The 14 Worst Cruise Lines (According to Reviews)

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The vast majority of people who book a cruise have an amazing time – it’s the kind of holiday that people just keep coming back to.

But not every cruise goes smoothly, and sometimes people don’t have a great experience – and some cruise lines seem to be worse than others for this.

A man in a red sweater looking skeptical with a furrowed brow, standing in front of a large cruise ship with multiple decks, anchored near a clear blue ocean under a sunny sky.

Typically it’s not because a cruise line is ‘bad’, but because someone chose the wrong cruise line for them.

So in this guide, I’ve looked at the worst cruise lines according to real reviews. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t book with these cruise lines, but it will help you find the right cruise line for you, so that you have the cruise you deserve.

How I Found the Data

I’ve used Cruise Critic for this guide – it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cruise review websites in the whole world, so it makes sense. There are over 200,000 reviews that have gone into my research for this!

I’ve decided to ignore any cruise line with fewer than 50 reviews, because the average scores would be affected much more by a few strong opinions. So, this list has the 14 cruise lines with the lowest average scores, provided they have 50 reviews or more. Most have at least 200, and one has over 40,000 reviews!

I’ve included the fleet size, because sometimes the worse reviews are only for a part of the fleet – if a cruise line only has a small fleet, you know the experiences are more likely to be typical across them all. And I’ve given an approximate price per night, because that adds important context for the reviews.

1. Costa Cruises

Cruise Mummy with Costa Smeralda
  • Rating: 3.0
  • Fleet: 10 ships
  • Top departure ports: Barcelona, Marseille, Civitavecchia (for Rome)
  • Approx price per night: £40-60

Costa Cruises is an Italian cruise line that stands out for its distinct Mediterranean style and vibrant atmosphere. Known for its rich Italian heritage, the cruise line really embraces that European vibe with crew speaking many languages onboard and a lot of dining options that incorporate the ingredients of the Med.

The atmosphere onboard the mid-sized ships is quite lively, although don’t expect a huge range of entertainment facilities. The ships are family-friendly and have good kids clubs but you won’t find much in the way of unique attractions like you’d find on bigger American cruise lines.

With a score of 3 out of 5, there are a lot of people who have a great time and an equal number who rate the cruise line very poorly. Customer service tends to be mentioned frequently, with staff described as everything from “unhelpful” to “aggressive” in their manner.

Food is another common complaint, particularly for vegetarians and especially vegans with limited options available. Nothing is labelled in the buffet, and vegan protein sources are scarce. I ate pasta with tomato sauce for lunch every day on my cruise!

The buffet is described as overcrowded and even chaotic by some guests, with poor management. This is something I can attest to – as even with no seats available in the buffet, crew members prevented me from taking my food and sitting at one of the hundreds of seats outside.

Costa’s cruises are some of the cheapest available, and that can show with the quality of a cruise holiday onboard, but if you’re on a budget and you know what to expect then you can still have a great time.

Suggested read: My £30 Per Day Costa Cruise (Honest Review)

2. MSC Cruises

Cruise Mummy in a leopard print dress with sunglasses on her head, extends her arms joyfully on a sandy beach with the MSC cruise ship in the background, floating on calm turquoise waters under a partly cloudy sky.
  • Rating: 3.3
  • Fleet: 22 ships
  • Top departure ports: Various
  • Approx price per night: £50-60

MSC Cruises is another Italian cruise line that offers affordable ocean cruises on mid-size and large ships. While the cruise line is Italian and offers some European touches through its dining options, it is really more of a European-American blend of cruise styles, and many of the ships sail out of the US too.

Fares are affordable and there’s a good range of entertainment onboard, including fun daytime activities such as bowling, mini golf, arcades and a Formula 1 driving simulator – although these do have additional costs attached.

Many of the ships have launched in the last few years and so are modern and well-kept but there are some older ships in the fleet that are a little more dated now.

One important point for MSC – they don’t tend to run traditional cruises with a single start and finish port. Instead, guests will embark and disembark at most ports on the cruise – your first day might be halfway through someone else’s cruise on the ship. The flexibility is good, but it can also make each port visit a little hectic.

There are two recurring themes to the negative reviews of MSC Cruises – the range and quality of the food are often commented on, as are the standards of service. Some people have found the crew to be less helpful or unresponsive to concerns when compared to other cruise lines.

