Small Cruise Lines

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Small Cruise Lines fleet

Review of Small Cruise Lines

Small ship cruises are the “adventure expedition” style of sea travel, and among the best ways to explore the world’s most enticing destinations. Small ship cruising is symbolic for the freedom of the oceans. All you need is to step aboard and set sail on an intimate voyage of discovery.

Most of the small ship cruise deals are all-inclusive, in the category of “luxury travel”, and rather expensive. With all the publicity that surrounds the “mega-ships” carrying up to 5,000-6,000 cruisers, you can easily forget there is an impressive fleet of small cruise ships and lots of riverboats all over the world.

Small Ship Cruises

When most vacationers think of cruising, usually the mega-ships spring to their mind. Those are the huge, “floating hotel”  super-ships with promenades, shopping malls, cinemas and waterparks with large pools and multiple slides.

While cruise travelers inevitably forgo several facilities, there is a large number of benefits to make up for the lack of basketball courts, climbing walls, vast ballrooms, Spas and other resort facilities. First of all, with hundreds of passengers on small ships as opposed to the many thousands on the big ones, it would be easier to get to know fellow passenger. And there is a community feel on board. The main focus is on enjoying the destination (scenery and highlights).

Major benefit of the small ship cruising travel is also making new friends – and I mean quality ones. You’ll book a small cruise only if you prefer privacy over showy, style over size, quality over quantity. And, lets be more objective here – you do small cruising if you’re doing well in the world of money.

Small cruise lines

Among the world’s best small ship cruise lines are Hurtigruten, the named with suffix “expedition” luxury lines (Silversea, Lindblad, Quark, Quasar, Aqua, Coral, Antarctic, International), Sea Cloud, Island Windjammers, Aggressor Fleet (small yachts), Variety Cruises, Peregrine, Haimark, Noble Caledonia, Metropolitan Touring (Galapagos), Un-Cruise Adventures, Grand Circle, American Cruise Lines (USA rivers and coastal regions), the top luxury lines Windstar, SeaDream, Star Clippers.

To this small lines list should be also added the names of all river cruise lines, due to the small passenger capacity of all river boats. The largest as fleet capacity among the river cruising companies are Viking, Avalon, AmaWaterways, Uniworld, CroisiEurope, A-Rosa, Scenic.

The following list of small ship cruise companies will give you a concise information by brand, regarding its product, signature amenities, regions of operation.

