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 of the freedom of the oceans. All you need is to step aboard and set sail on an intimate voyage of discovery.
To compare the world's most famous small cruise companies, their fleets, and many other ships falling in this category, you can visit our small cruise lines hub (itineraries, prices, live position tracking). Another closely related to this subject article is our list of cruise companies.
Small Ship Cruises
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.
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 passengers. And there is a community feel on board. The main focus is on enjoying the destination (scenery and highlights).
The 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 oversize, quality over quantity. And, let's 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 riverboats. The largest as fleet capacity among the river cruising companies are Viking, Avalon, AmaWaterways, Uniworld, CroisiEurope, A-Rosa, Scenic.
You can see destination-grouped lists of small cruise ships at CruiseMapper's Small Cruise Lines hub.
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 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.