Suggested read: Why Are MSC Cruises So Cheap?

3. Ambassador Cruise Line

Cruise mummy taking a selfie with Ambassador Cruise ship
  • Rating: 3.5
  • Fleet: 2 ships
  • Top departure ports: London Tilbury, Bristol, Liverpool
  • Approx price per night: £80-110

Of the cruise lines on this list, Ambassador is one of the newest. This British cruise line was only formed in 2021, although it was launched by the former CEO of Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which went bust in 2020 – so there was heritage there.

While the cruise line is new, the ships are not. Ambience was the first ship acquired, which was first built in 1991, while sister ship Ambition is a little newer having been first built in 1999.

The cruise line offers a wide range of itineraries, sailing from ports around the UK. Most cruises are adults only although some are multigenerational during the school holidays. The atmosphere onboard is very relaxed and the clientele does tend to be older.

The age of the ships is mentioned in a lot of the negative reviews for the cruise line – despite extensive renovation for each ship, guests still mention issues with the dated facilities, while the cabins (and the bathrooms) are particularly small in some cases. 

Guests have also criticised the organisation, with last-minute cancellations along with how crowds are managed in particularly busy areas. There are also mentions of the age of passengers in a negative way, but that’s as much on the guests to research before they travel so that they understand what the likely audience will be.

Suggested read: Ambassador Ambience Cruise Review

4. P&O Cruises

Cruise Mummy and family with P&O Cruises Iona
  • Rating: 3.5
  • Fleet: 7 ships
  • Top departure ports: Southampton, Tenerife, Bridgetown
  • Approx price per night: £65-100

P&O Cruises is an established cruise line catering to the British market. The ships have traditionally been mid-sized, though the more recent additions of Iona and Arvia are definitely large cruise ships, offering even more variety of bars and restaurants onboard.

The ships are quite relaxed and modern – don’t expect to find crazy water slides, robotic bartenders or any other gimmicks. Instead, the focus is on providing excellent service, great quality food, and a pleasant vibe that’s as suited to families as it is to older guests travelling solo or with friends/partners.

Because P&O Cruises is modernising, there are elements that disappoint long-standing fans, and a lot of the negative reviews are from self-confessed long-time P&O cruise guests who feel that the service standards are slipping as ships are getting bigger and crowds are becoming harder to wrangle.

On the flip side, reviews of the smaller ships focus on deteriorating cabins and a lack of excitement onboard, especially from those who admit to trying P&O after trying other, larger cruise ships.

I’m a little surprised that the average score is just 3.5 because I’ve loved my cruises with P&O and never really had a bad experience. But other long-time P&O Cruises fans don’t seem to be as enamoured as they once were.

5. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)

Cruise Mummy in a red and white summer dress stands smiling at the dockside with the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship moored in the background, under a bright blue sky with some clouds.
  • Rating: 3.6
  • Fleet: 19 ships
  • Top departure ports: Miami, New York, Civitavecchia (Rome)
  • Approx price per night: £100-150

NCL is one of the bigger cruise lines in the world, with a large fleet of ships. While none are close to being the biggest ship in the world, they’re all at least mid-sized and some of the newer ships have capacity for around 4,000 guests.

A Norwegian Cruise Line cruise is typically aimed at families and at younger adults, with a lot more amenities for enjoying a day packed with fun. The latest ships even have the only go-kart tracks at sea, while you can expect thrilling water slides, rock climbing walls, bowling and more.

NCL’s fares are a little tricky to unpick, because they can sometimes seem high but you have to take the Free at Sea offers into account, which will get you drinks packages, free WiFi, discounts on 3rd and 4th guests or speciality dining meals included, with some fares including everything.

But one of the biggest criticisms of the cruise line in recent reviews – and a long-standing one for NCL – is the ‘nickel and diming’ onboard, referring to how many small additional costs there are if you want to enjoy everything that the ships have to offer.

Guests also comment on the disorganisation in the dining rooms, with long wait times for sit-down meals and overcrowded buffet restaurants. The food quality is also described as a bit samey and sometimes of low quality.

Many reviews focus on the port-side customer service too, rather than the actual onboard experience, so if you don’t need to speak to the customer support teams before or after you travel, you might find that the service on the ship itself is actually very good.