  • Lindblad Expeditions company has an exclusive partnership with National Geographic. Lindblad is among the best choices for casual, nature-themed "expedition travel" with wildlife watching on kayaks and Zodiac crafts. All tours are guided by expert NAT GEO naturalists.
  • Hurtigruten is the best line for nontraditional small cruising in Norway (regular, 6-7-11-12-day Norwegian coastal itineraries, year-round). The line also offers Antarctica and Arctic cruises (on two ships) and unique land tours (Northern Lights, Spitsbergen, Greenland polar circle landings). Still, due to their larger capacity, these vessels' tracking is at our main page.
  • Alaskan Dream Cruises provides unique Inside Passage Alaska travel opportunities on wilderness cruising adventures with small-sized 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 the best line for Antarctica (cheaper, with more varied itineraries, even from New Zealand).
  • Coral Expeditions (renamed in 2015 from "Coral Princess Cruises") is among the best lines for South Pacific destinations. Each of its ships has a high-speed tender boat (covered), Zodiacs, even a spa pool.
  • International Expeditions is among the best lines for Galapagos and Amazon cruising (featuring Hobie kayaks). Its ships have many balcony cabins, a separate lecture room, sundeck jacuzzi, outdoor dining.
  • Oceanwide Expeditions is a Dutch company founded 1996 and operating ice-class cruise vessels. The line specializes in year-round operated cruise tours in Antarctica and the Europe's Arctic Ocean regions.
  • Star Clippers line owns tall sailing ships in Caribbean and Mediterranean. These are big-sized, yacht-type clipper ships, each with elevator, even casino, spa massage rooms, room service. Prices are inclusive of marina-based watersports (kayaking, snorkeling, windsailing, waterskiing).
  • Sea Cloud Cruises line operates two luxury sailing yachts in Caribbean and Europe. The vessels are full-rigged ships, with higher capacity. Deals are inclusive of drinks and alcohol (wine during meals). The line also offers full charter cruise deals.
  • Island Windjammers (former Windjammer Barefoot Cruises) line has two sail ships - a schooner and a 3-masted motor yacht. Both vessels are with limited capacity and sailing on Caribbean islands voyages. Deals are inclusive of tips, the snorkeling equipment, drinks (beer, wine, soft beverages).
  • Variety Cruises is a Greek line with several super-yachts sailing in the Mediterranean, West and South Africa, the Indian Ocean, Central America. Capacity is up to 36 cabins, so private charters for specially themed cruises are also offered.
  • Windstar is a top luxury line with both big and small cruising vessels - all with marina sports platforms. The three smaller sailing ships operate in Europe and French Polynesia. The line is famous for its gourmet cuisine and impeccable service.
  • Katarina Line is based in Croatia. The line (which also functions as travel agency for other line) owns more than 40 small ships and motor sailing luxury yachts in Adriatic Sea and along the Dalmatian Coast. Cruises from Croatia are multilingual, with experienced local guides and expert drivers. The line's ships are often chartered for organized events at sea (business meetings, conventions, congresses, family reunions, private parties).
  • Peregrine (aka "Peregrine Adventures") is among the best luxury small cruise lines for Antarctica. Peregrine ships offer regular roundtrip departures from Ushuaia (Argentina) and Punta Arenas (Chile). Itineraries range from 8 to 20 days, and visit Drake Passage, Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia (South Sandwich Islands). Deals are rather expensive (over US $10,000 pp) and inclusive of hotels and transfers. The line's Antarctic cruise and flight deals offer departures from Buenos Aires (Argentina).
  • Noble Caledonia is an UK-based cruise operator, which offers also river travel deals on chartered riverboats. As shipowner, Noble Caledonia has two vessels, but also charters other lines' small ships. As a travel agency, it also specializes in land tours and train excursions.
  • Metropolitan Touring company operates world-famous Galapagos expedition cruise ships. They are larger in comparison to the traditional for this destination yachts.
  • Quasar Expeditions is a top-luxury line for Galapagos Islands cruising. Its expedition ships have highly trained naturalists. Voyages offer close contact with local marine and land life. Deals are inclusive of many tours/excursions (incl kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving, riding, walking, hiking). Galapagos diving cruises are often offered as themed voyages.
  • Ecoventura is another luxury Galapagos cruise line. The company is family-owned, with operations since 1990. The line has five luxury motor yachts operating on 7-night roundtrip itineraries. It also offers professional Galapagos scuba diving tours (7-day long) in the Wolf and Darwin islands.
  • Aggressor Fleet is a "big line with small ships". The huge number of Aggressor ships (actually small luxury yachts) cruise in the regions of Caribbean (Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Caymans, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic), Galapagos, Asia (Burma, Thailand, Red Sea, Maldives, Indonesia, Palau), Costa Rica, Hawaii, Fiji, Micronesia. The line is best know for its professional scuba and diving trips in all those destinations.
  • Un-Cruise Adventures (merging "American Safari Cruises" with "InnerSea Discoveries") is among the best small cruise lines for Alaska, Hawaii, Baja Mexico and the USA Pacific Northwest coastal expedition and leisure-style voyages. This luxury line's deals are inclusive of alcohol (incl in cabins' minibars) and tours/excursions. The line also owns the replica steamer Legacy cruising in Alaska Inside Passage and also on on Snake and Columbia rivers in the Northwest USA.
  • American Cruise Lines is most famous with its large-size paddlewheel (steamboat design) riverboats on Mississippi and Columbia rivers in the USA. However, the line also owns small ships operating in Alaska and the Atlantic (East Coast USA and New England). These small-sized cruise vessels can access even the Florida's inland waterways and Hudson River.
  • Grand Circle Cruise Line offers both river (France, Russia, Egypt) and ocean small ship cruises (in Eastern Mediterranean). Travel deals on both types of vessels are inclusive of excursions, really extensive enrichment programming (with resident experts /hosts, lecturers, tour guides) and menus with local gourmet cuisine specialties.
  • SeaDream is a top-luxury line with two mega-yachts for Mediterranean and Caribbean voyages. Deals are all-inclusive (with alcohol included). Cabin amenities are "best luxury", and the service is truly superb.
  • Silversea Expeditions is the new brand division of the all-inclusive luxury company Silversea. Expedition ships are all with prefix Silver. They operate in almost all major expedition cruising regions of the world, including Antarctica, Alaska, Southeast Asia, Indian and Pacific oceans, South America, Galapagos, Europe (Baltic and Arctic), the Russia's Far East. Like on its bigger vessels, the Silversea's expedition ships are with all-inclusive deals, which include also premium alcohol and all excursions and land tours along the itinerary.

