Menu
Menu
small cruise ships types

91 Small Ship Cruise Lines By Type

We’re the ONLY travel site out there that covers so many small-ship cruise lines in reviews, feature articles and photos — we’re up to 91 small-ship cruise lines and counting! QuirkyCruise.com offers original, quality writing about this wonderful corner of the travel world.

To help you browse, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, we categorize our 91 small ship lines (with vessels under 300 passengers) into 5 cruise types:

Coastal Ships  ✴️ Expedition Ships   ✴️  Oceangoing Ships   ✴️  River Boats   ✴️  Sailing Ships

 

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.

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Argyll Cruising

Alaska Marine Highway

American Cruise Lines

Atlas Ocean Tours

Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises

Croisières Jacques-Cartier

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

Hebridean Island Cruises

Hurtigruten

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Majestic Line

Marine Link Tours

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pacific Catalyst

Pandaw River Cruises

Patricia Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

SeaDream Yacht Club

UnCruise Adventures

Victory Cruise Lines

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.

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Aurora Expeditions

Australis

Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition

Xpedition

Coral Expeditions

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

G Adventures

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises

Haumana Cruises

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Overseas Adventure Travel

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Quasar Expeditions

Seabourn Expeditions

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

Silversea Expeditions

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Zegrahm Expeditions

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.

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Compagnie Polynesienne

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Ponant

SeaDream Yacht Club

Silverseas Cruises

Tauck

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

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. This section also include canal barges.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AMAWaterways

American Cruise Lines

American Queen Steamboat Company

Aqua Expeditions

A-Rosa

Avalon Waterways

Barge Lady Cruises

Blount Small Ship Adventures

CroisiEurope

Crystal River Cruises

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Emerald Waterways

French America Line

G Adventures

Gota Canal Steamship Company

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Le Boat

Lindblad Expeditions

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Murray River Cruises

Ontario Waterway Cruises Inc.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pearl Seas Cruises

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

Riviera River Cruises

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Scenic Cruises

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Vantage World Travel

Victoria Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines

Viking River Cruises

Sailing Ships

Sea Cloud

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.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

G Adventures

Lindblad

Oceanwide Expeditions

Ponant

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Sea Cloud Cruises

Silhouette Cruises

Silolona Sojourns

Star Clippers

Trinity Sailing

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

 

And if you’ve been on a small-ship cruise lately, we’d love to hear about it in our Reader Reviews section!  

If you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for our QuirkyCruise Newsletter for monthly updates!

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

By Ted Scull.

For small ship cruising, it is not always fair winds and calm seas. Some parts of the world see more chop than others, and to be in the know before booking, here below are the regions that have a bit of a reputation.

Now let’s begin with the good news. Advance weather forecasts give ship captains ample warning to steer clear of a hurricane’s track by altering course. A diversion may result in skipping a port or two and substituting others, and while you might still feel the swell from the storm, it is unlikely that the ship’s movement will be more than a gentle rise and fall.

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

Some major white water in the Atlantic, off Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Stabilizers help reduce side-to-side rolling, but not the up and down pitching motions into oncoming swells. The smaller the small ship, the less likely it will have the stabilizing fins. Large cruise ships’ massive blunt bows tend to slam into head seas, and to lessen the unpleasant sensation, the captain may drastically reduce his speed to lessen the impact.

The bodies of water below have the potential for the being the choppiest in world; in no particular order:

1)  Caribbean

The Caribbean’s hurricane season (roughly June to October) tops the list in terms of the number of passengers potentially affected because of the large number of ships cruising here. However, with so many alternative routes and ports of call, in most instances, ships can avoid the storm’s fury and still provide a satisfying cruise.

2)  North Atlantic

The North Atlantic is notorious for its storms at almost any time of the year, and the further north the track the more likely it is to encounter some rough seas along the multi-islands’ passage between the North of Scotland, Shetland/Orkney, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Canadian maritime provinces and/or the U.S. East Coast. It is positive thinking to note that all islands have a lee side.

The ships that reposition seasonally via the Atlantic between the Mediterranean/Iberia and the Caribbean/Florida are much less likely to encounter storms. However, ships that sail between Northern European ports, Iberia and the Mediterranean pass through the Bay of Biscay. This body of water, west of France and north of Spain, has a long anecdotal history especially with Brits.

In my experience — 16 passages — only one (Santander to Portsmouth) was truly tempestuous and that was quite enough for everybody on board, including me who likes a bit of chop.

3)  Mediterranean

Speaking of the Mediterranean, the Mistral that roars down the Rhone Valley in France and then across the Western Med can stir up heavy seas in winter and spring as does the Meltemi in summer in the Greek Islands. I was aboard the ROYAL CLIPPER during a powerful Mistral and the sail-laden ship reached its maximum hull speed. It was exhilarating and more than a bit dramatic.

4)  Drake Passage

The dreaded Drake Passage between Ushuaia, Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula has a well-deserved reputation, and happily any storm that does occur rarely lasts more than 12 to 24 hours. If you are susceptible to mal de mer, be prepared to deal with any eventuality because the expedition is well worth it.

Longer itineraries that include the Falklands and South Georgia expand the chances for stormy weather.

Cowabunga dude!! That's some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cowabunga dude!! That’s some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

5)  Gulf of Alaska

The Inside Passage to and from Alaska may be well protected apart from a few short-open sea stretches, while ships traversing the Gulf of Alaska to Seward, on the other hand, may encounter North Pacific storms or swells from a more distant storm.

6)  Southeast & East Asia

Typhoons are an occasional worry in Southeast and East Asia from the South China Sea north to Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, but course alterations can minimize discomfort unless the ship must call at a disembarkation port, then arrivals may be delayed until the waters calm.

7)  Trans-Tasman Passage

The Trans-Tasman passage between Australia and New Zealand and the Bass Strait between Southeast Australia and the island of Tasmania can kick up a mighty storm, but few small ships venture into these southern waters.

8)  Point Judith

The only time I ever felt I might be seasick was standing at the bow of a small ship rounding Point Judith where Narragansett Bay meets Long Island Sound. The sea becomes confused here due to colliding waters, and by simply moving amidships, the unpleasant sensation eased.

Charles Darwin was seasick more than not during his three-year voyage on the Beagle, but back then there were few remedies, and today they are many. A truism is that everyone reacts differently, so there is no easy answer. Still, for the small percentage that do experience mal de mer, it is no picnic. Get professional advice before you go.

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US based Tour Operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Welcome to the first in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Part 1: Elise & Tim Chuck Corporate Life to Hit the Road & the High Seas

By Elise Lentz.

How we wound up at sea is a voyage in and of itself…

We are high school sweethearts and credit our 30-year marriage to having similar goals and dreams in life. This means we got into this business because Tim and I had an early mid-life crisis together.

We were both working corporate jobs and never seemed to have enough quality time together, let alone have the time to take a true vacation. We had a nice house, cars and income — but something was missing. On a whim, I bought a book: Six Month Off: How To Plan, Negotiate & Take The Break You Need Without Burning Bridges Or Going Broke. Who knew that book would lead to us quitting our jobs, selling our house and cars, storing our “treasures,” and buying a 24-foot RV.

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

It all started with a 14-month RV odyssey across the US. * Photo: Elise Lentz

Phase 1 of the Plan

We started the adventure by parking our new RV for a month, and then with two backpacks, our passports, Rick Steves’ Europe through the Back Door, and a Europe train timetable, off to Europe we went. Growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania, this was a big deal for us. It was our first trip outside of the United States and once we got our passports stamped for the first time, all of the fear and trepidation of leaving our corporate jobs began to fade away. Not having an idea of what to expect made it even more exciting.

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

A month backpacking through Europe was the precursor to a life at sea.

We spent one month backpacking through Europe, sleeping in hostels and pensions, and riding the rails. Of all the amazing places it was the kindness of strangers in a foreign land that was most memorable.