Suggested read: NCL Ships Ranked Best To Worst

6. Amadeus River Cruises

Amadeus river cruise ship
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 16 ships
  • Top departure ports: Amsterdam, Cologne, Passau
  • Approx price per night: £200-275

Amadeus is a river cruise line that also trades as Luftner Cruises for the German market. Under the Amadeus brand, the marketing is more global, but the result is a fleet of ships that attract a multicultural group of guests. The crew are comfortable in English as well as German so communication issues aren’t anything to worry about.

Amadeus offers a typical river cruise experience, primarily exploring the rivers of Europe and offering a relaxed atmosphere onboard, albeit with little to do during your sailing time beyond some simple entertainment. The aim here is to spend your time exploring – not fill your days with endless activities onboard.

I have to draw a line on the rules for this list, but Amadeus River Cruises can perhaps call itself a little unlucky to make the list. Of the 58 reviews the cruise line has, there are just 12 that are either 1 or 2 out of 5, compared to 22 that are 5/5. 

Of those negative reviews, the main issues seem to be around the limited dining options and the quality of the food that was served, and the accommodation quality, with small and unwelcoming cabins.

Guests also said that the cruises sometimes felt that the senior crew weren’t organised, and that excursions were missed due to poor management.

7. Celestyal Cruises

Cruise Mummy with Celestyal Olympia
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 2 ships
  • Top departure ports: Athens, Istanbul, Kusadasi
  • Approx price per night: £100-120

Celestyal Cruises is a cruise line that does things a little differently, compared to larger companies. It focuses only on the Mediterranean and specifically the Greek Islands, but what makes the cruises so special is that you’ll often enjoy multiple ports of call in a single day.

Being able to visit different islands for a few hours at a time is a lot of fun, giving you even more chance to explore, though it does certainly feel a little less relaxed than a cruise where you’d have up to 8 hours in each port.

Also, since the focus is very much on the ports of call, don’t expect a wealth of things to do during the day on your ships, although the evening entertainment helps to bring much of the local culture to life.

The quality of the ships does get some negative attention in the reviews – the ships are older and the renovations haven’t always made everything brand-new. Some guests have reported broken furniture, dirty cabins and general wear and tear around the ships.

With such a packed schedule, dining hours are a little more limited on a Celesytal ship and that’s drawn some ire in the reviews too, along with some instances of poor customer service.

That’s not what I found though – check my Celestyal review to read my own experience.

8. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Cruise Mummy and family on a Fred. Olsen Family Cruise
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 3 ships
  • Top departure ports: Southampton, Newcastle, Liverpool
  • Approx price per night: £110-150

Fred. Olsen is another British cruise line, though it has a much smaller fleet. It has a very long heritage, with the shipping company existing since 1848 and cruises available since 1966.

The ships are quite old now, but have been carefully refurbished to keep them comfortable. Fares are also higher on Fred. Olsen ships than they are on some other British cruise lines, but they aim to offer a more traditional cruise experience with high standards of service.

There aren’t a huge number of negative reviews for Fred. Olsen, and those that there are have been accrued over a number of years. But there are a few themes that do stand out, including the food, which some guests found repetitive and a little bland, although there were just as many reviews praising the dining options too.

The ships are older, and so there is some criticism of their upkeep, especially in the cabins. Broadly though, the refurbishments have kept them to a good standard.

Most of the negative reviews focus on things outside of the cruise line’s control, including the weather either causing itinerary changes or spoiling excursions for the Northern Lights.

Fred. Olsen certainly has a loyal audience of older guests, and those who know what to expect tend to really enjoy their time onboard.

Suggested read: Fred. Olsen cruise review

9. Marella Cruises

The Marella Explorer cruise ship is docked at a port, showcasing its multiple decks with passengers visible on the open-air top deck, against a backdrop of clear turquoise waters and a distant coastline under a sunny sky.
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 5 ships
  • Top departure ports: Palma, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Jamaica
  • Approx price per night: £120-160 (incl. flights)

Marella is a cruise line primarily targeting the British market, but it’s a little unique in that it doesn’t ever sail from the UK. Instead, it offers cruises in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Canary Islands and Asia, cutting out the sea days by sailing from ports much closer to the action.

As such, flights are always included in the fare you pay, and they’re often run by TUI, Marella’s parent company. With flights and cruises handled by the same company, guests love the seamless experience as you know you’ll never miss a ship departure, since it will wait for any delayed flights.

