Small Cruise Lines

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Small Cruise Lines fleet

Review of Small Cruise Lines

Small ship cruise deals offer expedition-style travel in some the most prestine regions of the world. Most of these deals are all-inclusive packages that include pre- and post cruise hotels, all transfers (including domesti flights), and often even both international flights to and from the destination country.

Most small cruises are categorized as “luxury”, exclusive, and usually expensive. To this category also belong river cruise tours operated by differently sized ships and smaller riverboats deployed on the most popular rivers in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. 

Small ship cruise travel is the best (often the only) way to explore beautiful sea vacation destinations, make new friends, enjoy the intimacy that all these not cheap (but still affordable) offers provide on a regular basis.

You won’t find much in the way of theater productions or casinos, but that leaves room for educational pursuits. Small ships commonly organize enrichment seminars on everything – from local culture to photography. Sometimes local performers (historians, dancers and musicians) are welcome on board to entertain.

Because the vessels operating small cruises don’t offer the redundancy of amenities that large passenger ships do, the voyages they provide focus on the destination, rather than the ship itself. All small cruise itineraries feature daily port calls and a full shore excursions program. Those are well paired with various enrichment activities – both onboard and ashore. All small ship cruising vacations are about getting up personal with the region and the destination they travel. That means all the shore excursions with professionally guided land tours are key activities. They focus on the region’s highlights (like history, culture, wildlife), thus making it easier to immerse in the surroundings , to learn about the places visited, to enjoy your travel vacation sophisticatedly.

Small ships go into the smaller ports inaccessible for big ships. This allows “expedition travelers” to experience the local people, culture and traditions of the destinations, and not only the tourist areas. This presents an intimate travel experience. You can see the wildlife up close, get to know the crew and form a bond with fellow passengers. Small ships, by definition, are with a way smaller capacity, so you’ll likely meet the same people over and over on a daily basis.

Still, the biggest advantage of the small cruise ships is the vacation flexibility. Booking availability is usually great, so picking your vacation time is easier. Not to forget the amazing choice of exotic itineraries on which travelers can navigate the most fascinating destinations in the world, including narrow fjords, remote islands, and even inland waterways.

Small ship cruises are not always “champagne and caviar” deals on luxury cruise ships. Most often, they’re more about the easy access to less-trafficked ports of the globe, usually avoided by medium size and large cruise ships.

The unique small ship cruises’ intimate experiences means giving up the typical for big ship vacations amenities – like multiple dining venues, Broadway-style shows and expansive kids’ programs. However, enjoying a personalized fancy setting while exploring the world on a cruise ship comes at premium prices as small ship cruises offer the highest standard of dining and accommodation, exceptional service and fantastic onboard fellowship. It’s really a matter of taste. And most first-time travelers on small ship cruise vacations fall in love with this unique experience, refuse to go back to mega-ships, and return again and again to the small-ship cruising – if the money is not an issue, that is.

Small cruise lines

This is a list of the world’s most popular small ship cruise companies. Again, here should be also added river travel companies, the largest among which are Viking, Uniworld, Avalon, AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Scylla.

  • Lindblad Expeditions has an exclusive partnership with National Geographic. The experience features wildlife watching on kayaks and Zodiacs, and complimentary tours lead by National Geographic naturalists.
  • Hurtigruten, along with its regular (year-round operated) Norwegian coastal itineraries also operates in the regions of the European Arctic and Antarctica. Unique tours in Europe offered by Hurtigruten are Northern Lights, Spitsbergen, polar circle landings (Greenland).
  • Alaskan Dream Cruises operates Inside Passage itineraries - wilderness adventures on smaller expedition ships. The line's ships also visit exclusive ports of call in Alaska, including a natives-owned lands and a private island.
  • Quark Expeditions is among the best Antarctica cruise lines.
  • Coral Expeditions is among the best for South Pacific Islands cruises. Each vessel has a high-speed tender boat and Zodiacs for landings.
  • International Expeditions and Metropolitan Touring are among the best choices for Galapagos Islands. Metropolitan Touring's Galapagos ships are larger compared to most of the yachts deployed in this region.
  • Oceanwide Expeditions operates ice-strengthened ships in Antarctica and the European Arctic.
  • Star Clippers owns sailing ships operating in the Caribbean and also Europe (Mediterranean). These clipper ships have elevator, massage rooms, and offer room service. Deals are inclusive of marina-based sports (kayaking, windsailing, waterskiing).
  • Sea Cloud Cruises has two sailing yachts operating in the Caribbean and Europe. Both ships can be also fully chartered to a private party.
  • Island Windjammers owns sailing ships on Caribbean islands itineraries year-round.
  • Variety Cruises owns super-yachts (motorized and sailing) and operates in the regions of Mediterranean Sea, West Africa and Indian Ocean, also in Central America.
  • Katarina Line (Croatia-based) also operates as international travel booking agency for other lines. katarina owns around 40 small-sized ships and yachts in the region of Adriatic Sea (Dalmatian Coast). Each of the ships can be fully chartered.
  • Peregrine Adventures is among the best lines in Antarctica. The itineraries are with regular roundtrip departures from Argentina (Ushuaia) and Chile (Punta Arenas), with duration between 8 and 20 days. Among the visited destinations are Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, Falkland Islands, South Sandwich Islands. Deals are inclusive of hotels and all transfers. Fly cruise deals include departures from Buenos Aires. International flights are not included in the fares.
  • Noble Caledonia (UK-based) operates chartered riverboats and owns two ships.
  • Quasar Expeditions is another major player on the luxury Galapagos cruising market. The company provides professional naturalists, and most of the tours (kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, walking, hiking) are included in the fares.
  • Aggressor Fleet owns an impressive number of smaller luxury yachts and operates in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Galapagos, Southeast Asia, Red Sea, Maldives, also in the South Pacific Ocean.