Phase 2 of the Plan

After our successful month taking a break exploring Europe, we were now ready to start “phase 2” — a 14-month RV journey across the USA with two mountain bikes strapped on the back. The trip surprised us with beautiful scenery and gracious people, and only a few breakdowns — the RV and once even our bed! (don’t ask).

Back from the RV tour, we realized that we loved being together and traveling, but we needed to figure out how we were going to survive at this long term. I found myself paging through the newspaper and saw an advertisement for a Windstar Trans-Atlantic cruise. Now you’re thinking “how is this going to pay the bills?” I thought the same thing, but we decided to approach this cruise as a two-week life planning session. Try to explain that as a business deduction to the accountant. We were up for two weeks at sea — with little to no TV or Internet. There would be a lot of time to reflect on what was important to us and what we wanted to do “when we grew up.”

Excited about this plan, we made the final payment on the cruise on September 10, 2001. Yep, the day before the horrific 9/11 event that rocked the world. The travel industry took a massive hit and we thought we would be getting a call that the cruise had been canceled. The ship still had to relocate across the Atlantic shortly after — with or without passengers — so the cruise line decided to bring along whomever still wanted to sail.

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

Tim at the bow just before boarding. * Photo: Elise Lentz

On a small ship that holds 148 passengers, there were 21 onboard. Needless to say, two weeks at sea with only 21 people, we all got to know each other well. Searching for our next path in life, Tim and I focused on spending time with the cruise directors. On this ship, it was a “Host & Hostess” couple, which in essence is the cruise director and shore excursion manager.

Talking with them about life onboard, we disembarked the ship with a plan. We wanted to be them….

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

On that 2001 Windstar cruise, Elise & Tim had plenty of time to talk to the crew, including captain Martin Scott.

Jumping in with both feet

First, we needed a plan to gain relevant training and experience in tour management and hospitality. Traveling to Colorado, we attended the International Guide Academy and became certified as tour managers. Armed with a certification, we then spent time working for a ski resort as mountain guides and resort hosts. With a few additional assignments in tourism, we felt ready to pursue our “dream.”

We valued our relationship and vowed to each other that whatever assignment we pursued, we would do it together. Windstar Cruises was one company that needed a team who could work together and share a cabin. As a married couple, spending 14 months full-time in a 24-foot RV, we had already proven that we could survive in small spaces without killing each other.

In life, anything worth pursuing is worth the wait. Persistence paid off, the timing was right — and we were hired.

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes

Hired!

Was it everything we ever thought it would be?

Well let’s save that for another post….

See you soon. — Elise

To read more installments, click here:

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 2)

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 3)

If you like what you’re reading, don’t miss a post and subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com, it’s free!

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Speaking of backpacking through Europe, if you’ve got plans to travel in Spain, here’s a helpful article about Safety in Spain from our friends at Alltherooms.com — Is Spain Safe?

five 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Haumana Cruises

Tips for Booking Small Ship Cruises

By Heidi Sarna.

Small ship cruises are often bound for wonderfully far-flung places that involve complex flights and connections, hotel stays before or after the cruise, and things to figure out like tourist visas, possible inoculations, travel insurance, and what to pack. So definitely count on more planning going into the booking process than for your standard cruise or a trip to a Caribbean resort. But trust us, the extra effort is more than likely to be worth it.

“Small ships provide an ideal means for passengers to engage with the destination that is just not possible aboard a conventional cruise ship — better location in port, more personal service from ship’s staff and while ashore, and more educational opportunities,” says Steve Wellmeier of Poseidon Expeditions.

Like any trip, to book a small-ship cruise you can either use a travel agent to help you or you can book directly with the cruise line.

Either way, before you embark on a small-ship cruise, these 13 tips will help you navigate the options and plan what may easily be the trip of a lifetime.

1. First, figure out if a small-ship cruise is your cup of tea.

If you don’t like crowds, waiting in line or dressing for dinner, and seek memorable experiences way more than material things, then you’re small-ship material. If you love mingling with passengers from all over the world, learning about the destination through lecturers and local guides, prefer local folkloric performances to Vegas-style shows, and getting your feet wet and your hands dirty more than generic luxury, then a quirky small-ship cruise is clearly for you.

“Small ships get to places the others can’t reach and so it’s often more about the destination than the vessel, the entertainment or the number of restaurants,” says Powell Ettinger, director of The Small Cruise Ship Collection.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

2. Take some time to do your own market survey.

It would behoove you to do a bit of homework first, to see the full range of choices out there. QuirkyCruise.com is the prefect place to start your research. We have reviews of 53 small-ship cruise lines, with more in the works, that you can cross reference by the region you’d like to visit or by one of five types of small-ship cruises — oceangoing, rivers, coastal, sailing and expedition. It’s also always a good idea to ask friends and family if they’ve taken a small-ship cruise and what they thought of it.

3. Book directly with the cruise line IF you enjoy the details of trip planning.

Some small-ship cruise line websites allow you to book directly on their site, so if you’re the type who likes to book your own travel and is comfortable choosing a cabin, arranging airfare, deciding yay or nay on travel insurance, booking hotels stays and possibly arranging land tours before or after your cruises, then go for it.

“We have a very easy-to-use booking engine on Pandaw.com for both travel agents and the public,” says Sven Zika of Pandaw Cruises, adding that consumers who book direct on their website must make payment immediately, while travel agents can hold a cabin for two weeks without a deposit.

Many small-ship cruise line websites, however, are not equipped to process direct bookings, so in that case, browse their site to learn about their offerings then call or email them directly to get your questions answered.

“We offer an upscale niche product and the personal contact by phone to share details and specific information is very important,” says Julia Elba of Sea Cloud Cruises.

Booking a small-ship cruise is often a very personal transaction, parallel to the experience itself.

“When they call us, customers can ask questions and have them answered immediately,” says Joy Ackert of Ontario Waterway Cruises. “We are a family business so that first contact is the beginning of making our customers feel like they are going to be coming to visit with friends or family. It creates a very welcoming atmosphere prior to boarding.”

4. Contact a travel agent IF you’d like some hand-holding.

If you have a beloved agent that has helped you or a friend with trip planning before, they’re a great place to start. A good travel agent (and they’re not all good) will know the many options out there and work to match the best small-ship cruise for your personal needs and desires. A good travel agent can help you plan and book airfare, hotels and land-based touring to complement your cruise before it starts or after it’s over. One specializing in small-ship cruises is even better, such as the Small Cruise Ship Collection.

The pros and cons of using a travel agent:

Pros: Someone is guiding you throughout the process, advising and reminding you about things like visas and airfare. Agents may have a special relationship with the lines and may know which cabins are the quietest on a given ship or which itinerary has the best ports. A good travel agent is indispensable. “Even if a line doesn’t pay commissions, a good travel specialist responding to a client request who believes a particular small cruise line is right for that client and destination and budget would simply add their commission to the final price or charge a service fee in some way,” says Mary Kleen, a regional director for Worldview Travel.

Cons: If cruise line X doesn’t pay commissions to travel agents (maybe because they’re too small to justify the cost or have a large in-house sales force, such as Grand Circle Travel), your travel agent may not recommend X to you and only suggest lines that pay them commissions — makes sense for the agents, but you could miss out some great alternatives (see #2, do your homework).

5. For a package deal, book a small-ship cruise through a third-party.

Tour operators put the pieces of the travel package together and sell it, while wholesale travel sellers just sell the packages — for example, a Mekong river cruise bundled with airfare and hotel stays.

Poseidon’s Steve Wellmeier says that because of the more complex reservations required for small-ship cruises, for example to the Polar Regions when travelers naturally have a lot of questions, Poseidon relies on specialty tour operators and wholesalers to help sell their trips including Polar Cruises, ExpeditionTrips.com and AdventureLife.com.

