Small Ship Cruises

Small Ship Cruises: The Best Way to Explore Hidden Gems of the Seas

by Christian Petzold - updated August 22, 2023

Have you ever considered taking a cruise but were put off by the thought of big, bustling ships? If so, it’s time to explore the world of small ship cruises. These offer a different experience from their larger counterparts, focusing more on unique destinations and personal attention. 

In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about small ship cruises – what makes them unique, the most popular routes, and how to pick the perfect one.

Understanding Small Ship Cruises

If you’re looking for an intimate and personalized cruising experience, then small ships cruises are what you’re looking for. Small ships typically carry fewer than 500 passengers, making them an excellent option for those who want to feel safe in a sea of people.

Small Cruise in the Sea

One of the biggest advantages of small ships cruises is visiting ports and destinations that larger ships can’t reach. This allows you to explore hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path locations often inaccessible to bigger ships.

Small ships cruises also offer a more relaxed and casual atmosphere than larger ships. You’ll have the opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers and the crew and enjoy a more personalized level of service.

Another advantage of small ships cruises is the ability to experience sailing vessels. These ships offer a unique and authentic sailing experience that is unmatched by larger ships. You’ll feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as you sail through some of the world’s most beautiful destinations.

Popular Small Ship Cruise Destinations

When it comes to small ship cruises, there are a variety of destinations to choose from. From the icy waters of the Arctic to the sunny beaches of the Caribbean, there’s a small ship cruise for every type of traveler. Here are some of the most popular small ship cruise destinations to consider for your next adventure:

1. Alaskan Cruises

Alaska is a popular destination for small ship cruises, offering breathtaking views of glaciers, wildlife, and rugged landscapes. Small ships cruises in Alaska often include kayaking, hiking, and whale watching.

2. Mediterranean Cruises

The Mediterranean is a classic small ship cruise destination with ports of call in Italy, Greece, and Croatia. These cruises offer a chance to explore ancient ruins, sample delicious cuisine, and soak up the sun on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

3. Caribbean Cruises

The Caribbean is another popular destination for small ship cruises, with stops in places like the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, and Mexico. These cruises offer a chance to explore tropical islands, snorkeling or scuba diving, and relax on white sandy beaches.

4. South Pacific Cruises

The South Pacific is a dream destination for many travelers, and small ship cruises offer a unique way to explore this stunning region. From Tahiti to Polynesia, these cruises offer a chance to experience local culture, swim in crystal clear waters, and relax on secluded beaches.

5. Antarctic Cruises

For the ultimate adventure, consider a small ship cruise to Antarctica. These cruises offer a chance to see penguins, seals, and other wildlife in their natural habitat and explore the icy landscapes of the southernmost continent.

6. Arctic Cruises

The Arctic is another incredible destination for small ship cruises, offering a chance to see polar bears, walruses, and other Arctic wildlife. These cruises also provide an opportunity to explore remote islands and witness the stunning Northern Lights.

7. Canadian Cruises

Canada is an excellent destination for small ship cruises, with stops in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the St. Lawrence River. These cruises offer a chance to explore charming coastal towns, see whales and other marine life, and witness the stunning beauty of the Canadian wilderness.

8. Icelandic Cruises

Iceland is a unique and fascinating destination for small ship cruises, with stops in places like Reykjavik, the Westman Islands, and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. These cruises offer a chance to explore otherworldly landscapes, soak in hot springs, and witness the Northern Lights.

9. Asian Cruises

Asia is a vast and diverse continent, and small ship cruises offer a chance to explore some of its most fascinating destinations. From Japan’s temples to Thailand’s beaches, these cruises provide an opportunity to experience Asia’s rich culture and history.

10. Australian and New Zealand Cruises

Australia and New Zealand are popular destinations for small ship cruises, with stops in places like Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland. These cruises offer a chance to explore stunning coastlines, see unique wildlife like kangaroos and kiwis, and experience the vibrant culture of these two countries.

11. Greek and Italian Cruises

The Mediterranean is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and historic destinations, and small ship cruises offer a chance to explore them in depth. From the ancient ruins of Rome to the stunning beaches of the Adriatic coast, these cruises provide an opportunity to experience the best of Greece and Italy.

Greek and Italian Cruises

12. Mexican Cruises

Mexico is a popular destination for small ship cruises, with Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlan stops. These cruises offer a chance to explore charming colonial towns, relax on pristine beaches, and sample delicious Mexican cuisine.