The following companies have their individual pages at CruiseMapper. Each of them provides top-quality, small ship cruising experiences on comparably larger vessels.

  • Un-Cruise Adventures is among the best small Alaskan cruise lines. During winter, its are repositioned to Hawaii, Baja Mexico, USA Northwest Coast. The fleet features a replica steamer - SS Legacy, cruising on Snake and Columbia rivers in the USA.
  • American Cruise Lines is famous for having large paddlewheel ships deployed on the US rivers Mississippi, Snake and Columbia. Other ACL ships cruise in Alaska also along the East Coast USA and Canada, Hudson River, and on Florida inland waterways.
  • Grand Circle Cruise Line owns riverboats (operating in Europe and Asia) and also ocean ships. Its deals are inclusive of all tours, onboard lectures, local gourmet food specialties.
  • SeaDream has two (for now) mega-yachts operating in Mediterranean (summer) and Caribbean (winter). Deals are fully all-inclusive.
  • Silversea Expeditions operates a small fleet cruising in Alaska, Asia, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Galapagos. Deals are fully all-inclusive.
  • Windstar provides some of the best "top luxury" products on the small cruising market. All ships in the fleet are relativelly bigger, with marina platforms and all the modern onboard amenities.

 

Itinerary of Small Cruise Lines

Since small ship cruising deals are mainly provided by river boats, you can also see an extensive list of river cruise lines ships at CruiseMapper's River Cruises hub. CruiseMapper is tracking cruises on rivers in Europe, USA, Russia and Asia as both itineraries and prices. It additionally provides lines reviews, along with information on major inland waterways and best-rated river travel destinations around the world.

Below you can see destination-grouped lists of small cruise ships. All ship links (in the "Fleet" section) provide information on itineraries, prices, deck plans and cabins, general vessel details, concise history, as well as live AIS current position ship tracking.

In this survey we use all the Silversea line's official YouTube video releases. Each of those is add-free and will give you a "real life" review of the destination's highlights, and professionally presented information on the small cruising experience it provides.

Galapagos Islands

Most of the listed here ships are actually big yachts and all can be full-chartered.

  • Celebrity Xploration
  • Celebrity Xperience
  • Celebrity Xpedition
  • Encantada (yacht)
  • Estrella del Mar
  • MV Evolution (G10)
  • Flamingo I
  • Galapagos Aggressor II
  • Galapagos Aggressor III
  • Galapagos Grand Odyssey
  • Galapagos Legend
  • Galapagos Odyssey
  • Galapagos Voyager
  • MV Origin
  • MY Grace
  • Isabela II
  • La Pinta
  • Letty
  • National Geographic Endeavour
  • National Geographic Endeavour 2
  • National Geographic Islander
  • Nemo III
  • Queen of Galapagos
  • mv Santa Cruz 2
  • Silver Galapagos
  • Xavier III

Follows the Galapagos travel-dedicated YouTube video review by Silversea.

South America (Antarctica and Patagonia)

Among Antarctica's most popular itinerary destinations are Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Elephant Island, Paulet Island, Paradise Harbor,. Longer itineraries vist the Falkland Islands.

  • Evangelistas
  • Grigoriy Mikheev
  • Marina Svetaeva
  • Ocean Diamond
  • Ocean Endeavour
  • Ocean Nova
  • mv Polar Star
  • Sea Adventurer
  • Sea Explorer
  • Sea Spirit
  • Silver Explorer
  • Stella Australis
  • mv Ushuaia
  • For icebreaker cruise ships in Antarctica, see the icebreaker ships hub at CruiseShipPosition.com.

Follows the Antarctica ship travel-dedicated YouTube video review by Silversea.

European and Russian Arctic

The Earth's Arctic region includes the Arctic Ocean and territories of 8 countries (Russia, Canada, USA, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland). Arctic expedition itineraries are operated almost year-round (excluding winter months).

