Travels with Bob

More Travelers Discovering The Small Ship Difference

Claire and David just returned from a 12-night cruise along the Brazilian coast aboard the Azamara Pursuit and now they’re hooked on small-ship cruising.

Azamara Pursuit takes guests to the heart of port cities where big ships can’t go.

“The food was wonderful, and we loved the late-night departures in some ports and overnights in others, which enabled us to see and do more in the places we visited,” Claire told me after her cruise. “In short,” she said, “it was simply a more intimate cruise experience compared with our usual ocean cruises on much larger ships.”

The Pursuit accommodates only 694 guests and visits ports where the big ships can’t go. Claire’s recent cruise experience is typical for a growing number of clients interested in cultural experiences, fine dining and life-long learning. The ship’s guest-to-crew ratio of less than 2:1 provides a more personal onboard experience preferred by a growing number of seasoned cruisers.

Such cruisers also appreciate itineraries off-the beaten path, away from the large crowds found in many ports of call today. On my last cruise, for instance, one port had five ships crowed into the port at the same time and adding nearly 15,000 visitors to the local population for a day. In contrast, small ships typically visit smaller exotic destinations where you have more time to immerse yourself in the local culture.

It’s no wonder small ships represent the fastest growing cruise segment today. Previous travelers who appreciated the intimacy of their European river cruise experiences, as well as cruisers normally booking premium staterooms and suites on large ships, are discovering the advantages of small ship ocean cruises. In fact, about 70 per cent of new ships, either planned or currently under construction, will accommodate fewer than 1,000 guests to meet this growing demand.

Yet, small ships are not for everyone.

You won’t find rock climbing walls, water slides, go-cart tracks, large stage productions or other attractions common on large resort-style ships. And, if the ship has a casino, it will be much smaller than those on large ships.  Evening entertainment on small ships frequently consists local entertainers brought aboard to share their culture in music or presentations related to local history and lore. On many small ships, such activities might even take place ashore in the evening, possible because the ship departs late at night.

Major cruise companies all own small ship brands providing a different special ambiance and cruise experience. So, it’s important to understand such differences before taking the small ship plunge. Most small ships offer an outstanding experience, blurring the lines between “deluxe” and “luxury” brands, making your choice more difficult.

My recommendations for clients seeking to experience small ship cruising for the first time, include―

  • Azamara – With three deluxe boutique-style ships each accommodating 694 guests, Azamara is noted for longer stays, country-intensive itineraries and over-night extended stays. It is destination immersion experiences focus on local arts, culture, history and the area’s natural beauty.
  • Oceania – Offers four ships designed for 684 to 698 guests and two ships accommodating 1,250 guests. A deluxe brand, it’s noted for port intensive itineraries, varied outstanding dining venues and a country club casual atmosphere onboard.
  • Silversea – A leader in luxury cruising, its nine ships range in size from 144 guests on exploration cruises to no more than 608 guests sailing to some 900 destinations on all seven continents. It offers an all-inclusive experience in lavish accommodations featuring premium wines and gourmet cuisine.
  • Windstar – With fewer than 350 guests aboard, Windstar’s six ships provide a yacht-like, casual sailing experience, particularly on four ships that hoist their sails when the wind is favorable. It offers large staterooms and suites, outstanding cuisine, local entertainment and personal service cruising to small exotic ports around the world.

Each of these brands attract experienced cruisers with a passion for travel seeking new destinations with people who share their special interests. Depending on your accommodations and the length of the cruise, prices typically range from $100 to $300 per day more than premium brands—with much of the difference offset by more-inclusive pricing. From a value proposition, most people find the cost difference virtually negligible.

Small ship cruising will likely change your cruise preference the first time you experience one—just as it did for  Claire.