The “small cruising” experience

Say goodbye to the endless buffet queues and the hard choice between a dozen restaurants for dinner. Small ship cruising gives a choice of only one dining room (or two restaurants – usually formal and casual buffet) with fixed times. But expect an emphasis on personal service and fine dining.

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.

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

Galapagos is a South American archipelago, also a province of Ecuador, national park and marine reserve. They are located in the Pacific Ocean (900 km / 560 miles west of Ecuador's mainland). The Galapagos territory has a population of around 25,000, and is famous for its huge number of species. Know that most of the Galapagos ships listed here are actually big luxury yachts that can also be booked as full-charter.

  • Celebrity Xploration (ex Athala II catamaran)
  • Celebrity Xperience (ex Eclipse yacht)
  • Celebrity Xpedition (MS 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 (new ship 2016)
  • MY Grace (yacht)
  • Isabela II
  • La Pinta (yacht)
  • Letty
  • National Geographic Endeavour
  • National Geographic Endeavour 2 (ex Via Australis)
  • National Geographic Islander
  • Nemo III (sail catamaran)
  • Queen of Galapagos (G8)
  • mv Santa Cruz 2
  • Silver Galapagos
  • Xavier III

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

South America (Antarctica and Patagonia)

Antarctica is our planet's southernmost continent, on which is also the South Pole. The Southern Ocean completely surrounds the whole Antarctic region. 98% of the land here is ice-covered, with an average of 2 km (1,2 miles ice thickness. Popular Antarctica small cruise destinations are Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Gerlache Strait, Elephant Island, Paulet Island, Paradise Harbor (Bay), also Falkland Islands (on longer itineraries).

  • 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.

Europe (Arctic and Russia)

One of the world's most popular expedition cruising destinations, the Arctic is the planet's north polar region. It consists of a territories of 8 countries (USA-Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland) and is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean. Arctic cruises are operated during most time of the year (excluding winter). Popular themed voyages are the "North Pole" and "Northern Lights" (Aurora Borealis). The Arctic region is unique with its local cultures (indigenous peoples), ice-living organisms, wildlife (fish, marine mammals, birds, animals, plants).

  • 50 Let Pobedy (nuclear icebreaker "50 Years Of Victory")
  • One Ocean Navigator (icebreaker Akademik Ioffe)
  • One Ocean Voyager (icebreaker Akademik Sergey Vavilov)
  • Kapitan Dranitsyn (icebreaker)
  • Yamal (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 (sail ship)
  • Sea Adventurer
  • Sarpik 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. The list of Far East Russia small ship travel destinations features Bering Sea, Kuril Islands, the Russian Arctic. Next video is lengthly, but totally worth watching. It's about the nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker - and cruise ship - "50 Let Pobedy" (aka "50 Years of Victory"). The video shows the mesmerizing Arctic Ocean scenery, and some of the activities on this one-of-a-kind Arctic cruise ship - perfectly suited for expedition travel.

