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, some not so much.
River Cruise Ships
Because most river cruise lines are restricted in size by locks, most notably in Europe and Russia, they are inherently small is size and likewise in their guest accommodation. Here you will find the well known Amawaterways™, Avalon Waterways®, Emerald Waterways®, Scenic®, Uniworld® and Viking cruise lines. There are many more 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). 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.
Cruise sailing ship in the South Pacific
Visit Places Where the Bigger Ships Don’t Go
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.
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 crew to guest 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.
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, coming in 2020), Seabourn has the Sojourn (less than 500 guests), Crystal has the Crystal Esprit (62 guests), and so on. There are many not well-known cruise lines 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 travel professional for information on small ships and their destinations for your next cruise and broaden your horizons, and your expectations.
Silver Galapagos, Silversea’s smallest at 100 guests