In centuries past, well-heeled Britons escaped the cold and smog at home by shutting up their houses and heading to cheerier climes. If ever there was a time to let history repeat itself this is it. Think about it: on a winter cruise you can bask in the sun (even in Antarctica!) while the ship’s crew take care of all the chores you would normally face at home, as well as treats such as delivering drinks.
Some cruises include so much in the upfront cost that guests only pay more for organised excursions or spa treatments. Others, while they may cost less and provide meals and a variety of entertainments on board in the fare, charge extra for drinks, wi-fi, and speciality restaurants.
Here is my pick of the best cruises sailing in the gloomiest months, from December to March. Costs per day are provided – and what they do and do not cover. Three are round trips from Southampton.
A Caribbean Christmas – from £285 per night
Hop between sun-drenched Caribbean islands large and small for five weeks on board Saga’s Spirit of Adventure
The Saga Caribbean cruise includes home-to-ship chauffeured transfers, travel insurance, all-inclusive drinks, three speciality restaurants, wi-fi, service charges and six shore excursions
Escape: December 8 for five weeks (35 nights).
Price: from £9,989pp/£285.40 per night.
Ship: Spirit of Adventure
Life on board: A cross between a traditional ship and a boutique hotel with airy public areas, contemporary decor and a balcony for every cabin. The ship is for over-55s only and offers quiet corners, activities galore and lots of outdoor space. Stroll four times round the promenade deck? You’ve walked a mile. You can take up painting, learn the ukulele, keep fit with Mr Motivator, listen to a lecture and join the book club. One thing you won’t be doing is peeling sprouts.
Where: The cruise breaks the long Atlantic crossing ashore in the Azores, warming you up for hopping between sun-drenched Caribbean islands large and small, such as the Dominican Republic, where you will spend Christmas Eve, and Jamaica for Boxing Day, St Barts, Curacao, St Lucia and Antigua, calling at Madeira en route home.
What’s included: Home-to-ship chauffeured transfers, travel insurance, all-inclusive drinks, three speciality restaurants, wi-fi, service charges, six shore excursions.
What’s extra: Additional excursions.
Book it: travel.saga.co.uk
Cuba and laid back islands – from £57 per night
Ambassador’s Ambience (above) sails on January 5 for a six-week voyage to Madeira, Barbados, Jamaica and Cuba
On the Ambience cruise you’ll have four days to explore Cuba (the island’s capital, Havana, is pictured above). The cost of the trip includes meals, on-board activities and entertainments
Escape: January 5 for six weeks (42 nights).
Price: from £2,399pp/£57.12 per night.
Life on board: Cabins have plenty of storage space, great for long voyages, and the many public spaces, including 11 lounges and bars, have had a thoroughly modern, bright and stylish makeover. You’ll sail in the best months for whale sightings in the Caribbean, so bring your binoculars and join the team from the ORCA whale and dolphin conservation charity on deck. Indoors you can hear lectures on marine biology, try calligraphy, take up bridge or learn a new language, join quizzes and see stage shows.
Where: Sailing from Tilbury, first stop heading south is Leixoes in Portugal, next is Madeira then westwards to Cape Verde before arriving in Barbados, the first of many laid-back small islands. You’ll also stay overnight in buzzing Jamaica and have four days to explore Cuba.
What’s included: Meals, on-board activities and entertainments.
What’s extra: Drinks, dining in speciality restaurants, wi-fi and £5pp a day service charges.
Book it: ambassadorcruiseline.com
Midnight sun in Antarctica – from £109 per night
A poolside restaurant on the Balmoral, from Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. The ship sets sail on January 5 for an 11-week voyage that circumnavigates South America
Balmoral’s once-in-a-lifetime odyssey takes in the Panama Canal, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and the Falkland Islands, the Chilean fjords and Antarctica (above)
Escape: January 5 for 11 weeks (78 nights).
Price: £8,499pp/£109 per night.
Life on board: This classic ship, with lots of outside deck space, offers a good mix of places to enjoy peace and quiet and activities embracing the regions visited. Discover the scope and depth of Chilean wines at a tasting session. Learn how to make typical Latin American dishes. Perfect the tango en route to Buenos Aires and the Samba ahead of arriving in Brazil. Join a Uruguayan wool-crafting session and hear guest speaker Simon Weston CBE talk about his life-changing experience in the Falklands War.
