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A Comprehensive Guide to Small Ship Cruises

It is in this guide that you will find useful information about small ship cruising, which will make your travels easier.

By Cruise Booking Team

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If you are looking forward to an intimate and personalized cruising experience, small-ship cruises happen to be a perfect choice. They offer a unique and unforgettable way to explore some unique destinations. Small ships can easily navigate through quaint harbors inaccessible to larger vessels, allowing passengers to delve deeper into the heart of each destination.

These vessels, ranging from elegant sailing ships to upscale mega yachts, accommodate a selected number of guests, fostering a sense of camaraderie and exclusivity. Continue reading this article to have a comprehensive idea about their advantages and some cruise lines offering the best small cruise ships.

What are the Reasons to Choose a Small Ship Cruise?

Port of Saint Petersburg with a cruise liner

Photo by bearfotos at Freepik

Cruise tours on small cruise ships offer a unique and enriching travel experience that is distinct from larger cruise vacations. With fewer passengers, a more relaxed atmosphere, and access to smaller ports and hidden gems, these tours provide a more intimate and personalized way to explore the world. Here are some of the key reasons to choose a small-ship cruise tour:

Uninterrupted Views from Your Window

Small ship cruises redefine the concept of a room with a view. As you set sail, your window transforms into a dynamic canvas, showcasing an ever-changing panorama of breathtaking landscapes. Whether it is the rugged coastlines of Scotland or the sun-kissed shores of Greece, each passing moment unveils a new spectacle, leaving you mesmerized.

An Incredible Opportunity for Adventure

Small ship ocean cruise lines liberate you from the constraints of rigid itineraries, allowing the wind, weather, and tides to dictate your course. Your experienced captain, attuned to the subtle nuances of the environment, will tailor your journey to the day's conditions, ensuring an unforgettable experience.

Connecting with Local Communities

These ships, by their very nature, grant access to hidden gems and secluded destinations that larger vessels can only dream of reaching. This establishes an intimate connection with local communities, providing a glimpse into their authentic traditions, culinary delights, and the very essence of their way of life.

A Solo Traveler's Paradise

Small ships offer a haven for solo travelers, providing a cost-effective and enriching way to explore the world. With single-occupancy cabins and a communal dining atmosphere, you'll find camaraderie and shared experiences among fellow travelers.

A Family Affair

These ships offer an unparalleled opportunity for families to bond and create lasting memories. Consider chartering the entire vessel for an exclusive family adventure, creating a private floating home where generations can connect and rediscover the joy of togetherness.

Personalized Services

With a limited number of guests, small-ship cruises cultivate an intimate and personalized atmosphere. The crew, unburdened by the demands of a vast passenger list, can devote their time and attention to ensuring each guest's comfort and satisfaction. From tailoring excursions to catering to individual preferences, the level of personalized service is unparalleled.

What are the Best Small Cruise Ships?

At Neva, there is a white cruise ship. The city of Saint Petersburg

Photo by bearfotos at Freepik

Here are some of the best small cruise ships that offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience to all their on-board guests:

Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises' Silver Endeavour seamlessly blends luxurious amenities with rugged expedition capabilities, making it ideal for polar cruising. Its intimate atmosphere, characterized by a one-to-one guest-to-crew ratio, ensures personalized service.

Spacious accommodations, including veranda suites and multi-room affairs, offer ample comfort, while marble baths enhance the elegance. Four main restaurants, including Italian and French-inspired options, cater to diverse culinary preferences. The Grill, enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass, provides exceptional views.

Guest capacity: 200 Guests

Windstar Cruises

Windstar Cruises is known for its intimate and luxurious sailing yachts. Their ships offer an upscale yet casual sailing vibe. The onboard experience is further enhanced by Windstar's partnership with the James Beard Foundation, which provides guests with exceptional culinary experiences.

One of the highlights of a Windstar Cruise is the opportunity to witness the sails being unfurled. This is a truly romantic moment and one that is sure to create lasting memories. The expansive wooden sun decks on Wind Star and Wind Spirit are perfect for relaxing and enjoying the sea views. Each ship also has multiple dining options, both indoor and on-deck, to cater to every taste.

Guest capacity: 148 Guests

SeaDream Yacht Club

SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I and SeaDream II, while not the newest ships in the luxury cruise segment, exude an air of timeless elegance and classic yachting charm. Their spacious suites are recently refurbished with tasteful nautical touches. Although without private balconies, they make up for it with their warm and inviting ambiance.

Where these ships lack modern amenities, they more than compensate it with their impeccable service and personalized experiences for guests. The onboard cuisine is nothing but exceptional, served both on the romantic outdoor decks and in the intimate indoor restaurant. The line's signature weekly beach barbecue, complete with Champagne and caviar, is a highlight of every itinerary.

Guest capacity: 112 Guests

Viking Cruises

Viking's new 378-passenger Viking Octantis, along with its sister ship Viking Polaris, stands out among the larger ships on this list, specifically designed for polar explorations. The ship boasts an impressive array of features, including a two-level garage called the Hangar, housing Zodiacs, kayaks, a pair of six-passenger submarines, and military-grade speed boats for excursions.

For those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, Viking Octantis offers a fitness center, a spa with a stunning indoor pool overlooking the sea, a sauna, a snow grotto (where snowflakes gently descend from the ceiling through chilled air), and an outdoor spa tub.

Guest capacity: 378 Guests

Atlas Ocean Voyages

World Navigator, an expedition ship, employs a GPS-based dynamic positioning system to minimize movement and noise, ensuring a tranquil experience. The ship boasts of a 1B Ice Class-certified hull and cutting-edge technologies, offering a seamless blend of luxury and adventure.

