By Heidi Sarna.
Small ships don’t have playrooms, video arcades and waterslides like the mega ships do. In some cases there aren’t even TVs in the cabins and an Internet connection may be spotty or non-existent. Small ships cruises are all about the destination and sometimes also the novelty of traveling aboard a cool sailing ship or interesting river boat. More than anything else, small-ship cruising for families works when the itinerary is chock full of active things to do on shore. It’s better still if there are special family departures (with activities and pricing geared to families), which some small-ship lines like Lindblad Expeditions and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offer in the summer. Opportunities to see wildlife are a huge plus and so are fun ways (think castles and forts) to expose kids to history. A small-ship cruise can be a wonderful learning experience for children and considering the intimate surroundings, a great bonding opportunity for the whole family. Generally, small ships work best for families with children over about age 10; for younger kids there are potential safety issues to consider, from spindly railings and ladders or steep stairs to climb, to getting in and out of zodiac boats and navigating wet landings, narrow gangways and interactions with wildlife.
Here are our top 5 small-ship itinerary picks for families with kids over age 10.
It’s all about the wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. Being able to get within inches of an adorable seal pup frolicking on the beach or near a flock of pink flamingos can be a life-changing experience for kids. On a Galapagos cruise, every day there are shore excursions and/or activities in the water, so there is zero change of getting bored.
Galapagos highlights for families include:
Seeing seals, giant tortoises, iguanas and endless wildlife up close
Zodiac boat rides
It’s a no-brainer. Most kids love swimming in the ocean and playing in the sand, and the Caribbean harbors the world’s best beaches. There are also rainforest hikes in some ports and visits to old forts where cannons still point out towards the sea where enemy galleons once arrived ready for battle. Today, many small-ship cruises in the Caribbean are aboard sailing ships and they’re inherently adventurous to any Jack Sparrow loving kid.
Family-friendly Caribbean highlights include:
Greece offers families a bit of everything, from ancient history and mythology that comes alive in the islands’ eons-old amphitheatres, stadiums, libraries and temples to cool beaches framed by interesting rock formations. The food is excellent and the adventures are many — my twin sons will never forget a ride on a motor scooter (one sharing with me and the other with my husband) around the gorgeous (and quiet) island of Amorgos a few summers ago when they were 11.
Highlights of small-ship family-friendly cruises around the Greek Isles include:
Motor scooter rides
Vast, unspoiled tracts of forest and stunning fjords, Alaska is an ideal destination for nature-loving families. Compared to the many mega ships that visit Alaska’s Inside Passage, small-ship cruises can get you much closer to the glaciers, whales and bears everyone goes there to see, as they are able to slip into narrow passageways and fjords.
Alaska small-ship cruise highlights include:
This country of just five million people is filled with stunning natural beauty, from its fjord-lined coast that can be enjoyed on family-friendly hikes to its mountainous interior one can explore by trains or buses that zigzag up and down mountain roads. Norway’s maritime and Viking history are also appealing to children, not to mention all of those cute trolls.
Highlights of small-ship Norwegian Fjords cruises include: