1. Home
  2. Planning
  3. Best Cruises
  4. Top Ships for Mini-Break Cruises
Mariner of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Top Ships for Mini-Break Cruises

Mini-break cruises are ideal if you're tight on time, you don't want to blow a fortune on a holiday at sea, you need that cruise fix -- or you just want to dip your toe in the water for the first time. 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 are the leaders in this field, with a large number of two- or three-day cruises to the Channel islands, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. But it's not confined to P&O Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Saga Cruises, Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Hebridean Island Cruises and Royal Caribbean (during the summer) have a mini-cruise with your name on it -- and sailing from more U. 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 UK So whether you want to sail from Southampton, Dover, Tilbury, Portsmouth, Greenock or Oban, there's sure to be one for you.

Updated February 7, 2019

1. Azura


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 Splashers (2 to 4-year-olds); Surfers (5-8 year-olds); Scubas (9-12 year olds) and H20 (13-17 year olds). Unlike some other ships sailing from Southampton, this is no floating theme park, and there's universal appeal for those testing the water for the first time and traditional cruisers alike.

Ship Highlights

  • "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 stages quizzes and football match screenings, as well as live music and karaoke in the evening. The Blue Bar is an excellent cocktail venue.

2. Ventura

Ventura at sea

Refurbished in March 2018, P&O Cruises' 3,092-passenger Ventura handles the bulk of 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. The Bay Tree Dining Room (only reached by the aft lifts and stairwells) offers traditional set dining at assigned tables -- which P&O call "Club Dining". The Cinnamon and Saffron Dining offer "Freedom Dining", which means passengers can turn up anytime between 6 pm and 9.30 pm and sit where and with whom they like. Speciality dining options include tapas-style meals accompanied by Olly Smith's wine recommendations in the Glass House gastropub. At the stern of the ship on Deck 17, The Epicurean is one of the most elegant restaurants at sea; while the authentic Indian ambiance in Sindhu sets the scene for the delicious Indian and British fusion cuisine.

Ship Highlights

  • Two main pools, including one with a retractable roof.
  • Metropolis -- with panoramic views out to sea is perfect for cocktails.
  • The Oasis Spa has a thermal suite with hot and cold relaxation rooms and heated tiled beds.

3. Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria at sea

This 2,061-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. Following a major refurbishment in 2017, five new opulent Penthouse Suites towards the stern on Deck 8 were created; while 43 balcony staterooms were added. Every cabin received a makeover which included the installation of flat screen televisions as well as much requested tea and coffee making facilities. Also new is an Art Deco inspired Britannia Club Restaurant; an expanded sun deck; a new Chart Room just off the Grand Lobby; as well as a revamp of the Winter Garden with elegant lounge furniture. The focal hub of the ship is the three-deck high Grand Lobby where an ornate, sweeping wrought-iron staircase leads to the main public rooms. 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; while the Grills on Deck 11 are for passengers occupying Princess Grill and Queens Grill staterooms and suites.

Ship Highlights

  • Tea in the Queens Room where white-gloved waiters serve fresh scones with cream, finger sandwiches and premium teas.
  • Cocktails in the Winter Garden under a canopy of glass.
  • The Steakhouse at the Verandah.
Find a Cruise

4. Boudicca

Boudicca in Flam

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' heritage dates back to 1848 and 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.

Ship Highlights

  • 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.

5. Saga Sapphire

(Image: Saga Cruises)

Making its debut in July 2019, the 999-passenger Spirit of Discovery is the first of the line's two new-builds. The second, a sister-ship -- Spirit of Adventure -- launches in August 2020. These ships will have 540 all-balcony cabins and suites, 109 of which will be specifically designed for solo passengers. The ships will be fully all-inclusive from 2020. Aboard Spirit of Discovery there will be a total of five restaurants, including The Grand Dining Room -- a double-height space with colonnades and chandeliers. "The Club by Jools Holland" will be a 1950s-style supper club concept; Verandah and Grill will be two restaurants in one -- a buffet at lunchtime and waiter service from the centrepiece show kitchen in the evening; East to West offers an Asian-fusion menu of Chinese, Thai, Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Another innovation is Coast to Coast, serving British and locally sourced fish and shellfish. Entertainment will be on offer in the Britannia Lounge, the Living Room and the Playhouse. The Lido is the outdoor pool area with two hot-tubs and plenty of comfy sun-loungers. There will also be a Spa with a hydrotherapy pool, steam room, sauna and five private treatment rooms. There's a good range of short 4- and 5-night cruises.