  • 50 Let Pobedy (Russian nuclear icebreaker)
  • One Ocean Navigator (Akademik Ioffe (Russian icebreaker)
  • Akademik Sergey Vavilov (Russian icebreaker)
  • Kapitan Dranitsyn (Russian icebreaker)
  • Yamal (Russian nuclear icebreaker)
  • Akademik Shokalskiy
  • Lyubov Orlova
  • Professor Molchanov
  • Professor Multanovsky
  • MS Expedition
  • MS Fram
  • MS Spitsbergen
  • National Geographic Explorer
  • Noorderlicht
  • Ocean Diamond
  • Ocean Endeavour
  • Ocean Nova
  • Ortelius
  • Plancius
  • Polar Pioneer
  • MS Quest
  • Rembrandt van Rijn
  • Sea Adventurer
  • Sarfaq Ittuk
  • For the list of Russian icebreakers, visit the icebreaker ships hub at CruiseShipPosition.com.

Follows the Arctic ship travel-dedicated  YouTube video review by Silversea.

Hawaii and Alaska

Among the most operated Alaskan small ship cruising destinations are Inside Passage, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, Seward, Sitka, Ketchikan (Revillagigedo Island), Homer, Kodiak Island.

Hawaii small cruises visit the islands of Hawaii (ports Hilo and Kailua-Kona), Kauai, Oahu, Maui (ports Kahului and Lahaina, and Kona. Most itineraries are roundtrips from Honolulu.

  • Admiralty Dream
  • Alaskan Dream
  • American Spirit
  • Baranof Dream
  • Chichagof Dream
  • MV Misty Fjord
  • Kona Aggressor II
  • Island Odyssey
  • Island Roamer
  • National Geographic Sea Bird
  • National Geographic Sea Lion
  • Safari Endeavour
  • Safari Explorer
  • Safari Quest
  • Snow Goose
  • Wilderness Adventurer
  • Wilderness Discoverer
  • Wilderness Explorer

Follows the Alaskan ship travel-dedicated YouTube video review by Silversea.

Mediterranean Sea

Europe's Mediterranean is among the largest market for small ship travel. Feature destinations in this region are French Riviera, Italian Riviera, Greek Isles, Dalmatian Coast (Adriatic).

  • Aegean Odyssey
  • Aegean Paradise
  • Arethusa
  • Artania
  • Astor
  • Astoria
  • ms Berlin (FTI)
  • ms Bremen
  • Club Med 2 (sail ship)
  • Crystal Esprit
  • Galileo
  • ms Hamburg
  • Harmony G
  • Harmony V
  • Island Sky
  • La Belle de l’Adriatique
  • Royal Clipper
  • Royal Eleganza
  • Sea Cloud
  • Sea Cloud II
  • Seadream 1
  • Seadream 2
  • Serenissima
  • Star Clipper
  • Star Flyer
  • Variety Voyager
  • MV Voyager
  • Wind Star (sail ship)
  • Wind Surf (sail ship)
  • Minerva

UK and Baltic Sea

Europe's Baltic region is most attracting for the opportunities to visit Russia and Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland). Among the world's most popular destinations here are Norwegian Fjords and St Petersburg. The UK (British Isles) itineraries visit ports in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. This region features over 6000 isles.

  • mv Corinthian
  • ms Deutschland
  • ms Hamburg
  • Hebridean Princess
  • Hebridean Sky
  • Island Sky
  • Lord of the Glens
  • Sea Cloud II
  • Serenissima

Follows the Northern Europe and UK ship travel-dedicated YouTube video review by Silversea.

East Coast USA and Canada

New England is coprised of six US states along the Atlantic coast. Smaller ships here often sail on inland waterways as well.

  • American Constellation
  • American Glory
  • American Star
  • Grande Caribe
  • Grande Mariner
  • MS Independence
  • Americana
  • Pearl Mist

Caribbean and Bermuda

Caribbean small ship cruise itineraries visit popular island destinations, as well as mainland ports in Mexico, the USA, South America. Among the most visited destinations are the Bahamas, Grand Turk Island, Jamaica, Barbados, Grand Cayman Island, St Kitts Island, St Maarten Island, St Lucia Island, Aruba Island, Curacao Island, Roatan Island, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, also ports and inland waterways in Florida (USA).

  • Belize Aggressor III
  • Cayman Aggressor IV
  • Carib Dancer
  • Diamant (schooner)
  • MV Clio (Tere Moana)
  • Okeanos Aggressor
  • Panorama
  • Panorama II
  • Sagitta (sail ship)
  • Safari Voyager
  • Serenissima
  • Sun Dancer II
  • Turks and Caicos Aggressor II
  • Vela (sail ship)
  • Wind Dancer

Follows the Caribbean ship travel-dedicated YouTube video review by Silversea.

South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand

The South Pacific Ocean as travel destination includes the archipelagos of Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia), Australia and New Zealand. Among the most visited in this region are the islands of Fiji, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tasmania, the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Andaman Explorer
  • Aranui 3
  • Aranui 5
  • Caledonian Sky
  • Coral Expeditions 1
  • Coral Expeditions 2
  • Fiji Princess
  • Island Dancer II
  • Island Passage
  • Kimberley Quest II
  • National Geographic Orion
  • Oceanic Discoverer
  • Paul Gauguin
  • Reef Endeavour
  • Silver Discoverer
  • Solway Lass
  • Spirit of Enderby
  • True North
  • Wind Spirit (sail ship)

Follows the New Zealand and Australia ship travel-dedicated YouTube video review by Silversea.