Small ship cruising - Deck rail

(Image: Pixabay)

Small Ship Cruising

In these days of “bigger is better”, many discriminating cruisers are opting for small ship cruising instead. Before we get into the reasons why, perhaps we should define what is commonly referred to as “small ship”. The term can vary depending on who is defining it – tonnage or length versus guests: for our purposes it will be those ships that carry from 100 to 500 guests or less. This category also encompasses both river and ocean lines some of which have top-of-mind awareness among cruise consumers, others not so much.

River Cruise Ships

Because most river cruise lines are restricted in size by the locks through which they must pass (most notably in Europe and Russia), they are inherently small is size and likewise in their guest accommodation.  Here you will find the popular Amawaterways™, Avalon Waterways®, Emerald Waterways®, Scenic®, Uniworld® and Viking cruise lines. Plus we should include river barge cruise ships and the many more lesser-known companies with ships on the rivers, usually regional. What is true for small ocean-going vessels is generally true for these river cruise lines as well when comparing guest-to-crew ratios, on board amenities, and accessibility to smaller ports (in the case of river cruise lines to villages, towns and cities along or not far inland from the rivers they ply). In this article,we will concentrate on small ocean-going ships instead as these are often lost in the sea of the big ships.


River cruise ships are long and narrow. (Image: AdobeStock).

Ocean-Going Small Ships

Quite often your first clue to size is that the ships maybe called “yachts” or ‘expedition.” Some are under sail (yes, real sails) such as those found with Star Clippers, and to some extent Windstar® and Ponant. Expedition cruises concentrate on intensive destination visits such as to the Galapagos or Antarctica and are for the adventurous cruiser. Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic, Uncruise Adventures, Hurtigruten and Scenic® immediately come to mind though there are many more.

A third clue might be the descriptive word “luxury” applied to the brand or individual ship.

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Cruise sailing ship in the South Pacific (Image: Bigstock)

Because these ships are small in size, they don’t have the room for huge entertainment venues (sporting or cultural), numerous swimming pools, shopping arcades, or an endless variety of restaurant venues. Instead they tend to concentrate more on personal attention with lower guest-to-crew ratios, all-inclusive perks such as butlers, concierge services and premium drinks, guest lecturers, and so on. Ship size also dictates ports of call and these small ships can slip into harbours and ports that the bigger cruise ships can only dream about. Hence another plus for cruisers is that the onshore experiences tend to be more intense and of longer duration, often overnight or over several days. One can really get the flavour of a destination with small ship cruising.


Visit Places Where the Bigger Ships Don’t Go (Image: Pixabay)

Small Ships in “Big” Fleets

You may be surprised that many of the popular “big” cruise lines also have small ships in their fleet. If you are a Celebrity fan, check out their Galapagos cruises. Silversea has the Silver Origin for one (100 guests, for Galapagos cruising), Seabourn has the Sojourn (less than 500 guests), Crystal has the Crystal Esprit (62 guests), and so on. There are many other small ship cruises worth looking at too such as Hebridean Island Cruises (primarily British Isles) or G Adventures (destination focused sailing such as Croatia or the Maldives).

Ask your real travel expert for information on small ships and their destinations for your next cruise – you’ll broaden your horizons, and your future expectations.

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Silver Shadow, Silversea’s ship with 382 guests (Image:Bigstock)

If you are interested in cruising but are tired of the “popular” ports of call, here is some further reading for you: 10 Lesser Known Ports of CallDiscovering the Small-Ship Cruising Experience by Cruise & Travel Expert Bob Shaffer; River Cruising Around the Globe; and for history buffs, 100 Years of Cruising. Enjoy!