Where: This once-in-a-lifetime odyssey, circumnavigating South America, allows you to add in a side trip to one of three bucket-list destinations – the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, or Lake Titicaca – rejoining the ship three nights later. You’ll also tick off the Panama Canal, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and the Falkland Islands, the Chilean fjords and Antarctica. If that sounds on the cold side, think again. You’ll have midnight sun and can always retreat to the Observatory lounge to watch the soaring icebergs.
What’s included: Home-to-ship transport or up to £400 per cabin on-board spending money.
What’s extra: Drinks, dining in speciality restaurants, wi-fi and £5pp a day gratuities.
Book it: fredolsencruises.com
Samba around South America – from £77 per night
P&O Cruises’ Aurora (above) sets sail in January for a grand tour of South America. The adults-only ship has dispensed with children’s clubs to allow more space for bars, lounges, a cinema and the spa
Aurora’s cruise takes in more than a dozen countries. Pictured is Rio de Janeiro, where you’ll spend two days
Escape: January 6 for more than nine weeks (65 nights).
Price: From £6,299pp/£97 per night.
Life on board: The giant Union Jack motif on the ship’s prow will herald this thoroughly British ship’s arrival in every port. As an adults-only ship, Aurora has dispensed with children’s clubs to allow more space for bars, lounges, a cinema and the spa. And you will have plenty of time to enjoy them all on this leisurely-paced cruise that has 35 days out at sea and five more devoted to scenic cruising. There will be Spanish lessons, a lecture programme including talks on the history of South America, Mardi Gras and the Panama Canal. And you can join snake-hipped dance instructors to practise Latin American favourites such as the rumba, tango and salsa.
Where: On this grand tour around South America you’ll visit more than a dozen countries and spend two weeks cruising up the long coast of Chile with its fjords and glaciers. That will be halfway through your cruise, having made three calls in Brazil – at Salvador, packed with colonial architecture, buzzing Rio de Janeiro for two days, and Buzios, South America’s answer to San Tropez.
Then it’s Uruguay’s quaint capital Montevideo and the Falkland Islands. In the Beagle Channel, between Argentina and Chile at the continent’s southernmost tip, stay on deck to spot minke whales, black-browed albatrosses and Peale’s dolphins. You’ll also visit Ecuador, Peru and Panama with time to go ashore before passing through the Canal. You’ll hop from island to island in the Caribbean before the voyage home across the Atlantic.
What’s included: Service charges.
What’s extra: Speciality restaurants, drinks, wi-fi, fitness classes.
Book it: pocruises.com
Long way round from San Francisco – from £141 per night
Cunard’s Queen Victoria sets sail in February for a 74-night cruise. As grand as her namesake, the ship has a magnificent, red velvet-swagged Royal Court theatre (above)
Queen Victoria’s epic cruise begins in San Francisco (pictured), then passengers will join the Lost Day Club, crossing the international date line mid-Pacific, between Hawaii and Samoa. After that the itinerary includes New Zealand, the east coast of Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, South Africa, Tenerife and Madeira
Escape: February 7 for 11 weeks (74 nights).
Price: From £10,469pp/£141.47 per night.
Ship: Cunard Queen Victoria
Life on board: As grand as her namesake, Queen Victoria has a magnificent, red velvet-swagged Royal Court theatre. Book one of the 16 private boxes and a bellboy in white gloves and a pillbox hat will serve you champagne and sweet treats.
Harking back to the golden age of cruising, with masked balls and gala nights, Cunard is the only line with a class system. While everyone has the run of all the public spaces, your dining room is designated according to your cabin category. But even if you book one of the cheapest cabins, you’ll still be allocated jaw-droppingly splendid Art Deco Britannia restaurant.
Where: You’ll join the Lost Day Club crossing the international date line mid-Pacific, between Hawaii and Samoa. Sail round New Zealand and the east coast of Australia to Hong Kong and Singapore. In the Indian Ocean, visit Sri Lanka, Mauritius and South Africa, then journey north to Tenerife and Madeira, arriving in Southampton to find spring has sprung.
What’s included: Daily afternoon tea in the ballroom.
What’s extra: Flight to San Francisco, speciality restaurants, drinks, wi-fi and $11.50pp per day service charges.
Book it: cunard.com