6. Expect to pay more for a small-ship cruise than a standard big-ship cruise.

Most of the time (not all), a small-ship cruise carrying just a few dozen or a few hundred passengers will cost more than a mass-market mega ship carrying thousands of passengers. The small ship lines can’t take advantage of the same level of bulk discounts in procuring supplies, excursions, crew and various port fees.

“Small ships are a terrific antidote to the big ship experience: more and more clients find that they truly love the smaller vessels.  They are amazed by the more personalized service, getting to know many of their fellow passengers much more easily, and having the advantage of far more interesting itineraries where out of the way ports are featured.  From a travel agent’s point of view, it’s generally an easier sell for those reasons, but small-ship cruises are typically a higher-priced ticket as these vessels don’t have the economies of scale of the large ships,” says agent Mary Kleen.

7. In many cases, the price you pay for a small-ship cruise will be the same whether you go through a travel agency or book direct with the cruise line.

Many small-ship cruise lines covered on QuirkyCruise.com, especially the very smallest ones, will endeavor to offer everyone the same rates and discounts, no matter how you book their cruises.

Whether “rack rates or reduced online rates, it’s the same price for agents and public,” says Pandaw’s Zika.

8. Exception to above: The big European river lines often DO discount and sometimes exclusively to travel agents.

They have huge fleets, so they can offer volume discounts to travel agents who book a lot of their cruises.

Uniworld’s Arnelle Kendall says, “Our travel agency partners often have exclusive offers that we’ve negotiated with them that we aren’t able to offer customers that contact Uniworld direct, such as discounts on select sailings, shipboard credits, and special excursions, so customers do receive the best offer when going through a travel agency.”

9. Booking way in advance — a year or more — is a good idea in certain cases.

Unlike big ships with thousands of cabins, small ships have far fewer cabins to fill up, so with regions that have a short cruising season — Antarctica is just four months long, for example — it’s a good idea to book a year or more ahead if you really have your heart set on going on a specific date. Additionally, airfares can get booked up and may be more expensive if you wait until the last minute.

“If cabin choice is a priority, it is advised to book far in advance. Our upper-tier cabins are the first to book,” says Abercrombie & Kent’s Jean Fawcett.

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud's opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud’s opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

10. Book last minute — a few months or few weeks before — IF you’re flexible … 

Booking last minute works if you’re flexible with where and when you go, the cabin category and the cost of airfare. There often are last-minute deals especially during the off-season if ships haven’t filled up. For example, European river cruises are often eager for passengers early or late in the season, and often Mekong River cruise rates tend to go down in March and April when the river levels are low and it’s very hot.

11. It can’t hurt if a cruise line is a member of a reputable trade group.

Some of the top travel industry trade organizations that small-ship cruise lines might belong to include The International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, Virtuoso (global network of travel agents, cruise lines and other suppliers connected to the luxury end of the travel industry), and CLIA (Cruise Line International Association, a global cruise industry trade organization).

.

.

12. Nose around Trip Advisor and other ombudsman-like sites.

It’s not a good sign if the cruise line, tour operator or travel agent you’re dealing with has been consistently trashed on Trip Advisor or if multiple complaints have been filed with organizations like the Better Business Bureau.

13. Run for the hills if you see red flags.

Charlie Funk, co-owner of the travel agency Just Cruisin’ Plus for the past 35 years, says don’t do business with any small-ship cruise line that doesn’t accept credit cards and that requires full payment at the time of booking even if the cruise is a year or more away. In his experience, Funk says these two factors are early warning signs of cash flow issues, financial instability and impending bankruptcy. He cautions against patronizing a cruise line that imposes punitive cancellation penalties on the deposit rather than after final payment; processes credit cards on foreign banks and charges those foreign processing fees to the client; and fails to address complaints or problems in a timely manner.

PollypaleGreen2 copy

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Richard White

Heidi posed some questions to polar expedition expert Richard White, who has spent years at the ends of the earth as a guide, educator and wildlife lover. Richard works for EYOS, a purveyor of luxury yacht cruises to the world’s most coveted and remote places. In the past he’s also guided for Lindblad Expeditions. Richard’s an excellent photographer as well; click here for his Antarctica photo essay. Read Part 2 of our Q&A with Richard.

Connect with him on instagram @richthebirder or richard@eyos-expeditions.com.

 

QC: Do you have a favorite part of the poles?

Richard: The sub-Antarctic islands — whether places like South Georgia or the islands to the south of New Zealand. There is more biological diversity in those regions, and as wildlife is my main interest, diversity will always be a draw. It’s a perfect day if you get lucky with a great wildlife encounter or great weather and beautiful light.

They are also less visited than the Antarctic Peninsula, so that is an added attraction.

 

QC: What still makes you gasp in wonder?

Richard: A killer whale surfacing next to a Zodiac…

Killer whale surfaces next to zodiac driven by Richard. * Photo: Sean Todd

Killer whale surfaces next to zodiac driven by Richard. * Photo: Sean Todd

QC: How many trips have you taken to Antarctica?

Richard: I have never kept a count of how may trips I have done. In part because there is no simple way to measure. For example, how does a six-week research voyage compare with four 10-day trips? Or five weeks with eight people on a 20-metre sailboat compare with 10 days on a 200-passenger vessel?

All I can tell you is that my first trip was in 1998 as a researcher, my first as a guide in 2003, and I have missed two seasons since 1998.

So probably more than 25…

 

QC: If you have one golden message for small ship cruise passengers in Antarctica, what is it?

Richard: The one golden message is go. Don’t debate whether it is worth it, just go. And go for as long as you can afford (both in financial and temporal terms), and on as small a vessel as you will feel comfortable.

And then when you are there, seek out your own moments and your own experience. You will be with others, some of whom will be strangers, in close proximity, for days, maybe weeks. But don’t just accept their experience or the shared experience. Make the effort to find some personal space, or with a partner, and try to hold that moment and take in the scale of what you are experiencing.

Gentoo penguins nesting at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Richard White

Gentoo penguins nesting at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Richard White

QC: Do you get stir crazy if you’re “home” for more than a month or two?

Richard: No. It is a holiday, I can do my own thing, why would I go crazy? And assuming I can get out and walk in some kind of green space, or open space, then I can be happy anywhere.

 

Rafflesia plant. * Photo: Richard White

Rafflesia plant. * Photo: Richard White

QC: What’s packing like for you? You must be expert by now.

Richard: Packing is easy, yes. A few items of favourite tried and tested gear. And so much relies on an efficient laundry system on board.

 

QC: Can you imagine not traveling and guiding? Do you want to do it until you can’t physically handle it?

Richard: I don’t have a retirement package, so I guess I will die in the saddle…

 

QC: “Who” is your favorite kind of passenger? Least favorite?

Richard: There is no simple answer to this, but I will try.

Favourite — engaged. And then the opposite end of that spectrum. Everyone finds their own level of engagement, so it is not that one approach is “right” or “wrong.”  I guess another way to answer would be “happy” and “grumpy.”  But some people are happy when grumpy, it is their “normal.”

 

QC: After working for a few months straight, do you want to hide from people?

Richard: It really depends on the people. See above.

 

QC: How many airline miles do you have?

Richard: Not as many as you might think. I might only fly six times a year with work if I work three times, two-month contracts each time.

 

QC: If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be?

Richard: Probably living on an island studying seabirds. And I have a passion for island restoration programmes — getting rid of non-native species to restore island ecology. It can be very effective conservation work, although not cheap. We are all hoping that South Georgia has been cleared of rats through recent efforts by the South Georgia Heritage Trust — this would be a huge result.

Stork-billed Kingfisher in the Hindhede Nature Park. *Photo: Richard White

Stork-billed Kingfisher in the Hindhede Nature Park. *Photo: Richard White

QC: Besides your college degree, do you have other certifications?

Richard: I have qualifications as a Zodiac driver and in gun handling and first aid.

They are necessary — it is getting harder to find work without the relevant pieces of paper. One of the challenges the industry faces as it grows is finding new talent. Qualifications are one way, but should never replace relevant experience. But it is easy to get caught in a classic Catch 22 where you cannot get one without the other.

