Small Cruise Lines

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Review of Small Cruise Lines

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

Small ship cruise travel is the best (often the only) way to explore more exotic vacation destinations. 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.

Small Cruise Lines - CruiseMapper

Small ships go into the smaller ports - often inaccessible for big-sized vessels. This allows "expedition travelers" to experience the local people, culture and traditions of the destinations, and not only the tourist areas. This "intimate travel" experience includes viewing the wildlife up close, getting to know the crew and forming a bond with fellow passengers. Small ships, by definition, are with a way smaller passenger capacity, so you'll likely meet the same people over and over on a daily basis.

Still, the biggest advantage of small-ship vacations is flexibility. Booking availability is usually great, so picking your departure date is easier. Not to forget the choice of unique itineraries on which are navigated the world's most pristine destinations, including narrow fjords, remote islands, even inland waterways.

Small-ship cruising experiences don't include traditional for large liners amenities - like multiple dining venues, grand-style shows, kids programming. However, enjoying a personalized vacation while cruising the world on a "boat" is usually not recommended for first-timers and in the same time is best for affluent and more active travelers - as the money must not be an issue.

Small cruise lines

This is a list of the world's most popular small-ship cruise companies. Again, there should be also added river shipping companies, the largest among which are Viking, Uniworld, Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Scylla, Luftner-Amadeus.

Alaskan Dream Cruises (fleet, is Allen family-owned company (founded 1970) operating Inside Passage itineraries - wilderness adventures on small-sized expedition ships. Its ships also visit exclusive ports of call in Alaska, including native-owned lands and a private island. Cruise prices are around USD 600 pp per night.

Aurora Expeditions (fleet, is among the pioneers of polar expedition cruising, as well as a leading adventure travel company on the Australian market. The company was established in 1991 by Greg Mortimer (one of the first Australians to climb Mt Everest without oxygen) and his wife Margaret Mortimer. The company initially specialized in small-group cruises to Antarctica. In 2008 it was sold and the new owners started expedition voyages in Norway's Svalbard Islands, Russia's Far East, Greenland, PNG-Papua New Guinea, and South America (on Amazon River). In 2014 were inaugurated Alaskan Inside Passage itineraries and also launched land-river-sea expeditions in Ecuador (northwestern South America). In 2015 was launched an African cruisetour with a luxury safari cruise on Chobe River (Botswana). For polar operations, Aurora Expeditions charters ice-strengthened Russian research ships.

Coral Expeditions (fleet, is among the best for South Pacific Islands cruises. Each vessel has a high-speed tender boat and Zodiacs for landings.

International Expeditions (TUI-owned) 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.

"Island Windjammers" owns sailing ships on Caribbean island itineraries year-round.

Variety Cruises (fleet) owns superyachts (motorized and sailing) and operates in the Mediterranean Sea, West Africa, Indian Ocean, Central America.

Katarina Line (Croatia-based) also operates as an 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 a 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 (fleet, 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.

G Adventures ( is a Galapagos cruise line brand. In July 2017, it acquired the UK-based company Swan Hellenic. G-Adventures restarted Swan Hellenic's operations in 2018. The company owns the MS Expedition (ice-strengthened vessel).

"Pearl Seas Cruises" operates in USA (Great Lakes), Canada (Canadian Maritimes) and also in the Caribbean. On January 23, 2017, started the first cruise to Cuba from Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale Florida). The 10-day itinerary visited Havana plus other Cuban ports. In 2017, the 210-passenger ship Pearl Mist had 11 voyages from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba (January through April), plus more scheduled for winter season 2017-2018.

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

  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Quark Expeditions is the leading Antarctica cruise line.
  • SeaDream Yacht Club has two superyachts operating in the 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.
  • Star Clippers owns tall-sailing ships (clippers) and operates in the Caribbean and Europe (Mediterranean). Deals are inclusive of marina-based sports (kayaking, wind sailing, waterskiing).
  • Windstar Cruises provides some of the best "top luxury" products on the small cruising market. All boats are relatively bigger and with aft marina platforms.
  • Un-Cruise Adventures is among the best Alaskan small-ship lines. During winter, its boats are repositioned to Hawaii, Baja Mexico, USA Northwest Coast. The steamer SS Legacy is cruising in the USA, on Snake and Columbia rivers.
  • Oceanwide Expeditions ( operates ice-strengthened ships in Antarctica and the European Arctic.

Itinerary of Small Cruise Lines

Since small ship cruising deals are mainly provided by riverboats, 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, a concise history, as well as live AIS current position ship tracking.

In this survey, we use all Silversea'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
  • Celebrity Flora
  • 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
  • Silver Origin
  • Treasures of Galapagos (catamaran)
  • Xavier III

South America (Antarctica and Patagonia)

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

  • Evangelistas
  • Grigoriy Mikheev
  • MV Hondius, MV Ortelius, MV Plancius
  • Island Sky
  • Marina Svetaeva
  • Ocean Adventurer, Ocean Diamond, Ocean Endeavour, Ocean Nova
  • mv Polar Star
  • Sea Explorer
  • Sea Spirit
  • Silver Explorer
  • Stella Australis, Ventus Australis
  • mv Ushuaia

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).

  • Russian icebreaker ships
  • 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
  • Rembrandt van Rijn
  • Sea Adventurer
  • Sea Endurance
  • Sarfaq Ittuk

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

Mediterranean Sea

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

  • Star Clippers ships
  • Aegean Odyssey
  • Aegean Paradise
  • Arethusa
  • Artania
  • Astor
  • Astoria
  • ms Berlin (FTI)
  • Club Med 2 (sail ship)
  • Galileo
  • ms Hamburg
  • Harmony G
  • Harmony V
  • La Belle de l’Adriatique
  • Royal Eleganza
  • Seadream 1
  • Seadream 2
  • Serenissima
  • Variety Voyager
  • MV Voyager
  • Minerva

The UK and Baltic Sea

Europe's Baltic region is most attractive 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.

  • Corinthian
  • Deutschland
  • Hamburg
  • Hebridean Princess
  • Hebridean Sky
  • Lord of the Glens
  • Sea Cloud 1, Sea Cloud 2
  • Serenissima

East Coast USA and Canada

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

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).

  • Star Clippers ships
  • Belize Aggressor 3
  • Cayman Aggressor 4
  • Carib Dancer
  • Diamant (schooner)
  • MV Clio (Tere Moana)
  • Okeanos Aggressor
  • Panorama
  • Panorama 2
  • Sagitta (sail ship)
  • Safari Voyager
  • Serenissima
  • Sun Dancer II
  • Turks and Caicos Aggressor 2
  • Vela (sail ship)
  • Wind Dancer

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 2
  • Island Passage
  • Kimberley Quest 2
  • National Geographic Orion
  • Oceanic Discoverer
  • Paul Gauguin
  • Reef Endeavour
  • Silver Discoverer
  • Solway Lass
  • Spirit of Enderby
  • True North
  • Wind Spirit (sail ship)

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