Quirky Cruise
June 2, 2019

QuirkyCruise Q&A: The Small Cruise Ship Collection’s Powell Ettinger

The Small Cruise Ship Collection’s Powell Ettinger

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Powell Ettinger, co-founder and managing director of The Small Cruise Ship Collection (SCSC), a travel agency specializing exclusively in the small-ship niche. Powell shares why he’s so passionate about this cozy corner of the travel world.

Small Ship Cruise Collection's Powell Ettinger


Q: What size ships does Small Cruise Ship Collection specialize in?

Powell Ettinger: Specialising in small ships worldwide, the largest vessels we work with carry around 260 passengers, and the smallest carries 8, but most carry 40-100.  Our cruises are more about the destinations than the vessels, more “travel by boat.” We don’t sell European river cruises offered by many large companies; it’s a different market to the small vessels we work with. Most of our passengers hate the idea of traditional cruising.

Small Cruise Ship Collection's Powell Ettinger

Small Cruise Ship Collection’s Powell Ettinger

Q: Why small ships?

Powell Ettinger: At The Small Cruise Ship Collection, we only sell small-ship cruises as we feel they have many advantages.

  • Responsible Travel. Small-ship cruises tend to be much more responsible than larger vessels. They provide income to many small communities around the world. The idea is to get the passengers ashore as much as possible to let them experience local culture and food, rather than keep them on board to make money from them.
  • Nooks and Crannies. Small ships can reach the parts larger ships cannot. Whether this is a bay full of penguins in Antarctica, a small village in Papua New Guinea, a pristine reef in Fiji or a known polar bear haunt, larger ships can’t access these nooks.
  • Docking. In many ports, for instance in Croatia, only small vessels are allowed to dock; larger ships must anchor off shore.
  • Small Villages.  If you are visiting a small village in Cuba, the Greek Islands or Papua New Guinea, the locals will welcome a visit from 40-50 people, but 600? 3,000? Just not feasible.
  • Queues. What are they?
  • More Personable. On a small ship, you will get to know the passengers, the crew and the captain usually too.

RELATED: QuirkyCruise’s Take on “Big Ships Small Ships”

Q: Why did you get into the business of selling small-ship cruises?

Powell Ettinger: I have worked in the travel industry for 25 years, specialising in responsible travel to off-the-beaten-track destinations. I’ve trekked and sailed all over the world, from Morocco, Nepal, Iceland, Peru and Ethiopia, to the Greek isles, fjords of Chile, and the Amazon River.  I’ve never been on a traditional big-ship cruise and wouldn’t want to. Small-ship “cruises” are the best, and often the only, way to see most of the places we visit.

Small Ship Cruise Collection's Powell Ettinger

The cozy Delfin II on the Amazon. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Q:  What can you and your team offer travelers?

Powell Ettinger:  We offer huge choice in the specialist small-ships market. Because we only sell small-ship cruises, our team has a vast knowledge of the market and we always offer honest opinions — if we don’t think a particular trip is right for someone we will tell them.

Q: How has the small-ship business changed in past 10-20 years?

Powell Ettinger: It has grown substantially and has become a “thing” in its own right, rather than just a few luxury and expedition ships in Polar Regions.

Q:  What are the joys and the challenges of the small-ship cruise niche?

Powell Ettinger: The joy is the feedback we get from our passengers, and also from the people we work with worldwide who appreciate the jobs we provide in their communities without disrupting their environments.

The main challenges are that the ships are small, so capacity is limited. Also, many people (mistakenly) confuse small-ship cruises with mainstream cruising, and so won’t even consider them. Another challenge is I don’t have enough time to do all the small ship cruises that I want to do!

Q: Do you have a couple of favorite small-ship cruise experiences?

Powell Ettinger:  Too many. The grandeur of Antarctica, the amazing white icebergs off Greenland on a beautiful sunny day, the whales of Alaska, the harbour restaurants of Croatia, seeing a polar bear with her cubs, the people of New Guinea, exploring the Amazon…

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic.

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

Q: How do you reconcile traveling in delicate regions affected by climate change?

Powell Ettinger: The amount of emissions created by our travel to the Polar Regions is a minute fraction of the world’s output, and even a minute fraction of our own footprint. Ships are getting greener, but there is no such thing as a completely green cruise. However, it is important that some people do visit, and in fact many people that do are so moved by their experience they go home and change their lifestyles — swap their diesel car for an electric car, and change their lifestyle in general.

Additionally, in the Arctic there are many small communities who derive an income from the few tourists that do visit, and it helps them preserve their unique culture and way of life.


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