Cruising isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Some travelers love the energy and excitement of a mega-ship with 20-plus restaurants, theme-park-like amusements, and dazzling Broadway-style shows. Others think sharing a ship with 3,000 to 5,000 other people is the furthest thing from fun.
The solution? Small-ship cruising. This segment of the industry includes vessels that carry anywhere from 50 to 750 passengers — and the experience, while still a cruise, is decidedly different. Not does the intimate onboard experience of small-ship cruising counter many of the crowd-focused complaints about mega-ships, but it can also reveal ways to experience a destination by cruise ship in a more authentic and satisfying way.
Intrigued? Read on for seven reasons to book a small-ship cruise.
1. Exciting Itineraries
Yes, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and San Juan are all great, but since most large ships sailing the Eastern Caribbean often frequent these isles, experienced cruisers have likely already been there, done that. However, small ships offer travelers the opportunity to explore more off-the-beaten-path ports of call (think: St. Barths, Virgin Gorda, and Bonaire in the Caribbean; or Elba, Ischia, or Menorca in the Mediterranean). What's more, many picturesque coastal cities, such as Portofino, Italy, and Sète, France — as well as river ports such as Bordeaux, France, and Seville, Spain — can only accommodate small- and medium-sized ships. Add in the newest class of luxury expedition vessels, which can accommodate up to 300 passengers, and even the most remote ports become more accessible. Combined, these attributes create opportunities to see and experience many different places.
2. Tranquil Ambiance
Cruisers who prefer quiet nooks for reading and low-key onboard entertainment — a duo singing soft rock vs. a glow-in-the-dark deck party — will appreciate the understated vibe found aboard most small ships. The decibel level is noticeably lower (to the point of being boring to anyone who expects a miniature version of a mega-ship) since the luxury vessels in this segment generally attract a more mature crowd. That said, passengers seeking camaraderie and conversation can generally find it around a small ship’s pool bar and casino. Besides, there's definitely something to be said for spending a relaxing week by a quiet pool rather than one pulsating with a never-ending bass beat as shrieking children plunge down waterslides.
3. Elevated Service
Part of the pampering inherent to a more intimate cruise ship experience is the personal service afforded by a good passenger-to-crew ratio. And, because they are serving fewer guests, crew members aboard smaller ships are also trained to a higher standard (such as remembering passengers’ names and preferences). This creates a comforting familiarity that makes many small-ship cruisers return time and again to their favorite ship.
4. Larger Staterooms
Many small-ship cruise lines — mainly those in the luxury sector like Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, Scenic, Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, and Atlas Ocean Voyages — are known for offering spacious staterooms. The accommodations found on these vessels are generally 100 square feet larger than the ones found on larger ships. Plus, most small-ship staterooms are also equipped with balconies. (The exceptions in one or both cases are Windstar and Star Clippers’ tall sailing ships; SeaDream’s two yachts; and UnCruise Adventures’ vessels.)
5. Value-Packed Pricing
Many passengers complain that cruise lines with larger ships often “nickel and dime” passengers, charging cover fees for specialty dining and popular onboard activities as well as for wifi, beverages, and gratuities. However, for the most part, small-ship lines have embraced an all-inclusive — or mostly-inclusive — pricing structure. For example, fares often include specialty dining, alcoholic beverages, wifi, and gratuities. Regent and UnCruise Adventures even include shore excursions. While Windstar and Star Clippers are not all-inclusive, the former offers an $89 per day “All-In” package, which includes cocktails, wifi, and gratuities.
6. Incredible Food-Centric Programming
Enjoying the authentic flavors of a destination has become a must for many travelers. Fortunately, a handful of small-ship cruises serve up plenty of opportunities to experience chef-led market tours, local cooking classes, and other culinary-focused activities. Silversea, for example, has introduced its immersive S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) program aboard its newest ship, Silver Moon, while Windstar maintains an ongoing relationship with the acclaimed James Beard Foundation.
7. Culturally Enriching Activities
Travelers who enjoy interacting with locals and learning about a destination’s culture and traditions will have ample opportunity to do so. Paul Gauguin Cruises, UnCruise Adventures, Star Clippers, and SeaDream Yacht Club all invite local entertainers on board to perform for their guests. The cruise lines also incorporate locally owned businesses and other locales — from wineries to farms to native villages — into shore excursions.
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