Hawaii and Alaska (Inside Passage)

Alaska is the largest USA state bordering with Canada (Yukon and British Columbia), the Arctic and the Pacific oceans, and with Russia (Chukotka and Kamchatka /across Bering Strait). Popular Alaskan small cruise destinations are Inside Passage, Glacier Bay (fjords), the ports of Skagway, Juneau, Seward, Sitka, Ketchikan, Homer, Kodiak. The region is also popular for fishing trips and expeditions. Hawaii small ship cruising features another USA state composed of islands entirely. Located in the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands are a volcanic archipelago part of the Polynesia island group (Oceania). The main cruise port destinations here are the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Kona. Most itineraries are operated with roundtrip departures from Honolulu, Hawaii. Among the best features here are the diverse scenery, warm climate, plenty of beaches, the active volcanoes, indigenous culture, great surfing opportunities.

  • 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.

Europe (Mediterranean Sea)

The Europe's Mediterranean Sea is connected to Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by lands of three continents - Europe, Africa and Asia (Anatolia, Middle East). Most popular Mediterranean small ship travel destinations are the French Riviera with Monaco, the Italian Riviera and Sicily, Corsica, Greek Isles, Adriatic Sea (Dalmatian Coast).

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

Europe - UK (British Isles) and Baltic Sea (Scandinavia)

The Europe's Baltic Sea is part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is enclosed by lands of Russia and Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland) and the Northern European Baltic countries. Among the most popular Baltic small cruising destinations are the Norwegian Fjords and the Russia's St Petersburg city, along with all the other large Baltic cities visited as ports of call along the itineraries. In Northern Europe, the UK and British Isles are a destination of itself. The British islands group consists of the mainland territories of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and Ireland, plus over 6000 small isles. Cruise itineraries around Britain are often combined with visiting ports in Iceland and Norway.

  • 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.

USA and Canada New England

New England is part of the USA, with all six states located in the Northeastern part along the Atlantic coast. These are Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. On this territory's borders are New York, Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and the Canadian states New Brunswick and Quebec. Often operated with combined itineraries (Canada and New England), small ship cruising port destinations here are Halifax, Sydney, Gaspe, Corner Brook, St John, Prince Edward island, Bar Harbor, Newport.

  • American Constellation
  • American Glory
  • American Star
  • Grande Caribe
  • Grande Mariner
  • MS Independence
  • Americana (ex Yorktown)
  • Pearl Mist

Caribbean Sea (Bahamas, Bermuda, Florida coast)

Small Caribbean cruise vacations feature visiting some of the best Caribbean Sea islands along with visiting territories in Mexico, USA and several South American states. The list of most popular Caribbean small ship cruising destinations includes Bahamas, Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, Belize, Jamaica, Barbados, Cozumel (Mexico), St Kitts, St Maarten, St Lucia, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Curacao, Honduras (Roatan island), USVA and BVA, port cities in Florida (including the Key West island).

  • 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.

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti

The South Pacific Islands cruise destination includes the island groups of Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia),  the continent Australia (and its islands) and New Zealand. Best small ship cruise destinations in this huge region are Fiji, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tasmania, the Australia's Queensland ports and numerous small islands, New Zealand, the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Andaman Explorer (Pandaw) - Indonesia
  • cargo cruise ship Aranui 3
  • cargo cruise ship Aranui 5
  • Caledonian Sky
  • Coral Expeditions 1 (ex Coral Princess I)
  • Coral Expeditions 2 (ex Coral Princess II)
  • Fiji Princess
  • Island Dancer II
  • Island Passage
  • Kimberley Quest II
  • National Geographic Orion
  • Oceanic Discoverer (ex Coral Discoverer)
  • Paul Gauguin
  • Reef Endeavour
  • Silver Discoverer (ex Clipper Odyssey)
  • 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.