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author.  All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

QuirkyCruise finds out more about Nicola Caygill, managing director and owner of Micro-Cruising, an Australia-based wholesaler sourcing small ship cruises for travel agents.

What is Micro-Cruising?

Nicola : Micro-Cruising is a travel wholesaler that sources small ship cruises for travel agents and tour operators in Australia and worldwide, specializing in ships carrying 130 passengers or less. Anything larger changes the dynamic; if you have to queue up at mealtime, the ship is too big.

What is your background?

Nicola: I started Micro-Cruising in 2013. Before that I worked for several years in business development for Orion Expeditions (later bought by Lindblad Expeditions) and Quark Expeditions. Education-wise, I have two degrees in tourism.

What are your most popular destinations?

Nicola: Croatia, Greece, France, the Maldives, Mekong River, Burma, Fiji, Alaska, and Antarctica, are the most popular places requested for our small ship cruises.

What kinds of experiences do you offer?

Nicola: The small ship cruises we offer are amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and many are largely unknown, from offering guests the chance to meet the Sea Gypsies of the Mergui Archipelago, to cruising on Grace Kelly’s honeymoon yacht in the Galapagos. Choose from relaxing on 100-year-old converted solid teak rice barges in Thailand, sailing aboard Agatha’s Christies “Death on the Nile’ river boat, cruising on a tug boat in Alaska, or taking over a private one-cabin phinisi in Indonesia with a staff of 7 including a full time masseuse.

How many vessels do you represent?

Nicola: We’re knowledgeable about more than 600 vessels including mega yachts, sailing yachts, catamarans, expedition vessels, river vessels, gulets, dhonis, junks, barges, tall ships, houseboats, tugboats and phinisis.

What are your personal favorite regions for small-ship cruising?

Nicola: This is like choosing between children for me!  Personally, because I’m interested in the history of the explorers who went there, I loved my two cruises on both sides of Antarctica — the tried and true Antarctic Peninsula cruise off the coast of South America as well as the less travelled route on the other side to see the Australian and New Zealand Sub Antarctic Islands including Macquarie Island.  I love small ship cruising because I want to get away from the madding crowds and experience a truly authentic cultural experience without being overwhelmed by a lot of other tourists. Small ships leave a small footprint and don’t overwhelm the destination. That means a lot to me.

Micro-Cruising Pty Ltd is based in Sydney, Australia, and is an AFTA (Australian Federation of Travel Agents) member and ATAS (AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme) accredited. Awards and partnerships include preferred relationships with agent groups and a partnership with Cruiseco, the leading Consortium of Cruise Travel Specialists in the Southern Hemisphere. For more information go to www.micro-cruising.com.au.

small ship cruise reading list

Great Travel Books to Read Before Your Next Small Ship Cruise

by Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

Here are some of QuirkyCruise’s favorite novels and non-fiction books that relate in some way, shape or form to small ship cruises and the places they go. Reading a good book or two before or during your quirky cruise adds context and unfathomable depth to your voyage!

This list is a work in progress and we’d love to hear what your favorite travel books are. Drop us a line below.

Fiction

 

State of Wonder (fiction, 2011)
by Anne Patchett
Themes: Brazil, Amazon River, scientist goes off the grid

A 42-year-old research scientist working for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, is sent to Brazil to locate the remains of her deceased lab mate, who was himself there to check on another “lost” scientist. The trio burrows into the jungles of the Amazon in search of a secret fertility chemical found in the rare bark of a tree that prolongs the fertility of an isolated Amazonian tribe well into their 70s.

 

The Woman in Cabin 10 (fiction, 2016)
by Ruth Ware
Themes: Norwegian fjords, posh yachts

This page-turning crime thriller takes place on a small luxury yacht sailing along the Norwegian coast with a group of travel writers who are being wine and dined; one of them inadvertently becomes party to a murder.

 

*

The Glass Palace (fiction, 2000)
by Amitav Ghosh
Themes: Colonial-era Burma & India, Irrawaddy River

Set in Burma, India, Bengal and Malaya in the late 19th- to mid-20th centuries, this epic novel provides a great historic framework for the region from the prospective of native inhabitants under the thumb of the colonials, with war, business and a love story or two worked into the narrative. A must-read if you’re thinking about a river cruise in Myanmar.

 

The Lifeboat (fiction, 2012)
by Charlotte Rogan
Themes: Transatlantic crossings, adventure, shipwrecks

The heroine’s honeymoon cruise is a disaster and she finds herself crammed into a lifeboat drifting aimlessly at sea for weeks, her destiny turned upside down. The novel touches on many compelling themes, from the will to survive to grace, hysteria and the shackles of gender roles in the early 20th century.

 

Ship of Fools (fiction, 1962)
by Katharine Anne Porter
Themes: Transatlantic crossings, classic liners

The setting is a German passenger ship sailing from Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany in the period before World War II with an eclectic passenger list that interacts in many different ways, from exhibiting blatant prejudicial beliefs to falling into love affairs and breaking up.  An excellent film of the same name came out in 1965 with a celebrity cast of characters.

 

Roseanna (fiction, 1965)
by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (translated form Swedish to English by Lois Roth)
Themes: Sweden, Gota Canal

The historic Gota canal serves as the page-turning backdrop of this Ed McBain-esque murder mystery which, like the canal, spans from Gothenburg to Stockholm and will give your small ship cruise experience a whole new macabre dimension.

 

The India Tea Series:
The Tea Planter’s Daughter, The Tea Planter’s Bride, The Girl from the Tea Garden
(fiction, 2012-2016)
By Janet MacLeod Trotter
Themes: India, Assam, colonial-era tea plantations, love and relationships

This trio of historic romances are family sagas set against the backdrop of tea plantations in early 20th-century India, when the country was still under the British Raj, but at the tail end of the Empire. The books provide great background for Brahmaputra River cruises in Assam, India. The heroines’ romantic prospects and family obligations make for page-turning reads; my good friend Sue P loved this trilogy.

 

Old Man and the Sea (fiction, 1951)
by Ernest Hemingway
Themes: Cuba, Caribbean, Fishing

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novella by the great Hemmingway about an old man and a big marlin. It’s a classic story of struggle and redemption, with undercurrents of the socioeconomics of the day.

Non-Fiction

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (non-fiction, 1959)
by Alfred Lansing
Themes: Antarctica, exploration, survival

There are many books written about polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and this is the most well-known. Lansing’s account of Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic continent in 1914 aboard the three-masted barquentine Endurance and how the 28-man crew survived there for almost two years is riveting. The book is based on the diaries of the men on the expedition, all of whom miraculously survived to tell their tales, and is an excellent read before small ship cruises to Antarctica.

 

Travels in Alaska (non-fiction, 1915)
by John Muir
Themes: Alaska, wildlife, nature

The famous naturalist’s vivid observations of Alaska’s wildlife, landscape, waterways and people paint a lovely picture of a state that is still very remote and untouched a century later. This is a must-read before a cruise to Alaska; small ships take you as close to Muir’s Alaska as you can get today.

 

Cloud Forest (non-fiction, 1961)
By Peter Matthiessen
Themes: Amazon rainforest & river, its sheer vastness

Peter Matthiessen crisscrossed 20,000 miles of the South American wilderness, from the Amazon rain forests to Machu Picchu, high in the Andes, down to Tierra del Fuego, following in the footsteps of explorers before him. Matthiessen sums up his ode to the great inscrutable Amazon like this: “The Amazon remains as sullen and intractable as it ever was.”

 

Old Glory: An American Voyage (non-fiction, 1981)
by Jonathan Raban
Themes: Mississippi River, American South

This British writer buys a small outboard boat and begins a long journey south along the Mississippi from Minneapolis to the Delta country below New Orleans. He weaves a past and present tale during his voyage that provides encounters with people along the way, the nature of the waterborne commerce hauled by rafts of barges, the boom and bust riverside towns and cities, and why they sprung up, prospered and in many cases, declined with the coming of the railroads and highways and decline of industry. Definitely read this before Mississippi River cruises.