There are multiple dining options that cater to diverse palates, including the main restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, a steakhouse on the Lido Deck, and two piano bars. For a more intimate setting, the Dome Observation Lounge and Atlas Lounge offer stunning views and a cozy ambiance.

The ship's spa, featuring a serene seating area facing the sea and an ocean-view sauna, is a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation. For those seeking physical activity, a top-of-ship track is available for walking and jogging.

Guest capacity: 196 Guests


Seabourn Venture, along with its upcoming sister ship Seabourn Pursuit, sets a new standard for luxury expedition cruising, rivaling the likes of Silver Endeavour and Scenic Eclipse. The ship seamlessly blends opulent accommodations and lavish amenities with robust expedition capabilities, making it an ideal choice for discerning travelers seeking an unparalleled polar cruising experience.

Elegant interiors, including a main restaurant, multiple lounges and bars with inclusive drinks, a plush lecture hall, a cafe, and spacious balcony suites starting from 355 square feet, ensure guests are pampered in every aspect. The windowed fitness center and spa area, featuring an ocean-view sauna and an infinity pool with breathtaking views, provide ample opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Guest capacity: 264 Guests

Related: Your Essential Guide to Luxury Cruising

What are the Factors to Consider when Choosing Small Ship Cruises?

Sunset over the red sea with white yachts

Photo by user12555082 at Freepik

Small ship cruises offer an intimate and personalized experience that is perfect for those who want to explore the world in a more relaxed and immersive way. However, with so many different small ship cruises to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the best small cruise ship for you:


The weather conditions will vary depending on the destination, but in general, it is best to avoid traveling during the hurricane season or the rainy season.

Even if you are traveling during the dry season, there is always a chance of bad weather. Make sure to pack accordingly and be prepared to be flexible with your itinerary.

If you are looking for a warm and sunny vacation, the Caribbean is a great option. If you are looking for something more adventurous, you could consider Alaska Cruises or the Galapagos Cruises.


These ships typically have fewer passengers than large ships, which can make for a more intimate and relaxed experience. However, smaller ships may not have as many amenities as larger ships.

Some small ships have spas, swimming pools, and fitness centers. Others have more rustic accommodations. Also, remember that these ships typically offer a high level of personalized service.


What kind of experiences are you looking for? Do you want to relax on the beach, explore ancient ruins, or go hiking in the mountains? Choose a cruise with an itinerary that matches your interests. There are small ship cruises that focus on everything from wildlife watching to cultural immersion.

Small ship cruising can range in length from a few days to a few weeks. Choose a length of cruise that fits your schedule and budget.


Not all the best small cruise ships are created equally when it comes to catering to families. Some cruise lines offer larger or adjoining cabins to accommodate families. Also, they offer more extensive menus to satisfy picky eaters.

The itineraries also play a role in determining kid-friendliness. For instance, Nile River cruises through Egypt's land of the Pharaohs, or Icelandic adventures through whale-rich waters are sure to captivate young ones.

Carbon Footprint

Small ship cruises don't have to be carbon-intensive. Travelers can reach many ports in Europe and North America by train. For those committed to reducing their carbon emissions, consider opting for a ship with sails.

These small vessel cruises, often vintage, rely on motors to exit ports. When they are at sea, they harness the power of trade winds whenever possible, significantly reducing their carbon footprint.


Accessibility considerations vary depending on individual needs, whether mobility, cognitive, hearing, or sight-related. Specialist tour operators can identify cruises tailored to specific abilities, such as wheelchair-accessible Nile cruises or Antarctic expeditions.

However, accessibility remains a challenge in the small-ship cruise industry. Narrow gangways and ladders can pose obstacles, and few ships are designed with accessibility in mind from the outset.

Related: Top Luxury Cruise Lines for a Special Vacation

Big Cruises VS. Small Ships Cruises: Which One to Choose?

On the background is a beautiful cloudy sky and a large cruise ship at sea

Photo by kovalenkovpetr at Freepik

Choosing between big and small ship cruising is confusing for both seasoned and novice cruisers. Mega vessels boast numerous amenities, extensive entertainment choices, and a plethora of dining options. Whereas, smaller vessels prioritize intimacy and exclusivity. Before making a choice, it is essential to weigh various factors:


Small cruises offer lectures, guides, and limited classes, while large cruises feature water parks, sports courts, and theme parks alongside extensive entertainment options.

Dining options

Small cruise ship typically has one main dining room and limited alternative eateries. On the contrary, large vessels boast dozens of dining venues with a wide array of choices.


Those seeking abundant entertainment, such as comedy shows, casinos, and nightclubs, may favor larger cruises. Small ships, on the other hand, provide a more restricted selection, focusing on live music and movies, and fostering meaningful conversations among passengers.

Passenger Capacity

Small cruises accommodate fewer guests, which can be a crucial factor to consider when selecting the right cruise for catering to personalized preferences.

Ports and Destinations

These cruises excel at exploring unique ports, allowing passengers to experience the culture, history, and environments of exotic locations like Thailand and the British Virgin Islands.

Overall Experience

While small ships prioritize quality services, food, and a focus on destinations, those seeking continuous entertainment may find larger vessels more suitable.

Also Read: What are the Best Cruise Lines for Adults 2024?


If you are going out on small ship cruises, it promises an unparalleled and personalized exploration of the world, fostering intimacy and connection with destinations beyond the reach of larger vessels. The carefully curated list of the best small cruise ships, each offering a unique experience, ensures that travelers can find the perfect match for their preferences and interests.

Factors like weather, comfort, itinerary, family-friendliness, carbon footprint, and accessibility play crucial roles in decision-making. The comparison between big cruises and small ships underscores the importance of aligning individual preferences with the cruise experience desired, ultimately making for an informed and rewarding choice. You can learn more about the features of these small ships from the official website of and accordingly finalize your choices. 

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