13. Middle Eastern Cruises

The Middle East is a fascinating and complex region, and small ship cruises offer a chance to explore its rich history and culture. From the ancient ruins of Petra to the modern cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, these cruises provide an opportunity to experience some of the most unique travel experiences in the world.

No matter your destination, a small ship cruise is a great way to see the world comfortably and in style. With a focus on adventure, wildlife, and authentic travel experiences, small ship cruises offer a unique way to explore some of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations.

The Best Small Ship Cruises Exploring the World

1. Lindblad Expeditions: National Geographic Resolution and National Geographic Endurance

Lindblad Expeditions offers small ships cruises with a maximum of 128 passengers. Since 1966, they’ve voyaged to diverse global locations, including the polar regions, with their newest ships, National Geographic Resolution and Endurance.

Key features:

  • Globe-trotting itineraries with onboard experts.
  • Polar-optimized ships with fuel-efficient X-bow design.
  • Excursion tools like Zodiacs, kayaks, and high-tech cameras.
  • Amenities like a spa, gym, dining venues, and infinity hot tubs.
  • Outward-facing cabins with expedition command centers.

Cruise fare covers wine, spirits, and excursion activities.

2. SeaDream Yacht Club: SeaDream I and II

SeaDream Yacht Club’s 40-year-old ships offer a classic luxury yachting experience with 112 passengers onboard. These vessels may lack contemporary design, but their charm lies in a classic nautical ambiance, exceptional service, and excellent dining options.

Key features:

  • Spacious, recently refurbished suites with wooden details.
  • Indoor and outdoor dining with exquisite cuisine.
  • Iconic beach barbecue with Champagne and caviar.
  • Open bar and watersports for social and active travelers.
  • Seasonal travel to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and Scandinavia.

Best suited for: Sun-seeking yacht enthusiasts.

3. Sea Cloud Cruises: Sea Cloud I

The unique four-masted Sea Cloud I was initially a luxury yacht commissioned by Wall Street magnate E. F. Hutton in 1931. The ship’s interiors, designed by Hutton’s wife, are marked by marble, mahogany, and gold-plated fixtures.

Key features:

  • A rich history, now offering windjammer cruises.
  • 10 unique cabins, including a lavish suite with Louis XIV-style decor.
  • Caribbean winters and Mediterranean summers, with stops at Greek Islands, Italy, and the Canary Islands.

This small ship cruise can host up to 64 passengers and is perfect for history enthusiasts and sailing ship aficionados.

4. UnCruise Adventures: Wilderness Legacy

Built-in 1983, the Wilderness Legacy is a unique, steamboat-styled ship by UnCruise Adventures. With a capacity of 90 passengers, it caters to sporty cruisers fond of quirky vessels.

Key features:

  • Vintage design with cabins opening onto promenade decks.
  • On-deck hot tub and rare elevator in an older adventure ship.
  • Custom-made “sea dragon” platform for easy kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming.
  • Hiking, bushwhacking, and cycling activities at some ports.

The fare covers wine, beer, spirits, and daily excursions.

Wilderness Legacy, the largest UnCruise fleet, primarily cruises Alaska’s Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park, and the Columbia and Snake rivers.

5. Star Clippers: Royal Clipper

Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper is the largest in-service square rigger, echoing the 1902 German clipper Preussen style. This ship is a fusion of historic charm and modern amenities.

Key features:

  • Five-masted tall ship with wood, brass, and nautical designs.
  • Three small pools and a marina for complimentary water sports.
  • Onboard gym and spa facilities.

The Royal Clipper sails around the Caribbean in winter, exploring lesser-known islands from Barbados. It cruises the Mediterranean during summer, covering the French and Italian rivieras, the Croatian coast, and the Canary Islands.

Passenger limit: 227

Best suited for: Sailing aficionados who appreciate history.

6. Windstar Cruises: Wind Star and Wind Spirit

Windstar Cruises’ motorized yachts, Wind Star and Wind Spirit, accommodate up to 148 passengers. They offer an upscale yet casual vibe, great food from the James Beard Foundation and yachting luxuries.

Key features:

  • Romantic sailing experiences with unfurling sails.
  • Expansive sun decks and multiple dining options, including a weekly deck barbecue.
  • Stern marina for water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding.
  • Cozy, well-furnished cabins with a nautical flair and suite options.

Passengers can choose between cruise-only and all-inclusive fares, including an open bar, unlimited Wi-Fi, and crew gratuities.