 

Slow Boats to China (non-fiction, 1981)
by Gavin Young
Themes: China, Southeast Asia, round-the-world voyages

As a British foreign correspondent, he weaves an account of traveling almost entirely by sea from Piraeus, the port for Athens, via the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia to Canton (Guangzhou) on the China coast not far from Hong Kong, an adventurous journey of seven months. The 23 vessels he strings together to get him there are as varied as the people he meets and include ferries, cargo and passenger ships, sailing dhows, and tugs.

 

Slow Boats Home (non-fiction, 1985)
by Gavin Young
Themes: China, Southeast Asia, Africa, round-the-world voyages

The sequel picks up the tale in China and continues across the Pacific, around Cape Horn and via the West African coast back to England. It is much more difficult for the author to link up a similar kaleidoscope of ships, so much of the journey is aboard a Soviet ship with mostly Commonwealth retirees. Breeze through that part and the two volumes make a fine round-the-world read.

 

The Log from the Sea of Cortez (non-fiction, 1941)
by John Steinbeck
Themes: Baja California, Sea of Cortez, wildlife

This famous American writer travels with a friend aboard a small seagoing vessel on a marine biology expedition in 1940. The pair leaves from Monterey, California and sails south along Mexico’s Pacific Coast and around the southern tip of Baja California into the Sea of Cortez. The log includes observations of wildlife on land and in the sea, navigation and weather, and the indigenous people they meet in the days before mass tourism arrives. It is a great read while taking a modern-day small ship expedition cruise in this same region with wonderful parallels between then and today’s discoveries.

 

Looking For a Ship (non-fiction, 1990)
by John McPhee
Themes: Merchant marine, South America, Panama Canal

This well-regarded author weaves the story of a seaman trying to find a position on an American ship and who signs on as a second mate aboard the S.S. Stella Lykes for a 42-day voyage from the U.S. South through the Panama Canal and along the west coast of South America. McPhee, along for the ride, hears tales from the crew of other ships as well as what good, bad and ugly transpires daily on board and in ports en route. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the life of the American merchant marine as it withers away due to low cost foreign labor and flags of convenience.

 

Slowly Down the Ganges (non-fiction, 1966)
by Eric Newby
Themes: Ganges River, India

Travel writer Eric Newby recounts the tale of the audacious 1,200-mile journey he and his wife Wanda took down India’s sacred Ganges River, revealing the adventure, frustration, beauty and bewilderment that befell them along the way. A must-read before embarking on your own Ganges small ship river cruise.

 

Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter (non-fiction, 1982)
by Christopher Buckley
Themes: Transtlantic crossings, freighters

Book author, managing editor of Esquire Magazine and presidential speechwriter, Buckley was born of wealth and privilege and hopped on a rough and tumble tramp freighter (cargo ship) across the Atlantic Ocean for the sheer adventure of it. The colorful lives of the crew, extreme weather and endless days at sea provide both grim and hilarious material for this first-hand account of the hardscrabble life of seamen. A great read if you’re considering hopping on board a passenger-freighter for your next holiday.

 

Kon-Tiki (non-fiction, 1990)
by Thor Heyerdahl
Themes: South Pacific, exploration

This fascinating memoir recounts the author’s astonishing three-month, 4,300-nautical-mile adventure across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft in 1947. Norwegian adventurer and anthropologist Heyerdahl and his crew wanted to prove that the islands of the South Pacific had been settled by an ancient race that had traveled thousands of miles by sea to get there, demonstrating that ancient peoples had made great journeys by sea in very primitive “vessels.”  Kon-Tiki is a great read to prepare for small ship cruises to French Polynesia, Fiji and other islands in the South Pacific.

 

A Trilogy of Ocean Liner Voyages by Theodore W. Scull

Ocean Liner Odyssey (non-fiction, 1998)
by Theodore W. Scull
Themes: Transatlantic crossings, Europe & Mediterranean, classic liners

The first volume is a succession of the author’s adventures by sea that begins with early transatlantic crossings on national flag French, British, German, Italian, Dutch and Swedish ships and sailings on smaller passenger vessels within Europe and in the Mediterranean whilst traveling from A to B.

 

Ocean Liner Twilight (non-fiction, 2007)
by Theodore W. Scull
Themes: Around-the-world voyages, classic liners

The sequel continues with an around-the-world voyage stringing together eight large and small liners flying the French, British, Indian and Chinese flags, then continues aboard two long liner voyages to and from Australia, an overland and sea trek from London to Darjeeling located in the mountains, north of Calcutta (Kolkata), and a coastal trip to isolated British Columbia communities.

 

Ocean Liner Sunset (non-fiction, 2017)
by Theodore W. Scull
Themes: Transatlantic liners, passenger-cargo ships, coastal voyages

The last in the series takes readers on coastal voyages to Alaska, Norway, and Turkey; passenger-cargo sailings from South America to New York and from Britain to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena; and crossings on the world’s last transatlantic liners.

 

Classic Seafaring Epics (that don’t end well)

Moby-Dick, or The Whale (fiction, 1851)
by Herman Melville
Themes: New England, whaling

Considered one of the greatest American novels, which interestingly was not popular during Melville’s life time, it recounts the epic adventures of narrator Ishmael as he sails on the whaling ship Pequod under the command of the eccentric and vengeful Captain Ahab who obsessively pursues a great white sperm whale that cost him his leg on a previous voyage. This enduring tale of good vs evil sets the mood for small ship cruises in and around New England, once the whaling capital of the world.

 

The End of the Tether (fiction, 1902)
by Joseph Conrad
Themes: Southeast Asia, sea captains

This novella hangs heavy in the air, like a thick fog on a damp morning. In keeping with the maritime setting of many of Conrad’s melancholy works, to help his struggling daughter, a sea captain in his twilight years is compelled to invest his last 500 pounds in a rickety old steamer and take the helm for runs through the Indonesian archipelago.

small ship cruises copyright

10 Best Small Ship cruises include the Sweden-based Juno

The 10 Quirkiest Cruises.

By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

This list changes in accordance with the tides, our moods, the stock market, and the new and cool cruises we learn about all the time.

Currently, here are our picks of the 10 quirkiest cruises for those who really want to do something different.

Light Vessel Patricia

Trinity House

Trinity House is a centuries-old British organization that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands using its spiffy light vessel PATRICIA. This hardworking little ship that has had Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spending time aboard offers comfy accommodations for 12 passengers.

Join for a week, or two, and observe the inspections and replacements of channel markers and fueling and repairing unmanned lighthouses dotting the islands and rugged coastline. Often the itinerary is not known until a week or two before departure and it may change at sudden notice. The cozy social life aboard is a big draw.

Visit the Trinity House site for more info.

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

M/S Juno on Sweden’s Göta Canal

Göta Canal Steamship Company

Launched in 1874, the 29-cabin M/S JUNO is the world’s oldest registered ship with overnight accommodations, and its journeys along the 19th-century Göta Canal system are a fascinating way to experience small-town Sweden. One of our 10 quirkiest cruises for good reason, JUNO’s 3-night cruise between Gothenburg on the west coast and Söderköping near Stockholm on the east coast (a total of 382 miles) takes you through 58 locks, some single and some in stepped sets.

Charming cabins are like train compartments (bathrooms are shared!) and the dining room serves very taste set meals. Daily excursions include visits to old fortresses, churches and Viking sites, as well as the chance to bike or walk along the tow bath.

The whole experience is wonderfully old fashioned.

Visit the Göta Canal Steamship Co website for more info on this amazing cruise.

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

New York to Chicago via 3 Rivers, 3 Canals & 6 Lakes

Blount Small Ship Adventures

(Rivers = Hudson, Mohawk and Detroit; Canals = Erie, Oswego and Well; Lakes = Oneida, Ontario, Erie, St. Claire, Huron and Michigan.)

