- The extensive Livingstone Library and Jade Wellness Centre with an extensive spa menu.
This much loved vessel carries just 50 "house guests", looked after by a diligent crew of 38. The world's smallest luxury cruise ship has an enviable reputation, and the Queen chose this bijou vessel to celebrate her Scottish holiday in the Western Isles on two occasions. A voyage through the beautiful remote islands of the Hebrides and Western Isles, as well as the serene lochs and inlets of Scotland's west coast, on board the Hebridean Princess is a delight. The Tiree Lounge overlooking the ship's bow has an inglenook fireplace and a bar stocked with single malts. The impeccable cuisine in the Columba Restaurant features top quality, locally-sourced fish and seafood, along with venison, grouse, pheasant and beef. The 30 boutique hotel-style cabins are richly decorated to individual designs, with 10 devoted to solo accommodation.
- Experienced guides accompany every cruise and, on selected themed itineraries, there are passionate and knowledgeable guest speakers.
- Champagne, most wines, beers, spirits, soft drinks, tea, coffee and other drinks are included.
- Fares cover entrance fees to castles, gardens and other places of interest.
- Travel from Glasgow or Inverness to the port is included, or secure parking for passengers travelling by car.
Slightly smaller than her contemporaries, the 2,402-passenger Norwegian Jade is one of the company’s Jewel-class midsize ships which offer an intimate feel, yet is packed full of fun. The mood is casual with fantasy furniture and artwork in the atrium lobby. An explosion of contemporary design, blended with an art deco styling, is evident throughout this ship which entered service in 2006. Prior to Norwegian Jade being based in Southampton and Hamburg for a summer-long series of cruises in 2017, a major refit will see a more restful colour scheme, refurbishment of all accommodation, as well as the creation of the Cavern Club which is so successful on Norwegian Epic. A highlight of any NCL cruise is the superb speciality dining which is offered at La Cucina; Cagney’s Steakhouse; the Brazilian Moderno Churrascaria; Teppanyaki for Japanese Hibachi treats; Asian-fusion creations and sushi at the Jasmine Garden; as well as authentic French cuisine in the elegant ambiance of Le Bistro.
- Stardust Theatre for the mesmerising magic show: ‘Elements’.
- The Haven complex of lavish Garden Villas.
- Mandara Spa with hydrotherapy pools.
This 3,634-passenger vessel went through a massive refurbishment in 2018 that saw a host of new features introduced onboard including Sky Pad, a virtual reality trampoline experience; a laser tag arena, a puzzle break room, The Observatorium; two water slides and a kids' aqua park, as well as new dining and drinking venues -- and 107 new cabins. Its heart is the Royal Promenade -- a boulevard that's longer than a football pitch -- and used for colourful nightly street parades such as "Rock Britannia" and "Madhatter's Ball Parade" The Alhambra Theatre has a brand-new, virtually full-length production of the Broadway hit "Grease".
- The Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth and King Lear dining rooms span three decks and operate on either a set time or "My Time Dining" basis.
- The reservations-only speciality restaurants Giovanni's Table and Chops Grille offer authentic Italian cuisine and generous cuts of beef respectively.
- Johnny Rockets is a fun, retro 1950s American diner.