Cruises are also more inclusive than other cruise lines – you don’t have to pay tips and you get a wide range of drinks covered by your fare too. WiFi isn’t included but it’s a lot cheaper than other cruise lines.

So, why does it make this list? The ships are a little older, and while they have been refurbished, some guests felt that they still showed their age. Others criticised the lack of variety in the food too, particularly in the Marketplace casual dining venue.

Some guests also felt that the ships were crowded, especially on the pool deck. The great value offered by Marella often means that ships sell out, so they can feel quite busy. But most guests love the service of the crew, the fact that you don’t need to pay any hidden extras, and all the extra time you get seeing ports since you’re flown right to each destination.

Suggested read: 22 Fun Things To Do On A Marella Cruise

10. Margaritaville at Sea Cruises

Margaritaville at Sea - Paradise
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 2 ships
  • Top departure ports: Palm Beach, Tampa
  • Approx price per night: £90-110

Margaritaville at Sea Cruises is not like the rest of the cruise lines on this list – there are no long itineraries, with a focus instead on shorter cruises lasting no more than 5 nights but most only lasting 2 or 3.

They’re described as a resort at sea – this is more about the onboard party experience than your destinations, though you will at least get to experience at least one port on your cruise.

The focus with Margaritaville at Sea is all about fun – this is not a luxury cruise experience, nor is it a calm and relaxing one. Expect live music and shows throughout the day and a very lively atmosphere onboard, although there isn’t a huge amount to do onboard in terms of facilities – there’s a spa, salon and casino, and pools and hot tubs too.

Complaints from customers in the negative reviews primarily focused on the ships themselves, with cleanliness being a big issue – especially of the cabins. Guests also criticised the overall quality of the cabins including very small bathrooms and furnishings that are worn out.

Food quality is praised by some and harshly reviewed by others, with some guests saying that food was basic or even inedible.

Some of the poor reviews focussed on the lack of variety on the ships and generally being bored, while others said that they felt there were a lot of hidden costs, and that the budget pricing was actually misleading.

And some people felt that their cruises were a bit rushed – a 2-night cruise was really only one day, since guests didn’t get onboard til late and were rushed off the ship on the last day.

If you book a Margaritaville at Sea cruise knowing that it’s a short break, you can have a great time, but don’t expect the same standards as bigger cruise lines.

11. Pearl Seas Cruises

The Pearl Seas Cruises ship is anchored near a harbor, with a bright red lighthouse visible on the pier, against a backdrop of a serene sea and a partly cloudy sky, accented by the rocky shoreline in the foreground.
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 1 ship
  • Top departure ports: Toronto, Milwaukee, Quebec City
  • Approx price per night: £680-750

There are several cruise operators in North America that focus almost exclusively on the continent either for cruises of the Great Lakes, or of the coastlines around Canada and New England. They are often priced high compared to other global cruise lines. Pearl Seas Cruises is one such example.

The experience is advertised as one of luxury – guests can expect all dining and snacks to be covered along with soft/hot drinks, complimentary cocktail parties and entertainment on the ship. Crucially at these high prices, they are not all-inclusive – port fees and taxes are separate, and gratuities also need to be paid too.

A lot of the negative reviews felt that the ship didn’t meet the standards advertised, and that while the cruise was expensive, it certainly wasn’t luxurious. Guests felt that the cabins in particular fell some way short of what was expected, including worn-out furnishings and problematic heating systems.

Food quality was another common criticism, as was the quality of the onboard entertainment – guests felt that their time on the ship was a little basic, and the fares didn’t reflect good value.

The highlight of these cruises should be the itineraries which are broadly praised, but some guests did feel that excursions were rushed or that last-minute changes were poorly communicated.

If you want to really delve into the regions that Pearl Seas Cruises offers, then it’s still worth considering – an average score of 3.7 out of 5 shows that most do have a good time. But don’t expect opulence.

12. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 6 ships
  • Top departure ports: Athens, Miami, Southampton
  • Approx price per night: £680-900

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a reputation as one of the world’s most luxurious cruise lines, and for most people that reputation feels deserved. The cruise line has a fleet of smaller ships and a high crew-to-guest ratio, ensuring that everyone enjoys a more personalised service.

The cruise line is all-inclusive, too. The approximate prices I’ve quoted are without flights but you can choose fares with flights included too. Otherwise, you’ll find that all dining, drinks, tips and excursions are covered, along with transfers to/from the ship from the airport.

