Quirky Cruise
December 18, 2017

5 Types of Small Ship Cruises

To help you browse, search, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, QuirkyCruise covers five different types of small ship cruises that ply the waterways of the world carrying fewer than 300 passengers — coastal, expedition, oceangoing, river and sailing ships.


To see our full list of small ship cruise lines, click here.

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Perhaps the hardest category to pin down, coastal ships cruise in open waters, but usually stay close to land so they may call at numerous ports and islands, and enter bays, canals, lakes, and rivers. Examples are the Norwegian coastal service linking many towns and cities facing the North Sea, and US-flag coastal ships plying between the New England Islands, the Intracoastal Waterway and Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Croatian coast (Mediterranean) and the islands of Japan make excellent coastal cruising itineraries.




Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

These have a distinctive learning element and bring to mind a sense of adventure whether it’s visiting remote peoples in the South Pacific or plying the Upper Amazon; looking for rare birds and exotic animals along Australia’s Kimberley Coast or in Central America; cruising amongst amazing, and often colorful, ice formations in Antarctica; and encountering dramatic landscapes in Patagonia. Trained experts give talks aboard and lead active outings ashore





Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Designed for the open seas, travel between continents or from the mainland to islands well out to sea, oceangoing ships also offer port-rich cruises such as between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean or from Great Britain to Baltic Sea ports. Some oceangoing ships are also used for expedition itineraries








River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Easy to identify, they offer a hugely popular means to get into the interior of a country or continent. As a matter of course, river boats may also ply canals and cross bays and lakes to cover many hundreds of island water miles. Europe, Asia, and North America offer the most diverse opportunities for river cruising, while South America brings to mind the Amazon and its numerous tributaries, and Africa the Nile but not much else of any great popularity.





Sailing Ships

Sailing small ship cruises

Sagitta * Photo: Island Windjammers

This group comes under a broad umbrella, from the sails providing the main means of propulsion, to using wind power when the conditions are ideal, or as window dressing with the principal push coming from diesel engines. Sailing ships of all three variations have a majesty and beauty all their own. Most are found amongst islands in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and in the South Pacific and Indonesia, with repositioning transoceanic crossings such as between Europe and the Caribbean drawing the most ardent sailors.









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All Feature Articles, Coastal Feature Articles, Coastal Ship & Line Reviews, Expedition Feature Articles, Expedition Ship & Line Reviews, Feature Articles, How to Choose articles, Oceangoing Feature Articles, Oceangoing Ship & Line Reviews, Other topics, River Feature Articles, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Sailing Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, Top 10s, Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. Claire and Tom - 4 years ago

    Love this site, keep up the good work

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