There is a romance inherent in the idea of a cruise liner. At their best, they conjure images of 1930s Art Deco splendour. Their downside, of course, can be summed up in the monstrous image of a waterborne blocks of flats cruising down the Grand Canal in Venice, dwarfing and casting into shade its elegant crumbling grandeur and its gondolas as it goes.

But there are cruise ships and cruise ships: if you long to see something of the world from on board ship, there are many things to consider. Do you want a mega vessel experience or something more intimate? Is it the open seas and the call of the ocean that inspires you, or are you more drawn to the idea of river cruising? Do you want an adult-only experience or one that will offer something for the whole family? All-inclusive or not? Setting sail from British shores or overseas? The question are endless, but each is worth answering: a cruise is typically an expensive endeavour, so it is imperative to tailor each element to your specification as best you can.

These are the cruise companies we think highly of.


Hurtigruten not only has an excellent name; it is also in possession of a rich history. Having begun its life as a coastal ferry company in Norway in 1893, these days it has a fleet of some 14 ships, none of which have capacity for more than 1,000 passengers, making this ideal for those who don’t want to go on a mega cruise. Try island hopping in the Arctic, take a Northern Lights cruise, or head to the Galapagos, amongst many other glorious options. One of the worries about cruising is, of course, the carbon footprint it leaves; Hurtigruten’s newest two shops are hybrid powered, thus reducing their emissions – and our guilt – considerably. Explore more.


Another great option for those who baulk at the idea of enormous and anonymous cruise ships, Seabourn’s fleet of five vessels are more enormous yacht than vast ship, carrying around 600 passengers each. Sail in style to Antarctica, Greenland, around the South Pacific or, new for 2023-24, to the Kimberley region of Australia. A member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, one of the world’s most prestigious gastronomic societies devoted to the art of fine dining, the food on board – whether at the restaurant or in your room – is sublime. Forget tacky entertainment by night; on board speakers have included Steve Wozniyak and NASA astronaut Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper. The learning experiences never stop. Explore more.

American Cruise Lines

If you like the allure and romance of vintage cruising, American Cruise Lines offers something a little different: a 14-strong fleet of antique paddlewheelers, seven of which are ocean-going. As its name alludes to, this is a US-centric affair; there are river cruises on the Mississippi, New England island cruises, Alaskan adventures and a Cape Codder cruise amongst many other options. This year also marked the launch of its three Coastal Cats (catamarans), which voyage Chesapeake Bay, New England, and the South. Romantic and evocative of a bygone era. Explore more.

French Country Waterways

For something sublime and sedate, do consider French Country Waterways, whose five barge cruises take languorous and lovely journeys along France’s canals in the Loire Valley, Alsace-Lorraine, Burgundy and, of course, Champagne. As such, expect much in the way of wine tasting – this is an epicure’s dream, and a boutique one at that: each ship takes just 18 passengers, making it intimate and refined. Explore more.

SeaDream Yacht Club

A family-owned company founded in 1987, SeaDream Yacht Club is scrupulously stylish and being on board feels akin to being whisked off by a very chic, deep-pocketed friend, as opposed to being ferried around in an enormous mega boat. There are no more than 120 passengers aboard any ship at any time, and each one is ascribed a room with an ocean view. Voyages include those around the Italian Riviera, Turkey and the Greek islands, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. A delight. Explore more.


Family-owned and operated AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by three families. Attention to detail is thus everything for this river cruising specialist, and its passengers are treated to an intimate experience as they sail blissfully across Europe, Africa, Vietnam and Cambodia on generous and double-wide vessels. Next year, there is a planned expansion into Latin America as well as a Nile cruise launching, so watch this space. We love the sound of its Europe’s Rivers and Castles tour, as well as the Christmas Markets on the Danube. Explore more.

Star Clippers

Do you want to travel aboard a classic sailing yacht? Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper is the world’s largest fully rigged sailing ship. With journey across the Med, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, everything about it is classic and sheer romance. Unparalleled for beauty. Explore more.

Crystal Cruises

If you do want a classic large cruise ship experience, there is no beating Crystal, whose two ships – Serenity and Symphony – have won innumerable awards for their exceptionally luxurious, all-inclusive offering. There is a dizzying array of delicious dining options, from authentic Italian cuisine in Osteria d'Ovidio, to Japanese Peruvian fusion at Umi Uma, or tapas-style tastes. Want to stay on board longer than a week or even two? There are grand tours available too, whether you fancy staying on board for 45 nights as you journey from Lisbon to Monte Carlo or 68 nights from Sydney to Singapore, amongst other choices. Explore more.

By Nancy Alsop
August 2023