Photo courtesy of Sea Dream Yacht Club
There is a lot of excitement these days in the world of cruising with all the new ships recently or soon to be launched. Much of this excitement is focused on the mega ships - the ones with 4000+ passengers. I must say, they are beautiful, with all the "latest and greatest" on board, new technology, new restaurants and even a race track on the top deck of the Norwegian Bliss coming in May. Imagine that!
As an avid cruiser, I understand the lure of all these amenities. The ships have become destinations in of themselves. Perfect for a certain group of travelers.
Under the radar, though, are plenty of small ship cruises. New ships and new itineraries, for those seeking a very different experience from the bigger ships. Adventure, expedition, luxury, river, sailing, yachting - as small as 12 passengers up to about 700 - lots of options to be had!
Full disclosure, the largest ship I have been on had 2500 passengers. Without a doubt, I enjoyed the cruise, and for this itinerary it was a good fit. But these days I am naturally pulled towards smaller ship experiences, for many of the same reasons as other seasoned travelers. It's all about the experience.
Photo courtesy of Star Clippers
More intimate environment
There are many things people enjoy about cruising. One is meeting new people - learning about them, where they are from, their life experiences, where they have traveled and where they want to go next. I find this absolutely fascinating and have made some awesome (and lasting) friendships over the years. And I've gotten great ideas for future trips! The more intimate environment on smaller ships is naturally conducive to meeting more people. On bigger ships, especially the mega ships, one is lucky to see the same people more than a couple of times on a sailing. On small ships you see just about everyone every day. I am always amazed with the wonderful people I get to know, including the staff.
Less formal - quite casual
Myth breaker! Many believe that small ships, especially river and luxury, are formal and a bit pretentious, uncomfortable. Far from it. In fact, most (if not all) are actually more casual and relaxing than the bigger ships. Few, if any have a formal night. Country club casual is the trend. If you are one that likes to dress for the stars, you certainly can, but if this isn't your style (any more or never was), no worries. Some cruise lines even allow (nice) jeans at dinner, and on the adventure cruises you can even come in shorts. So nice not having to pack extra set of clothes!
Avalon Rhine River cruise
Small ship cruising is well known for its exceptional customer service. They get to know you (by name), what you like (and don't like). Imagine the staff knowing you after a half day on board..... won't find that on a big ship. Those little extras really add up to make the experience exceptional. That's what it's all about, right? Exceptional experiences.
Photo courtesy of Sea Dream Yacht Club
More elbow room - fewer and smaller crowds
Smaller crowds, fewer lines - this is a big thing. Like me, many want "elbow room", and small ships are great with this. Security lines, tenders, dinner seatings, morning buffetts. Crowds and lines are to be expected on the bigger ships as they are serving thousands of people. Just the opposite on smaller cruises. Getting on/off the ship is fairly quick. No throngs of people in port, arriving with 1000's of other passengers bee lining it to the souvenir shops. Dining venues often offer open seating or one seating so you can eat when you want and with whom you want. Lounge areas have plenty of room - no having to scramble for seats during port talks or happy hour. And ample lounge chairs around the pool areas or sun decks. You can also often find quiet areas, like libraries or "nooks".. And to repeat the note above - with smaller numbers of people to serve comes a much higher level of personalized service.
Go barging on European Waterways
New ports of call - go where the big ships can't
This is the #1 reason why people choose small ship cruising. The iconic ports that most cruise lines visit have all been explored. Experiencing something new, different and unique is tops. So instead of visiting the same ports on an Alaskan inside passage cruise, imagine finding hidden fjords to watch a pod of whales play and feed. Imagine sailing through the heart of a country on a river cruise, walking through small towns or iconic cities, savoring the history and interaction with locals. Imagine experiencing the pristine beauty that Mother Nature has to offer in the more remote areas of the world - the fjords of the Chilean Patagonia, polar bears in Spitzsbergen, the Northern Lights in Norway, the islands of Tahiti. Or imagine a laid back exploration of quaint towns along the Maine coast, the Mississippi River, smaller ports along the Italian and French coasts or on European canal barge with visits to nearby wineries. So many options!
Sea Dream traveling through the Corinth Canal
Small ship cruising in Tahiti (courtesy of Paul Gauguin), the Panama Canal and
Alaska (courtesy of UnCruise) and Croatia (courtesy of Sea Dreams Yacht Club)
Small ship cruising is a fast growing trend, and for good reason. When it comes to cruising, the overall experience is exceptional - hard to beat!
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder