Are you keen to try a cruise but not sure if it’s right for you? It’s a bit of a gamble, after all. What if, after a few days, you decide you don’t want to – but you still have to stay a week or more on board, and maybe 3,000 miles from home?
It’s a difficult conundrum for would-be cruisers – but the solution may be closer than you think.
Most cruise lines offer “short cruises” that start at four days, although that’s not really viable if you have to fly to the Caribbean or Mediterranean first. Fortunately, there is another way – the “taste” cruise. These sailings are usually just two or three nights, and depart and return to UK ports: perfect for a risk-free sample of life at sea.
It’s not just the first watches that can benefit from these micro-cruises: they’re also a great choice for seasonal sailors or city-breakers looking for a weekend escape that comes free from airport delays, lost luggage and budget airlines – and at a reasonable price, too. Many cruise lines even offer a door-to-ship pickup option, so you don’t have to find a parking spot.
These short trips open up places like the Channel Islands, Paris and Bruges via the seaports of Le Havre, Cherbourg and Zeebrugge. There are also many itineraries to choose from, allowing passengers to tailor their cruise in advance, or explore independently.
So, whether you’re looking for a first taste of cruising, an easy break, or a combination of both, these great options offer a great way to spend a long weekend without getting on a plane.
Find culture and carats in Antwerp
The cruise allows you to explore Antwerp, a vibrant city famous for its diamond industry, full of gastronomy, art and amazing architecture. Take a leisurely cruise along the historic Scheldt river to experience it from all sides, then explore its stunning medieval heart with its Market Square, side streets of cafes and Belgium’s largest Gothic cathedral.
The city’s best draws, however, are its vibrant fashion and entertainment scenes, and its interesting (and sometimes frightening) Flemish and French architectural and cultural contrasts. You can even visit the mansion that was built as the home and studio of the famous painter Pieter Paul Rubens.
Ambassador Cruises (0808 102 8062) offers the three-night Festive Weekend Getaway from £269 per person, on board Ambition, sailing 8 December 2023 (round trip from London Tilbury to Antwerp)
Cool continental footprint on Guernsey
From the Roman era through the German occupation in the Second World War, Guernsey’s capital, St Peter’s Port, was a busy centre. Here you will find Georgian and Regency houses mixed with a continental cafe culture, as well as tumbling terraced gardens, winding streets and hidden leafy paths waiting to be discovered.
Take a taxi to explore the Ruettes – quiet lanes dedicated to walkers, cyclists and horse riders – and to Cornet Castle, home to several museums and theater events. Fort Gray has an interesting Shipwreck Museum, and the German Occupation Museum gives a vivid account of life on the island during that period. Don’t forget, Jersey is tax free, so leave time to shop too.
P&O Cruises (0344 338 8003) offers a three-night Guernsey Getaway cruise from £429 per person, on board Arcadia, sailing 6 June 2024 (round trip to St Peter Port, Guernsey from Southampton)
Spend a relaxing day at sea
While a two-night cruise from Southampton to Newcastle (one day at sea) might not scream immediate excitement, it offers a great opportunity to enjoy “sea days” on a shorter cruise – and it comes complete evening entertainment.
There’s also fun outside the ship: in Southampton itself, explore the ancient town walls and the Tower of God’s House, a 13th-century gatehouse that leads into the old town and hosts arts and heritage attractions, including interesting exhibitions. When you arrive in Newcastle, head out on foot to see its bustling bridges and quays, as well as the Baltic Arts centre, which has plenty to offer.
Fred Olsen Cruises (0800 677 3995) offers the two-night cruise to Newcastle from £249 per person, on board Balmoral (departing 28 February 2024 from Southampton)
Sum up the history in Bruges and Mont St Michel
Of course, a visit to the Unesco World Heritage city of Bruges is not complete without a boat trip on the canals – the arteries of the city – but Burg Square is the true soul of the city. Take a horse-drawn carriage through the center, visit the Hanseatic Quarter and enjoy the Flemish Art museum. After that, it’s on to Mont St Michel – also a Unesco World Heritage city. Perched on a point of rock rising from the sea and accessed by a tidal causeway, the walls cover more than 60 medieval buildings and a 1,000-year-old monastery.
