Travels with Bob

Discovering the Small-Ship Cruise Experience

In an era of mega-ships — some almost four football fields in length – leisure travelers increasingly are discovering a totally dissimilar cruise experience onboard ships that welcome fewer than a thousand guests.

While mass-market cruise lines continue to roll out new ships offering features and enhancements designed to attract virtually everyone, a


Seabourn Quest cruising Antarctica with 458 guests aboard.

growing number of today’s cruisers are seeking a more intimate and accommodating experience provided by ships without all the bells and whistles of their larger cousins. Instead, small ships serve up itineraries that take their guests into small ports that the big ships can’t reach, while providing longer itineraries with more overnight stays in port.

Small ships are known for their culturally enriching and educational experiences both onboard and ashore at each destination. Guests aboard small ships generally travel to explore, experience and learn. Furthermore, with noteworthy cuisine and highly personalized service, most small ships offer guests an all-inclusive vacation that rivals or exceeds the top all-inclusive land resorts or five-star hotels.

Seabourn, Regent, Crystal and Silversea are luxury brands cruising the world’s seven continents with 240 to 600 guests. In the deluxe ship category, Azamara and Oceania’s small ships accommodate 684 guests. Each cruise line has a distinctive personality and ambiance, so finding the ship that’s compatible with your personal style is important. Yet, all of today’s luxury and deluxe cruise lines offer an outstanding cruise experience in a relaxed, almost country club casual environment – in sharp contrast to their former reputation for stuffiness.

Generating overwhelming positive feedback from cruisers, Viking Ocean is the newest entry into small ship ocean cruising. Its five understated identical ships each accommodate 930 guests.

For the best South Seas experience, I recommend Paul Gauguin Cruises with seven to 14-night cruise itineraries that may take you to Tahiti and the Society Islands or the Cook Islands aboard the 332-guest Gauguin. I also like the yachting experiences provided by SeaDream Yacht’s two ships, each accommodating just 112 guests and sporting a crew of 95.

Cruisers seeking soft adventure will enjoy the experience aboard the 4- and 5-masted sailing yachts of Windstar and Star Clippers, which accommodate 148 to 227 guests in a yacht-like sailing experience romancing the wind.

Small-ship cruising may be just the thing for you, if you are accustomed to premium balcony staterooms or suites on much larger ships and now desire something different. Considering the all-inclusiveness of most small ships, such cruises may cost only slightly more per day than cruising on contemporary or premium ships. Book early for the best pricing, consider the available itineraries and find the ship that’s right for you.

Once you move into intimate, small-ship cruising, I suspect you won’t want to cruise aboard anything larger.

Photo courtesy of Seabourn®.