Cruising is one of the most stress-free ways to travel, and small ship cruises make for an especially unique and tailored experience. Small ship cruises can take you on a path less traveled, where traditional large cruise ships simply can't go. These cruises are far more intimate, taking you through peaceful rivers and small towns, giving you greater opportunities to socialize with other passengers and the crew.
A small ship cruise can offer a totally different experience, even if you're going to popular cruise destinations like the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. A smaller ship is more likely to be able to dock directly at your destination, saving you the hassle and time of being transported by smaller boats to the port.
The casual atmosphere on a small ship cruise feels more like a community instead of a small city at sea, making this a great vacation, whether you're with family or traveling solo and hoping to make a few friends along the way.
Who says you need a backpack and a rail pass to travel around Central Europe? You can take a small boat cruise on the Danube through big cities like Budapest, Vienna, and Bratislava as well as other small towns in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. With ample time to explore, you'll be able to walk around old European squares, take in the architecture, and maybe even catch some classical music performances before returning to the ship to rest. Spring and fall are great times to travel through Central Europe when the temperatures are mild and the crowds are lighter.
With secluded islands and gorgeous beaches, the Mediterranean is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. You can tour the Greek islands, where you might find yourself hiking in Santorini or lounging with a cocktail in Mykonos. A small ship cruise can also help you discover other exotic seaside destinations in Croatia, Malta, and Mallorca -- just to name a few. To enjoy a swim in the Mediterranean Sea, you're best off visiting late summer when the waters are still warm and the crowds have begun to die down.
With thousands of islands scattered throughout the region, one of the best ways to see more off-beat parts of Southeast Asia is to take a small ship cruise. You might find yourself on an adventure cruise that will take you to see the Komodo dragons on Rinca National Park and the breathtaking temples in Bali. The picturesque beaches of Thailand also await you, offering equal parts laid-back relaxation and raucous parties. The best time of year to cruise around the area is during the dry season, which takes place between May and September.
For a magical wintery cruise, you can take advantage of the small ship cruises to Patagonia. The southern region of South America includes the southern tip of Chile and Argentina and the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. This exciting trip will take you through fjords, where you can hike on glaciers and see seals and penguins in their natural habitat. For safety reasons, the cruises only run during the summer, which is between October and March in the Southern Hemisphere.
What to Look for in a Small Ship Cruise
The main benefits of a small cruise are visiting places that you can't go to on a large cruise liner and having a closely tailored boutique experience. As such, you should look for a small ship cruise that has the amenities and itinerary you're looking for. There is a greater variety of options, so it's less likely you'll have to settle for something that doesn't work for you. Reading other traveler reviews can help you decide what cruise is best for you.
Average Small Ship Cruise Cost & Length
Most small ship cruises are around seven days in length, though there are some that are shorter and some that are longer, including those as long as three or four weeks. The cost depends primarily on length as well as the destination. For instance, cruises to Patagonia, which only run for certain months of the year, can be more expensive on average. Since small ship cruises are often more upscale than a massive ship, the cost will be greater, occasionally upwards of $6,000-$8,000.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
When packing for a small ship cruise, one important item to include is a small day bag where you can take essentials like sunblock, your camera, an umbrella, or a jacket. This way, when you're off the ship exploring the port of call, you'll have everything you need handy. Small ship cruises are generally fairly casual, but you may want to bring a few nice outfits to go out in. Generally, the equipment you'll need for excursions and activities will be available for rent or be provided as part of the cost of the excursion.
When planning a cruise, it's important to keep in mind that neither the cost nor the itinerary account for travel to and from the ports you'll be sailing from. You have to plan carefully to ensure that you have the time and budget for flights as needed to the respective port cities. With river cruises, your starting point will often be different from your endpoint, which adds an extra layer of planning.
Qualification & Training
Some activities like diving in coral reefs may require you to be scuba certified. If you are, you should make sure to bring documentation of your license. If you're not and you're planning a small ship cruise that might include this activity, you should contact the cruise line to figure out what diving certification you need to do the activities. Sometimes you can get certified on your trip, but that's uncommon and could be expensive.
As with any outdoor activities, there are a variety of risks involved. Though the cruise ship crew will do everything in their power to work with reliable local operators and keep you safe, you should consider your own level of fitness and ability before undertaking any activity on or off the ship. Avoid anything that might aggravate an existing condition and ensure that you have necessary medications when you disembark at your ports of call.
Though rare, accidents can happen. Follow all onboard crew instructions and make sure you know where to find your life jacket and where to go in case of an emergency that requires evacuation. You should be vigilant in some ports around the world, as scams and pickpockets often target travelers. Generally, you should only do excursions that are offered through your cruise, which will ensure that they are safe and also that you'll get back to port before your cruise continues on its way.