Yes, they all string together to form a continuous and diverse watery route for Blount’s two super nimble ships to follow while sailing between two of America’s largest cities. Head north from New York to see stately homes with Hudson River views, stopping along the way. Slide under low bridges on the Erie Canal with inches to spare.

Break out into Lake Ontario and lock through the Welland Canal in tandem with giant ore carriers. Navigate the Detroit River with the US to port and Canada to starboard and on into Lakes Huron and Michigan, with pretty towns to visit. Then Chicago’s skyscrapers begin to rise above the horizon a good hour before berthing at the Navy Pier.

Visit Blount’s website for more info.

Blount's Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Blount’s Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Arctic

Oceanwide Expeditions

Cruising the poles may be thrilling and exotic enough, but exploring the Arctic on a sailing ship as explorers did centuries ago is out of this world and good reason to deem this one of our 10 quirkiest cruises. The 3-masted, 33-passenger Dutch schooner REMBRANDT VAN RIJN was built in the early 20th-century as a herring lugger and rebuilt in 1994 to operate as a pleasure cruiser in Greenland and occasionally Iceland.

Today it’s a comfy, cozy craft for coastal voyages, and if the wind dies, the auxiliary diesel engine kicks in to keep you on course and into fjords to see Viking ruins and wildlife or just let the sails luff and stay silent while amongst a pod dolphins or whales.

For more details, here’s Oceanwide’s website.

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

M/S Katharina in Eastern Indonesia

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

This 12-passenger Indonesian pinisi schooner has a sheer so dramatic, it’s an uphill walk to get to KATHARINA’S bow. The chunky ironwood workhorse bucks through the seas at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago with an Indonesian crew leading the way.

There are opportunities to snorkel in the middle of nowhere, laze on white-sand beaches, and experience encounters with exotic wildlife and tribal people you’ve definitely never seen before. The best itineraries are the ones with an expert lecturer on board.

For more info visit wwwSeaTrekBali.com.

10 best small ship cruises include SeaTrek Bali

The Bugis schooner Katharina takes the adventurous back in time. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

High-tech Exploring in the Galapagos

Lindblad Expeditions

Since the 1960s, Lindblad Expeditions has been pioneering expeditions to the Galapagos and other far flung places, and in recent years enhanced by a partnership with National Geographic Magazine that brings top photographers and scientists on board. Besides the team of Ecuadorian naturalists, there’s an undersea specialist and a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on board every Galapagos cruise.

But it’s the techy stuff that pushes the envelope: the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR carries aboard not only a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks and a glass-bottom boat, but also underwater cameras and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that dives down 500 feet to film what lies beneath. After each long and exciting day of exploring, the staff produces an amazing recap of photos and videos for passengers to marvel over.

For more info, contact Lindblad.

10 Quirkiest Cruises include Lindblad in the Galapagos

National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven-Olof Lindblad

Aranui 5 in the South Pacific

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM)

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM) has operated passenger-freighters in the remote South Pacific Marquesas Islands for decades, and the Tahiti-based 254-passenger ARANUI 5 is the latest of them. It’s clear why it’s one of our favorites and makes our 10 quirkiest cruises list. Visit idyllic islands with perfect beaches while observing the workings of a cargo ship.

While the 5th ARANUI carries everything and anything the remote islands need, you travel in great comfort along with an international passenger list that is searching for the paradise that Paul Gauguin sought. Trips ashore head to cultural sites, observe local customs and enjoy a beach barbecue.

For more info, here’s the line’s website.

10 quirkiest cruises include the ARANUI 5 Passenger Cargo Liner

The Aranui 5. * Photo: Peter Knego

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker in the North Pole

Quark Expeditions

Standing on the site 60 Degrees North is made possible by sailing aboard 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, the world’s most powerful icebreaker.

When she is not doing duty keeping the Northeast Passage above Russian Siberia open to commercial traffic, she plows her way through thick ice to reach the North Pole, at one time only accessible on foot and then by air in ideal weather. As a bonus, you can have a bird’s eye view of the icy scene from a hot air balloon.

Click over to Quark’s site for more details.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River

Adventure River Cruises (ARC)

India’s rivers are holy places, and a cruise on one is to see India in all its glorious contrasts. The Brahmaputra flows from high in the Himalayas of Tibet, down into India’s Assam valley in the northeast and finally into the Bay of Bengal.

Pandaw’s 46-passenger M/V MAHABAAHU traverses part of it, visiting tea plantations, tribal villages and the Kaziranga National Park to see the greater one-horned Indian rhino. The boat has 11 cabins with balconies (and the rest with large windows), a massage room and a small pool, but it’s India that will keep your attention. If you’re looking for something truly different, consider the MAHABAAHU, one of our 10 quirkiest cruises.

Go to Adventure River Cruises (ARC) site for more details.

Pandaw on India's Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Pandaw on India’s Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

RMS St. Helena to St. Helena Island

RMS St. Helena

Sadly, this ship is due to go out of service sometime in 2018. But up until then, it holds the title of one of the quirkiest ships out there. The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena, and intriguingly the last domicile of Emperor Napoleon.

An airport is nearing completion that will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay.

St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather minuscule compared to the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat. So, if you act fast, there is still time to experience a unique combination — space available. For many, she will be missed.

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

 

PollyPink5 copy

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

How to Pick a Small Ship Cruise

KID-FRIENDLY (age 12+) small ship cruises

Thanks to sporty activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkeling, these lines are great for families during summers and holidays. 

Alaskan Dream CruisesAmaWaterways (Disney charter); AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Coral Expeditions; EcoventuraG Adventures; Island WindjammersLe Boat Lindblad Expeditions; Ponant; SeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Silolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionVariety Cruises

WILDLIFE-focused small ship cruises

These lines offer the most opportunities to spot wildlife relatively close up, whether in the sea, up in the sky or on the shoreline.

Abercrombie & Kent; Alaskan Dream Cruises; Aqua Expeditions; AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook CruisesCelebrity CruisesEcoventuraG Adventures; GreenTracksHapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide Expeditions; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark Expeditions; Silolona SojournsUn-Cruise Adventures

HISTORIC small ships (50 years +)

These ships are all more than 50 years old, though some have been rebuilt to varying degrees.

Hurtigruten (Lofoten 1965); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Juno 1874, Wilhelm Tham 1912, Diana 1931); GreenTracks (Rio Amazonas 1899); Hebridean Island Cruises (Hebridean Princess 1964); Oceanwide Expeditions (Rembrandt Van Rijn early 1900s and Noorderlicht 1910); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud 1931)

TRADITIONALLY-DESIGNED small ships

These lines’ ships are based on traditional ship-building styles, but are not actually old in age.

American Queen Steamboat Company (American Queen  19th century steamboat design); Island Windjammers (Diamant  brigantine schooner); Pandaw River Cruises (entire fleet  British colonial river steamer style); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud II  three-masted barque); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (Katharina & Ombak Putih  Indonesian schooners); Silolona Sojourns (Silolona & Sidatu Bua  traditional Indonesia two-masted cargo schooners); Star Clipper (Star Flyer & Star Clipper four-masted barkentine-rigged clipper ship, Royal Clipper  full-rigged five-masted clipper ship); Un-Cruise Adventures (S.S. Legacy  American coastal night boat); Variety Cruises (Galileo only)

Small ship cruises to ALASKA

These lines spend summers in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska.

Alaskan Dream Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; PonantSilversea Expeditions; Un-Cruise Adventures 

Small ship cruises in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

These lines offer year-round (or nearly) cruises in the Galapagos (with reviews of more Galapagos-bound QuirkyCruise lines coming soon).

Celebrity CruisesEcoventuraG AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions; Silversea Expeditions; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises in the CARIBBEAN

These lines all spend part of the year cruising the islands of the Caribbean; mostly the southern and eastern regions.