MSC Cruises (020 3909 5432) offers the three-night cruise to Zeebrugge (Bruges) and Cherbourg (Mont St Michel) from £399 per person, on board Virtuosa, departing 6 May 2024 (round trip from Southampton)
Sail under the starry sky in Scotland
This short leisurely cruise around the sheltered waters of Mull provides spectacular views of sea eagles and ancient castles, as well as a chance to truly appreciate the region’s stunning coastal scenery. The cruise starts and ends in Oban, taking in Lough Linne, Glencoe, Kyle of Mull and Lough Swanart, including a visit to the community of Tobermory with its pretty painted houses. After nightfall, the cruise is anchored in secluded bays, where you will only have the seals and stars for company.
The Majestic Line (01369 707951) offers a three-night A Taste of The Hebrides cruise from £1,360 per person, departing weekly from March to October, on board Glen Massan (round trip from Oban)
The Wonders of the Severn Co
If you fancy a small ship or river cruise, the 22 passenger Edward Elgar gives you the chance to do both. This sailing continues along the escarpment of the Cotswolds, the upper Severn estuary and the Forest of Dean, stopping for guided tours of Berkeley Castle and the Purton Hulks graveyard of 80 barge wrecks scuppered ashore.
There is also time to visit the Wild Bird & Wetland Center founded by the “father of nature conservation”, Sir Peter Scott, and a trip to the Cotswolds Canal Trust Heritage Centre, where you will discover the history of the local waterways.
English Holiday Cruises (01452 410411) offers the three-night Ship Canal Explorer cruise from £595 per person, on board Edward Elgar, departing from 29 March 2024, (round trip from Gloucester)
Future of culture in Zeebrugge and Le Havre
For super fresh seafood and excellent beer (often served together), look no further than Zeebrugge, Belgium’s largest fishing port. There’s a unique mix of sights and sounds to absorb here, but the nostalgic gem of Admiral Keyes Square is the quietest corner in town, a haven of peace and quiet.
Then it’s on to Le Havre, which lost most of its medieval buildings during the Second World War. But from the ashes rose an incredible concrete mix of industrial and natural grandeur – an unusual combination, which has since been honored by Unesco.
Cunard (0344 3388641) offers a three-night Bruges and Le Havre Short Break from £689 per person, departing from 30 May 2024, on board Queen Mary 2 (round trip from Southampton)
Take the tykes to Belgium
If you’re looking for a great first cruise for young children, it’s wise to choose Disney, with its pools, onboard shows and range of kids’ clubs. Spend time exploring Southampton before boarding, with a glimpse of the past at the Tudor House and Garden or the Maritime Museum, then on to Zeebrugge. Here, the children’s beach village – with swings, climbing frames and even a life-size playboat – is sure to please, but if you want to add a bit of culture, Brussels is just a hop away.
Disney (001 407 566-3457) offers a three-night Belgium Cruise from £1,152 per person, departing 16 August 2024, on board the Disney Dream (round trip from Southampton)
Choose an adventure in Paris and beyond
See Paris at your own pace (perhaps with a mini narrated coach tour, or lunch on a riverboat up the Seine?), or skip the City of Light altogether and head to the D-Day beaches and the Bayeux Tapestry on a historic day trip. which spans the Middle Ages until the liberation of France at the end of the Second World War. You’ll have two nights here, so there might even be time to squeeze in a visit to the glory of Versailles too.
Royal Caribbean (0344 493 4005) offers the two-night Paris Cruise from £357 per person, on board Anthem of the Seas, sailing 10 May 2024 (round trip from Southampton)