The Afar Guide to
Small Ship Cruises

Wander, Escape, Explore

Small ship cruising caters to travelers who want specialty cruise experiences. This small subset of the cruise industry is growing rapidly as demand for longer stays in port and more overnights are attracting travelers who want to enjoy the benefits of a cruise vacation without having to miss out with more time exploring on land. Small ship cruising features global itineraries to cruise hotspots as well as off-the-beaten-path locales that focus on cultural activities. These vessels generally carry fewer than 650 passengers and there are many types of ships to choose from: luxurious ocean liners, barges, wind powered sailing yachts, or expedition vessels with strengthened-hulls to break the ice in the Arctic and Antarctica polar zones.

Explore the World on a Small Ship
Explore iconic ports of call in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Scandinavia, and the Americas. Small cruise ships have the option of anchoring off some of the best remote locations on the planet.
Dreamy Ports of Call
Island-hop in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, explore tiny Mediterranean towns, and greet polar bears in Alaska: these are trips of a lifetime.
Far-flung Expedition Cruises
There is no better place to get away from the ordinary pursuits of living than on an expedition cruise. Those who seek the less traveled roads of the world will like small ship expedition cruising. See remarkable landscapes, stunning vistas, unique creatures, and amazing sunsets.
How to Choose a Small Ship Cruise
When it comes to small ship cruising, there are plenty of options to choose from. Keep the following in mind.
When choosing a small ship cruise experience, there are a variety of options to consider. Make sure to pay attention to details about itineraries and the amount of time a ship will be in port—to maximize time ashore. Conversely, if it’s time on the ship that a traveler craves, then make sure to look for cruises with a lot of sea days.
The time of year can impact a cruise vacation. During the summer months, most cruise lines will sail in Alaska or Europe. Popular winter destinations include the Caribbean and exotic cruise locations in South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. The shoulder seasons (spring and fall) offer repositioning cruises (in which ships relocate to new ports) that offer fewer ports-of-call and more days at sea. River cruising is also an option as well as year-round cruises from Los Angeles, the New York area, New Orleans, and Texas.
Small ships can come in many sizes. Pick a ship that caters to around 650 people or less. In general the larger the ship, the more onboard features. Spas, pools, hot tubs, multiple dining venues, a casino, more lounge space, coffee bars, and more spacious suites can be found on larger vessels.
One of the best reasons to choose a small ship cruise is their ability to maneuver into ports and harbors inaccessible to the big ships. Azamara Club Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Regent, Seabourn, SeaDream, and G Adventures offer cruise experiences that combine unique ports with exceptional onboard programs for total immersion.
For those seeking destination immersion, choose Azamara Club Cruises. The boutique cruise line allows guests maximum time to explore port, often overnighting in port or leaving late at night to allow travelers more time to explore.
Small ship expedition cruising is a great way to combine adventure travel with cruising. Active cruise passengers should gravitate towards small ships that offer a wide range of activities for different activity levels. This is important for people going on expeditions. Make sure that there are easy to hard variations of hikes and outings for a good fit. Go to remote places like Antarctica, the Arctic, Galapagos, or Alaska. Cruise lines worth a look are Silversea Expeditions, Hurtigruten, Un-Cruise Adventures or Celebrity Cruises.
Looking for a sailing ship experience? Windstar Cruises and Star Clippers offer unique small cruise ship experiences in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
When visiting water-friendly destinations like the South Pacific look for a small ship cruise line that has a watersports marina for access to water toys like standup paddleboards or kayaks. Paul Gauguin Cruises is an excellent choice for those looking to cruise in the South Pacific, Tahiti and French Polynesia. For a total splurge, plan to spend the night in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora at one of the cruise line’s sister properties at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
Sailing on a mega-yacht from SeaDream Yacht Club is a unique vacation experience. The cruise line’s daily programs cater to the needs of active travelers. Take a yoga class or have fun on a WaveRunner, kayaks, or standup paddleboard.
Not interested in formal nights? No worries. The trend these days is for a more relaxed onboard atmosphere thanks to cruise lines like Oceania Cruises that help spearhead a trend toward the country club casual dress code.
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Carrie Finley-Bajak, Small Ship Cruises Curator