G Adventures; Island Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud Cruises; SeaDream Yacht Club; Silversea Cruises; Star Clippers; Swan Hellenic; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety Cruises; Windstar Cruises; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises going to CUBA

These lines offer cruises focused on Cuba, the hottest cruise destination on the high seas.

Abercrombie & Kent, G AdventuresLindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud CruisesStar Clippers; Swan Hellenic

Small ship cruises in ASIA

These lines have ships in Asia all or part of each year on river and oceangoing cruises.

AmaWaterwaysAqua ExpeditionsG AdventuresHapag-Lloyd Expeditions CruisesLindblad ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonantSeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Scenic CruisesSilolona SojournsSilversea ExpeditionsStar Clippers; Tauck; Vantage Deluxe World CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

SHORT small ship cruises ITINERARIES of less than a week

Below are lines that offer 1- to 5-night itineraries, ideal to tag onto a regional land trip.

Aqua Expeditions (3-4 nights); Australis (3-7 nights);  Captain Cook Cruises (3-4 nights); Gota Canal Steamship Company (1-5 nights); GreenTracks (3-4 nights); Island Windjammers (6 nights); Magna Carta Steamship Company (5 & 7 nights); Majestic Line (3-6 nights); Marine Link Tours (5 nights); Ontario Waterway Cruises (5 nights); Pandaw River Cruises (1-4 nights); SeaDream Yacht Club (4-6 nights); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (4 nights)

ACTIVE small ship cruises

These lines offer opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving; on land, cycling and hiking.

Alaskan Dream CruisesAqua ExpeditionsBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritrime (C.P.T.M.), Coral ExpeditionsEcoventuraEmerald WaterwaysG Adventures; GreenTracksIsland Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonant; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark ExpeditionsSeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure CruisesSilolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

Cruising with NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGERS

These lines see an almost entirely North American passenger contingent.

Alaska Dream Cruises; American Cruise Lines; American Queen Steamboat Company; Blount Small Ship Cruises; Grand Circle Cruise Line; Island Windjammers; Marine Link Tours (mostly Canadians); Ontario Waterway Cruises (mostly Canadians); Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures

Small ship lines cruising UNUSUAL WATERWAYS

By design, most small-ship cruises focus on off-beat routes, but these lines particularly so.

American Cruise Lines (Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Australis (Tierra del Fuego); Blount Small Ship Adventures (New York State rivers and canals, Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Cross-Sweden canals); Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Philippines and eastern Indonesia); Le Boat (canals, lochs, lakes and tributaries of 8 European countries); Magna Carta Steamship Company (canals of Scotland); Majestic Line (Argyll, Western Scotland, Hebridean isles); Marine Link Tours (British Columbia fjords, inlets); Ontario Waterway Cruises (Ontario’s canals, rivers, lakes); Pandaw River Cruises (Upper Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Upper Mekong); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (eastern islands of Indonesia); Silolona Sojourns (eastern islands of Indonesia); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Ottawa River)

Small ship cruises with multiple CULTURE-FOCUSED LECTURERS

While most small-ship cruises are led by an expert guide/lecturer, these lines carry multiple experts, often with audio-visual presentations about the destinations and related topics.

Lindblad Expeditions (Europe with NG Orion); Silversea ExpeditionsSwan Hellenic

Best small ship cruises to access by RAIL CONNECTIONS  

The following ports are served by multiple daily passenger intercity rail services  Amtrak for the USA and Via Rail for Canada. If a port is served by only one train a day, it is not included. A short taxi ride will be all that is required between the railroad station and the port.

USA Ports
Boston, MA American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Portland, Me — American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises; New York, NY American Cruise Lines, Blount SSA, Pearl Seas Cruises; Baltimore, MD American Cruise Lines; Charleston, SC — American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Jacksonville, FL American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Chicago, IL Blount Small Ship Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Louis, MO American Cruise Lines, American SB Co.; Portland, OR American Cruise Lines, American SB Co, Lindblad Expeditions, Un-Cruise Adventures; Vancouver, WA American Steamboat Co; Seattle, WA American Cruise Lines, Un-Cruise Adventures.

Canada Ports
Kingston, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Ottawa, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Quebec, QE Pearl Seas Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Toronto, ON Pearl Seas Cruises.

Absolutely STUNNING SCENERY to ogle from the decks of small ship cruises

All small-ship cruises go to some really attractive places, but these are the prettiest of them all.

Alaska Glacier Bay National Park; New York Hudson River in the fall; Argentina Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; Antarctica — on a blue sky day; Austria Wachau Valley of the Danube River; France Burgundy along the Soane; Germany Moselle River in fall; Vietnam Halong Bay; Pacific Ocean French Polynesia and Fiji Out Islands; Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord; Greek Isles — Santorini; Alaska Misty Fjords; Thailand Phi Phi Islands; Malta Valletta harbor; Caribbean St. John; Caribbean St. Lucia; West Papua, Indonesia Raja Ampat Islands; Russian Far East Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

— TWS & HMS

PollyPink5 copy

small ship cruises copyright

By Heidi Sarna.

Small ship cruises have big advantages and that’s why we and lots of other people love them. But for small-ship newbies who aren’t sure what to expect, here’s the lowdown.

It's easy to make friends on an intimate small ship. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

It’s easy to make friends on an intimate small ship. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

1. Expect to mingle with the other passengers.

Small ships are intimate and naturally more social than big ships.

There are only so many places to go on a small ship, so unless you hole up in your cabin, you’ll be in fairly close confines with your shipmates. Dining is usually at communal tables, where you’ll be seated with strangers (who if all goes well will become friends). If you’re on board with it, small-ship togetherness can be a wonderful thing.

Exceptions: The larger 200- to 300-passenger ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing category

A cozy cabin aboard the Juno canal boat in Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A cozy cabin aboard the Juno canal boat in Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2. Expect tighter quarters and low ceilings.

Small ships are small, and that’s a BIG part of their appeal.

You won’t find soaring atria and multi-level shows lounges on small ships, because, well, they’re small and that’s the whole point. In some cases, if you’re tall, you may have to duck your head in stairwells and doorways, and may come close to grazing the ceiling in some cabins and public rooms.

Exceptions: The larger ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing category

Local belly dancer brought on board for a performance in Kusadasi, Turkey. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Local belly dancer brought on board for a performance in Kusadasi, Turkey. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

3. Expect basic entertainment, if any.

On a small-ship cruise, the main show is the destination.

After dinner there may be a local folkloric show (puppetry in Myanmar or swirling dervishes in the Med or story tellers on the Mississippi), and a night or two the crew may lead silly passenger contests and talent shows. The big act is the destination and mingling with the other passengers and the crew.

Exceptions: The larger small ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing section will have small-scale cabaret acts and mini casinos

4. Expect some of your fellow small-ship cruise mates to speak a different language than you do.

Small-ship cruises can be a floating United Nations.

Small-ship cruises tend to attract an international mix of folks from North America, Europe and everywhere else, and so commonly lectures and announcements will be made in multiple languages if there are a fair number of people whose first language isn’t English.

Exceptions: River cruises in the US and American-focused lines like Victoria Cruises in China

A medley of local vegetables in Myanmar on a Pandaw river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A medley of local vegetables in Myanmar on a Pandaw river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Expect food and drinks to reflect the local cuisine.

Cloudberries in Sweden, tealeaf tempura in Myanmar, lager in Germany…

There will always be a nod to continental tastes to appeal to a broad passenger mix, but overall dining on small-ship cruises, unlike the biggies, means enjoying the flavors of the region you’re cruising in.

Exceptions: The galleys on larger ocean-going ships are often not as adventurous as those on the smallest river and canal boats.

Delicious local fare presented in a simple buffet spread. * Photo: Heidi

Delicious local fare presented in a simple buffet spread. * Photo: Heidi

6. Expect fewer options at mealtime compared to a giant ship.

There may be less choice, but food will be tasty, fresh and not mass produced.