The Wind Spirit operates year-round in French Polynesia until February 2024. Wind Star travels mainly between the Greek Islands in summer and Costa Rica and Panama in winter. Ideal for romantics and foodies.

7. Emerald Cruises: Emerald Azzurra

Emerald Cruises’ Emerald Azzurra and upcoming Emerald Sakara are among the smallest luxury cruise ships, providing intimate experiences compared to Silversea or Seabourn.

Key features:

  • Futuristic pyramid-style design.
  • Watersports platform with kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and SEABOBs.
  • Indoor facilities, including a small gym and spa.
  • Open-air and indoor dining options with included wine and spirits.
  • Two stunning outdoor spots for relaxation – the Sky Bar and the chic infinity pool.

Their itineraries mainly cover Mediterranean coasts during summer and the Caribbean during winter. Excursions are included to explore destinations in depth.

Capacity: 100 passengers

Best for: Those seeking intimate luxury cruises.

8. Scenic Cruises: Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse is a well-equipped expedition ship with a polar-suited ice-strengthened hull. Its high-tech GPS dynamic positioning system can maintain location without dropping anchor.

Key features:

  • Special equipment like helicopters, a submarine (for additional cost), kayaks, zodiacs, and e-bikes.
  • Sister ship, Scenic Eclipse II, is to debut soon.
  • Elegant interior design with a sophisticated color palette, wood details, white Carrara marble surfaces, and striking art.
  • A spa, fitness area, and multiple dining options, including Asian, Japanese, French, and Continental cuisines. Wine and spirits are included.

The ship features luxurious accommodations, with the top suites spanning 2,000 square feet. Each suite includes a forward-facing teak-lined terrace with a large whirlpool tub.

Cruises cover various locations, from French Polynesia, the Pacific Islands, Australia, and the Indonesian archipelago, to Antarctica. The cruise fare includes excursions.

Passenger capacity: 228 (200 in polar regions). 

Best suited for: Design enthusiasts with a taste for travel.

9. Silversea Cruises: Silver Endeavour

Silversea Cruises has offered luxury small ships cruises for over 30 years. The Silver Endeavour combines luxury with robust expedition equipment for polar cruising.

Key features:

  • Veranda suites with marble baths and spacious Grand and Owner’s suites.
  • One-to-one passenger-to-crew ratio ensuring excellent service.
  • Four main restaurants, including Italian and French-inspired venues.
  • Spa, salon, gym with ocean views, and multiple lounges for drinks and lectures.
  • Expedition Study area with a 20-member team for answering questions.

Outdoor deck space includes a forward-facing area with an outdoor hot tub. It boasts a PC6 ice-class rating, ideal for trips to Antarctica, Greenland, Arctic Canada, Iceland, and Norway. Excursions are complimentary.

Capacity: 200 passengers. 

Best for: Luxury-seeking, adventure-minded travelers.

Booking Your Small Ship Cruise

When booking your small ship cruise, there are a few things to consider to ensure you have the best possible experience. Here are some tips to help you choose the right itinerary, select the perfect departure date, and get the best value for your money.

Choosing Your Itinerary

With so many small ships cruises available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right itinerary. Consider what type of experience you want. Are you looking for a relaxing beach vacation or an adventure-packed trip with hiking and kayaking? Think about the destinations you want to visit, and make sure the itinerary includes them. Check out reviews and ratings from other travelers to get an idea of what to expect from each itinerary.

Selecting Your Departure Date

Choosing the right departure date is important when booking your small ship cruise. Consider the weather conditions and peak travel seasons for your desired destination. If you want to evade crowds, consider traveling during the shoulder season. Also, remember that prices can vary depending on the time of year you travel.

Value and Pricing

Small ships cruises can be more costly than larger ships, but they offer a more intimate and personalized experience. When comparing prices, take inclusions into account. Some cruises may include meals, drinks, and excursions, while others may not. Look for special offers and promotions to get the best value for your money.

Author’s Note

So, what did we learn? Small ship cruises are a great choice. They are less crowded, you can see places big ships can’t go, and you learn about new cultures. Small ship cruises are an excellent idea for those who travel a lot or have yet to go on a cruise. They could be your next vacation. So, the question is, where do you want to cruise to next?

There’s more!!! Sail, Sip, and Savor the World in Style! Set sail on an unforgettable adventure with our luxurious guide to river cruising. Drift away on scenic waters, indulge in gourmet delights, and bask in the leisurely pace of exploration.

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