April 23, 2024

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How To Know If Small Ship Cruising Is Right For You

How To Know If Small Ship Cruising Is Right For You

Vacationers contemplating a getaway at sea have a wide variety of cruise lines and ships to choose from. And while the handful of major cruise lines are the ones most familiar to consumers, they also tend to operate the biggest ships. The mega-ships can accommodate between 4,000 and 6,000 passengers, and that’s quite a crowd.

Not every traveler wants to share their vacation with thousands of others. They may not appreciate crowded pool decks, noisy waterparks, wait times at restaurants, and huge spaces onboard the ship dedicated to roller coasters and other thrill rides.


For those travelers, the option of a small cruise ship might be just the ticket. How many people sail on small ships? Industry standards indicate that any ship built to carry less than 1,000 guests is considered a small vessel.

But they get a lot smaller than that, too. Specialty cruise lines, such as adventure-focused lines, are designed for fewer than 100 guests, and several luxury lines top out at around 300 to 400. River ships, too, have low passenger counts, typically around 200. These types of cruise vacations will cost more than mega-ships, so small-ship cruisers will need the vacation budget to match their choices.

Related: Why Cruisers Love Visiting Cruise Lines’ Private Islands

A Look At Big Vs. Small Cruise Ships

Virtually every aspect of the vacation lifestyle onboard a small cruise ship will be vastly different from a large one. It’s one of the things beginner cruisers should know before deciding on a particular cruise line.

Dining choices will be much more limited. Large ships can easily have 20 eateries onboard, while a small ship might have two or three. Instead of multiple pools on the big ships, there will likely be just one pool on a small ship and a hot tub or two.

Cruise ship pool
Via: David Landahl/Unsplash

Rather than multiple pools and water parks found on big ships, small ships will offer only one swimming pool.

If a small ship has a casino, it will be a fraction of the size of a large ship casino, and entertainment options will mostly be limited to one theater versus the multiple indoor and outdoor entertainment venues on the mega-ships.

Vacationers onboard a ship carrying 5,000 guests can spend a weeklong trip never seeing the same fellow cruiser twice, while those on small ships will likely interact with the same guests multiple times, given the reduced number of cruisers and the smaller spaces.

Excursions will be different, too. On large ships with thousands of guests, disembarking the vessel during port calls can be time-consuming, more so if the crew has to tender everyone ashore. This isn’t the case on small ships; guests are on and off the ship quickly, and tendering is generally less complicated.

Monte Carlo harbor
Via: Joachim Lesne/Unsplash

Small cruise ships can access smaller harbors, such as Monte Carlo, in Monaco.

Several of the upscale, small ships feature water sports platforms that fold down at the back of the vessel, and this enables guests to enjoy activities like snorkeling, paddle boarding, swimming, and more right from the ship while it anchors in a harbor without having to disembark at all.

Services and amenities covered in the base cruise fares will be different, as well. Small luxury cruise lines tend to include all dining, drinks, WiFi, and crew gratuities in the fare, while the lines operating the big ships don’t. Specialty dining, drinks, and other pre-paid packages can be added to the base cruise fare if the guest chooses, and these packages can sometimes save a cruiser money.

Related: When Is Cruising Wave Season & How Can You Take Advantage Of It?

Highlights Of A Few Small Ship Cruises

Vacationers who have decided that a small ship experience is the way to go can select from multiple cruise lines offering a wide range of itineraries, services, and costs. Below are a few representing various guest capacity levels. Two of these lines, Seabourn and Viking Cruises, are considered among the 12 best cruise lines overall. Rates quoted are for double occupancy; solo cruisers can be subject to supplemental fees, which vary by line. However, more and more cruise lines are taking steps to cater to solo travelers.

One of the cruise lines offering the smallest ships is Uncruise Adventures, whose motto is: Few faces and open spaces. It has nine ships sailing, accommodating from just 22 to 86 people. The adventure line focuses on Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and Central America. Cruise fares cover all dining and beverages, excursions, all adventure equipment, and even transfers to and from the ship. The only extra fee will come in the form of tips for the crew.

Caribbean beach
Via: Dietmar Lichota/Unsplash

Seabourn offers a 14-day Caribbean cruise on its small ships.

A 7-night Hawaiian Seascapes cruise departing December 10, 2023, sails between the Big Island of Hawaii and Molokai aboard the 36-guest Safari Explorer. Excursions feature volcano hikes, snorkeling, kayaking, and a musical jam session with Molokai locals. The per-person fare is about $6,200.

A more traditional small ship line, Windstar Cruises, operates six ships carrying between 148 and 342 guests. Its cruise fares include all services except alcoholic beverages, WiFi, and crew tips, but those can be added in for an all-inclusive price of $89 per person per day.

An 11-day Southeast Canadian Explorations cruise from Boston to Montreal departing October 4, 2023, aboard the 312-guest Star Pride calls at Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City, among other destinations. With the all-inclusive add-on, the cruise fare is about $6,300 per person.

Luxury line Seabourn, which sails a fleet of seven all-suite ships, including the 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn. With this line, cruise fares cover all dining and drinks, and no gratuities are expected. On Seabourn Sojourn’s November 7, 2023, departure roundtrip from Miami, the ship will sail for 14 days to Caribbean ports in San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Martinique, Barbados, St. Johns, Antigua, and the two-island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The cruise fare is about $6,100 per person.

Greek island view
Via: Ryan Spencer/Unsplash

A Viking Ocean Cruises voyage sails the Greek Islands.

The largest of the small ship fleets is run by Viking Cruises. It has nine ships, each accommodating 930 guests. Cruise fares at this line (which also has a large fleet of river ships in Europe) cover all dining, beer, and wine with lunch and dinner, WiFi, and one excursion in every port. It also provides guest lecturers and resident historians, cooking classes, and wine tastings.

Viking’s 11-day Greek Odyssey cruise aboard Viking Venus sails roundtrip from Athens on December 12, 2023, calling at several destinations in Greece, including Volos, Thessaloniki, Ephesus, Rhodes, Santorini, Crete, and Nafplio. The per-person cruise fare is about $4,000.