Ship Highlights

  • Large suites at 730 square feet with separate living, dining and sleeping areas.
  • Creative new dining options.
  • Saga Cruises’ complimentary insurance and door-to-door travel to and from the UK departure point.

6. Magellan

Magellan at sea

Cruise & Maritime Voyages specialises in adults-only, no-fly cruises for the British market, and particularly attracts older couples and singles, and has probably the cheapest fares afloat. With its classical lines, the 1,250-passenger Magellan offers one-night "taster" cruises, as well as longer voyages. 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. 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.

Ship Highlights

  • The onboard enrichment programme 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.

7. Hebridean Princess

Hebridean Princess aft view

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 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.

Ship Highlights

  • 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.

8. Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas

Royal Caribbean's 3,634-passenger Independence of the Seas 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&quot.

Ship Highlights

  • Grease -- one of the best musicals onboard a cruise ship.
  • The reservations-only speciality restaurants Giovanni's Table and Chops Grille offer authentic Italian cuisine and generous cuts of beef respectively.
  • Sky Pad and the Laser Tag Arena are fantastic additions to a ship already full of fun features.

9. Aurora

(Photo: P&O)

As one of the smallest ships in the P&O Cruises' fleet, Aurora offers the traditional P&O Cruises experience. This 1,874-passenger ship was the first in the fleet to receive the new-look design with a contemporary version of the Union Flag on her bow and new blue funnels with rising sun motifs. An interior refurbishment is taking place in April 2019. Guests can opt for "Freedom Dining" in the Medina Restaurant, while two sitting dining is offered in the Alexandria Restaurant. Speciality dining includes Sindhu -- for an Indian-fusion menu; and the Glass House restaurant and bar, with wines selected by TV presenter Olly Smith. The Curzon Theatre features headline entertainers known to British audiences as well as tribute bands. From April 2019 Aurora will become exclusively for adults. Favourite ports for Aurora's mini-cruises are Guernsey and Zeebrugge.

Ship Highlights

  • Indoor/outdoor Crystal pool with retractable roof.
  • The Playhouse Indoor Cinema perfect for recitals and lectures.
  • Anderson’s -- with traditional sofas, bookcases and panelled walls.

10. Celebrity Silhouette

Celebrity Silhouette Activity/Entertainment

Celebrity Cruises' 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette made its UK debut in 2018 and has already established itself a firm favourite among UK cruisers, with 85 percent of cabins offering balconies (one of the highest in the industry). The Grand Cuvee Dining Room is a cavernous space spanning two decks that features a shimmering metallic wine tower containing 1,800 bottles. Passengers can opt for set seatings or Celebrity Select Dining. The wide array of superb speciality restaurants includes: the Lawn Club Grill, Murano, Blu, QSine and Tuscan Grille. Featuring globally inspired cuisine, Luminae is the preserve of suite-class guests. With its two pools, the pool deck is one of the most serene and resort-like in the cruise industry. The Silhouette Theatre stages the company’s blend of hi-energy shows, while Celebrity Central is popular for risqué late-night comedy. For a quieter vibe, there’s the Ensemble Lounge which offers after-dinner jazz.

Ship Highlights

  • Cook your own meal at the Lawn Club Grill.
  • Pampering treatments in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
  • Acclaimed speciality dining.
Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

6 Best Adults-Only Cruise Sun Decks
Cruise ship sun decks offer all the convenience of loungers, hot tubs and beverage service -- and all the headaches of screaming children, rock concerts on poolside screens and live bands playing "Hot Hot Hot" for the 20th time. Adults-only sun decks offer all the former in a much more serene environment. We have nothing against kids, but even on the most family-friendly cruise ships, an area explicitly excluding children gives parents a valuable hour or two of "me time," while maintaining the sanity of fellow cruisers who came on vacation for peace, quiet and minimal crying. Adults-only sun decks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many have amenities not available in the main deck areas and nicer loungers or sun beds; some also require an entry fee. We have not included adults-only solariums that are strictly covered pools. If the only "whining" you want comes with dining, then consider the following six sun decks that maintain a strict adults-only ambiance.
Secrets the Cruise Lines Don't Tell You
Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren't always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets the cruise lines don't tell you -- which give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard. Maybe it's knowing what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it's a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase. But why wait to figure these things out the hard way -- possibly after you've missed your chance? We trawled through all the great advice on Cruise Critic's Message Boards to bring you some of the worst-kept cruise secrets ... at least among our readers who love to share. But whether you're a first-time cruiser or an old sea dog, you might find there's something here you didn't already know.