There may be a breakfast and lunch buffet, or a combination of buffet and ala carte items, and usually dinner is served by waiters; on the smallest ships, there may one or two options for dinner (typically with accommodations made for vegetarians and other dietary issues).

Exceptions: The larger the ship, the more choices as the galleys are larger and there is more staff — check out the ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing section.

7. Expect to pay more than you would for a mainstream cruise.

Not always, but often small-ship cruises cost more because you’re getting a BIG experience. 

Cruise lines with fewer ships that carry fewer passengers don’t have the economies of scale the big guys do, plus when they’re cruising in super exotic locales like the Poles, French Polynesia, the Galapagos and Japan, there are more onboard experts, equipment and other extras that are naturally passed on to consumers.

Exceptions: Weeklong small-ship Caribbean cruises and some Asian river cruises tend to be quite affordable.

Excursions on small-ship cruises may entail using local boats. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Excursions on small-ship cruises may entail using local boats. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

8. Expect steep stairs, climbing in and out of small boats, and scrambling
up/down dirt embankments to get on and off the ship in some ports.

Getting your feet wet and your hands dirty is part of the experience.

Adventurous by nature, many small-ship cruises take you into remote places where there may not be docks or piers. River cruises in Southeast Asia, for example, often tie up to a tree stump and throw out a narrow gangway for passengers to use to go ashore.

Exceptions: The mainstream European riverboats and the oceangoing ships are the best small-ship options for folks with mobility problems.

Walking tour around the ancient Viking burial mounds in Birka, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Walking tour around the ancient Viking burial mounds in Birka, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

9. Expect shore excursions to be culturally rewarding.

Exotic culture, pristine nature and simple beauty don’t need to be dressed up with gimmicks.

Visiting remote villages in Cambodia or castle ruins in Germany or a nesting site for exotic birds in the Galapagos are par for the course on small-ship cruises; wonderful excursions, but the not the adrenaline rush you might get from zip lining or a Harley Davidson riding excursion offered by mega ships.

Exceptions: Small ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Sailing and Oceangoing categories that have watersports marinas offer heart-thumping water-skiing and banana boat rides.

The more exotic small-ship cruises require multiple flight legs. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The more exotic small-ship cruises require multiple flight legs. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

10. Expect long, complex and/or pricey flights to get to where the cruise starts.

Getting to some of the world’s most fabulous places takes a bit of effort.

For instance, small-ship cruises in Antarctica require flying to Buenos Aires and then to Ushuaia, Argentina; for a Galapagos cruise, you must fly to Quito, Ecuador, and then to the islands; for a river cruise on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy or the Mekong between Cambodia and Vietnam, you must first fly to a major gateway like Singapore or Bangkok, and then another flight or two to via a local airline to get to the cruise embarkation port. All this flying takes time and costs a small fortune, but it’s worth it, trust me.

Exceptions: Small-ship cruises from major islands in the Caribbean (St. Thomas or Puerto Rico) or major European cities (Munich or Paris).

small ship cruises copyright

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

A small-ship cruise, like any cruise, includes a lot of the basics in the fare — your cabin, meals and often guides/lecturers — but not everything. Because small-ship cruises are interesting and offbeat by their very nature, there are typically a few more details to factor into your budgeting than if you were off on a no-brainer Caribbean mega-ship cruise out of Miami. To eliminate any surprises, here are 12 tips to help you determine what’s included in the fare, what’s not, and what optional extras you might spring for to enhance your experience.

 1. Airfare. Usually it is NOT included. To distant locales like Antarctica, Galapagos, Australia or French Polynesia, airfare is a major factor even in economy class. Occasionally, lines will include airfare, especially for European riverboat trips that are not selling well or when there may be a charter flight thrown in (e.g. for Galapagos cruises, between mainland Ecuador and the Islands). The airfare, when included, will be economy, possibly not the most direct routing and usually not upgradable. If you want a specific airline or a better itinerary, the line may charge a fee to customize your requests. High-end lines occasionally offer discounted business class.

Flights are rarely included in the cruise fare. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Flights are rarely included in the cruise fare. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2. Shore excursions. MAY or MAY NOT be included in the fare. While they may be included on many river cruises or on expedition voyages in the Galapagos, Arctic or Antarctica, shore excursions will often not be included on oceangoing small-ship cruises in Europe and many other places. A basic walking tour or similar might be included, but hot-air balloon rides or sightseeing by helicopter costing hundreds of dollars extra will not be.

3. Sporty activities. They ARE typically included. The use of equipment that’s carried on board the ship — from bicycles to water sports paraphernalia like paddle boards and snorkeling stuff — will typically be included in the fare, while scuba diving (gear and guiding) will not be. Kayaking may be included in locales other than the Arctic and Antarctica where closer supervision is required.

Kayaking right from the ship in Southeast Alaska. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Kayaking right from the ship in Southeast Alaska. * Photo: Ben Lyons

4. Alcoholic drinks. Usually are NOT included. With the exception of some of the higher-end lines and increasingly some of the river lines, wine, beer, and spirits are typically not included in the fares, or may be only included at lunch and dinner, or just at dinner. Typically across the board, coffee, tea and bottled water are included in the fares; and usually sodas, but not always.

Beer, wine and spirits are usually not included in the cruise fares. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Beer, wine and spirits are usually not included in the cruise fares. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Cabins. Pricing is based on DOUBLE OCCUPANCY. Most of the time, small-ship cruise fares, like the big ships, are based on two people sharing a cabin. So, theoretically if solo travelers occupy cabins by themselves, they may have to the pay the price of two people (referred to as the “single supplement”), i.e. buying the whole cabin.

6. Solo travelers. There MAY or MAY NOT be special rates for you. The ship may have some single cabins, usually not many, and they sell out fast. Or, the line may offer discounted single supplements for occupying a double cabin such as 150% of the fare; 125%; or even waive the charge entirely, again usually if bookings are soft. Click here for an article about solo small-ship cruising.

7. Cabin sharing. If offered, it WILL save you money. A few lines will help solo travelers find a share with another passenger of the same sex. If you sign up for this and a share is not found, you may well get lucky and end up having the cabin to yourself for the per person double occupancy rate. Read the individual lines’ brochure/websites to see if this is an option.

8. Cabins for 3 to 4 passengers. Extra berths WILL save you money. Some ships’ double cabins may have a sofa bed or a fold out lower berth and/or fold down upper berth. It is quite a bit cheaper for additional passengers to share the same cabin than to buy a separate one. This arrangement is highly popular with families or young people on a budget.

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

9. Tips. They are usually NOT included. While not mandatory, in most cases they are customary, so do factor in gratuities for onboard staff and local guides/drivers ashore, which depending on your generosity and length of cruise, can add up to a few hundred dollars.

10. Special gear. It may NOT be included. For many expedition cruises in places like Antarctica, Arctic or Alaska, you’ll need special clothing such as raincoats, waterproof pants, boots and/or parkas. In some cases, these accessories may be included, but you still might want to supplement with some of your own.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

11. Hotel stays. Usually are NOT included. In some instances, for example the Galapagos and throughout Asia, you’ll have to stay a night or two in a hotel before and after the cruise due to the timings of flights. However, some lines create cruise tour packages where the ship portion is bracketed by included hotel stays such as Prague at the beginning and Budapest at the end of a Danube River cruise or a Cambodian hotel and sightseeing and the same in Vietnam for a Mekong River cruise. When hotel stays and sightseeing are bundled into one price, then transfers between hotels and ship will be included.

12. Additional extras to consider. Massage and salon services, extra tariff dining and transfers between the airport, rail station or hotel and the ship via taxi, bus or train. Wi-Fi may or may not be included, and when it is, Internet speed is usually much slower than on land, and there may be gaps in coverage. Gradually, Internet accessibility is improving.

QC copyright