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Which? reveals ‘best and worst cruise lines’

Survey ranks cruises from top to bottom

MSC Cruises has been rated the worst cruise line by passengers who complained about poor customer service, surly staff and mediocre food, according to a new survey of Which? readers.

The consumer champion spoke to thousands of holidaymakers about their ocean cruise experiences and MSC came bottom of the table for the second year running.

Customers complained of queues for meals and at entertainment venues on MSC’s 19 ships, which can carry almost 6,500 passengers. And one passenger said they felt like they had to “cheer up the staff”.

The line got only a two-star rating for ‘atmosphere’ after some customers complained of passengers smoking on decks where it wasn’t allowed and throwing their ciggie butts everywhere.

Food and drink received just two stars, as did port excursions. Cabins got a three-star rating. Many holidaymakers described all three as “average” or “disappointing”.

More than half MSC passengers said told Which? they’d had a problem with their cruise and 19% had complained. This compared with a complain rate of 4% across all brands.

So, which cruise line came out top?  Well, Which? said “no company came even close” to matching Viking Ocean Cruises, which gained top marks for value for money and achieved an overall customer rating of 93%, with five-stars awarded in every category from food to cabins to entertainment. Saga came next, also gaining top marks for VFM.


However, it should be noted that Viking Cruises cost more than twice as much as an MSC Cruise. Viking typically charges £399 per night, whereas MSC Cruises are among the cheapest in the survey, costing only £162 a night. Royal Caribbean Cruises were the cheapest, typically costing £130 a night, and it got a 71% satisfaction rating, while Norwegian Cruise Lines costs £158 and achieved a rating of 70%.

The moral of this survey really does seem to be that you get what you pay for. Viking’s cruises are much smaller, more intimate than its bigger rivals like MSC, they ban children and passengers say they’re classy. They’re the ships for you if you want to avoid crowds and rowdy bars, but you’ll have to pay much more than you would if you picked one of the mass market cruise lines.

If you can’t stretch to a Viking – or Saga – cruise, Oceania Cruises achieved 81% in the Which? survey. While its headline prices are high (£299 v Saga at £243) these do include flights and food, and it works out cheaper than other luxury rivals, according to Which? It is particularly applauded for high staff to passenger ratio. Oceania  focuses on wellbeing, yoga and fitness but it lost points for entertainment, with acts described as ‘low-key’.

The best of the more mass-market cruise lines seems to be P&O Cruises, according to the Which? survey. Almost a quarter of those who took part had been on one of its ships in the past two years, many of those were repeat guests. Overall, the cruise line achieved a 71% customer score. It typically charges £162 a night, so slightly more than Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

With most P&O cruises departing from the UK to the Caribbean, passengers told Which? they liked the ease of flight-free travel, as well as the fact that there’s no dining rota. Some even enjoyed the comedy acts “straight from the 1970s”, which I think gives us some idea of the typical age of its passengers!

However, even P&O came in for some criticism, with several repeat guests claiming that standards have slipped, that it’s become a “downmarket company, priced accordingly” and akin to “Butlins on sea”.  The lowest star rating for P&O was for the social atmosphere with a few customers describing the pool area as being “overrun” and “a nightmare”. There were also expensive add-ons, including wi-fi costing £6.75-£24.95 a day.

In fact, Which? warned that several of the cheaper lines had “a long list of expensive add-ons” such as paid-for excursions and expensive drink packages.

It’s worth bearing in mind the popular saying in the cruise business that “there’s a cruise for every passenger” and not all holidaymakers will like all ships. You need to do your research carefully and if you’re looking for busy bars, casinos and Broadway-style entertainment, a bigger ship might be best for you, but if you prefer relaxing with a whiskey in a jazz club after an afternoon spent in a luxe spa, you might need to shell out for a cruise on one of the more intimate – but expensive – ships.


Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of TravelMole.com, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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