Popular cruise ports, from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean to Alaska, can be dominated by the massive cruise ships that pull in, overtaking the skyline, as passengers pour out, overrunning local shops and restaurants. Sure, those big ships are amenity-packed with over-the-top pools
, spas, restaurants, and entertainment, but sometimes you want to take to the high seas in a way that feels more intimate and less intrusive. That’s where small ship cruises come in. For one thing, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds, more personalized attention, and nearly nonexistent lines (rather than the hustle-and-bustle, village-at-sea effect that big ships can create); plus, you’ll get to see smaller and less-visited ports that large ships simply can’t squeeze into. <br><br>For instance, the Galápagos Islands limit visiting ships to 100 passengers to preserve the region’s unique ecosystem. (The Ecuadorian government protects 97 percent of the land there, which hosts more than 50 different endemic species.) Smaller ships get you to similarly far-flung locations, especially via expedition-style voyages to locales like the Arctic or the Amazon. Indeed, the Amazon is just one of the many inland waterways that river cruises reach—another type of small ship cruise that can bring you to otherwise landlocked destinations that no massive ocean liner could, including popular European capitals. <br><br>One of our favorite cruise lines—and recipient of the 2018 AFAR Travelers’ Choice Award for the small ship cruise line category—Windstar Cruises embodies all that is best about small ship cruising, visiting less-frequented ports such as Bawean, Indonesia, and the Pearl Islands in Costa Rica. And while bigger cruise ships are often thought to have better onboard amenities, that’s simply not the case here. For instance, Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, so its itineraries often include culinary tours and hands-on cooking classes, too—as well as excellent dining options onboard its ships. Other superlative small ship cruise providers include Crystal Yacht Expedition, Lindblad Expeditions, Paul Gauguin, Ponant, Quark Expeditions, and SeaDream Yacht Club; they will all help you set sail on a smaller scale and in style, to boot.