The ships offer suite accommodations only – no basic cabins here. And everyone has use of a butler who will go above and beyond what you’d expect from a stateroom attendant – they’ll make reservations for you, serve canapes in your suite, and even shine your shoes.

The lower scores are a result of guests finding a dip in service standards in recent years. Most people are still impressed, but some guests have criticised issues with housekeeping, and said that the food isn’t always the same quality. “Hit or miss” was a phrase used a couple of times.

Some of the ships are older, too, and guests say that they’re showing it with some maintenance issues. Some reviews also mention poor organisation around itineraries or shore excursions leading to frustrations.

Regent has very high standards, and those can sometimes mean guests are even more critical in their reviews – arguably with these prices, they’re entitled to be.

13. Scenic Ocean Cruises

Scenic Ocean Cruises
  • Rating: 3.7
  • Fleet: 2 ships
  • Top departure ports: Nice, Lisbon, Buenos Aires
  • Approx price per night: £400-500 (incl. flights)

Scenic Ocean Cruises is a luxury cruise line from a company that is well-known for its river cruise options. You’ll pay a premium for a Scenic cruise, but you get a lot included for the price as well, such as your shore excursions and your drinks, and your flights are always included in the fare as well.

The experience is designed to be opulent. The ships are described as “Discovery Yachts” as they are smaller than most cruise ships, and capable of exploring many parts of the world others can’t reach. Don’t expect a loud atmosphere – crowds are minimal, the ambience is always relaxing, and the guests are typically looking for a blend of adventure and serenity.

And with average reviews of 3.7 out of 5, there are more hits than misses, but a common complaint of the negative reviews is that customers didn’t feel that the ships were luxurious enough for the price paid. It’s not so much in the styling or furnishing, but in the layout, which is clumsy and counter-productive for relaxation.

Guests also felt that the entertainment onboard was severely lacking – the ships are aimed at exploring ports, but when sailing you won’t find there’s much to keep you busy. Dining complaints were less about the quality of food and more about scheduling, with meal times clashing with excursion schedules leading to guests feeling frustrated and rushed.

Most guests enjoyed a luxurious getaway with Scenic, but there are occasional issues which dampen the experience.

Suggested read: Scenic vs Emerald Ocean Cruises

14. Carnival

A Carnival cruise ship with its distinctive funnel docked at a tropical port, flanked by bright blue skies and calm sea waters, with a row of yachts and a colorful building to the left.
  • Rating: 3.8
  • Fleet: 26 ships
  • Top departure ports: Miami, Port Canaveral, Galveston
  • Approx price per night: £50-60

Carnival is one of the biggest cruise lines in the world, with a massive fleet of ships. Particularly popular in the US for cruises to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico, the cruise line calls its fleet “Fun Ships”, with a focus on a party atmosphere.

Expect an experience that’s bold and a little brash – kids will be having loads of fun with the various facilities, such as roller coasters and water slides, while adults enjoy taking advantage of the many bars serving all manner of cocktails and beers.

A score of 3.8 out of 5 tells you that most people have a great cruise, but there are some negatives. Because the ships are on the larger side, common review complaints include overcrowding around the more popular parts of the ship, as well as delays and poor organisation, especially on embarkation day and when in port. 

Dining is another element of Carnival that can come under fire, both for the lack of variety (especially on the older, smaller ships) and for the overall quality. With Carnival, you aren’t paying luxury prices, so you shouldn’t expect fine dining.

Entertainment also comes under fire for the quality compared to other cruise lines, but it does tend to have good comedians onboard in particular.

Avoid Carnival if you don’t like the idea of a loud, hectic cruise but if you love a lively atmosphere, it could be perfect.

Suggested read: 19 Best Carnival Drink Package Tips

The Bottom Line

Remember, none of these are really bad scores – even the worst cruise lines have an “average” 3 out of 5. And you get what you pay for, too – some people forget that they only paid £50 per night for a cruise and then complain about things like slow service. £50 a night for accommodation and all your meals is a pretty sweet deal!

In most cases, with a little bit of research and prep, you can find the perfect cruise line for you, and it could well be any of the cruise lines on this list. I’ve had a fantastic time on several of these cruises myself.

Some of the negative experiences will be justified, but some people just love to complain.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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